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Romans 7:7

Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

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.
  • That it gives sin a deadly force, subjecting every transgression to the penalty of death, Romans 7:8-14. And yet,
  • 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."

    Hor. Carm. lib. i. Od. iii. ver. 25.

    And Ovid, Amor. lib. ii. Eleg. xix. ver. 3: -

    Quod licet, ingratum est; quod non licet, acrius urit.

    "What is lawful is insipid; the strongest propensity is excited towards that which is prohibited."

    And again, Ib. lib. iii. E. iv. ver. 17: -

    Nitimur in vetitum semper, cupimusque negata.

    "Vice is provoked by every strong restraint,

    Sick men long most to drink, who know they mayn't."

    The same poet delivers the same sentiment it another place: -

    Acrior admonitu est, irritaturque retenta

    Et crescit rabies: remoraminaque ipsa nocebant.

    Metam. lib. iii. ver. 566.

    "Being admonished, he becomes the more obstinate; and his fierceness is irritated by restraints. Prohibitions become incentives to greater acts of vice."

    But it is needless to multiply examples; this most wicked principle of a sinful, fallen nature, has been felt and acknowledged by All mankind.

    Albert Barnes
    Notes on the Whole Bible

    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 allameans 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.

    Matthew Henry
    Concise Bible Commentary
    There is no way of coming to that knowledge of sin, which is necessary to repentance, and therefore to peace and pardon, but by trying our hearts and lives by the law. In his own case the apostle would not have known the sinfulness of his thoughts, motives, and actions, but by the law. That perfect standard showed how wrong his heart and life were, proving his sins to be more numerous than he had before thought, but it did not contain any provision of mercy or grace for his relief. He is ignorant of human nature and the perverseness of his own heart, who does not perceive in himself a readiness to fancy there is something desirable in what is out of reach. We may perceive this in our children, though self-love makes us blind to it in ourselves. The more humble and spiritual any Christian is, the more clearly will he perceive that the apostle describes the true believer, from his first convictions of sin to his greatest progress in grace, during this present imperfect state. St. Paul was once a Pharisee, ignorant of the spirituality of the law, having some correctness of character, without knowing his inward depravity. When the commandment came to his conscience by the convictions of the Holy Spirit, and he saw what it demanded, he found his sinful mind rise against it. He felt at the same time the evil of sin, his own sinful state, that he was unable to fulfil the law, and was like a criminal when condemned. But though the evil principle in the human heart produces sinful motions, and the more by taking occasion of the commandment; yet the law is holy, and the commandment holy, just, and good. It is not favourable to sin, which it pursues into the heart, and discovers and reproves in the inward motions thereof. Nothing is so good but a corrupt and vicious nature will pervert it. The same heat that softens wax, hardens clay. Food or medicine when taken wrong, may cause death, though its nature is to nourish or to heal. The law may cause death through man's depravity, but sin is the poison that brings death. Not the law, but sin discovered by the law, was made death to the apostle. The ruinous nature of sin, and the sinfulness of the human heart, are here clearly shown.
    Ellen G. White
    Testimonies for the Church, vol. 2, 512-3

    Even some ministers who are advocating the law of God have but little knowledge of themselves. They do not meditate, and investigate their motives. They do not see their errors and sins, because they do not, in sincerity and earnestness, take a view of their life, their acts, and their character, separate and as a whole, and compare them with the sacred and holy law of God. The claims of God's law are not really understood by them, and they are daily living in transgression of the spirit of that law which they profess to revere. “By the law,” says Paul, “is the knowledge of sin.” “I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.” Some who labor in word and doctrine have not a practical understanding of the law of God and its holy claims, or of the atonement of Christ. They themselves need to be converted before they can convert sinners. 2T 512.1

    The faithful mirror which would reveal the defects in the character is neglected; therefore deformity and sin exist, and are apparent to others, if not understood by those who are in fault. The hateful sin of selfishness exists to a great degree, even in some who profess to be devoted to the work of God. If they would compare their character with His requirements, especially with the great standard, His holy, just, and good law, they would ascertain, if earnest, honest searchers, that they are fearfully wanting. But some are not willing to look far enough or deep enough to see the depravity of their own hearts. They are wanting in very many respects; yet they remain in willing ignorance of their guilt, and are so intent upon caring for their own interests that God has no care for them. 2T 512.2

    Some are not naturally devotional, and therefore should encourage and cultivate a habit of close examination of their own lives and motives, and should especially cherish a love for religious exercises and for secret prayer. They are often heard talking of doubts and unbelief, and dwelling upon the wonderful struggles they have had with infidel feelings. They dwell upon discouraging influences as so affecting their faith, hope, and courage in the truth and in the ultimate success of the work and cause in which they are engaged, as to make it a special virtue to be found on the side of the doubting. At times they seem to really enjoy hovering about the infidel's position and strengthening their unbelief with every circumstance they can gather as an excuse for their darkness. To such we would say: You would better come down at once and leave the walls of Zion until you become converted men and good Christians. Before you take the responsibility of becoming ministers you are required of God to separate yourselves from the love of this world. The reward of those who continue in this doubting position will be that given to the fearful and unbelieving. 2T 513.1

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    Ellen G. White
    SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 6 (EGW), 1096

    7-17. The Moral Law Glorified by Christ—The types and shadows of the sacrificial service, with the prophecies, gave the Israelites a veiled, indistinct view of the mercy and grace to be brought to the world by the revelation of Christ. To Moses was unfolded the significance of the types and shadows pointing to Christ. He saw to the end of that which was to be done away when, at the death of Christ, type met antitype. He saw that only through Christ can man keep the moral law. By transgression of this law man brought sin into the world, and with sin came death. Christ became the propitiation for man's sin. He proffered His perfection of character in the place of man's sinfulness. He took upon Himself the curse of disobedience. The sacrifices and offerings pointed forward to the sacrifice He was to make. The slain lamb typified the Lamb that was to take away the sin of the world. 6BC 1096.1

    It was seeing the object of that which was to be done away, seeing Christ as revealed in the law, that illumined the face of Moses. The ministration of the law, written and engraved in stone, was a ministration of death. Without Christ, the transgressor was left under its curse, with no hope of pardon. The ministration had of itself no glory, but the promised Saviour, revealed in the types and shadows of the ceremonial law, made the moral law glorious (The Review and Herald, April 22, 1902). 6BC 1096.2

    7-18 (Romans 3:31; 7:7; Galatians 3:13). Christ's Glory Revealed in His Law—Christ bore the curse of the law, suffering its penalty, carrying to completion the plan whereby man was to be placed where he could keep God's law, and be accepted through the merits of the Redeemer; and by His sacrifice glory was shed upon the law. Then the glory of that which is not to be done away—God's law of ten commandments, His standard of righteousness—was plainly seen by all who saw to the end of that which was done away. 6BC 1096.3

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    Ellen G. White
    Selected Messages Book 1, 241

    Incarnation—The Nature of Christ

    [This article appeared in The Youth's Instructor, October 13, 1898.]

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    Ellen G. White
    Selected Messages Book 1, 229

    Christ and the Law

    [This article appeared in The Signs of the Times, March 14, 1878.]

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