11. Delivered from the law.
“The conflict of the 7th chapter of Romans seems to come in very strangely after the peace and the deliverance of the 5th and 6th chapters, and to make a strange introduction to the triumph of the eighth,” observed a young believer. “It is a parenthesis,” we answered, “and in full accordance with the general plan of the epistle, which, after developing the fulness of grace, takes up the law and those who are under it. In the early chapters this is seen when our sins are treated of; and in the latter the same plan is found when God's governmental dealings with Israel are in question; and, in the portion before us, we have it once more, but from an experimental point of view.”
As a matter of fact, numbers of christians do find themselves in this 7th of Romans parenthesis; and some remain there a very long time; while a few go so far as to say, that the condition therein described is that which gives the truest evidence of divine life existing in the soul.
The 7th of Romans describes a believer without deliverance of soul. “I,” “me,” continually recur in the experimental part of the chapter, and only at its close does the note of victory ring out: “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
No doubt, if the believer be really established upon the ground of the 6th chapter — “Dead to sin,” “buried with Christ,” “crucified with Him,” “freed from sin,” he is delivered from the conflict and consequent experiences of the seventh. But many christians are practically “under the law,” and like the Galatian believers have to be asked, “Are ye so foolish, having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?” (Gal. 3:3.) Though Christ was once joyfully accepted as their all, and they rejoiced in Him, yet they are now occupied with self; “Where is then the blessedness you spake of?” (Gal. 4:15.)
The reason of the loss of the blessedness is, they have gone back to the standing of being alive in the flesh before God; they have forsaken the ground of “the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free,” and have become debtors to the law! Indeed, with many believers, it might be almost thought that Christ was but the introduction to Moses. That His death procured the payment of sin's debt, so that the debt being paid, the believer might be in a position to keep the law, and that, accordingly, the law, and not Christ, might be the christian's rule of life.
The flesh, “I,” is not reckoned to be dead. True, it is looked upon as being weak and wilful, but still, as capable of being made into a better thing under the hand of the law. We do not say that such a believer looks to his own efforts for his justification, or as his ground of hope for getting to heaven, but we do say that he does look to his obedience to the law to fit him, in some way, for God's presence, and to make him different and more holy. Thus it is forgotten, that not only are we justified by faith, but that the daily life of the soul must be that of faith, for “the just shall live by faith.” For the believer needs hourly supplies of Christ's power, which Christ does not grant, so long as, by going back to Moses, the christian practically affirms, that within himself there is something which can be worked upon. Now, “the law is not of faith; but the man that doeth them shall live in them,” and for the believer to act as if he had strength of his own, is practically to deny the grace of God (Gal. 3:12), that he is “buried with Christ,” “crucified with Christ,” and that in Christ and Him alone, he lives to God.
The believer, in the case we have touched upon, notwithstanding that he once knew the blessedness of forgiveness, has so sunk down into the quicksands of self-effort that his constant cry is, “Oh, wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me?”
Other believers are to be found in the experiences of the 7th of Romans, because they have never been taught the fulness of God's good news to man. The life of those who believe upon the Lord Jesus has, by the Holy Spirit's action, a yearning after holiness, and where the written word of God, which gives the way of holiness, is not understood, christians go to Moses, instead of to Christ, for sanctification. Having begun in the spirit, they hope to be made perfect by the flesh.
It is no light thing to be delivered from the law. God gave the law to man to obey, but man has broken it, and cannot obey it. And God has now given Christ by whose death man may be freed from the condemning law. For if we are not delivered from the law by grace, we shall be doomed to bear the eternal consequences of having broken it, as it is written; “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.” (Gal. 3:10.) Men speak of the presumption of faith which believes God, and thanks Him for forgiveness and peace through Christ; but what shall we say of the presumption of unbelief, which brings to God the fruits of the evil soil of our hearts! Such presumption is like that of Cain, who “brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord.” (Gen. 4:3.) That ground, which the Lord had cursed for the sake of Adam's sin. (Gen. 3:7.) Let us remember, that to Cain's offering the Lord had not respect; and that, however religious a man may be, it is of no avail unless his religion be according to God. Alas, how many professing Christians in our day, in “going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.” (Rom. 10:3.)
Let us look into the 7th of Romans, with the figure of a sick man — his pain, his symptoms, his disease, his physician, and his deliverance, before us.
Now pain is not disease, but if there be an ache anywhere in our body, it is because some part of the frame is injured or unhealthy. It is not everyone who groans with the pain of the experience of the 7th of Romans; there are many believers who have not yet felt the pangs it describes, and such believers will hardly enter into the description of them; for in this spiritual exercise we must have gone through the suffering detailed, if we would enter into the case of such as suffer from it. Thus we find, that some who have not for themselves passed through deep and emptying experiences concerning self, by bidding the afflicted soul “You can and you must believe,” really throw the hearer back upon self effort and legality. Such teaching does not lead to Christ as the Saviour and the Strength of His people. Again, there are some who bid their hearers believe that to live a life of doubts and fears, groans and bondage, moans and misery, is the only thing which is christianity! The reason of this is evident. Such teachers have no notion of a healthy christianity and of deliverance themselves, and, therefore, can see signs of life only in pain and sorrow. No doubt we can tell that a man is not dead by hearing his cries, but such evidence of vitality betokens disease or wounds, and it would be a slander upon God and His good news to man, should we accept as genuine christianity such tokens of life. The evangelist should be like the doctor, who not only knows what disease is by having made the human frame his study, and what remedy to apply by having read about medicine and tested its effects; but, who has also suffered himself, and has partaken of the remedy he prescribes.
Any one suffering the soul sickness of the 7th of Romans cannot but cry out; for it is such an awful soul-pain that it is impossible to be still. The spiritual whereabouts of the sufferer is at once detected by his sorrowful lament, “Oh, wretched man that I am!”
Are thus expressed — “That which I do I allow not: for what I would, that I do not; but what I hate, that do I.” “The good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that do I” (Rom. 7:15, 19). Ten times over in these two short verses does the sufferer cry out “I.” It requires no argument to prove to a man, who exclaims, “I” suffer, what self is. It is not merely that he laments bad things which he has done, but the misery of what his heart is; that he has no power over himself whatever; that within him there is a power which is against him; and that, “self,” “I,” is that power. He hates the things he does; what he wishes to do he cannot do. Does our reader know those symptoms in his own soul? Has he ever known them? If this be his present grief, he is not delivered. If he never has thus felt, he does not appreciate what deliverance is.
The disease itself.
We discover disease by symptoms. Pain makes the patient miserable; but it is to the disease itself the doctor addresses his attention. He does not attack the pain, he wars against the disease. And though it is not every doctor who will tell his patient his real condition, if he be hopelessly ill, yet God is love, and loves His people too well to allow them to remain in ignorance of their real state. His word speaks the truth clearly enough; the pain, which causes the groans, “Oh, wretched man that I am;” the symptoms, which cry of self continually — what I do, what I do not do, what I love, what I hate — are all from this incurable constitutional disease — “IN ME, THAT IS IN MY FLESH, DWELLETH NO GOOD THING.” The Apostle said, “I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing.” He had practically learned it. It would be impossible to know this fact, and yet to be trying to be better, as it would be impossible to know it and still to be looking to self for power. The Apostle gives us an experience; and no man gives an experience till he has passed out of the state he describes. A drowning man could not write about what he felt; he would struggle to be saved; but when saved he could calmly tell us what drowning feels like. It is a mistake to suppose that the groans of the 7th and the liberty of the 8th chapters of Romans are at one and the same time the experience of any believer. He who knows the liberty of the 8th chapter has assuredly come out of the bondage of the 7th; and we as surely know when he is out of the thrall by his triumphant cry, “I thank God, through Jesus Christ our Lord,” as we know when he is in it by his lament, “Oh, wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me?”
The root of the pain, which to the soul, having life in Christ, produces the distressing symptoms, is the utter helplessness and badness of self — incurable self. Yet who has not striven and struggled to bring a good thing out of himself? Who has not resolved and been miserable over his broken resolutions? Who has not laboured in vain, and yet laboured again? Be sure of this, nature, self, “I,” is not to be remedied.
A physician is spoken of in the chapter; “I speak to them that know the Law,” The Law then is the physician. Now there are two ways of knowing a physician. We may know his carriage, and bow to him; this is knowing him by sight; and in this way many know the Ten Commandments; they know them by seeing them written up in church, or by having learnt them as a bible lesson. But we may also know the physician by having been under his treatment — know him by having tasted his drugs and having felt his knife; and this is experimental knowledge. Thousands sing and say the Commandments and are never “wretched;” but the experimental knowledge produces a cry.
Does our reader know the law by being under it? Has he ever honestly tried to keep the law and not sin, to do what the law bids him? And did the law make our reader better? What saith the scripture? Simply this, the law makes a man feel worse than ever; “I had not known sin, but by the law.” (Rom. 7:7.) It does not cure self at all; and it was never intended by God that it should do so.
The question is likely to arise, If this be so, if the effects produced are these, “Is the law sin?” (v. 7.) God forbid. The law is spiritual; it is of God, and from God. The point is that we are sin. The tool is good, but the wood is rotten. The best of workmen, with the finest of instruments, could not carve a flower out of a crumbling piece of wood. The medicine is good,but there is no strength within the patient to enable him to benefit by it. God tried man under the law, just as a workman might try what kind of thing the wood he would fashion was like; but since the cross of Christ God has not had man under probation. The law said, “Do this yourself and live.” The gospel says, “Believe in Christ and live.” The law demanded righteousness of man; the gospel brings salvation to man.
A man's moral feelings before knowing the spiritual nature of the law.
Are now described: “Without the law sin was dead — I was alive without the law once.” Immediately, however, he applied the law to his own case, took its medicine, as it were, his eyes were opened, and he became sensible to his condition; “But when the commandment came sin revived and I died.” It stirred up the evil of his heart. Not that it made his heart worse, but it made him feel his badness. The law said, “Thou shalt not covet;” thou shalt not have an acquiring or a grasping desire; and no sooner did the commandment go forth not to wish for a special thing, than it roused up the bad nature to long for that which was forbidden. Like a child who, when told not to look into the basket, immediately desires to do it, so poor, weak, and sinful human nature, when told by the law of God not to covet, immediately falls a longing. It is not that the commandment makes the child naughty, but the fact of the prohibition proves what the child is. The motions of sin are thus rendered active by the law. Sin exists; the nature is there; but the desires of sin are brought into action by the law bidding them be silent. And this sense of what self is, wrings from the broken heart of the believer the cry, “Oh, wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me?”
But is it just to blame the physician because the patient has a bad constitution? Shall we say, as some, the law has nothing to do with us, because it cannot cure us? No, the law is “holy and just, and good;” there is no fault in the law. “The commandment was to life.” The fault lies in self, not in the physician and his treatment.
The law cannot give life. “If there had been a law given, which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law” (Gal. 3:21); this is not its province. It demands righteousness. Neither can it keep alive, for where are they to whom it was said, “Do this, and thou shalt live? '' Are not their graves with us?
But if the law does not give life, nor keep alive, does it not deliver? Nay, nor was it ever intended to do so. Whence, then, is deliverance? How does the patient in a hospital, having a painful and incurable disease, escape the doctor's treatment and his own pains? There is only one way of freedom for him. So long as he remains in the hospital, he will be miserable; so long as he is what he is he will suffer. He will not leave the hospital, for he is too ill, and he cannot get free from himself. How, then, shall he become free? By death! There is no other way of escape for him. He cannot be cured, because he is incurable, and the more medicine he takes the more it proves his state.
Death is the only deliverance.
So says the scripture of him at whose spiritual pains and symptoms we have glanced: “Ye are become dead to the law by the body of Christ;” “Dead to that wherein ye were held;” (see margin.) The law remains in its dignity, but poor, wretched “I” is delivered by being crucified with Christ, and by escaping from the law by the death of Christ. And when faith reckons self to be dead, and life to be alone in Christ, the deliverance is experienced.
We quote at length the fourth verse of this chapter —
“My brethren, ye are become dead to the law by the body of Christ.
That ye should be married to another,
Even to Him who is raised from the dead,
That we should bring forth fruit unto God —”
For herein lies the germ of the whole question. We are not by nature dead to the law (see 1 Tim. 1:8-10), but grace has come in, and a new thing has occurred — “We are become dead.” This marks an era in the soul's history; and the manner in which this was accomplished is by the body of Christ the dead body of Christ upon the cross, which is the judicial end of self, and the freedom of self from the law. We died with Christ, and thus are dead to that wherein we were held. A prisoner is sentenced to die, but he dies before his sentence is executed, and thus escapes the law which would have put him to death. Surely none would say that he was a better man for dying. And because of our utter badness Christ died for us, and thus, by His death, we escape from under the law which demanded goodness and obedience from us in vain. This is God's grace for His believing people. But if a man will not have Christ, and lives on in his own righteousness, as he terms it, and dies without Christ, then he will have to bear in his own person throughout eternity the awful penalty of having broken God's law and rejected God's Son.
We have also the new place, which Christ has acquired by resurrection; it is not as upon our old ground — as alive in our old state, that we are married to another, but as beyond the jurisdiction of the law, as alive unto God, that the union occurs with Him, who is raised from the dead.
It is in this position and thus connected with Christ that we bring forth fruit unto God — spiritual fruit, in which God has pleasure. When a man is under the law he is always trying in his own strength to be obedient — he is trying to make the weeds of his garden become beautiful flowers; but when he knows his connection with Christ risen from the dead, he serves in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter. We are not under law, we are under grace; not under the rod of the schoolmaster, but under the guidance of the Spirit. Old things are passed away, all things are become new, and all things are of God.