ROMANS, vii, 14,15.
For we know that the law is spiritual : but I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not ; but what I hate, that do I."

THE first thing to be remarked here, is the transition which the apostle makes at this verse into another tense. It looks as if from the 7th verse to the 14th, he, using the past tense, was describing the state of matters antecedent to his conversion, and showing what his case was under the law; but that now, sliding into the use of the present tense, he is describing his experience as a believer: And this is one argument for Paul speaking here in his own person, and not in that of an unregenerate man. ‘The law is spiritual.’ It has authority over the desires of the inner man. It holds a sinful wish to be criminal, as well as a sinful performance. It finds matter for condemnation in the state of the will, as well as in the deeds of the outward history. It demands punishment, for example, not merely on the action by which I wrest another’s property; but on the affection by which I covet it.

Paul once thought himself free of all offences, in regard to a neighbour’s rights, because he bud never put forth the hand of violence, or plied any device of frauduleney against them. But when he looked to the spiritual nature of the commandment, in that it interdicted him even from the longings of a secret appetite for that which was not rightfully his own - then, conscious that with all the abstinence of his outer man from the acts of dishonesty there was still a secret propensity in his heart towards the gains or the fruits, he felt himself, when standing at the bar of this purer and loftier jurisprudence, to be indeed a transgressor.

And so, in the general, there may be no disobedience on the part of the outer man to any of God’s commandments ; and yet there may be, all the while, an utter distaste for them on the part of the inner man - and this is what the law takes cognizance of, in virtue of its spiritual character, and pronounces to be sinful. To do what. is bidden with the hand, is not enough to satisfy such a law - if the struggling inclination of the heart be against it. And above all will it charge the deepest guilt on a man - because of his disaffection towards God - because of a love for the creature, that has deposed from its rightful ascendancy over him the love of the Creator - because of that moral anarchy and misrule in the constitution of his spirit, whereby, with its relish for the gifts of Providence, it has a disrelish and disregard for the Giver of them ; and because wlule it may yield many compliances with the law of’ God at the impulse of dread or of danger or of habit, it yields not to God Himself the offering of a spontaneous devotion, the tribute of an intelligent or of a willing reverence.

Perhaps my best recommendation to you, for the purpose of acquiring a more thorough discernment of God's law in the spirituality of its character, is that you peruse with faithful application to your own heart the fifth chapter of Matthew - where, article by article, you have the comparison between a spiritual and what may be called a carnal commandment; and from which you will at once perceive, how possible it is, that, with a most rigid and undeviating faithfulness in regard to the latter, there may be an utter deficiency from the former in all its requirements; and how truly the same individual may say of himself, that, when in the flesh, he, touching the righteousness that is of the law, was blameless - and yet, when advanced and elevated above this state and now in the spirit, he may say, 0 wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the law of sin in my members!

You see how, in proportion to his high sense of the law, he may have a low sense of himself; and that, just as one advances in the discernment of its purity, and in the delicacy of his recoil at the slightest deviations therefrom, which surely mark his progressive sanctification - the more readily will he break forth into exclamations of shame and self-abhorrence: Or the loftier his positive ascent on the heights of sacredness, the more fearful will he be of all those drags and downward tendencies by which he still is encompassed; and which, if not felt to be most hazardous as well as most humbling, may not only cause to slip the footsteps of the heavenward traveller; but may precipitate him from the eminence that he has gotten, into the lowest depths of wretched and hopeless apostacy.
‘I am carnal’ - It is on the principles just now uttered, that Paul may have made this affirmationof himself. The same man who could say of all the good that was done - "nevertheless not me but the grace of God that is in me" - Surely this man, who thus knew what he should refer to God’s grace and what he should refer to his own separate and unaided self, might, even after this grace had become the habitual visitant or inmate of his heart, still look to his own soul; and, conceiving of it as apart or disjoined from the fountain out of which he draws the supplies of its nourishment, might well say that ‘I am carnal.’ Suppose for a moment that the branch of a tree were endowed with a separate consciousness of its own - then, however lovely in blossom or richly-laden with fruit, it may feel of the whole efflorescence which adorns it, that it was both derived and is upholden, by the flow of a succulence from the stem; and it may know, that, if severed therefrom, it would forthwith wither into decay, and that all the goodly honours wherewith it was invested would drop away from it.

The twofold consciousness of what it would be in itself, and of what it is in the tree, might force the very utterance that was emitted by a Christian disciple when he said, “ I am dead, nevertheless I live." “Yet not I" adds the apostle “but Christ liveth in me." Apart from Him without whom I can do nothing - disjoined from the Saviour who compares Himself to a tree and us to the branches - I who in Christ am a new creature - out of Christ am dead and out of Him am carnal. The Scripture phrase "to be in the flesh" when descriptive of character is applied in sacred writ only to the unregenerate. "They who are in the flesh cannot please God." "You are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you."

But the Scripture term carnal is sometimes applied to a man after his conversion. A man when newly born again is a babe; yet to such did Paul apply this epithet, "I could not speak unto you as unto spiritual but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. For ye are yet carnal, for whereas there is among you envying and strife and divisions, are ye not carnal and walk as men "Only think of a Christian as made up of two ingredients, the one consisting of all that he inherits by nature, the other consisting of all that is superinduced on him by grace. Think of his inward and experimental life as consisting of a struggle between these ingredients, in which the one does habitually and will at length ultimately and completely prevail. But the wrong principle belonging properly and primitively to the man himself, and the right principle being derived from without through the channel of believing prayer, or the exercise of faith in Christ Jesus - how natural is it in these circumstances, for every Christian to regard the one as the home article, and the other as a foreign article for which he stands indebted to a fountain that is abroad - and whereunto it is his business to resort perpetually. He is like Saul operated upon by the harp of the son of Jesse; and as the one might well have said, even in the kindest and gentlest mood to which the warblings of the instrument had brought him, that in myself I am a fire brand of rage and vindictiveness - so the other, conscious that disjoined from the grace and truth which come by Jesus Christ he is an ungodly and an unheavenly creature, might as well say that in myself I am an alienated rebel - in myself I am altogether carnal. Let me separate by ever so little from Christ, then is this corrupt nature ever in readiness to put forth its propensities - Or even let me always abide in Him - let me in no one instance lose my hold of Him - conceive me to be placed on the very height of Christian perfection, and that just because I at all times am steadfastly and solidly established on the deepest basis of Christian dependence - Yet still with the assurance in my mind, that, should I let the dependence go, self would recover the ascendancy and that the ascendancy of self would be the ascendancy of sin, it is not too strong an inference that self is carnal; or even that self is sold under sin, as being, apart from the Saviour, its helpless and irrecoverable slave.
It is said of Ahab that there was none like unto him; for he did sell himself to work wickedness in the sight of the Lord. In him you have a character, where corruption was the dominant and the entire and the unresisted principle of his constitution. He was the old man all over - who loved his state of captivity, instead of lamenting it; and of whom it never could be said, that he felt the sin of his nature to be a burden, or that he longed to be delivered from it, or that he delighted in the law of God after the inner man, and sighed after the subjugation or rather the extirpation of every tumultuous and adverse element of evil that was in his outer man. His mind went wholly along with the wicked and wayward inclinations that nature had given him; and here lay the difference between him and Paul, that, with the latter, there was gotten up a new creature all whose energies and desires were in a state of warfare with those of the old man; and in this passage we have the cries and the agonies of the battle, till it closes with the final shout of victory " I thank God through Jesus my Lord."

Still, viewing the old man as properly his own, and the new creature as a present or a production from above - well might the apostle say, not in the character of what he was by derivation from the Lord his sanctifier, but in the character of what he originally and essentially was in himself, that I am carnal and I am sold under sin.

Ver. 15.
To understand this verse, and to see that it is the utterance not of a wilful sinner but of an honest and aspiring disciple - remember that it is the soliloquy of one, who had just recognised the spiritual character of the law of God, and who was exercising and judging and confessing himself according to the standard of that law. There is at least one moral property, that must, in the midst of all his recorded deficiences, be ascribed to him. He willed the conformity of himself to God’s holy commandment. The prescription that lies upon him and upon all is "be ye perfect;" and if perfection was not his achievement, it was at least his aim. His prevailing wish was to be altogether as he ought ; and if he did not succeed in being so-he at least aspired at being so. The habitual longing of his heart was, without reserve and without hypocrisy, towards the law of God. There was a pure and a lofty ambition which actuated his soul; and the object of that ambition was that he might serve God without a flaw, and reach an unspotted holiness. He may have been thwarted in the ambition - he may have been so crossed and impeded in his movements as to have come greatly short of it - yet still the ambition did exist, and evinced at once its strength and its perpetuity, both by the bitterness wherewith he mourned over his own failures, and by the fresh and repeated efforts wherewith he laboured to redeem them. In a word there was one principle of this man’s constitution, that was all active and awake on the side of holiness - that bore a genuine love to virtue, and made constant efforts to realize it - that could not rest while its own protrait was one of unfinished excellence; and just like.the accomplished artist, in proportion to his nice and delicate sense of beauty, were his grief and his intolerance at the blemishes wherewith his performance was stained.

It is he who sets before him the loftiest standard of worth, and who is most jealous and unremitting in the pains that he takes to equahise it - it is he who most droops and is dejected under a sense of his deficiency therefrom. It is from him that we may look for most frequent humblings of spirit, and for the deepest visitations upon his heart of a sense of sin and of shortcoming; and that, not because he is beneath other men in his powers of execution, but because he is beyond them in his powers of conception, and in the largeness of his desires after the supremacy of all grace and all goodness. That the soliloquist of the passage had this generous and aspiring tendency is evident, if faults he had, he had no toleration for them; but rather the fullest antipathy - ’ that which I do I allow uot, - what I hate that do I.’

If he fell short of moral and spiritual greatness, still he honestly aspired and habitually pressed towards it. ‘What I would that I do not,’ and " to will is present with me," and "I would do good," and that good is the law which has the consent of my approbation, and "in this law I delight after the inward man" - so that "with my mind I serve it."

Now could you apply any one of these affirmations to such a man as Ahab? If they hold true of one character and do not hold true of another, is there not the utmost of a real and practical difference between the characters? Could Ahab have said that it is no more I who do it but sin that dwelleth in me? Does it not impress you with a most wide and palpable distinction, when you see one man solacing himself in full complacency with a sinful indulgence, and another man struggling with all his might against the sinful tendency which leads to it? The former comes willingly under the power of sin in his constitution - the other detests and mourns over the presence of it there. They are alike in both of them having a corrupt nature. They are unlike in that one has been furnished with a new and holy nature, which does not immediately extinguish the former, but takes place beside it until death, and bears a principle of unsparing and unquenchable hostility towards it.

A man conscious to himself of this state of composition, takes the side of his new nature, and can say of the rebellious movements of the old man, "it is not I who do them but sin that dwelleth in me." Ahab could not have said so, but Paul could. In the former, sin and self were on terms of perfect agreement - so that his heart was fully set in him to do that which was evil. In the latter, the original self was set aside, and kept under, and loathed because of its abominations, and striven against as the worst of enemies, and loaded with epithets of abuse, and charged with the designs and the dispositions of perpetual mischief. And so, throughout the whole of this soliloquy, is it reproached with being carnal and sold under sin, with doing that which is unallowable and undesirable and evil and hateful - with omitting to do what is good, arid being without the skill and the power to perform it - with being utterly destitute of any good thing - with keeping up its elevated residence, even in the bosom of the Christian who loathed it; and, ever present there, warring against the suggestions of a better principle; and bent on taking captive the whole man to the law of that sin which was in his members - So as that the flesh was wholly enlisted on the side of this hateful service; and such a conflict upheld among the belligerent powers and principles that were in a believer’s frame, as burdened him with a sense of wretchedness, and made him cry out for deliverance therefrom.

Take this along with you, and you will be able to appreciate what the confessions are that Paul makes of his own sinfulness. He first mourns over the guilt of his omissions, ‘what I would that I do not’ - ’ how to perform that which is good I find not’ - ’ the good that I would I do not.’ Ere you estimate the flagrancy of his omissions, think of this, that they consist in having fallen short of his desires - not that his work fell short of that of other men, but that it fell greatly short of his own willingness - not that he neglected any one duty which could obtain for him credit in society, but that he failed in bringing his graces and his exercises up to the balance of the sanctuary. That he should in any one instance through the day, have lost the frame of his affectionate dependence towards God, or have let a sense of his obligations to Christ depart from his mind, or have slackened his diligence in the way of labouring for the souls of his fellow-creatures, or have cooled in his charity towards those who were around him, or have failed in any acts and expressions of courteousness - these were enough most tenderly to affect such a heart of moral tenderness as he had, and to prompt every confession and every utterance of shame or humiliation or remorse that is here recorded. What some might mistake as the evidence of a spiritual decline on the part of the apostle, was in fact the evidence of his growth. It is the effusion of a more quick and cultured sensibility than fell to the lot of ordinary men; and like the mortifica tion of him, who, because the most consummate of all artists, is therefore the most feelingly alive to every deformity and every deviation.

The inference were altogether erroneous, that because Paul went beyond other men in his confessions, he therefore went beyond them in his crimes. The point in which he went beyond them was, not in crime, but in conscience; and the conclusion is - not that he who uttered these things was a reprobate, against whom the world could allege some monstrous or unnatural defect from any of the social or relative properties of life - but that, on the other hand, he was a busy and earnest and progressive disciple of the Lord Jesus, urged on by a sense of his distance from the perfection that lay before him, and charging his own heart with a wide and woful defect from the sanctities that it felt to be due to his God.

And the same holds true in regard to his confessions of positive sinfulness. ‘ W"hat I hate that I do.’ ‘I do that which I would not.’ ‘The evil which I would not that I do ‘ - Not that any doings of his were such as would be hateful to him of an ordinary conscience, not that the world could detect in them a flaw of odiousness. It was at the tribunal of his own conscience, that they were deemed to be reprehensible. It was in the eye of one now enlightened in the law of God and made alive to it, that the sins of his own heart bore upon them an aspect of such exceeding sinfulness. It was because of that quicker sensibility that he now had, as he moved forward in his spiritual education, that he now felt more of tenderness and alarm, about the secret workings of pride and selfishness and anger and carnality in his inner man; and such an effusion as that before us, which has been so strangely ascribed to a personified outcast from all grace and from all godliness, is one that only could have proceeded from the mouth of an experienced Christian, and is the best evidence of his progress. No unchristianised man could have felt that delight in God’s law, and that love for its precepts, and that active zeal on the side of obedience, which are all profest in the soliloquy that is now under consideration; and they would ensure, as they do with every Christian, a real and habitual progress in the virtues and accomplishments of the new creature.

But just in proportion as the desire after spiritual excellence is nourished into greater force and intensity in the one department of his now complex nature - so must be the detestation that is felt for every degree or remainder of evil, that exists in the other department of it. And not till the union of the two is terminated by death - not till that tabernacle is broken up, which festers throughout with the moral virus, that entered at the sin of our first parent, and was transmitted to all his posterity - not till these bodies have mouldered in the grave, and are raised anew in incorruption and in honour - not till then shall the desire and the doing, the principle and the performance be fully adequate the one unto the other; and then, emancipated from the drag and the oppression that here encumber us, we shall be translated into the glorious liberty of the children of God.
Go To Lecture 43
Go back to Romans index

Home | Biography | Literature | Letters | Interests | Links | Quotes | Photo-Wallet