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Here is the great difficulty, and here the solution of the whole passage must come in. Consider, for a moment, the true nature of the apostle's assertion, and no alarm need be felt as to the tendency of his sentiments. For what is it which he affirms in chap. vi, 14 ? It is, that “ sin shall not have dominion over Christians, because they are not under the law, but under grace.” The dominion or power which sin is to have over Christians, is then the subject of his inquiry, and of his assertions. So indeed the preceding context teaches; and so the subsequent context also. That we are not under the law, then, must of course mean, in this connection, that we are not under it as an efficacious or successful means of deliverance from the power of sin; for this it has never been, and cannot be, as chap. vii, 5–25 most fully shows. Christians are dead to the law, then, in this respect, viz. they renounce all hope of deliverance from the power of sin, through the law. It convinces, and condemns, and keeps up a perpetual struggle in the sinner's breast by awakening his conscience; but it does not deliver, vii, 14-25, compare viii, 3, 4. Consequently, the true penitent, coming to feel its impotence as the means of delivering from the power of sin, renounces all hope of deliverance in this way, and gives himself up to Christ, as his sanctification, as well as his wisdom, justification, and redemption.
Now what is there in all this, which infringes on the obligation of moral precept contained in the law? Surely nothing. “ The law is holy, and just, and good;" it is all summed up in the requisition, “ to love God with all our heart and our neighbor as ourselves.” Will any one assert that Paul contends against this, after all that he has said in chaps. vi-viii, relative to the Christian's obligation to renounce sin and live a holy life ? Nothing can be farther from his intention. The only question that needs to be solved, in order to remove all real difficulty, is : In what sense does Paul say that we are dead to the law ? This I have endeavored to answer, by making the apostle his own expositor. The sum of the answer is, that as Christians renounce the law as an effectual means of justification, (chap. i-111,) so they must renounce it as an effectual means of sanctification. Christ is our only hope in this respect, as well as in the other. The grace of the Gospel is the only effectual means by which we can hope successfully to resist sin, and persevere in holiness. .
And is not this true? Just as true as that Christ is the ground of our justification ? I appeal to chap. viii, 3, 4, for an exhibition of the sum of this sentiment; and to the whole of chaps. vi-viii, and also to the experience and feelings of every truly enlightened and humble Christian on earth,-in confirmation of the same sentiment.
I acknowledge it is a truth often overlooked. Many a time have I read the Epistle to the Romans, without obtaining scarcely a glimpse of it. When I ask the reason of this, I find it in neglect to look after the general object and course of thought in the writer. Special interpretation stood in the way of general views ; the explanation of words hindered the discerning of the course of thought. And so
may be with many others. But now the whole matter appears to me so plain, that I can only wonder that I have ever been in the dark respecting it. Luther and other reformers saw what was so long hid
den from me ; and of late, Knapp, Tholuck, and many other commentators, have explained the chapters in question in like manner as I now do.
Having already given what I consider as the only defensible exposition of the similitude, which the apostle employs in ver. 1-4, I merely advert to different expositions, ancient and modern. Augustine, Prop. 36: Tria sint; anima tanquam mulier, passiones peccatorum tanquam vir, et lex tanquam lex viri. Beza : “ T'he old man is the wife, sinful desire the husband, sins the children.” Origen, Chrysostom, Calvin, and others : “ Men are the wife, the law the former husband, Christ the new one." This last explanation seems to accord substantially with ver. 4, in which Christians are represented as having become dead to their former husband, and affianced to a new one.
In order to carry the figure regularly through, it would seem as if the law (the former husband) must be represented as dead, by which Christians would be at liberty to be joined to a new husband. But this the apostle does not say; probably because he thought the expression would give offence to the Jews. Yet he says what is tantamount to it; for if either of the parties in a conjugal union die, then each is dead to the law, and the law to them, i. e. the conjugal law has no more application or relation to them, it is annulled as to them. It matters not which party dies, so far as the law is concerned; for the law is at an end if either dies.So in the case before us ; one of the parties being dead, the conjugal relation ceases. A new connection, therefore, may be formed. But this last conclusion can be made out only on the ground, that “dying to the law” is a figurative expression; which, indeed, no one will deny. If it is to be expounded by analogy with chap. vi, 1-11, we must construe it as meaning, “ the renunciation of all trust in the law as the efficient means of sanctifying the sinner.” When the awakened sinner comes to feel this sincerely and thoroughly, he is then prepared to be affianced to Christ, i. e. to receive him as his sanctification, as well as his justification.' (pp. 277-280.)
In Excursus vi, the author pursues this subject still farther in vindication of the position he had assumed. He supposes the objector to his views is urging that the interpretation he had given to Romans vii, 7-25, militates against the doctrine of human depravity. To this objection the professor replies as follows:
• The whole of the allegation which I am discussing, appears to me to rest on ground entirely unsafe and unsatisfactory. It will be admitted by those who are conversant with the dispute about the meaning of the passage before us, and are well read in the history of Christian doctrine, that Augustine was the first who suggested the idea, that it must be applied to Christian experience. This he did, however, in the heat of dispute with Pelagius. At an earlier period of his life, he held to the common exegesis of the Church; as is certain from Prop. xlv, in Epist. ad Rom. : Intelligitur hinc ille homo describi, qui nondum sub gratia. So in Confess. vii, 21 ; viii, 5, Ad Simplic. i. But Pelagius, who denied the fallen state of man, urged upon him the declarations above referred to, viz., delighting in the law of God after the inner man, serring the law of God with the mind, etc. Augustine felt himself pressed
by them, and made his escape, by protesting against the exegesis of his antagonist. He recanted his former opinion respecting ver. 14-25, and became a strenuous advocate for an interpretation, which through him has gained extensive ground among Christians, and maintains its footing among many down to the present hour.
It is difficult to say how far men, and even good men, will sometimes go in matters of interpretation and criticism, in order to relieve themselves from the straits occasioned by warm dispute, in which their antagonists make galling attacks upon them. It was, in all probability, the dispute of the Church at Rome with the Montanists, which first occasioned it to doubt, and then to deny, the Pauline origin of the Epistle to the Hebrews. Luther's dispute with the Roman Catholics, on the subject of justification by faith alone, led him to discard the Epistle of James, and to call it, by way of contempt, epistola straminea, [an epistle of straw.] And the like have many others done, for similar reasons. Such seems to have been the ground of Augustine's new exegesis.
But when we come, now, seriously and calmly to inquire whether there is any cause of alarm in respect to the doctrine of the natural man's depravity, because Romans vii, 7-25 is interpreted as having respect to him ; we can see that this is so far from being the case, that the very opposite is true ; I mean, that his depravity is rendered much
, more conspicuous and aggravated by this exegesis. Let us see if this be not palpable and certain.
That men are moral beings, does not make them sinners or saints. That they have faculties which can distinguish between good and evil, only shows that they are capable of doing good or evil, of being righteous or wicked. Conscience and reason belong to the pura
naturalia of the human race. Man, in the full and proper sense of this word, cannot exist without them. It is no more an evidence, then, that a man is holy or good in the Scripture sense of the word, because his reason and conscience distinguish good from evil, and testify in behalf of the good, than it is that he is holy because he has a moral nature. Such a distinction and such an approbation are inseparable from the essential nature of reason and conscience.
Consider, moreover, that the guilt of a sinner, who continues to yield to the solicitations of his carnal desires, is proportioned entirely to the measure of light which he has, and to the inducements set before him to act in a different manner. 66 Where there is no law, there is no transgression.' “ To him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” Then, of course, the sinner, with reason and conscience and the law of God all remonstrating against his course, is involved in guilt of the deepest dye; while an offender (if I may so call him) without any of these checks, would be no offender at all. " He that knoweth his master's will, and doeth it not, shall be beaten with many stripes.” And so it ought to be. What then can render the person's case more aggravated, who is described in ver. 14-25, than the fact that he resists so much light and such powerful motives to pursue a different course ?
Is it, then, denying the depravity of the unregenerate, when we assign to them faculties to do good, and light as to their duty, and
strong excitement to perform it, and represent them as after all refusing to do good, and uniformly hearkening to the voice of sin? I appeal to the reason and conscience of all men, whether such an accusation against the exegesis in question, is not in a high degree unjust and unfounded. Nay, I might go farther; I might say, it is the contrary exegesis which is pressed with the very difficulty it urges against the other. For if the sinner is born without reason and conscience, and is without light; or if he is born with reason and conscience that are incapable of distinguishing good from evil, or of giving the preference to the former ; then his depravity and desperate guilt can in no way be made out, consistently with the first principles of a moral sense.
Of all the charges, then, brought against the exegesis which I have defended, that of its diminishing the guilt of unregenerate men, is the most unfounded and unjust.
I have discussed the principal arguments, so far as I am acquainted with them, of those who interpret ver. 14–25 as having relation to Christian experience. In regard to the allegation, that Paul here speaks in the first person singular, and must therefore be relating his own experience, I have already remarked upon it, p. 296, seq. There is no objection to allowing it to be Paul's experience; but when had he such experience? And why does he speak of himself? These are the questions to be answered ; and these I have endeavored to answer in my remarks at the close of vii, 12.
I cannot conclude this already protracted Excursus, without adverting, for a moment, to the history of the exegesis introduced by Augustine.
As has already been stated, the most ancient fathers of the Church, without a dissenting voice, so far as we have any means of ascertaining their views, were united in the belief, that an unregenerate, unsanctified person is described in vii, 5–25. So Origen, Tertullian, Chrysostom, and Theodoret. In this state did the views of the Church remain down to the time of Augustine, whose first opinion, and whose change of it, have already been described. How unnecessary such an evasion was, on his part, of the argument of Pelagius, we have already seen. For surely the more light the mind of a natural man has, the more his conscience approves the Divine law, and sides with it ; the deeper and more dreadful is his guilt, when he sins against all these. And as the person described by the apostle is one over whom sin, in every case of contest presented, does actually obtain the victory; he must of course be a person of much deeper and more desperate depravity than any one can be, whose natural faculties are all degraded and depraved in their very origin; as Augustine held the faculties of men to be, after his dispute with Pelagius.
The exegesis of Augustine, however, found favor in the Churches where his sentiments respecting original sin were received ; and prevailed very extensively and for a long time. In like manner with him, have Anselm, Thomas Aquinas, Cornelius a Lapide, Luther, Melancthon, Calvin, Beza, Spener, Buddaeus, Koppe, and many others, explained the passage in question ; and most commentators among evangelical Christians, in Great Britain and in this country, have followed the same opinion.
On the other hand, beside all the ancient Greek, and some of the Latin fathers, there are many distinguished men who have defended the sentiment which has been above exhibited. Such are Erasmus, Raphel, Episcopius, Limborch, Turretin, Le Clerc, Heumann, Bucer, Schomer, Franke, G. Arnold, Bengel, Reinhard, Storr, Flatt, Knapp, Tholuck, and (so far as I know) all the evangelical commentators of the present time, on the continent of Europe. Most of the English Episcopal Church, also, for many years, and not a few of the Scotch, Dutch, and English Presbyterian and Congregational divines, have adopted the same interpretation. I cannot but believe, that the time is not far distant, when there will be but one opinion among intelligent Christians, about the passage in question; as there was but one, before the dispute of Augustine with Pelagius. In this respect there is ground of trust, that the ancient and modern Churches will yet fully harmonize.
From the above brief historical sketch, it would seem, that in general those who have admitted Augustine's view of the doctrine of original sin, have also admitted his exegesis of Rom. vii, 5–25. To this, however, there are exceptions; and of late, not a few exceptions.More thorough, impartial, and unbiassed examination, will probably make an entire change in the views of Christians in general, even of those who have been educated in the belief of the Augustinian exegesis. This was my own lot; and for some time after I began the critical study of the Scriptures, I continued to advocate this method of interpretation. But an often repeated and more attentive study of the Epistle to the Romans has brought me to believe, that such an exegesis is forbidden by the nature of the case, the usus loquendi, and the object of the writer; and that it is impossible to maintain it, on any impartial and critical grounds.
I am fully aware of the strength of feeling which exists relative to this subject, in the minds of many. I am sorry to add, that the manner in which it is defended, can never contribute to advance the interests of simple truth. When will it be believed, that scorn is not critical acumen, and that calling men heretics, is not an argument that will convince such as take the liberty to think and examine for themselves ? When will such appeals cease? And when shall we have reasons instead of assertions, criticism in the place of denunciation, and a full practical exhibition of the truth, that the simple testimony of the Divine word stands immeasurably higher than all human authority ?' (Pages 559-562.)
The reader will be pleased to find that the views of Wesley and Clarke, in regard to the design of the apostle in this chapter, are fully confirmed by the Andover professor. Mr. Wesley says in his note on verse :
• This is a kind of 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 in his own person, but only assuming another character, Rom. iii, 6; 1 Cor. x, 30; ch. iv, 6.