Know you not, brothers, (for I speak to them that know the law,) how that the law has dominion over a man as long as he lives?…
In the preceding chapter we saw how justification leads of necessity to sanctification. Once we realize that we have died in Jesus for sin, we are spiritually prompted to enter with a risen Saviour into newness of life. We realize our consecration to God. We give up the slavery to sin, and become slaves to God; and our fruit is found unto holiness, and our end everlasting life. The apostle, moreover, has affirmed that" we are not under Law, but under grace" (Romans 6:14). This he proceeds more fully to explain. "Slavery" may be the idea under sin, but "marriage" becomes the idea about Law. Under the Law provision was always made for a second marriage. If death took one of the married persons away, the survivor was at liberty to contract a second marriage. It is this figure which the apostle employs in the present section. He represents the soul as first wedded to Law; then, through death with Christ for sin and unto Law and resurrection with Christ to newness of life, the soul is legally warranted in contracting a second marriage, and this time with Christ himself. The Law is the soul's first husband; and Christ becomes the second. We cannot do better, then, than consider, in the first place, the soul's first marriage to the Law; in the second place, how this unhappy marriage is dissolved; and in the third place, the soul's second marriage to Jesus Christ.
I. THE SOUL'S FIRST MARRIAGE TO THE LAW. It has been thought by some that this seventh chapter comes in strangely after the third; but if we will bear in mind that in the third chapter the apostle is showing the Law to be unequal to man's justification, while here he is showing it to be unequal to man's sanctification, all difficulty about his line of thought will disappear. The point insisted upon in the present chapter is that, although the Law is in itself holy, it cannot make men holy. Its sanctification does not pass over to the legal soul. Now, in an unhappy marriage the husband may be quite blameless; he may, poor man, be dying his very best; but the wife proves so incorrigibly bad that nothing but wretchedness results. This, then, is the Pauline idea. The Law is holy, just, and good; but the soul wedded to the law is sinful, so that there is nothing but irritation and unhappiness as the result. In fact, the sinful soul gets provoked by the demands of Law, and acts more recklessly than if no such demands were made. This will come out more clearly as we proceed with the chapter. It is sufficient here to insist that the soul which is wedded to legalism is sure to experience an unhappy union; the legal soul finds the union with Law exacting and exasperating, and the only hope for it is in getting the union dissolved.
II. HOW THIS UNHAPPY MARRIAGE IS DISSOLVED. Now, it is important here to notice that the apostle does not represent the Law as having died. This would have been the natural use of the marriage figure. If Law be the husband, and if the soul, wedded to the Law, is to contract another union, must not the husband first die? The apostle takes another line altogether. The Law does not die; but the soul may "die to the Law," and so die out of the legal union. If, then, having died out of the one relation, it is raised into a new life, then it is in a position to contract a second marriage. This, according]y, is the ground taken up by Paul in this passage, The soul dies-to the Law in the Person of Christ, and so the unhappy union gets dissolved. This is what is expressed in ver. 4, "Wherefore, my brethren, ye also were made dead to the Law through the body of Christ; that ye should be joined to another, even to him who was raised from the dead" (Revised Version). That is to say, Christ died; we die by faith in him to the Law's claims. All are met. Law, accordingly, has no further right over us. We are no longer its wife. We have died in our spiritual experience out of our old relation; that state is past. It is most important that we should see that legalism can exercise no sanctifying power. Its only fruit is pride and death (ver. 5). There is no hope for the soul but surrendering its legalism, and betaking itself through death and resurrection to a better union and a happier life.
III. THE SOUL'S SECOND MARRIAGE TO JESUS CHRIST. The apostle's idea is that the soul, having died in Jesus to the Law, and having thus dissolved the unhappy union, gets raised along with Christ and is united to him as the second and better husband. It is to a risen Saviour that the risen soul is united. Jesus is the Bridegroom, and the soul the bride (cf. John 3:29). And regarding this second marriage of the soul, it is a happy one; for:
1. The soul receives the Spirit of Christ, and so becomes one with him. There can be in this case no ill-asserted union. Christ can make his bride one in spirit with himself, and so the sweetest unity of spirit prevails.
2. As the risen Saviour, he secures the devotion of the soul in a way that abstract law never could. The devotion of a true wife to her husband is something essentially different from and infinitely higher than obedience to a code of laws. It is here that sanctification is secured. The soul is led to feel that a Saviour, who has lived and died for its redemption, deserves the homage of the heart. In this way obedience passes into the enthusiastic devotion of the whole nature, and becomes a passion of the soul. This is the "newness of the spirit," as distinguished from the "oldness of the letter," to which the apostle declares the renewed soul comes.
3. The fruit of this marriage with Christ is consecration to God. The soul is joined to the risen Saviour that "we might bring forth fruit unto God." Now, just as in married life, when children come, they are consecrated unto God, so the fruits of our union with Christ consist in those "good works which are by Jesus Christ to the praise and glory of God." Good works are the united product of Christ and the believing soul. "Without me ye can do nothing," he tells us. And so we are to rejoice in them as the fruit of that spiritual union existing between the Saviour and the soul. It is for us to test ourselves by these facts, and see to it that we are united to Christ, as the bride is to her husband. - R.M.E.
Parallel VersesKJV: Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law,) how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth?