P. A. H.
Christian Friend vol. 15, 1888, p. 141.
To understand this chapter it is necessary to notice that the subject of it begins at Romans 5:12. Thus from that verse to the end of Romans 7 it is all one subject, which is fully discussed and gone into. At the end of Romans 4, and beginning of Romans 5, we have pardon, forgiveness, and justification; but in verse 12 we begin the discussion of the evil principle in us - not sins, but sin. The power of all doctrine lies in the practical apprehension of that doctrine. Without the practical experience of the doctrine, the practical apprehension of it in the soul, doctrine is mere theory, and has no real power in life. From Romans 5: 12, then, the subject is not pardon nor forgiveness, but the principle of evil in us, and God's way of deliverance from it. We have then the experience of the root of the matter - sin in us, besides which nothing is to be found in the natural man. Pardon and deliverance may go together in the soul, but they are separately treated in Scripture. Peace with God is not deliverance, neither is deliverance peace with God. They may, as I have said, go together, but in themselves they are quite distinct. Many a soul has peace with God who does not know what deliverance is, but I have not got on to God's ground unless I know deliverance for myself practically. What is the good of being, told God's way of salvation, if I have no part in it? So what is the value of the doctrine of deliverance to me, if I am not delivered by it?
The discovery and experience of the active principle of evil in the natural man is a terrible lesson to learn, but if it is not learned we have not yet got on to God's ground of rest. Now it is just here that Satan often gets the advantage. He proposes all manner of schemes, which are lies to the very root, to get those into his grasp who have, through grace, escaped. He cannot get possession of them again for eternity, but he will do all he can to hinder them from enjoying the liberty wherewith Christ makes free, his object being always to mar the testimony. God takes up the question in a way that makes it simple to the simplest. If we do not understand it, it is because we seek to get hold of it in some other way than that in which God sets it before us. God does not appeal to man's mind, but He addresses Himself to the heart and the conscience. Through the work of the Lord Jesus Christ the conscience finds rest and peace, through the Person the heart is won. God no more speaks to man's mind after conversion than He does before.
We have all to go through the lesson with God; indeed, there is no possession of the blessing otherwise. It is the recognizing in ourselves the utter helplessness to do anything but evil, utter inability to do that which is pleasing to God. All must, sooner or later, go through the experience of Romans 7, must learn that "in me" (i.e., in my flesh) "dwelleth no good thing."
This is a new lesson for the soul to learn, but it had already been taught by God in the case of Moses, the meekest man on the earth. With all his honesty of heart, his simplicity of soul, his meekness, he needed the lesson just as much as the vilest and most refractory sinner. When God chose him he was surrounded with all the power of Egypt, passing as the son of the king's daughter, and living in the palace. But in faith he leaves all that, though he might have argued that God had placed him there in order to direct that power on behalf of God's people; but in faith he leaves it all to take his place with the poor suffering people of God - a wonderful lesson for us of practical faith in God, and the path it takes. Then he acts in the flesh. Indignant at the oppression of his brethren, he resists in human strength the oppressor, and he kills the Egyptian. And then he flees, runs away from the very power he had abandoned; he flees to escape the consequences of the power he had exercised.
And then we find him in the desert, where he has to learn that no energy of the flesh can do God's work. First, at the burning bush, when he draws near to see, he learns that it is holy ground he is upon, and that he must take off his shoes from his feet in approaching where God is. Then, at the end of his desert life, God matures this lesson in his soul. It was blessed for him that he had to do with God; indeed, it is the only way in which any progress is made in the soul. And so we find him face to face with God, being prepared of Him for His service. And note, it is Moses who begins the objections. He says, "They" (the children of Israel) "will say, The Lord hath not appeared unto thee." And God replies, "What is that in thine hand?" What is thy power? Moses says, "A rod. And God says, "Cast it on the ground;" and Moses did so, and it became a serpent, and he "fled from before it." Here, indeed, was a lesson for him. The power of his own hand, the rod of which he had made experience in Egypt when he slew the Egyptian, was under the direction and influence of Satan. Left to himself, in reliance upon himself, the natural force that he possessed, and the weapon he trusted in, was under the power of the enemy, and guided by him. And now the Lord says to him, "Put forth thine hand, and take it by the tail;" and he did so, and it became a rod again in his hand. Thus he receives again from God the force, the power, but under His direction now. This was indeed a wonderful lesson for him - surely for us too. But how gracious all this is - God preparing and fitting out His servant for His service!
But he has more to learn yet. He has to learn where the source of natural power is, and what the will is that is there; that Satan works through the heart, and thus controls the hand. And so God says to him, "Put now thine hand into thy bosom;" and he did so, and drew it forth again "leprous as snow." Here indeed was a deeper lesson! It was not the contraction of evil by contamination, but that the root of evil was in himself, in his own heart. There was evil all around, it is true, but the evil principle was there in the heart itself, and how could that act upon or deal with the evil around? The will and the heart guide the hand - the will which is always contrary to God, and the heart that is so bad that nothing from without entering in can make it worse. At God's command be puts his hand again into his bosom, and draws it forth as the other. Thus he learns the cleansing power of God.
But the truth has to come out and be learned practically. Moses has more to learn yet. He has to show himself in his heart and will before God. And how graciously God bears with him, and leads him on! Condescends to listen to and answer him! Again the objection comes from Moses - "O my Lord, I am not eloquent." When I get there I shall be without words. And God says, "Who hath made man's mouth? . . . Have not I the Lord? . . . Go, and I will be with thy mouth." But now the evil comes fully out in all its hideous reality - the heart, the will of "the meekest man on the face of the earth." "O my Lord, send, I pray Thee, by the hand of him whom Thou wilt send." All was out now - not merely the natural force under Satan's influence, not merely the leprosy inside, but the manifestation of the will that ruled in the heart.
I do not say Moses was in Romans 7, but I say that this is the lesson we learn there. Before we can turn away from ourselves we have to go through a kind of Moses-experience. We turn away from ourselves in abomination and horror, as from a judged and condemned thing we can no longer bear to look upon. And this is experience; but, thank God, an experience that ceases. Experience is not deliverance. Deliverance is getting out of the place we were in, through death - Christ's death for us, and our death with Him - and recognizing this, at the hand of God, in heart and soul. It is not actions that are in question here when we speak of deliverance, but that which produces the actions. We are never said to be delivered from our actions, for we are responsible for them. Deliverance, as I have said, is from that which produces them. We may restrain ourselves from the gratification of desires, we may avoid all manner of things in this way, but this is not the point in Romans 7. Here it is said, I am not to have the desires. "Thou shalt not covet." It does not say whether the object be good or bad; that indeed would not touch the question. It is, "Thou shalt not have desires." What then am I to do now? I must die; for as long as I live the desires will be there.
And here note, in passing, the first commandment is positive, "Thou shalt love;" the last is negative, "Thou shalt not covet." But both are addressed to fallen man, both recognize him as in that state. If we take the first, it imposes as a command upon man that which proves man to be alienated from God, that which is nothing worth unless it comes freely from the heart. "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God." What would be the relation of a parent and child if the parent had to command the child to love him? Obedience there might be, but the very command shows a moral distance, an alienation of heart.
But in the last commandment we have a negative thing - "Thou shalt not covet." Here we are brought to the end of ourselves, and the root of evil is laid bare. The apostle says, "I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet." Now deliverance is through death, and through that alone. On any other ground sin will have the mastery. The old nature is too strong, too bad, for any power to change or to better it. Under law, I may seek to put a bridle on that which has the mastery over me; but God gives deliverance from it, and that through death alone. How then can man bridle what God can deliver from by death only? I may make good resolutions, take pledges, etc.; but resolutions and pledges only prove that I do not reckon myself dead - that I have not yet come to the point where deliverance is cried for as a need of the soul. The lesson must be learned individually, we must each go through it with God; and there is no getting into Romans 8 without going through Romans 7. Indeed, fancying oneself in chapter 8 is otherwise a false and spurious thing.
"The law is holy, just, and good." The man with life in his soul - nay, more, pardoned and justified - consents thereto just because he is a child of God. Indeed, a man may have life and pardon, and justification too, and yet not know deliverance, and in that state he fights with himself. He tries to keep under that which he knows is evil, simply because he has to do with God. Contending against it, he tries to control the evil inclination, and he may try his best. The more in earnest he is with God, the more he will try. And it is a good thing to try; for it is only by trying that we come to the end, and find, practically find, that sin has the mastery over us; that, do what I may, the lusts remain. I may refuse the gratification of them, I may try to restrain or to control them; but there they ever are to be restrained and controlled; but when God says, "Thou shalt not have them," they should not be there. The soul knows that God and sin cannot go on together. What then is he to do? What can he do? He cries, but he does not cry for mastery and victory; he cries for deliverance - "Who shall deliver me?" Deliver me from myself, this body of death. He has recognized the two natures in himself.
Man cannot arrive at a sinless state; he only deceives himself if he thinks to do so. "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." But God's mind is, that we should come to a delivered state. Thus the undelivered one cries, and cries according to God too, for deliverance. It is a blessed cry, but a strictly individual one. There is no despair in it. He cries to Another beyond himself, to One outside himself; and there is but that One, the One to whom all power is given on earth and in heaven. Then comes the answer; and as the cry is made individually, so the answer comes to the individual and to him alone. No one can give deliverance to another. One may point the way, one may tell how one reached it oneself; but one cannot impart it to another. The one who cries for the deliverance is the one who thanks God for it - the cry and the thanksgiving come from the same lips. You may set the way of deliverance before me, but you cannot put my feet in the way; you may put it before me clearly and distinctly, as far as reason and mind are concerned, but you cannot put me into the place. Nothing but the power of God, resulting from my having to do with Him, can do so. The answer is to the one who cries, and to him alone; and from him comes the thanksgiving, and from none other.
Deliverance does not come from the recognition of known truths, but from the recognition of what is in oneself, and what God's power is "through Jesus Christ our Lord." Here then is a delivered man, and it is just here that experience ceases. There is no further experience of the evil of the human heart, except as a thing I am delivered from. No doubt one may go on to learn more and more the evil of the thing, but it is a thing I am delivered from. Do I say, I am looking forward to the day when I shall be actually wholly delivered - the day of His coming? If that is what I am saying, it merely shows I am not delivered now, but that I am looking forward to being so some day. If delivered, I look forward to His coming, to the joy unspeakable of seeing Him and of being with Him; but not with a view to deliverance. His power has, through death, already accomplished that for me.
And now let me add, that the one who is delivered can never fall back into the undelivered state - the state of Romans 7. He may get into a low, a bad, a miserable state of soul; but he can never fall back into that state. He has discovered himself, he has cried to God for deliverance, and he is delivered. He can no more get back into the undelivered state than the bird that has been set free, after well‑nigh beating its life out against the bars, can voluntarily return to its prison after tasting the pure air of liberty. We are speaking of practical realities; it is waste of time talking of things that are not. Deliverance is a practical reality. Were it only attainment, I might have it perhaps one day and lose it the next, and indeed never be sure whether I had it or not. But we are delivered from ourselves, that we may bring forth fruit unto God. We have no more to do with sin, save as a judged and condemned thing we are delivered from. The power of the truth lies, as I have said, in the practical realization of it in our souls. When we shall see His face, we shall be like Him; we shall find ourselves without that which we now have to judge, without this great incubus which I must now treat as dead. Must, did I say? No, thank God, I can. Ah, we shall be no losers in that day! We shall find ourselves altogether without that which, even now, we do not want, and which, through His grace, we can look upon as dead, and ourselves as thus delivered from it.
The great practical importance of deliverance is not relief merely. It is not merely comfort, and ceasing from conflict. It is the ceasing from self-occupation - ceasing from having to do with self, except as a judged thing I am delivered from - and liberty to take up, to enter into and be occupied with, the interests of Another, even of our Lord Jesus Christ, in this world of sin where He was crucified. It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of this. All true testimony flows from it, and indeed is to be found there alone. The undelivered soul is occupied with himself, his own progress, growth, shortcomings, and improvement, and the like. Thus self is before him, and is his object, and he is not free to be occupied with the Lord and His interests here. At best he is occupied with his own conformity to Him - a thing of which Scripture does not speak; for when it speaks of conformity it says, "Being made conformable unto His death." The delivered soul, and the delivered one alone, let me repeat, is free to take up the interests of Christ, and in the reality and joy of deliverance to enter into them, and in liberty with Him bear the testimony that is according to His mind. But I must again say the reality of it all is, in having individually to do with God.
There is no deliverance save through death - death with Him. If you seek it in any other way you will never get it, because no other way is God's way. You will only be like a bird in a cage, fluttering against the bars to get free. It is only when the struggle is given up, and it falls exhausted to the bottom of the cage, crying helplessly for liberty, that a Hand comes in and sets it free, in the pure air and light of His presence, His love, and His power. And now let me ask, Is it a bitter thing to be told you are dead in the death of Christ? Bitterness! If it does not come to the soul joyfully it is because you have yet a hope, a miserable hope doomed to disappointment, in that which God has condemned. The soul that has cried for deliverance does not say, "I accept it," but, "I thank God through Jesus Christ." He receives it with joy, and he rejoices in the Deliverer, and thus the heart goes out to God.
In Romans 8 there is no continuation of the experience of Romans 7 When deliverance is learned, the door behind us is closed - shut and locked, so to speak, by God. Then we go on to learn the marvellous, ineffable goodness and power of God, who has taken us up and placed us before Himself in Christ. We taste now what heavenly blessedness and comfort are. The door is closed on our former experience, and He brings us on to new ground to learn with Himself what He is doing for His own glory, and the glory of His beloved Son. And then He speaks of groaning, but not for oneself. It is the delivered soul only that groans, or can groan for others. What is all around is felt, and felt according to God, and therefore it says, "We groan within ourselves" (not for ourselves - I do not groan for a dead thing I am delivered from) "waiting for the adoption," etc. We groan for, pray for those who cannot, do not know how to groan or pray for themselves.
May the Lord in His goodness give us each to have thus to do with Himself. There is no real faith nor power in the truth, save as the soul has to do with God in learning it. P. A. H.