I was alive without the law once - Dr. Whitby paraphrases the verse thus: - "For the seed of Abraham was alive without the law once, before the law was given, I being not obnoxious to death for that to which the law had not threatened death; but when the commandment came, forbidding it under that penalty, sin revived, and I died; i.e. it got strength to draw me to sin, and to condemn me to death. Sin is, in Scripture, represented as an enemy that seeks our ruin and destruction; and takes all occasions to effect it. It is here said to war against the mind, Romans 7:23; elsewhere, to war against the soul, 1 Peter 2:11; to surround and beset us, Hebrews 12:1; to bring us into bondage and subjection, and get the dominion over us, Romans 6:12; to entice us, and so to work our death, James 1:14-16; and to do all that Satan, the grand enemy of mankind, doth, by tempting us to the commission of it. Whence Chrysostom, upon those words, Hebrews 12:4; : Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, προς την ἁμαρτιαν ανταγωνιζομενοι, striving against sin; represents sin as an armed and flagrant adversary. When, therefore, it finds a law which threatens death to the violator of it, it takes occasion thence more earnestly to tempt and allure to the violation of it, that so it may more effectually subject us to death and condemnation on that account; for the sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law, condemning us to death for transgressing it. Thus, when God had forbidden, on pain of death, the eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge, Satan thence took occasion to tempt our first parents to transgress, and so slew them, or made them subject to death; εξηπατησε, he deceived them, Genesis 3:13; 1 Timothy 2:14; which is the word used Romans 7:11. The phrase, without the law, sin was dead, means, that sin was then (before the law was given) comparatively dead, as to its power of condemning to death; and this sense the antithesis requires; without the law, ἁμαρτια νεκρα, εγω δε εζων, sin was dead, but I was living; but when the commandment came, (i.e. the law), sin revived, and I died. How were men living before the law, but because then no law condemned them? Sin, therefore, must be then dead, as to its condemning power. How did they die when the law came but by the law condemning them to death? Sin therefore revived, then, as to its power of condemning, which it received first from the sin of Adam, which brought death into the world; and next, from the law of Moses, which entered that the offense might abound, and reign more unto death, Romans 5:20, Romans 5:21. For though sin was in the world from Adam to Moses, or until the law was given, yet it was not imputed unto death, when there was no law that did threaten death; so that death reigned from that interval by virtue of Adam's sin alone; even over them who had not sinned after the similitude of Adam's transgression, i.e. against a positive law, forbidding it under the penalty of death; which law being delivered by Moses, sin revived; i.e. it had again its force to condemn men as before to death, by virtue of a law which threatened death. And in this sense the apostle seems to say, Galatians 3:19, the law was added because of transgressions, to convince us of the wrath and punishment due to them; and that the law, therefore, worketh wrath, because where no law is there is no transgression, Romans 4:15, subjecting us to wrath; or no such sense of the Divine wrath as where a plain Divine law, threatening death and condemnation, is violated." See Whitby, in loco.
For I - There seems to be no doubt that the apostle here refers to his own past experience. Yet in this he speaks the sentiment of all who are unconverted, and who are depending on their own righteousness.
Was alive - This is opposed to what he immediately adds respecting another state, in which he was when he died. It must mean, therefore, that he had a certain kind of peace; he deemed himself secure; he was free from the convictions of conscience and the agitations of alarm. The state to which he refers here must be doubtless that to which he himself alludes elsewhere, when he deemed himself to be righteous, depending on his own works, and esteeming himself to be blameless, Philemon 3:4-6; Acts 23:1; Acts 26:4-5. It means that he was then free from those agitations and alarms which he afterward experienced when he was brought under conviction for sin. At that time, though he had the Law, and was attempting to obey it, yet he was unacquainted with its spiritual and holy nature. He aimed at external conformity. Its claims on the heart were unfelt. This is the condition of every self-confident sinner, and of everyone who is unawakened.
Without the law - Not that Paul was ever really without the Law, that is, without the Law of Moses; but he means before the Law was applied to his heart in its spiritual meaning, and with power.
But when the commandment came - When it was applied to the heart and conscience. This is the only intelligible sense of the expression; for it cannot refer to the time when the Law was given. When this was, the apostle does not say. But the expression denotes whenever it was so applied; when it was urged with power and efficacy on his conscience, to control, restrain, and threaten him, it produced this effect. We are unacquainted with the early operations of his mind, and with his struggles against conscience and duty. We know enough of him before conversion, however, to be assured that he was proud, impetuous, and unwilling to be restrained; see Romans 7:8, but was now quickened into new life. The word is usually applied to a renewal of life, Romans 14:19; Luke 15:24, Luke 15:32, but here it means substantially the same as the expression in Romans 7:8, “Sin wrought in me all manner of concupiscence.” The power of sin, which was before dormant, became quickened and active.
I died - That is, I was by it involved in additional guilt and misery. It stands opposed to “I was alive,” and must mean the opposite of that; and evidently denotes that the effect of the commandment was to bring him under what he calls death, (compare Romans 5:12, Romans 5:14-15;) that is, sin reigned, and raged, and produced its withering and condemning effects; it led to aggravated guilt and misery. It may also include this idea, that before, he was self-confident and secure, but that by the commandment he was stricken down and humbled, his self-confidence was blasted, and his hopes were prostrated in the dust. Perhaps no words would better express the humble, subdued, melancholy, and helpless state of a converted sinner than the expressive phrase “I died.” The essential idea here is, that the Law did not answer the purpose which the Jew would claim for it, to sanctify the soul and to give comfort, but that all its influence on the heart was to produce aggravated, unpardoned guilt and woe.
The soul must first be convicted of sin before the sinner will feel a desire to come to Christ. “Sin is the transgression of the law” (1 John 3:4). “I had not known sin, but by the law” (Romans 7:7). When the commandment came home to Saul's conscience, sin revived, and he died. He saw himself condemned by the law of God. The sinner cannot be convinced of his guilt unless he understands what constitutes sin. It is impossible for an individual to experience Bible sanctification while he holds that if he believes in Christ it is immaterial whether he obeys God's law or disobeys it. FW 31.2Read in context »
One ray of the glory of God, one gleam of the purity of Christ, penetrating the soul, makes every spot of defilement painfully distinct, and lays bare the deformity and defects of the human character. It makes apparent the unhallowed desires, the infidelity of the heart, the impurity of the lips. The sinner's acts of disloyalty in making void the law of God, are exposed to his sight, and his spirit is stricken and afflicted under the searching influence of the Spirit of God. He loathes himself as he views the pure, spotless character of Christ. SC 29.1
When the prophet Daniel beheld the glory surrounding the heavenly messenger that was sent unto him, he was overwhelmed with a sense of his own weakness and imperfection. Describing the effect of the wonderful scene, he says, “There remained no strength in me: for my comeliness was turned in me into corruption, and I retained no strength.” Daniel 10:8. The soul thus touched will hate its selfishness, abhor its self-love, and will seek, through Christ's righteousness, for the purity of heart that is in harmony with the law of God and the character of Christ. SC 29.2
Paul says that as “touching the righteousness which is in the law”—as far as outward acts were concerned—he was “blameless” (Philippians 3:6); but when the spiritual character of the law was discerned, he saw himself a sinner. Judged by the letter of the law as men apply it to the outward life, he had abstained from sin; but when he looked into the depths of its holy precepts, and saw himself as God saw him, he bowed in humiliation and confessed his guilt. He says, “I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.” Romans 7:9. When he saw the spiritual nature of the law, sin appeared in its true hideousness, and his self-esteem was gone. SC 29.3Read in context »
God does not regard all sins as of equal magnitude; there are degrees of guilt in His estimation, as well as in that of man; but however trifling this or that wrong act may seem in the eyes of men, no sin is small in the sight of God. Man's judgment is partial, imperfect; but God estimates all things as they really are. The drunkard is despised and is told that his sin will exclude him from heaven; while pride, selfishness, and covetousness too often go unrebuked. But these are sins that are especially offensive to God; for they are contrary to the benevolence of His character, to that unselfish love which is the very atmosphere of the unfallen universe. He who falls into some of the grosser sins may feel a sense of his shame and poverty and his need of the grace of Christ; but pride feels no need, and so it closes the heart against Christ and the infinite blessings He came to give. SC 30.1
The poor publican who prayed, “God be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:13), regarded himself as a very wicked man, and others looked upon him in the same light; but he felt his need, and with his burden of guilt and shame he came before God, asking for His mercy. His heart was open for the Spirit of God to do its gracious work and set him free from the power of sin. The Pharisee's boastful, self-righteous prayer showed that his heart was closed against the influence of the Holy Spirit. Because of his distance from God, he had no sense of his own defilement, in contrast with the perfection of the divine holiness. He felt no need, and he received nothing. SC 30.2
If you see your sinfulness, do not wait to make yourself better. How many there are who think they are not good enough to come to Christ. Do you expect to become better through your own efforts? “Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil.” Jeremiah 13:23. There is help for us only in God. We must not wait for stronger persuasions, for better opportunities, or for holier tempers. We can do nothing of ourselves. We must come to Christ just as we are. SC 31.1Read in context »
These persons had not experienced the work of reformation, or sanctification through the truth. They were coarse and uncultivated. They had never tasted of the sweet, pure refinement of the world to come. They had never experienced, neither had their hearts been awed by, the mystery of godliness. They placed divine and eternal things upon a level with common things, and would talk of heaven and the coming of Jesus as they would of a horse. They had a superficial knowledge or theory of the truth, but further than this they were ignorant. Its principles had not taken hold of their lives and led them to an abhorrence of self. They had never viewed themselves in the light in which Paul viewed himself, which led him to see the moral defects in his character. They had never been slain by the law of God, and had not separated themselves from their impurities and defilement. It is the favorite occupation of some of this class to engage in trifling conversation and levity. This habit they contracted, and indulged upon occasions which should have been characterized by solemn meditation and devotion. In doing this, they manifested a lack of true dignity and refinement, and forfeited the esteem of sensible persons who had no knowledge of the truth. This class threw themselves into a current of temptation and kept where the enemy led them successfully, and he has so easily controlled their minds and corrupted their entire experience that in all probability they will be unable to recover themselves out of his snare and obtain a healthful experience. 2T 554.1
The fires of the day of God will consume the stubble and chaff, and there will be nothing left of any who continue in the ungodly course which they have so long loved. This class have a disrelish for the society of those whom God is truly with. Their religious experience is of so low an order that they have no part nor lot in a rational, intelligent religious experience; therefore they have despised the society of those whom God leads and is teaching. Sarcasm and irony is the stronghold of some peculiar minds of this class. They are bold and insolent, and do not regard good manners. They have no care to discriminate and render honor to whom honor is due. They manifest a proud, rebellious, defiant spirit against those who differ from their opinions. Their boisterous manners and wrong course lead the true servant of God to feel that they have resisted the efforts made for them, and he becomes disheartened in reference to laboring any further in their behalf. They engage in a contemptible triumph of exactly the same nature as that which Satan and evil angels engage in over the souls whom they secure. They have Satan and evil angels on their side to exult with them. The cases of the persons in whom this cast of character is peculiarly and strikingly developed are hopeless. They are incased in self-righteousness, and everything like refinement and elevation of character with which they are brought in contact is termed by them pride and lack of humility. Coarseness and ignorance are regarded as humility. 2T 554.2
With this class you have obtained a large share of your religious experience; therefore you are not qualified for the work of teaching the most solemn, refined, elevating, and withal the most testing message to mortals. You may reach a class of minds, but the more intelligent portion of the community will be driven further off by your labors. You have not a sufficient knowledge of even the common branches of education to be an instructor of men and women who have a wily devil on the other hand to suggest and devise ways and means to lead them from the truth. 2T 555.1Read in context »