O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?…
1. Some years ago a number of peculiar photographs were circulated by spiritualists. Two portraits appeared on the same card, one clear and the other obscure. The fully developed portrait was the obvious likeness of the living person; and the indistinct portrait was supposed to be the likeness of some dead friend, produced by supernatural agency. The mystery, however, was found to admit of an easy scientific explanation. It not unfrequently happens that the portrait of a person is so deeply impressed on the glass of the negative, that although the plate is thoroughly cleansed with strong acid, the picture cannot be removed, although it is made invisible. When such a plate is used over again, the original image faintly reappears along with the new portrait. So is it in the experience of the Christian. He has been washed in the blood of Christ; and beholding the glory of Christ as in a glass, he is changed into the same image. And yet the ghost of his former sinfulness persists in reappearing with the image of the new man. So deeply are the traces of the former godless life impressed upon the soul, that even the sanctification of the Spirit, carried on through discipline, burning as corrosive acid, cannot altogether remove them.
2. The photographer also has a process by which the obliterated picture may at any time be revived. And so it was with the apostle. The sin that so easily beset him returned with fresh power in circumstances favourable to it.
I. THE "BODY OF DEATH" IS NOT SOMETHING THAT HAS COME TO US FROM WITHOUT, an infected garment that may be thrown aside whenever we please. It is our own corrupt self, not our individual sins or evil habits. And this body of death disintegrates the purity and unity of the soul and destroys the love of God and man which is its true life. It acts like an evil leaven, corrupting and decomposing every good feeling and heavenly principle, and gradually assimilating our being to itself. There is a peculiar disease which often destroys the silkworm before it has woven its cocoon. It is caused by a species of white mould which grows rapidly within the body of the worm at the expense of its nutritive fluids; all the interior organs being gradually converted into a mass of flocculent vegetable matter. Thus the silkworm, instead of going on in the natural order of development to produce the beautiful winged moth, higher in the scale of existence, retrogrades to the lower condition of the inert senseless vegetable. And like this is the effect of the body of death in the soul of man. The heart cleaves to the dust of the earth, and man, made in the image of God, instead of developing a higher and purer nature, is reduced to the low, mean condition of the slave of Satan.
II. NONE BUT THOSE WHO HAVE ATTAINED TO SOME MEASURE OF THE EXPERIENCE OF ST. PAUL CAN KNOW THE FULL WRETCHEDNESS CAUSED BY THIS BODY OF DEATH. The careless have no idea of the agony of a soul under a sense of sin; of the tyranny which it exercises and the misery which it works. And even in the experience of many Christians there is but little of this peculiar wretchedness. Conviction is in too many instances superficial, and a mere impulse or emotion is regarded as a sign of conversion; and hence many are deluded by a false hope, having little knowledge of the law of God or sensibility to the depravity of their own hearts. But such was not the experience of St. Paul. The body of corruption that he bore about with him darkened and embittered all his Christian experience. And so it is with every true Christian. It is not the spectre of the future, or the dread of the punishment of sin, that he fears, for there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus; but the spectre of the sinful past and the pressure of the present evil nature. The sin which he fancied was so superficial that a few years' running in the Christian course would shake it off, he finds is in reality deep rooted in his very nature, requiring a life long battle. The fearful foes which he bears in his own bosom — sins of unrestrained appetite, sins that spring from past habits, frequently triumph over him; and all this fills him almost with despair — not of God, but of himself — and extorts from him the groan, "O wretched man that I am!" etc.
III. THE EVIL TO BE CURED IS BEYOND HUMAN REMEDY. The various influences that act upon us from without — instruction, example, education, the discipline of life — cannot deliver us from this body of death.
IV. THE WORK IS CHRIST'S AND NOT MAN'S. We are to fight the battle in His name and strength, and to leave the issue in His hands. He will deliver us in His own way and time. Conclusion: We can reverse the illustration with which I began. If behind our renewed self is the spectral form of our old self, let us remember that behind all is the image of God in which we were created. The soul, however lost, darkened, and defaced, still retains some lineaments of the Divine impression with which it was once stamped. The image haunts us always; it is the ideal from which we have fallen and towards which we are to be conformed. To rescue that image of God, the Son of God assumed our nature, lived our life, and died our death; and His Spirit becomes incarnate in our heart and life, and prolongs the work of Christ in us in His own sanctifying work. And as our nature becomes more and more like Christ's, so by degrees the old nature photographed by sin upon the soul will cease to haunt us, and the image of Christ will become more and more vivid. And at length only one image will remain. We shall see Him as He is, and we shall become like Him.
(H. Macmillan, LL. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?