The subjects of the grace of God are not infrequently objects of pity, when their experience corresponds to some extent with that set forth in Romans 7. It may be however remarked, on the other hand, that experiences of the deepest misery often result in solid blessing, and lead to endless happiness, even as we read, "Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning." (Psalm 30:5.) The knowledge of salvation is always accompanied with peace and joy, and the misery which frequently precedes it is a proof of the manifold mercy of God, who, according to His word, "bringeth low and lifteth up."
The experiences brought before us in the chapter mentioned are those of a person whose mind has been renewed and enlightened, but who is destitute of the knowledge of deliverance from the power of indwelling sin. In his distress he exclaims, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me?" The proof that he was born again when he uttered the above is clearly seen in that he says, "For I delight in the law of God after the inward man." (vv. 22, 24.)
That which helps to hold the soul of a believer in bondage is self-occupation, and the more clearly we see what we are in ourselves, the more distressed we become. But as soon as we acquaint ourselves with the Person and work of Christ, and learn our identification with Him in death and resurrection, that which absorbed us in the past is displaced by that with which the Holy Spirit now engages our affections.
When light enters the soul, a new discovery begins, and a dreary process goes on within; and the one that diligently seeks for good in himself finds evil instead, and that which the light of God exposes to view, the law of God condemns. And although such discoveries are calculated to produce a deep sense of shame, the sooner the following conclusion is arrived at the better: "For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing." (v. 18.) The new nature could not do otherwise than revolt against evil as well as delight in that which is good; but power is essential for the performance of the will of God. The want of it accounts for the constant failure and despairing state of the undelivered soul, and every effort to act in consistency with the holiness of God ends in disappointment and in finding himself without strength in the presence of sin. Equally incapable moreover of fulfilling the law, he has to make the mournful confession, "For to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not."
Deliverance from law can never be known until the heart gives reception to the truth contained in verse 4 of our chapter, "Wherefore, my brethren, ye also 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." The preceding verse contains an illustration which the Spirit of God has supplied as a means of teaching the believer his identification with Christ in death, and consequently his deliverance from law; and the fourth verse is the application of it. The reader will thus see that the law is compared to a husband whose severity is as great as his authority, but who acts in consistency with the position he occupies, in demanding both honour and obedience.
The law could never treat evil with indifference, or the evil-doer with tenderness and respect. Its frown falls on all those who fail to satisfy its righteous demands, and fills the soul with distress as it hears its sentence of condemnation. It would be useless after this to look for mercy from the law. We must betake ourselves to the gospel for that, where we not only hear it proclaimed, but also find it fulfilled, in what is contained in Psalm 85, in connection with the cross of Christ: "Mercy and truth are met together, righteousness and peace have kissed each other."
We also learn from the above illustration that the position of the one that is in bondage to the law answers to that of a married woman, who cannot escape, if she would, from the law of her husband during his life. It is in acknowledging the claims of the law that the soul confesses, "Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, just, and good. But I am carnal, sold under sin. . . . For I was alive without the law once, but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died." (vv. 9, 12, 14.)
We see, then, what readiness there is on the part of the one with this painful experience to assent to the justice of God in all that the law demands from him, while confessing his utter inability to meet its requirements. This shows the genuineness of the work of God. Soul-trouble in an undelivered state is in proportion to the sincerity in seeking to please God.
There are two husbands spoken of in the first part of this chapter, but the woman was not at liberty to be married to another while the first husband was yet living. This shows us that the bond which existed between the law of God and those that are under its rule could only be dissolved by means of death, which must of necessity take place before deliverance could be effected. The one whose life was rendered miserable for want of liberty, and whose hope of ever satisfying the demands of the holy law of God had given place to despair, had to cry: "For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do." (v. 19.) This was going from bad to worse, and from one degree of weakness to another, until, reaching the last extremity, and ceasing from his own efforts, he despairingly cries, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" (v. 24.)
Painful as his past experience had been, it proved profitable in the end by teaching him the important lesson: "For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing." (v. 18.) He had come to the conclusion that he was entirely destitute of everything good in the sight of God, and this prepared him for that which God was about to reveal to him respecting the Person and work of Christ. God was leading him by the right way by bringing him to the end of himself, and, knowing he had nothing whatever to commend him to God, what could he expect but condemnation according to righteousness? When this point is reached the soul is prepared to accept the truth of his identification with Christ in death, as that which sets him free from the bondage of sin and the law. It was this that God was teaching the soul, and although he uttered his cry of distress on the very brink of despair, he had come to the door of deliverance in an instant as soon as he cried, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me?" Then God supplied the answer which caused him to overflow with gratitude as he exclaimed, "I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord."
The death and resurrection of Christ is to assure us that the marriage bond is broken between the old husband - law and the believer in our Lord Jesus 'Christ; and the saved one is as much at liberty, through grace, to view himself as being dead with Christ as he is to say, "He died for me."
The delivered soul in the following chapter is no longer seen as living a life of legality, in a state of despondency, but as for ever free from condemnation and in the enjoyment of liberty in Christ, in known relationship with God as Father through the Spirit, and waiting for the redemption of his body at the coming of the Lord. H. H.
"A divine Person is understood only by a divine revelation, of which Scripture is the record without, and the Holy Spirit is the illumination within."