But now we are delivered from the law - We, who have believed in Christ Jesus, are delivered from that yoke by which we were bound, which sentenced every transgressor to perdition, but provided no pardon even for the penitent, and no sanctification for those who are weary of their inbred corruptions.
That being dead wherein we were held - To us believers in Christ this commandment is abrogated; we are transferred to another constitution; that law which kills ceases to bind us; it is dead to us who have believed in Christ Jesus, who is the end of the law for justification and salvation to every one that believes.
That we should serve in newness of spirit - We are now brought under a more spiritual dispensation; now we know the spiritual import of all the Mosaic precepts. We see that the law referred to the Gospel, and can only be fulfilled by the Gospel.
The oldness of the letter - The merely literal rites, ceremonies, and sacrifices are now done away; and the newness of the spirit, the true intent and meaning of all are now fully disclosed; so that we are got from an imperfect state into a state of perfection and excellence. We sought justification and sanctification, pardon and holiness, by the law, and have found that the law could not give them: we have sought these in the Gospel scheme, and we have found them. We serve God now, not according to the old literal sense, but in the true spiritual meaning.
But now - Under the gospel. This verse states the consequences of the gospel, in distinction from the effects of the Law. The way in which this is accomplished, the apostle illustrates more at length in Romans 7:5, of the effects of the Law; and after having shown that its effects always were to increase crime and distress, he is prepared in Romans 7:4.
Wherein we were held - That is, as captives, or as slaves. We were held in bondage to it; Romans 7:1.
That we should serve - That we may now serve or obey God.
In newness of spirit - In a new spirit; or in a new and spiritual manner. This is a form of expression implying,
(1)That their service under the gospel was to be of a new kind, differing from that under the former dispensation.
The worship required under the gospel is uniformly described as that of the spirit and the heart, rather than that of form and ceremony; John 4:23, “The true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth; Philemon 3:3.
And not in the oldness of the letter - Not in the old letter. It is implied here in this,
(1)That the form of worship here described pertained to an old dispensation that had now passed away; and,
(2)That that was a worship that was in the letter.
To understand this, it is necessary to remember that the Law which prescribed the forms of worship among the Jews, was regarded by the apostle as destitute of that efficacy and power in renewing the heart which he attributed to the gospel. It was a service consisting in external forms and ceremonies; in the offering of sacrifices and of incense, according to the literal requirements of the Law rather than the sincere offering of the heart; 2 Corinthians 3:6, “The letter killeth; the spirit giveth life;” John 6:63; Hebrews 10:1-4; Hebrews 9:9-10. It is not to be denied that there were many holy persons under the Law, and that there were many spiritual offerings presented, but it is at the same time true that the great mass of the people rested in the mere form; and that the service offered was the mere service of the letter, and not of the heart. The main idea is, that the services under the gospel are purely and entirely spiritual, the offering of the heart, and not the service rendered by external forms and rites.
(But the contrast here is not between services required under the legal and gospel dispensations respectively, but between service yielded in the opposite states of nature and grace. In the former state, we are “under the law” though we live in gospel times, and in the latter, we are “delivered from the law” as a covenant of works, or of life, just as pious Jews might be though they lived under the dispensation of Moses. The design of God in delivering us from the Law, is, that we might “serve him in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter,” that is, in such a spiritual way as the new state requires, and from such spiritual motives and aids as it furnishes; and not in the manner we were accustomed to do, under our old condition of subjection to the Law, in which we could yield only an external and forced obedience. “It is evident,” says Prof. Hodge that the clause “in the oldness of the letter is substituted by the apostle, for ‹under the law‘ and ‹in the flesh;‘ all which he uses to describe the legal and corrupt condition of people, prior to the believing reception of the gospel.”)
It was impossible for the sinner to keep the law of God, which was holy, just, and good; but this impossibility was removed by the impartation of the righteousness of Christ to the repenting, believing soul. The life and death of Christ in behalf of sinful man were for the purpose of restoring the sinner to God's favor, through imparting to him the righteousness that would meet the claims of the law and find acceptance with the Father. FW 118.1Read in context »