J. A. Trench.
Article 11 of 55 from 'Truth for Believers' Volume 2.
An explanation is sought of Romans 7:24-25. Is there in the Gospel what answers to the cry of misery, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from this body of death"? Can there be in reality such a deliverance from the bondage and power of sin? Is it the knowledge of it that leads to the totally changed note of "I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord." And if so, how is it to be found and realised? What questions could be of deeper importance to the soul? Let us look, then, at the setting of the passage — what precedes and follows after, if only the main elements of the truth can be pointed out within a brief compass.
In the first eight chapters the whole question of our sins has been gone into, and the ground of a righteous justification on the part of God has been opened out to us, by two aspects of the redemption work of Christ. The one — propitiation through faith in His blood that met all the need of God's glory (Rom. 3); and the other — substitution; namely, Christ "delivered for our offences and raised up again for our justification." So that "being justified by faith we have peace with God" through Him. (End of Rom. 4 and first verse of Rom. 5) But all this leaves untouched what brought in sins: namely, our state by nature — the root sin — that produced all the guilty fruit of sins. This is taken up by the Apostle from Romans 5:12. And another aspect of Christ's death is brought before us, in which we are identified with Him, as having died with Him in the faith of our souls. (Rom. 6)
But just as we needed the conviction of sins, in the goodness of God that leads to repentance, so as even to have been shut up to the reality of Christ's death and resurrection for us, and have pardon and peace: so we needed to have our state of sin brought home to us by a work of conviction wrought in the conscience, that we might enter into the blessed reality of having died with Christ to it.
This is just where the experience of the end of Romans 7 comes in, and it is not the exact experience of the Apostle or of anyone, perhaps, but it presents to us in principle what every soul has to be brought into, in order to pass by death with Christ become known to me, out of bondage into liberty as in Romans 8, of which the Holy Spirit indwelling is the power. It is the process by which God has to bring us to the learning in ourselves of the utterly hopeless irremediable corruption of the flesh in us, with which we were born, as of Adam's race; so that we may be brought thankfully to bow to the necessary end of all that we are in the judgment of the cross; and that instead of being occupied with ourselves any longer, we may be free to be adoringly occupied with Him who has delivered us.
But let us trace the steps of the process described by one who is free. A man floundering in a bog at every step cannot stop to describe his experience. But when he is out on firm ground, he can tell what he has been through. It is thus with the state so graphically presented to us in verses 14-23. The great leading fact is that there are three conflicting principles within, of which the soul is painfully become conscious. How came it about that there should be in us such war and strife? It was not always so. Once we drifted along peacefully enough, borne on the swift current with plenty of others, to a lost eternity. But the arrest came: God had spoken, and His word applied by His Spirit became life in the soul, and the new life had a nature answering to it. As that which is born of the flesh is flesh, as characterised by its source, so that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. (John 3:6) But nature is not power; and so I find myself with the desires of the new nature, but powerless to perform them: "That which I do I allow not, for what I would that do I not, but what I hate that do I." And so as the effect of being born again, conflict begins. And as it goes on, the first lesson is learned.
"I know that in me" (that is my flesh) "dwelleth no good thing." (Ver. 18) Have we each come even thus far? to know, as having proved it in myself, that there is no good in the flesh, no use therefore in looking for anything but evil in it, no disappointment at the discovery of any depth of it. But there is more. Even where there is the will, there is no power to perform what is good. The good I would I do not; the evil which I would not, that I do. A gleam of light seems to illumine the darkness; the very presence of opposing forces within me proves the existence of the two natures. It takes two to make a fight any day. And I learn to take my place with the nature I have received from God, and judge that it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. Yet this only leads to a deeper, darker discovery still. (Ver. 23). "I see another law in my members warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members." The flesh in me is after all too strong for me. The more I struggle with it for the mastery, it struggles with me and overpowers me. I am like a man in the wrestling-match: my opponent has me down, and wriggle and struggle as I will I cannot rise up. Ah! the secret is out: you have been looking for victory over yourself — to overcome this lust, and that passion — and how proud you would be if you had gained it. But must I not strive, you say! Strive on: strive on! You have not come to the end of yourself yet. God has to let the weary struggle go on till that end is reached, and you lie back in all your proved helplessness over the evil within you, and look for a Deliverer outside yourself to deliver you from yourself. For note well, it is not now, How shall I gain the victory over myself? but "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from this body of death? "
It is an humbling, but very real, process by which God breaks the proud will of the flesh and reduces me down to His estimate of what I am — hopeless as helpless under the dominion of sin — that I may be shut up absolutely to the Deliverer of His providing. For blessed be God, He was there before ever my need had arisen. The eye lifts to behold Him, and in broken utterance I can exclaim, "I thank God through Jesus Christ." Not that even deliverance had made any change in the character of the flesh: hence ver. 25, the close of the verse. Free now, "with the mind I myself serve God's law"; but if I get on to the ground of the flesh it will only be to prove "with the flesh the law of sin."
The principle of the deliverance is found in Romans 8:3 that "God having sent his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin [that is, as a sacrifice for sin] has condemned sin in the flesh." Having been brought by God's ways with me to bow to the necessity of that early sentence passed upon it, "the end of all flesh is come before me" (Gen. 6), how blessed to find that in the death of Christ the end has come for God, and now for the faith of my soul, the death of all that I am as well as of all I have done under God's judgment — that otherwise I should have had to meet in the lake of fire. But He who went down into the judgment, where the sentence was carried out, has risen from the depths of it to be my life; and I now know that I am entitled to count all that happened to Him as having happened to me. And thus the truth of Romans 6 has become real to me. "Knowing this," mark, it is presented as a known experience of the soul, "that our old man" (namely, all we were as characterised by the flesh and sin) "has been crucified with him, that the body of sin [put for the whole system and totality of it, as we say "the body of a river"] might be brought to nought, that henceforth we should not be slaves to sin." (Ver. 6). "We have died with Christ" (ver. 8), and can reckon ourselves to be dead to sin, but alive unto God in Jesus Christ our Lord."
What a deliverance it is — how blessedly real. Only observe, it is no question of a state attained by us, but of what has become true to faith, and is only realised moment by moment by faith's reckoning.
Into this wonderful deliverance the Holy Ghost enters, as (in Rom. 8) become the power of it, and of the liberty we enjoy, opened out in wonderful detail. If the truth has been apprehended in faith and the power of the Spirit and the soul is free, a few words as to Romans 12:1 may suffice. The exhortation follows on all that has been unfolded of the mercies of God in Romans 1 - 8. For the intervening chapters are in the nature of a parenthesis, in which God deigns to prove that the main doctrine of the epistle (that all are under sin, and no difference in this between Jew and Gentile (Rom. 10:12) is consistent with the special promises made to Israel. So that when we connect the exhortation directly with the doctrine of chapters 1 - 8, how irresistible the claim of God becomes upon us. How could we not respond to such rich mercy in presenting our bodies, once the instruments of the flesh's will, now to be a living sacrifice (in contrast to the dead ones of Judaism doubtless), holy acceptable unto God, which is our intelligent service. The Lord grant that this may be the effect for every one that knows the liberty of grace, which is the only proper, normal experience of the Christian.