Some Notice of the Rev. F. Bourdillon's Tract,

"The Experiences Described in Romans 7:7-25."

1874 365 Many are the writers who have undertaken to tell us about the soul under its difficulties, and the soul in its experiences, when seeking to be "free from the law of sin and death."

In itself the subject is of the greatest moment; for the soul, in such exercises before God, must necessarily be occupied primarily with what He is in His holiness, as well as with what we are, who were "born in sin, and shapen in iniquity." The most efficient guides to a soul when under such experiences will surely be those who have passed out of them into the enjoyment of that "liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free."

The knowledge that such guides have, in their own exercises of soul, gone down to the extreme point of "O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me?" commends them to those who still need help, and gives the proper character and weight to these words, "I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord." Those who are out can lead out.

My reason for saying anything on Mr. Bourdillon's tract on Romans 7, and "the experience described," is, that I more than question whether he is a guide of this kind. Moreover, as the tract is stated to be "the substance of an address delivered at the aggregate clerical meeting held at Tunbridge Wells," and since "published by request," it takes a place of unusual importance under this commendatory form of clerical sanction, and leaves it fairly open to remark. It is not my purpose to review the tract, but to state the main design of the writer, so that, if his object is unscriptural, one may be excused following the course he pursues for himself and recommends to others for accepting the experiences of Romans 7 as properly descriptive of the Apostle Paul and ourselves, or of a christian state. The object of Mr. B. is to make this scripture "the narrative or picture of a soul's progress and condition. Yet, though an individual history, it has (he tells us) at the same time a representative character — it furnishes a sample, an instance." He says that "the apostle describes himself — here PAUL appears in every word. It his own soul's autobiography, it is his portrait self-drawn." Mr. B. is true to his object in the use he makes of this scripture, and having declared it an autobiography of the apostle and a portrait of Paul, he attempts to reduce the declared wretchedness of the soul's experience down to the lowest dilution by a misapplication of other scriptures in Paul's writings (such as, "lest I should be a castaway," etc.) Mr. B. turns the key in the door upon the apostle finally as to all hope of actual deliverance out of the prison and his captivity, and calmly says, "it is the voice of distress, it is an appeal for help; yet I hear not so much in these words the cry of a chained captive to be set free, as that of a soldier in conflict, who looks round for succour.

I quote no farther for the moment, but turn most gladly to say, what a mercy, and what a comfort, for us, as believers in Christ, that another ear was open to that cry of wretchedness, and a heart that could interpret it so differently as to give deliverance (not through our incessant conflict as soldiers, and continuous cry for succour), but by His own death and resurrection out of it, and ours too. "I thank God, through Jesus Christ our Lord," is our song!

Here let me remark, how needful it is that we should be on the same degree of latitude, and sailing by properly adjusted compasses, if we would make even our ordinary geographical observations with correctness and certainty. Surely it is of much greater importance for the soul and its exercises that the guides should remember Paul's own exhortation to his son Timothy, "Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." And now let me seriously ask those who read their Bibles for themselves, is this the purpose and object of the Holy Ghost in writing the seventh chapter of the Romans, namely, to show a man that "in himself, that is in his flesh, dwelleth no good thing" and to leave him under the power of the evil that he would not do? Is the object of this scripture to pass and re-pass a soul through life-long experiences under the holy law of God, which lead him to cry out, "O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me?" and then to leave him in hopeless conflict with self and indwelling sin, with a parting word that the wretchedness and the cry are not so bad? In short, is the individual a soldier in conflict (a faithful soldier, too, as Mr. B. tells us), or does Romans 7 describe one who is "sold under sin" — "brought into captivity" — instead of ever getting out, or gaining an inch by conflict, and finding instead that the tyrant in power (sin), "taking occasion by the commandment, deceived him," and turning it to his own advantage, by means thereof slew him? The idea of conflict as a soldier is entirely foreign to the chapter — there is no battlefield named — we do not fight with "the law of God." It is not the surroundings that are in question, nor is it by enemies that the soul is confronted, but the question whether the law is a power in my hand for life, by obedience, and for righteousness before God; or whether the commandment which was ordained unto life, I found to be unto death? Did it detect the very lust in myself, and give me the mastery over it? or did it convict me of indwelling sin only to give all its strength to sin, and prove it to be my master, with power to lead me into "captivity" by the law of sin, which is in my members? Another, stronger than myself or that which chains me down as a captive, can alone deliver; and, instead of being like "a faithful soldier," I find myself a slave to sin and lust in my members; a criminal by the law of God, which forbids it, and under death and condemnation, as the judgment of Him against whom I have offended. Will a culprit in his cell fight with his walls, or a slave in his chains with his manacles — much less talk of being a soldier, and "a faithful one," in conflict? Nay, a slave has the experiences of a slave, and a culprit the feelings morally of a culprit, under the law, as in this chapter, which forbade and detected the sin, in the very lust that conceived it. It is the discovery of oneself and "the motions of sin" in one's own members, which raises the cry of "O wretched man that I am."

There is no thought of another person, much less of an enemy, external to oneself, with whom to fight; nor is the cry to be delivered from outward enemies (like the cry of soldiers worsted on the battlefield), but "wretched man that I am," one who has found out another and deeper kind of wretchedness in the sense of what I am, in relation to all that is in myself and what I carry about with me, as part and parcel of myself, when brought to light, and tested by the righteous claims of God upon me, through "a law which is holy, and just, and good." The human way of deliverance from an exacting power is no doubt by means of conflict; but the divine way is by death (our old man has been crucified with Christ), in which every claim is met and answered; for who can press a demand on one who has died, or who can arrest a dead man?

Mr. B. does himself an injustice, therefore, by thus denying there is full deliverance out of the wretchedness of chapter 7 into "the glorious liberty of the sons of God," chapter 8; and he does the scriptures a greater wrong, and Paul who wrote them, by declaring "that from verse 7 to 13 he describes his past transitional state; and that from 14 to 25 Paul describes his present and spiritual condition." This is too in the face of the confession, "O wretched man that I am," and in presence of the cry, "who shall deliver me?" We may well ask, are these the meagre fruits and spoils of Christ's sufferings and death? are these the poor triumphs of His glorious ascension? is this the liberty wherewith Christ makes free — a closed door, and a cry from within? On the contrary, does not chapter 8 declare our deliverance from "the body of sin and death" by our own death and resurrection with Christ, and that "there is no condemnation?" Does it not affirm that "we are made free by the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus," and that "we are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit?" Moreover, we have life in union with the risen and glorified Christ, we enter upon our new relations with God the Father, as suited to such a life as we have in the ascended Son of man, the second Adam, and "have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry Abba Father?" Further, "the Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit that we are the children of God, and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ, if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together." We have thus been delivered from the condemnation and wretchedness felt by the quickened and renewed soul when passing through the experiences of one "under law," as in Romans 7, without "power to perform," and are established in the life, and liberty, and love of God, through grace, as indwelt by the Spirit, the witness and seal of the promised glory, till Christ comes to carry us there, of which Romans 8 treats.

We may fairly ask each other, in the joy and deliverance of this chapter, were not these the objects of the Father's counsel, and of the work of Christ by His death and our redemption? What a triumphant answer verse 29 gives to this question — "Whom he did foreknow he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the first-born among many brethren!" Dare we say we are left as soldiers, to fight our way out of wretchedness in a hopeless conflict, if we can, and perhaps to fight our way into the liberty and blessedness of chapter 8 as we best may; or gladly own positive and actual deliverance out of one and introduction into the other by the grace of God, through the trouble and travail of Christ's soul (rather than by exercises of ours), when He suffered "the just one for the unjust, that he might bring us to God?" Finally, what a different object the Holy Spirit puts before Paul, and those whom he represents, to what Mr. B. does, who locks them up under the law! What different utterances they employ, if we will only let Paul speak of their "present spiritual experiences" for himself: for "I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

If Mr. B. had told us how necessary it is that we should have "the sentence of death" written upon the flesh, and all the expectations as to the works of the flesh under the law, and that we should individually accept this sentence in our souls before God, and say, "I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing," he would have done some service at the present time. If he had further shown the hopelessness of any one in that condition striving to get out by any efforts of his own, and had "shut him up to the faith of Christ" as his only Deliverer, he would have really helped on many souls, by showing death at the cross to be the door of deliverance, and not their own conflict with some foreign power. If Mr. B. had written as "one who knew the law" in this respect, and spoken as Paul did to others "that knew it," and said, "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 that is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God," he would not have sung the dead march of despair as proper christian experience, but have gladly celebrated his deliverance and marriage with Christ on the bright morning of His resurrection, with all those that are His.

M. B. does violence to Paul in chapter 7 by shutting him in upon the wretchedness which it describes, and does dishonour to Christ by denying Him there as an actual Deliverer. Mr. B. says truly, "we tread on holy ground when we enter on this question; let us walk warily, let us think gently and reverently. But I cannot but believe that this faithful soldier was sometimes worsted." Be this as it may between Mr. B. and the apostle, our question is not whether Paul was worsted or anything of this sort about Paul, but whether Christ was worsted, so that He did not actually take His people out from this wretchedness of Romans 7 and put them, by His own death and ours, into the liberty and glory of Romans 8?

Is a Christian to be told, as Mr. B. does, that deliverance is not a change of place and relationship with God, in and with Christ by the Spirit, according to the utterances and experiences of chapter 8, but a temporary and occasional relief, etc., "to a weary and a faithful soldier in conflict?"

"The experience described" denies it to be one of a spiritual crisis merely, a stage or period passed through once for all, and then done with; but of a state, an oft-recurring conflict. "Again and again was the attack renewed, for the evil was ever present with him, again and again the battle had to be fought. Often, doubtless, the conflict was short and sharp, and often must the same experience be gone through."

Let me solemnly ask, is all this exercise of one under the law to be falsely styled christian conflict, in the very forefront of its companion, chapter 8, the magna charta of our christian deliverance, and privileges, and victories? "Nay, in all these things, we are more than conquerors through him that loved us."

There are conflicts, as in Ephesians 6, and elsewhere, proper to a Christian as such, when consciously seated in heavenly places with Christ, as the Head of the body, the church; and would to God Mr. B. had led forward the soldiers of the cross to that struggle, as Paul does there — "Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might; put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil; for we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against wicked spirits in the heavenlies."

Will Mr. B.'s tract lead his readers out upon that battlefield? Nay, may I not, in faithful love, ask rather this question — are Mr. B. and "the aggregate clerical meeting" there for themselves, and have they ever taken rank or place in this conflict?

Whatever Romans 7 may be and is, it is not wrestling with wicked spirits, much less in the heavenly places; and whatever questions are raised, they certainly are in connection with "flesh and blood," and the law given by Moses. The "aggregate clerical meeting" will do well to ponder these things at their next gathering, or before. On the other hand, it is possible to "frustrate the grace of God," as the Galatians did, and to resist "the truth of the gospel," by "building again the things that have been set aside or destroyed." Suppose Paul had fraternized with the Galatians in the objects they were pursuing, would he not have been as foolish and bewitched as they? Did the path they took confirm them in the liberty of Christ and of the Spirit, or lead "back again into bondage?" Will Mr. B., in the face of this Epistle to the Galatians, venture to shut up Paul, and those whom he represents, in the hopeless captivity and wretchedness of Romans 7, or hear him, as he warns those who desired again to be in bondage? "My little children, of whom I travail in birth again till Christ be formed in you; I desire to be present with you now, and to change my voice, for I stand in doubt of you." It is a serious consideration, that in this way there may be a resistance of God and a fighting against Him, by denying the rights of Christ as our Deliverer and refusing the deliverance which He has effected for us from under every yoke. This unbelief as to our complete deliverance out of our natural Adam-standing and sin-state, as well as from "the body of this death," as described in Romans 7, in and through Christ, is surely no conflict with the devil or the wicked spirits, either in heaven or earth, but a very unchristian resistance of God in "the truth of the gospel" respecting Christ Himself and His saints, which those who are guilty of it will do well to confess before God and the church. One is led to ask, why are these efforts made by such as the Rev. Mr. B., and sanctioned by aggregate clerical meetings, with requests that their statements may be published, etc., which, in effect, lead back again, or confirm souls in the captivity and wretchedness, on account of which Christ died and rose again, that He might deliver them, and set free for ever?

Does Moses and the law suit them personally, and perhaps ecclesiastically, better than the Headship of Christ, and the action of the Holy Ghost in the church? Does Judaism, with its ritual and liturgy and distance from God, correspond more with their order and worship than "the rent veil" of Christianity, and our liberty to enter into the holiest, "as kings and priests unto God?" Otherwise it is more than strange after "the house has been broken open," and a full deliverance preached by Paul himself, that he and those whom be represents should decline to come out into the liberty of Christ through death and resurrection — strange that he should have once stood up for his own freedom and rights "as a Roman" citizen, against the authorities of the Philippian prison, and compelled the rulers and the magistrates to come and beseech them, and bring them out, and desire them to depart out of the city, and yet that when the title and rights of Christ, and Paul's too are fully in view, as in Romans 8, he should not insist upon his heavenly privileges against the authorities of the law, and the body of sin and death, to detain him, as a free-born citizen of heaven! Unpardonable that he should forget "the old man had been crucified with Christ," and lead us back (as the apostle of the Gentiles) into captivity, and put us with himself under their dominion, to experience deeper wretchedness, and cry out for deliverance never gained, and there abide in that state, as "our present spiritual condition."

But the apostle neither says nor does nor accepts nor suffers any such things as are reported by Mr. B. in this tract as "his present spiritual condition." On the contrary he cries out to the Galatians, "Stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage." When Paul writes to these Philippians of his "present condition," as to sufferings and conflicts, they are entirely of another character, and spring from another source than Romans 7 — "for unto you it is given on the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake, having the same conflict which ye saw in me, and now hear to be in me."

By these remarks and quotations, I mean to show that there is in this way a fighting against God, and a departure from Christ, by the unjudged evil and hardness of the natural heart, through which the wilderness journey is turned again into a provocation, and, as a consequence, the people of God, in the experiences of their souls, are kept out of their rest, and turned back in heart to Egypt. In principle this is done by Christians, when they refuse deliverance out of all their captivity through Christ their Deliverer, and declare they are "tied and bound by the chain of their sins," and confess themselves to be, what they originally were, "miserable sinners," in spite of all that He has accomplished below, and the place He has taken as their intercessor at the right hand of God in heaven, as the second Man crowned with glory and honour. They will neither go out by redemption, nor enter in by faith, with their Forerunner; they will not quit Egypt and cross the Red Sea with a song in their mouths, nor go over Jordan with their Joshua into Canaan, or take possession (in present communion with the Father's love and the Son's joy through the power of the Holy Ghost) of their proper birthright, in the heavenlies.

In conclusion, let me say, there is a widespread religious system in Christendom at the present day, a corruption of Judaism and of true Christianity, which falsifies the believer's present standing and state and experiences, as accepted and complete in Christ before God even our Father. Moreover, it falsifies the relation of the Holy Ghost as the witness and seal of our union with Christ in life and righteousness and earnest of glory, and of ourselves as indwelt by the Spirit, and knowing "our body is the temple of the Holy Ghost, which we have of God."

Paul says to us, "Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lusts of the flesh;" but Mr. B. would bring back, and keep the apostle (and those whom he represents) in the captivity and wretchedness of one under the law. Mr. B. leaves Paul and others in the experiences described in Romans 7, crying out for deliverance, and yet never actually delivered out of them, nor brought into liberty for present communion and joy. All will do well to mark the contrast between these two systems. J. E. Batten.