O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?…
1. St. Paul was not thinking with any fear of death. Indeed, toil worn and heart wearied as he was, he often would have been glad, had it been the Lord's will. There was something that to a mind like Paul's was worse than death. It was the dominion of the carnal nature which strove to overrule the spiritual. The body of sin was to him "the body of death." Who should deliver him from it?
2. Now, is the feeling from which such a cry as Paul's proceeds a real and noble feeling, or is it the mere outcry of ignorance and superstition? There are not wanting those who would say the latter. "Why trouble ourselves," says one of these apostles of the new religion of science, "about matters of which, however important they may be, we do know nothing, and can know nothing? We live in a world full of misery and ignorance; and the plain duty of each and all of us is to try and make the little corner he can influence somewhat less miserable and ignorant. To do this effectually, it is necessary to be possessed of only two beliefs; that we can learn much of the order of nature; and that our own will has a considerable influence on the course of events." That is all that we need attend to. Any idea of God and a moral law belongs to cloudland. But is there not an instinct within us which rebels against this cool setting aside of everything that cannot be seen or handled? And is that instinct a low one? or is it the instinct of minds that come nearest to Divine?
3. Which is the higher type of man — which do you feel has got the firmer grip of the realities of life — the man calmly bending over the facts of outward nature, and striving to secure, as far as he can, conformity to them: or, the man, like Paul, believing that there was a moral law of which he had fallen short, a Divine order with which he was not in harmony — good and evil, light and darkness, God and the devil, being to him tremendous realities — his soul being the battlefield of a war between them, in the agony and shock of which conflict he is constrained to cry out for a higher than human help? I should say the man in the storm and stress of the spiritual battle; and I should say that to deny the reality of the sense of such a conflict was to deny facts which are as obvious to the spiritual intelligence as the fact that two and two make four is to the ordinary reason, and was to malign facts which are much higher and nobler than any mere fact of science, as the life of man is higher and nobler than the life of rocks or seas.
4. Minds wholly engrossed with intellectual or selfish pursuits may be unconscious of this conflict, and disbelieve its existence in other minds. So may minds that have reached that stage which the apostle describes as "dead in sin"; but to other minds, minds within which conscience still lives, within which exclusive devotion to one thought or interest has not obliterated every other, this conflict is a stern reality. Who that has lived a life with any spiritual element in it, and higher than the mere animal's or worldling's, has not known that consciousness, and known its terror and power of darkness when it was roused into active life? it is of this consciousness Paul speaks. Under the pressure of it he cries out, "Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?"
5. And what answer does he find to that cry? Does the order of nature, or the powers of his own will help him here? Does not the very sight of the unbroken calm and steadfast regularity of the law and order of external nature add new bitterness to the conviction that he has forgotten a higher law and disturbed a still more gracious order? Is not the very conviction of the weakness of his own will one of the most terrible elements in his distress? Speak to a man under this consciousness of the power of sin about finding help to resist, through studying the laws of that nature of which he is himself a part, and through exercising that will, whose feebleness appalls him, and you mock him, as if you spoke to a man in a raging fever of the necessity of studying his own temperament and constitution, and of the duty of keeping himself cool. What is wanted in either case is help from some source of energy outside himself, who should restore the wasted strength from his own fountains of life — who should say to the internal conflict, "Peace, be still." And that is what Paul found in Christ. He found it nowhere else. It is not to be found in knowledge, in science, in philosophy, in nature, in culture, in self.
6. Now, how did Paul find this in Christ? How may all find it? He was speaking about something infinitely more terrible than the punishment of sin, viz., the dominion of sin. What he wanted was an actual deliverance from an actual foe — not a promise of exemption from some future evil. And it was this that Paul realised in Christ. To him to live was Christ. The presence and the power of Christ possessed him. It was in this he found the strength which gave him the victory over the body of death. He found that strength in the consciousness that he was not a lonely soldier, fighting against an overpowering enemy, and in the dark, but that One was with him who had come from heaven itself to reveal to him that God was on his side, that he was fighting God's battle, that the struggle was needed for his perfecting as the child of God. It was in the strength of this that he was able to give thanks for his deliverance from the "body of death."
7. The consciousness of this struggle, the engagement in it in the strength of Christ, the victory of the higher over the lower, are in all the necessary conditions of spiritual health and continued life. To deny the reality of that conflict, and of the Divine life for which it prepares us, does not prove that these are not real and true. I take a man who does not know the "Old Hundredth" from "God Save the Queen," and play him a piece of the sweetest music, and he says there is no harmony in it. I show a man who is colour blind two beautifully contrasted tints, and he sees but one dull hue: but still the music and the beauty of the colours exist, though not for him, not for the incapable ear and the undiscerning eye. So with the spiritual life. It is for the spiritual.
(R. H. Story, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?