O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?…
To enter into the full meaning of these words, we must understand their place in the argument. The great theme is opened in Romans 1:16. To establish this, Paul begins by proving in the first four chapters that both Jew and Gentile are utterly lost. In the fifth he shows that through Christ peace with God may be brought into the conscience of the sinner. In the sixth he proves that this truth, instead of being any excuse for sin, was the strongest argument against it, for it gave freedom from sin, which the law could never do. And then, in this chapter, he inquires why the law could not bring this gift. Before the law was given, man could not know what sin was, any more than the unevenness of a crooked line can be known until it is placed beside something that is straight. But when the law raised before his eyes a rule of holiness, then, for the first time, his eyes were opened; he saw that he was full of sin; and forthwith there sprang up a fearful struggle. Once he had been "alive without the law"; he had lived, that is, a life of unconscious, self-contented impurity; but that life was gone from him, he could live it no longer. The law, because it was just and good, wrought death in him; for it was a revelation of death without remedy. "The law was spiritual," but he was corrupt, "sold under sin." Even when his struggling will did desire in some measure a better course, still he was beaten down again by evil. "How to perform that which was good he found not." Yea, "when he would do good, evil was present with him." In vain there looked in upon his soul the blessed countenance of an external holiness. Its angel gladness, of which he could in no way be made partaker, did but render darker and more intolerable the loathsome dungeon in which he was perpetually held. It was the fierce struggle of an enduring death; and in its crushing agony, he cried aloud against the nature, which, in its inmost currents, sin had turned into corruption and a curse. "O wretched man that I am!" etc. And then forthwith upon this stream of misery there comes forth a gleam of light from the heavenly presence; "I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord." Here is deliverance for me; I am a redeemed man; holiness may be mine, and, with it, peace and joy. Here is the full meaning of these glorious words.
I. THEY LIE AT THE ROOT OF SUCH EXERTIONS AS WE MAKE FOR THOSE WHOM SIN HAS BROUGHT DOWN VERY LOW.
1. They contain the principle which should lead us most truly to sympathise with them. This great truth of the redemption Of our nature in Christ Jesus is the only link of brotherhood between man and man. To deny our brotherhood with any of the most miserable of those whom Christ has redeemed, is to deny our own capacity for perfect holiness, and so our true redemption through Christ.
2. Here, too, is the only warrant for any reasonable efforts for their restoration. Without this, every man, who knows anything of the depth of evil with which he has to deal, would give up the attempt in despair. Every reasonable effort to restore any sinner, is a declaration that we believe that we are in a kingdom of grace, of redeemed humanity. Unbelieving men cannot receive the truth that a soul can be thus restored. They believe that you may make a man respectable; but not that you can heal the inner currents of his spiritual life, and so they cannot labour in prayers and ministrations with the spiritual leper, until his flesh, of God's grace, comes again as the flesh of a little child. To endure this labour, we must believe that in Christ, the true Man, and through the gift of His Spirit, there is deliverance from the body of this death.
II. IT IS AT THE ROOT ALSO OF ALL REAL EFFORTS FOR OURSELVES.
1. Every earnest man must, if he sets himself to resist the evil which is in himself, know something of the struggle which the apostle here describes; and if he would endure the extremity of that conflict, he must have a firm belief that there is a deliverance for him. Without this, the knowledge of God's holiness is nothing else than the burning fire of despair. And so many do despair. They think they have made their choice, and that they must abide by it; and so they shut their eyes to their sins, they excuse them, they try to forget them, they do everything but overcome them, until they see that in Christ Jesus there is for them, if they will claim it, a sure power over these sins. And, therefore, as the first consequence, let us ever hold it fast, even as our life.
2. Nor is it needful to lower the tone of promise in order to prevent its being turned into an excuse for sin. Here, as elsewhere, the simple words of God contain their own best safeguard against being abused; for what can be so loud a witness against allowed sin in any Christian man as this truth is? If there be in the true Christian life in union with Christ for every one of us this power against sin, sin cannot reign in any who are living in Him. To be in Christ is to be made to conquer in the struggle. So that this is the most quickening and sanctifying truth. It tears up by the roots a multitude of secret excuses. It tells us that if we are alive in Christ Jesus, we must be new creatures. And herein it destroys the commonest form of self-deception — the allowing some sin in ourselves, because in other things we deny ourselves, because we pray, because we give alms, etc. And this self-deception is put down only by bringing out this truth, that in Christ Jesus there is for us, in our struggle with "the body of this death," an entire conquest, if we will but honestly and earnestly claim it for ourselves; so that if we do not conquer sin, it must be because we are not believing.
3. This will make us diligent in all parts of the Christian life, because all will become a reality. Prayer, the reading of God's Word, etc., will be precious after a new sort, because through them is kept alive our union with Christ, in whom alone is for us a conquest over the evil which is in us. So that, to sum up all in one blessed declaration, "The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus will make us free from the law of sin and death."
(Bp. S. Wilberforce.)
Parallel VersesKJV: O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?