The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans

By G. Campbell Morgan

Chapter 13


Death under Law. Rom 7:7-25

1. Introductory Question and Answer. Rom 7:7 a

2. The Autobiographical Illustration. Rom 7:7-24

a. Condition before Law. Rom 7:7-9 a

Without knowledge of Sin. Rom 7:7 b

(For example. Coveting." Rom 7:7-8)

Alive. Rom 7:9 a

b. The Coming of Law and Result. Rom 7:9-13

The Discovery of Sin. Rom 7:9-10

The Activity of Sin. Rom 7:11

The Conviction of Sin. Rom 7:12-13

c. The Experience under Law. Rom 7:14-24

The Slavery of Sin. Rom 7:14-20

The Conflict. Rom 7:21-23

The Agony. Rom 7:24

3. The Summary. Rom 7:25

a. The Triumphant Answer.

b. The State needing the Victory.

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Having thus dealt with the subject of sanctification as a work of grace; showing how the great deliverance is wrought, of what nature it is, and what are the obligations it entails; the apostle prepared the way for a description of the sanctified life on its experimental side, by a personal confession or statement. Around this remarkable section controversy has long waged, the most scholarly and devout expositors differing in their view as to the period in the life of Paul which he herein described. That which seems perfectly plain to one is almost vehemently denied by another. Into all the discussion it is not ours to enter. I give in my analysis what seems to me to be the only interpretation which is in harmony with the whole movement. Those who differ will at least be patient.

There are two initial matters to which it may be well to draw attention before considering the section in detail. The fact that the passage is personal and experimental is indicated in the change from the plural to the singular in the use of personal pronouns. In all the preceding argument the apostle had been dealing with general doctrines. He now illustrated them from his own experience. Half-way through the passage the tense changes. In the first part the apostle wrote in the past tense. In the second he used the present tense. This fact has been one cause of the differences of opinion to which I have referred already.

There are those who believe that in the first part he described his experiences as a devout Hebrew before his apprehension by Christ; and that when he adopted the present tense he described his experience after his justification, but before he entered into the experience of sanctification. I can only say that such interpretation would lead me to the conviction that justification produced no change in his experience, save perhaps a deepened consciousness of his sinfulness and weakness. That interpretation would make justification a matter merely of legal standing, and suggest that ability results from sanctification. That in turn, would be to declare that regeneration, or the new birth, does not take place at justification. This, however, would entirely contradict the teaching of the apostle concerning the privileges and responsibilities of justification, as set forth in the fifth chapter.

And yet the change of tense is most marked, and we need to recognize it. For a full discussion of the matter, the reader would do well to consult Dr. Agar Beet

"The past and present tenses are distinguished not only in time but as different modes of viewing the occasion. The past tense looks upon it as already complete; the present, as going on before our eyes. Consequently, when the time is otherwise determined, the tenses may be used without reference to time."

I treat the whole of this section as describing the experiences of the apostle as a Hebrew, prior to his apprehension by Christ. In the first movements he dealt with his experiences as a child, before he became a son of the law; then during the period resulting from his yielding of himself to its claims. So far he wrote in the past tense. Then, desiring to make his description graphic and forceful, he wrote in the present tense, and thus in such a way as to make most telling the helplessness and hopelessness of a man under law. All this is background, preparing the way for that marvellous contrast set forth in the next section.

Therefore I treat this section as a picture of the religious experience of Paul up to the time of his meeting with Christ. It deals with his condition before law; his experience at the coming of law; and his subsequent experience under law.

1. Introductory Question and Answer

His contrast between the dominion of the law and the dominion of Christ may produce in the mind of some of his readers the idea that the law itself is sin. This he indicated in his inquiry, "Is the law sin?" and once again denied in the emphatic exclamation, "God forbid." The ultimate answer to the inquiry is found in the declaration subsequently made, "We know that the law is spiritual." It is not the law that is sin, but the one who, breaking it, is condemned by it.

2. The Autobiographical Illustration

Affirming that he had not known sin except through the law, the apostle declared, "I was alive apart from the law once." The question is at once suggested as to what period of his life he could possibly have referred to when he wrote these words. It goes without saying that they could not refer to a period prior to the historic giving of the law. They must have reference to some time in the actual life of this man. The only satisfactory answer to the inquiry is that he referred to those days of infancy and childhood in which, without consciousness of law, there was no consciousness of sin; and consequently, he lived without any sense of distance between himself and God. Whatever powers or possibilities of evil were in his nature - and this is a subject he was not dealing with at the moment - they were not in willful and active operation; and therefore he was alive apart from law. By way of example he quoted the last of the words of the Decalogue, "Thou shalt not covet," and declared that he had not known coveting apart from the law. By this he did not mean that as a child he had never desired anything belonging to some one else, but that he had no consciousness that such desire was wrong. It was by the coming of law that he came to conviction of sin, and consequently of responsibility. Thus during the early days of his life he was, apart from the law, alive.

Passing on, he dealt with the coming of law, and again we are led to inquire what he meant by the words, "The commandment came . . . and I died.'' He affirmed that when he came to the sense of responsibility to law, sin revived, or came to life, in his experience, and he died.

In all probability Paul here referred to that actual confirmation service to which every Jewish boy comes, in which he is made a son of the law. To one carefully trained it is perfectly conceivable that such a service would be one of grave solemnity, producing spiritual consideration of the most searching kind; and here the apostle tells us what the effect was in his own case.

It is impossible to pass this suggestion without thinking of that self-same confirmation in the life of Jesus. He also was alive without the law in all the days of boyhood. To Him also there came the law, when at the age of twelve, presented in the Temple in accordance with the rites of His people. He became a Son of the law. It would have been impossible, however, for Him to write what Paul wrote. To Him the coming of the commandment did not mean the revival or coming to life of sin; and, consequently, the law to Him was not unto death, but unto life.

Another point of interest which should not be overlooked here is that the apostle carefully declared what particular commandment it was that brought home to him the sense of sin. He seems to have been able to count himself blameless while nine words of the Decalogue spoke their message to his conscience; but when the tenth word was uttered, "Thou shalt not covet,'' he discovered at last the point at which he was violating the Divine commandment, and so, to use his own expressive word, he died.

In childhood he lived without consciousness of law, and therefore without consciousness of sin. When at last the age of responsibility came, and he submitted himself to the requirements of the law, he discovered his sin. Most carefully does his statement declare that the law did not cause his death, or make him a sinner. It revealed his condition, and brought him to the consciousness thereof.

The result of that consciousness was the long struggle between opposing forces in his own life, and he graphically described that struggle as we have already indicated, by using the present tense. The experience described is that of a devout Hebrew, seeking the highest, refusing to be satisfied with externalities, and therefore telling the story of his own deepest consciousness in all the blunt horror of it, "I am sold under sin." It is an almost startling revelation of the experience of all those who come honestly to the measurement of the law. It is a double experience, that of a man doing hated things, and by his very hatred of them consenting to the goodness of the law which forbids them. The will to do the good is with him, but not the power. He even experiences delight in the law of God, but because of the principle of sin which masters him he is unable to obey.

So terrible is the condition that he breaks out into a cry that tells the whole story of his inner consciousness. To understand that cry aright the exultant note must be omitted, and what remains read in close connection. "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me out of the body of this death? ... So then I myself with the mind serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin."

3. The Summary

While thus the apostle wrote the words which revealed the agony of his past condition, he wrote them from his then present sense of victory and deliverance, and so parenthetically answered his own inquiry, "Who shall deliver me?" in the words, "I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord."

For me at least no stretch of the imagination is equal to the task of convincing me that this paragraph can be applied to a regenerate man. This man is sold under sin. The regenerate man is redeemed from its power. This man finds within him a law of sin and death, warring against his desire after goodness, and making it impossible for him to do the good. The regenerate man is set free from such dominion, because he is able to do that which is good. This man is unable to do what he would. The regenerate man says, "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me."

The objection to this view is mainly based upon the idea that it is impossible to think of an unregenerate man delighting in the law of the Lord.

The first answer to such an objection is that passages are to be found in the writings of pagan philosophers which are so strikingly like this statement of Paul concerning himself as to demonstrate the fact that unregenerate man is capable of admiring the law, but incapable of obeying it. Seneca wrote, "What is it that draws us in one direction while striving to go in another; and impels us toward that which we wish to avoid?" and Euripides declared, "We understand and know the good things, but we do not work them out."

The final answer, however, is that Paul was a devout and sincere Hebrew, who did know the law, and who did delight in it before his apprehension by Christ; one who, according to his own words in another letter, was "as touching the righteousness which is in the law found blameless." It was this man who in all external things satisfied the demands of the law, and thus established the righteousness in which men made their boast, who nevertheless was all the while profoundly conscious of his inability to fulfill its requirements.

The whole paragraph, then, is a forceful revelation of the highest possible experience of the life under law, and prepares the way for the description of the power and freedom and triumph of the sanctified life, resulting from the operation of grace through Christ Jesus.