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THE EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS - Chapter 7 - Verse 8

Verse 8. But sin. To illustrate the effect of the law on the mind, the apostle in this verse depicts its influence in exciting to evil desires and purposes. Perhaps nowhere has he evinced more consummate knowledge of the human heart than here. He brings an illustration that might have escaped most persons, but which goes directly to establish his position that the law is insufficient to promote the salvation of man. Sin here is personified. It means not a real entity; not a physical subsistence; not something independent of the mind, having a separate existence, and lodged in the soul; but it means the corrupt passions, inclinations, and desires of the mind itself. Thus we say that lust burns, and ambition rages, and envy corrodes the mind, without meaning that lust, ambition, or envy are any independent physical subsistences; but meaning that the mind that is ambitious, or envious, is thus excited.

Taking occasion. The word occasion—(aformhn) properly denotes any material, or preparation, for accomplishing anything; then any opportunity, occasion, etc. of doing it. Here it means that the law was the exciting cause of sin; or was that which called the sinful principle of the heart into exercise. But for this, the effect here described would not have existed. Thus we say that a tempting object of desire presented is the exciting cause of covetousness. Thus an object of ambition is the exciting cause of the principle of ambition. Thus the presentation of wealth, or of advantages possessed by others which we have not, may excite covetousness or envy. Thus the fruit presented to Eve was the exciting cause of sin; the wedge of gold to Achan excited his covetousness. Had not these objects been presented, the evil principles of the heart might have slumbered, and never have been called forth. And hence no men understand the full force of their native propensities until some object is presented that calls them forth into decided action. The occasion which called these forth in the mind of Paul was the law crossing his path, and irritating and exciting the native strong inclinations of the mind.

By the commandment. By all law appointed to restrain and control the mind.

Wrought in me. Produced or worked in me. The word used here means often to operate in a powerful and efficacious manner. (Doddridge.)

All manner of. Greek, "All desire." Every species of unlawful desire. It was not confined to one single desire, but extended to everything which the law declared to be wrong.

Concupiscence. Unlawful or irregular desire. Inclination for unlawful enjoyments. The word is the same which in Ro 7:7 is rendered lust. If it be asked in what way the law led to this, we may reply, that the main idea here is, that opposition by law to the desires and passions of wicked men only tends to inflame and exasperate them. This is the case with regard to sin in every form. An attempt to restrain it by force; to denounce it by laws and penalties; to cross the path of wickedness; only tends to irritate, and to excite into living energy, that which otherwise would be dormant in the bosom. This it does, because

(1.) it crosses the path of the sinner, and opposes his intention, and the current of his feelings and his life.

(2.) The law acts the part of a detector, and lays open to view that which was in the bosom, but was concealed.

(3.) Such is the depth and obstinacy of sin in man, that the very attempt to restrain often only serves to exasperate, and to urge to greater deeds of wickedness. Restraint by law rouses the mad passions; urges to greater deeds of depravity; makes the sinner stubborn, obstinate, and more desperate. The very attempt to set up authority over him throws him into a posture of resistance, and makes him a party, and excites all the feelings of party rage. Any one may have witnessed this effect often on the mind of a wicked and obstinate child.

(4.) This is particularly true in regard to a sinner. He is calm often, and apparently tranquil; but let the law of God be brought home to his conscience, and he becomes maddened and enraged. He spurns its authority, yet his conscience tells him it is right; he attempts to throw it off, yet trembles at its power; and, to show his independence, or his purpose to sin, he plunges into iniquity, and becomes a more dreadful and obstinate sinner. It becomes a struggle for victory, and in the controversy with God he resolves not to be overcome. It accordingly happens that many a man is more profane, blasphemous, and desperate when under conviction for sin than at other times. In revivals of religion it often happens that men evince violence, and rage, and cursing, which they do not in a state of spiritual death in the church; and it is often a very certain indication that a man is under conviction for sin when he becomes particularly violent, and abusive, and outrageous in his opposition to God.

(5.) The effect here noticed by the apostle is one that has been observed at all times, and by all classes of writers. Thus Cato says, (Livy, xxxiv. 4,) "Do not think, Romans, that it will be hereafter as it was before the law was enacted. It is more safe that a bad man should not be accused, than that he should be absolved; and luxury not excited would be more tolerable than it will be now, by the very chains irritated and excited as a wild beast." Thus Seneca says, (de Clementia, i. 23,) "Parricides began with the law." Thus Horace; (Odes, i. 3,) "The human race, bold to endure all things, rushes through forbidden crime." Thus Ovid, (Amor. iii. 4,) "We always endeavour to obtain that which is forbidden, and desire that which is denied." (These passages are quoted from Tholuck.) See also Pr 9:17, "Stolen waters are sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant." If such be the effect of the law, then the inference of the apostle is unavoidable, that it is not adapted to save and sanctify man.

For without the law. Before it was given; or where it was not applied to the mind.

Sin was dead. It was inoperative, inactive, unexcited. This is evidently in a comparative sense. The connexion requires us to understand it only so far as it was excited by the law. Men's passions would exist; but without law they would not be known to be evil, and they would not be excited into wild and tumultuous raging.

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