Bible Commentary

Romans 7

John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes

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(Read all of Romans 7)

Verse 1

[1] 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?

The apostle continues the comparison between the former and the present state of a believer, and at the same time endeavours to wean the Jewish believers from their fondness for the Mosaic law.

I speak to them that know the law — To the Jews chiefly here.

As long — So long, and no longer.

As it liveth — The law is here spoken of, by a common figure, as a person, to which, as to an husband, life and death are ascribed. But he speaks indifferently of the law being dead to us, or we to it, the sense being the same.

Verse 2

[2] For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband.

She is freed from the law of her husband — From that law which gave him a peculiar property in her.

Verse 4

[4] Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God.

Thus ye also — Are now as free from the Mosaic law as an husband is, when his wife is dead.

By the body of Christ — Offered up; that is, by the merits of his death, that law expiring with him.

Verse 5

[5] For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death.

When ye were in the flesh — Carnally minded, in a state of nature; before we believed in Christ.

Our sins which were by the law — Accidentally occasioned, or irritated thereby.

Wrought in our members — Spread themselves all over the whole man.

Verse 6

[6] But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.

Being dead to that whereby we were held — To our old husband, the law.

That we might serve in newness of spirit — In a new, spiritual manner.

And not in the oldness of the letter — Not in a bare literal, external way, as we did before.

Verse 7

[7] What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.

What shall we say then — This is a kind of a digression, to the beginning of the next chapter, wherein the apostle, in order to show in the most lively manner the weakness and inefficacy of the law, changes the person and speaks as of himself, concerning the misery of one under the law. This St. Paul frequently does, when he is not speaking of his own person, but only assuming another character, Romans 3:5; 1 Corinthians 10:30; 1 Corinthians 4:6. The character here assumed is that of a man, first ignorant of the law, then under it and sincerely, but ineffectually, striving to serve God. To have spoken this of himself, or any true believer, would have been foreign to the whole scope of his discourse; nay, utterly contrary thereto, as well as to what is expressly asserted, Romans 8:2.

Is the law sin — Sinful in itself, or a promoter of sin.

I had not known lust — That is, evil desire. I had not known it to be a sin; nay, perhaps I should not have known that any such desire was in me: it did not appear, till it was stirred up by the prohibition.

Verse 8

[8] But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead.

But sin — My inbred corruption.

Taking occasion by the commandment — Forbidding, but not subduing it, was only fretted, and wrought in me so much the more all manner of evil desire. For while I was without the knowledge of the law, sin was dead - Neither so apparent, nor so active; nor was I under the least apprehensions of any danger from it.

Verse 9

[9] For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.

And I was once alive without the law — Without the close application of it. I had much life, wisdom, virtue, strength: so I thought.

But when the commandment — That is, the law, a part put for the whole; but this expression particularly intimates its compulsive force, which restrains, enjoins, urges, forbids, threatens.

Came — In its spiritual meaning, to my heart, with the power of God.

Sin revived, and I died — My inbred sin took fire, and all my virtue and strength died away; and I then saw myself to be dead in sin, and liable to death eternal.

Verse 10

[10] And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death.

The commandment which was intended for life — Doubtless it was originally intended by God as a grand means of preserving and increasing spiritual life, and leading to life everlasting.

Verse 11

[11] For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me.

Deceived me — While I expected life by the law, sin came upon me unawares and slew all my hopes.

Verse 12

[12] Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.

The commandment — That is, every branch of the law.

Is holy, and just, and good — It springs from, and partakes of, the holy nature of God; it is every way just and right in itself; it is designed wholly for the good of man.

Verse 13

[13] Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful.

Was then that which is good made the cause of evil to me; yea, of death, which is the greatest of evil? Not so. But it was sin, which was made death to me, inasmuch as it wrought death in me even by that which is good - By the good law.

So that sin by the commandment became exceeding sinful — The consequence of which was, that inbred sin, thus driving furiously in spite of the commandment, became exceeding sinful; the guilt thereof being greatly aggravated.

Verse 14

[14] For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin.

I am carnal — St. Paul, having compared together the past and present state of believers, that "in the flesh," Romans 7:5, and that "in the spirit," Romans 7:6, in answering two objections, (Is then the law sin? Romans 7:7, and, Is the law death? Romans 7:13,) interweaves the whole process of a man reasoning, groaning, striving, and escaping from the legal to the evangelical state. This he does from Romans 7:7, to the end of this chapter.

Sold under sin — Totally enslaved; slaves bought with money were absolutely at their master's disposal.

Verse 16

[16] If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good.

It is good — This single word implies all the three that were used before, Romans 7:12, "holy, just, and good."

Verse 17

[17] Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.

It is no more I that can properly be said to do it, but rather sin that dwelleth in me — That makes, as it were, another person, and tyrannizes over me.

Verse 18

[18] For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.

In my flesh — The flesh here signifies the whole man as he is by nature.

Verse 21

[21] I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me.

I find then a law — An inward constraining power, flowing from the dictate of corrupt nature.

Verse 22

[22] For I delight in the law of God after the inward man:

For I delight in the law of God — This is more than "I consent to," Romans 7:16. The day of liberty draws near.

The inward man — Called the mind, Romans 7:23,25.

Verse 23

[23] But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.

But I see another law in my members — Another inward constraining power of evil inclinations and bodily appetites.

Warring against the law of my mind — The dictate of my mind, which delights in the law of God.

And captivating me — In spite of all my resistance

Verse 24

[24] O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?

Wretched man that I am — The struggle is now come to the height; and the man, finding there is no help in himself, begins almost unawares to pray, Who shall deliver me? He then seeks and looks for deliverance, till God in Christ appears to answer his question. The word which we translate deliver, implies force. And indeed without this there can be no deliverance.

The body of this death — That is, this body of death; this mass of sin, leading to death eternal, and cleaving as close to me as my body to my soul. We may observe, the deliverance is not wrought yet.

Verse 25

[25] I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.

I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord — That is, God will deliver me through Christ. But the apostle, as his frequent manner is, beautifully interweaves his assertion with thanksgiving;' the hymn of praise answering in a manner to the voice of sorrow, "Wretched man that I am!" So then - He here sums up the whole, and concludes what he began, Romans 7:7.

I myself — Or rather that I, the person whom I am personating, till this deliverance is wrought.

Serve the law of God with my mind — My reason and conscience declare for God.

But with my flesh the law of sin — But my corrupt passions and appetites still rebel. The man is now utterly weary of his bondage, and upon the brink of liberty.

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