on Romans 7 :7
Is the law sin? - The apostle had said, Romans 7:6 : The motions of sins, which were by the law, did bring forth fruit unto death; and now he anticipates an objection, "Is therefore the law sin?" To which he answers, as usual, μη γενοιτο, by no means. Law is only the means of disclosing; this sinful propensity, not of producing it; as a bright beam of the sun introduced into a room shows; millions of motes which appear to be dancing in it in all directions; but these were not introduced by the light: they were there before, only there was not light enough to make them manifest; so the evil propensity was there before, but there was not light sufficient to discover it.
I had not known sin, but by the law - Mr. Locke and Dr. Taylor have properly remarked the skill used by St. Paul in dexterously avoiding, as much as possible, the giving offense to the Jews: and this is particularly evident in his use of the word I in this place. In the beginning of the chapter, where he mentions their knowledge of the law, he says Ye; in the 4th verse he joins himself with them, and says we; but here, and so to the end of the chapter, where he represents the power of sin and the inability of the law to subdue it, he appears to leave them out, and speaks altogether in the first person, though it is plain he means all those who are under the law. So, Romans 3:7, he uses the singular pronoun, why am I judged a sinner? when he evidently means the whole body of unbelieving Jews.
There is another circumstance in which his address is peculiarly evident; his demonstrating the insufficiency of the law under color of vindicating it. He knew that the Jew would take fire at the least reflection on the law, which he held in the highest veneration; and therefore he very naturally introduces him catching at that expression, Romans 7:5, the motions of sins, which were by the law, or, notwithstanding the law. "What!" says this Jew, "do you vilify the law, by charging it with favoring sin?" By no means, says the apostle; I am very far from charging the law with favoring sin. The law is holy, and the commandment is holy, just, and good, Romans 7:12. Thus he writes in vindication of the law; and yet at the same time shows:
1. That the law requires the most extensive obedience, discovering and condemning sin in all its most secret and remote branches, Romans 7:7.
2. That it gives sin a deadly force, subjecting every transgression to the penalty of death, Romans 7:8-14. And yet,
3. supplies neither help nor hope to the sinner, but leaves him under the power of sin, and the sentence of death, Romans 7:14, etc. This, says Dr. Taylor, is the most ingenious turn of writing I ever met with. We have another instance of the same sort, Romans 13:1-7.
It is not likely that a dark, corrupt human heart can discern the will of God. His law is his will. It recommends what is just, and right, and good and forbids what is improper, unjust, and injurious. If God had not revealed himself by this law, we should have done precisely what many nations of the earth have done, who have not had this revelation - put darkness for light, and sin for acts of holiness. While the human heart is its own measure it will rate its workings according to its own propensities; for itself is its highest rule. But when God gives a true insight of his own perfections, to be applied as a rule both of passion and practice, then sin is discovered, and discovered too, to be exceedingly sinful. So strong propensities, because they appear to be inherent in our nature, would have passed for natural and necessary operations; and their sinfulness would not have been discovered, if the law had not said, Thou shalt not covet; and thus determined that the propensity itself, as well as its outward operations, is sinful. The law is the straight edge which determines the quantum of obliquity in the crooked line to which it is applied.
It is natural for man to do what is unlawful, and to desire especially to do that which is forbidden. The heathens have remarked this propensity in man.
Thus Livy, xxxiv. 4: -
Luxuria - ipsis vinculis, sicut fera bestia, irtitata.
"Luxury, like a wild beast, is irritated by its very bonds."
Audax omnia perpeti
Gens humana ruit per vetitun; nefas.
"The presumptuous human race obstinately rush into prohibited acts of wickedness."
on Romans 7 :7
What shall we say then? - The objection which is here urged is one that would very naturally rise, and which we may suppose would be urged with no slight indignation. The Jew would ask, "Are we then to suppose that the holy Law of God is not only insufficient to sanctify us, but that it is the mere occasion of increased sin? Is its tendency to produce sinful passions, and to make people worse than they were before?" To this objection the apostle replies with great wisdom, by showing that the evil was not in the Law, but in man; that though these effects often followed, yet that the Law itself was good and pure.
Is the law sin? - Is it sinful? Is it evil? For if, as it is said in Romans 7:5, the sinful passions were "by the law," it might naturally be asked whether the Law itself was not an evil thing?
God forbid - Note, Romans 3:4.
Nay, I had not known sin - The word translated "nay" ἀλλὰ alla means more properly but; and this would have more correctly expressed the sense, "I deny that the Law is sin. My doctrine does not lead to that; nor do I affirm that it is evil. I strongly repel the charge; but, notwithstanding this, I still maintain that it had an effect in exciting sins, yet so as that I perceived that the Law itself was good;" Romans 7:8-12. At the same time, therefore, that the Law must be admitted to be the occasion of exciting sinful feelings, by crossing the inclinations of the mind, yet the fault was not to be traced to the Law. The apostle in these verses refers, doubtless, to the state of his mind before he found that peace which the gospel furnishes by the pardon of sins.
But by the law - Romans 3:20. By "the law" here, the apostle has evidently in his eye every law of God, however made known. He means to say that the effect which he describes attends all law, and this effect he illustrates by a single instance drawn from the Tenth Commandment. When he says that he should not have known sin, he evidently means to affirm, that he had not understood that certain things were sinful, unless they had been forbidden; and having stated this, he proceeds to another thing, to show the effect of their being thus forbidden on his mind. He was not merely acquainted abstractly with the nature and existence of sin, with what constituted crime because it was forbidden, but he was conscious of a certain effect on his mind resulting from this knowledge, and from the effect of strong, raging desires when thus restrained, Romans 7:8-9.
For I had not known lust - I should not have been acquainted with the nature of the sin of covetousness. The desire might have existed, but he would not have known it to be sinful, and he would not have experienced that raging, impetuous, and ungoverned propensity which he did when he found it to be forbidden. Man without law might have the strong feelings of desire He might covet what others possessed. He might take property, or be disobedient to parents; but he would not know it to be evil. The Law fixes bounds to his desires, and teaches him what is right and what is wrong. It teaches him where lawful indulgence ends, and where sin begins. The word "lust" here is not limited as it is with us. It refers to all covetous desires; to all wishes for what is forbidden us.
Except the law had said - In the tenth commandment; Exodus 20:17.
Thou shalt not covet - This is the beginning of the command, and all the rest is implied. The apostle knew that it would be understood without repeating the whole. This particular commandment he selected because it was more pertinent than the others to his purpose. The others referred particularly to external actions. But his object was to show the effect of sin on the mind and conscience. He therefore chose one that referred particularly to the desires of the heart.
on Romans 7 :7
7:7 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, Rom 3:5, 1Cor 10:30, 1Cor 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, Rom 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.