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Romans viii. 1-11

The sequence of the eighth chapter of the Epistle on the seventh is a study always interesting and fruitful. No one can read the two chapters over without feeling the strong connexion between them, a connexion at once of contrast and of complement. Great indeed is the contrast between the paragraphs vii. 7-25 and the eighth chapter. The stern analysis of the one, unrelieved save by the fragment of thanksgiving at its close, (and even this is followed at once by a re-statement of the mysterious dualism,) is to the revelations and triumphs of the other as an almost starless night, stifling and electric, to the splendour of a midsummer morning with a yet more glorious morrow for its future. And there is complement as well as contrast. The day is related to the night, which has prepared us for it, as hunger prepares for food. Precisely what was absent from the former passage is supplied richly in the latter. There the Name of the Holy Spirit, "the Lord, the Life-Giver," was unheard. Here the fact and power of the Holy Spirit are present everywhere, so present that there is no other portion of the whole Scripture, unless we except the Redeemer's own Paschal Discourse, which presents us with so great a wealth of revelation on this 204 all-precious theme. And here we find the secret that is to "stint the strife" which we have just witnessed, and which in our own souls we know so well. Here is the way "how to walk and to please God" (1 Thess. iv. 1), in our justified life. Here is the way how, not to be as it were the victims of "the body," and the slaves of "the flesh," but to "do to death the body's practices" in a continuous exercise of inward power, and to "walk after the Spirit." Here is the resource on which we may be for ever joyfully paying "the debt" of such a walk; giving our redeeming Lord His due, the value of His purchase, even our willing, loving surrender, in the all-sufficient strength of "the Holy Ghost given unto us."

Noteworthy indeed is the manner of the introduction of this glorious truth. It appears not without preparation and intimation; we have heard already of the Holy Ghost in the Christian's life, v. 5, vii. 6. The heavenly water has been seen and heard in its flow; as in a limestone country the traveller may see and hear, through fissures in the fields, the buried but living floods. But here the truth of the Spirit, like those floods, finding at last their exit at some rough cliff's base, pours itself into the light, and animates all the scene. In such an order and manner of treatment there is a spiritual and also a practical lesson. We are surely reminded, as to the experiences of the Christian life, that in a certain sense we possess the Holy Ghost, yea, in His fulness, from the first hour of our possession of Christ. We are reminded also that it is at least possible on the other hand that we may need so to realize and to use our covenant possession, after sad experiments in other directions, that life shall be thenceforth a new experience of liberty and holy joy. We are reminded meanwhile 205 that such a "new departure," when it occurs, is new rather from our side than from the Lord's. The water was running all the while below the rocks. Insight and faith, given by His grace, have not called it from above, but as it were from within, liberating what was there.

The practical lesson of this is important for the Christian teacher and pastor. On the one hand, let him make very much in his instructions, public and private, of the revelation of the Spirit. Let him leave no room, so far as he can do it, for doubt or oblivion in his friends' minds about the absolute necessity of the fulness of the presence and power of the Holy One, if life is to be indeed Christian. Let him describe as boldly and fully as the Word describes it what life may be, must be, where that sacred fulness dwells; how assured, how happy within, how serviceable around, how pure, free, and strong, how heavenly, how practical, how humble. Let him urge any who have yet to learn it to learn all this in their own experience, claiming on their knees the mighty gift of God. On the other hand, let him be careful not to overdraw his theory, and to prescribe too rigidly the methods of experience. Not all believers fail in the first hours of their faith to realize, and to use, the fulness of what the Covenant gives them. And where that realization comes later than our first sight of Christ, as with so many of us it does come, not always is the experience and action the same. To one it is a crisis of memorable consciousness, a private Pentecost. Another wakes up as from sleep to find the unsuspected treasure at his hand—hid from him till then by nothing thicker than shadows. And another is aware that somehow, he knows not how, he has come to use the Presence and Power as a while ago he did not; he has passed a frontier—but he knows not when.


In all these cases, meanwhile, the man had, in one great respect, possessed the great gift all along. In covenant, in Christ, it was his. As he stepped by penitent faith into the Lord, he trod on ground which, wonderful to say, was all his own. And beneath it ran, that moment, the River of the water of life. Only, he had to discover, to draw, and to apply.

Again, the relation we have just indicated between our possession of Christ and our possession of the Holy Ghost is a matter of the utmost moment, spiritual and practical, presented prominently in this passage. All along, as we read the passage, we find linked inextricably together the truths of the Spirit and of the Son. "The law of the Spirit of life" is bound up with "Christ Jesus." The Son of God was sent, to take our flesh, to die as our Sin-Offering, that we might "walk according to the Spirit." "The Spirit of God" is "the Spirit of Christ." The presence of the Spirit of Christ is such that, where He dwells, "Christ is in you." Here we read at once a caution, and a truth of the richest positive blessing. We are warned to remember that there is no separable "Gospel of the Spirit." Not for a moment are we to advance, as it were, from the Lord Jesus Christ to a higher or deeper region, ruled by the Holy Ghost. All the reasons, methods, and issues of the work of the Holy Ghost are eternally and organically connected with the Son of God. We have Him at all because Christ died. We have life because He has joined us to Christ living. Our experimental proof of His fulness is that Christ to us is all. And we are to be on the guard against any exposition of His work and glory which shall for one moment leave out those facts. But not only are we to be on our guard; we are to rejoice in the thought that the mighty, the endless, work of the 207 Spirit is all done always upon that sacred Field, Christ Jesus. And every day we are to draw upon the indwelling Giver of Life to do for us His own, His characteristic, work; to shew us "our King in His beauty," and to "fill our springs of thought and will with Him."

To return to the connexion of the two great chapters. We have seen how close and pregnant it is; the contrast and the complement. But it is also true, surely, that the eighth chapter is not merely and only the counterpart to the seventh. Rather the eighth, though the seventh applies to it a special motive, is also a review of the whole previous argument of the Epistle, or rather the crown on the whole previous structure. It begins with a deep re-assertion of our Justification; a point unnoticed in vii. 7-25. It does this using an inferential particle, "therefore," ἄρα—to which, surely, nothing in the just preceding verses is related. And then it unfolds not only the present acceptance and present liberty of the saints, but also their amazing future of glory, already indicated, especially in ch. v. 2. And its closing strains are full of the great first wonder, our Acceptance. "Them He justified"; "It is God that justifieth." So we forbear to take ch. viii. as simply the successor and counterpart of ch. vii. It is this, in some great respects. But it is more; it is the meeting point of all the great truths of grace which we have studied, their meeting point in the sea of holiness and glory.119119"In this surpassing chapter the several streams of the preceding arguments meet and flow in one 'river of the water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb,' until it seems to lose itself in the ocean of a blissful eternity."—David Brown, D.D., "The Epistle to the Romans," in "Handbooks for Bible Classes."

As we approach the first paragraph of the chapter, we ask ourselves what is its message on the whole, its 208 true envoi. It is, our possession of the Holy Spirit of God, for purposes of holy loyalty and holy liberty. The foundation of that fact is once more indicated, in the brief assertion of our full Justification in Christ, and of His propitiatory Sacrifice (ver. 3). Then from those words, "in Christ," he opens this ample revelation of our possession, in our union with Christ, of the Spirit who, having joined us to Him, now liberates us in Him, not from condemnation only but from sin's dominion. If we are indeed in Christ, the Spirit is in us, dwelling in us, and we are in the Spirit. And so, possessed and filled by the blessed Power, we indeed have power to walk and to obey. Nothing is mechanical, automatic; we are fully persons still; He who annexes and possesses our personality does not for a moment violate it. But then, He does possess it; and the Christian, so possessing and so possessed, is not only bound but enabled, in humble but practical reality, in a liberty otherwise unknown, to "fulfil the just demand of the Law," "to please God," in a life lived not to self but to Him.

Thus, as we shall see in detail as we proceed, the Apostle, while he still firmly keeps his hand, so to speak, on Justification, is occupied fully now with its issue, Holiness. And this issue he explains as not merely a matter of grateful feeling, the outcome of the loyalty supposed to be natural to the pardoned. He gives it as a matter of divine power, secured to them under the Covenant of their acceptance.

Shall we not enter on our expository study full of holy expectation, and with unspeakable desires awake, to receive all things which in that Covenant are ours? Shall we not remember, over every sentence, that in it Christ speaks by Paul, and speaks to us? For us 209 also, as for our spiritual ancestors, all this is true. It shall be true in us also, as it was in them.

We shall be humbled as well as gladdened; and thus our gladness will be sounder. We shall find that whatever be our "walk according to the Spirit," and our veritable dominion over sin, we shall still have "the practices of the body" with which to deal—of the body which still is "dead because of sin," "mortal," not yet "redeemed." We shall be practically reminded, even by the most joyous exhortations, that possession and personal condition are one thing in covenant, and another in realization; that we must watch, pray, examine self, and deny it, if we would "be" what we "are." Yet all this is but the salutary accessory to the blessed main burthen of every line. We are accepted in the Lord. In the Lord we have the Eternal Spirit for our inward Possessor. Let us arise, and "walk humbly," but also in gladness, "with our God."

St Paul speaks again, perhaps after a silence, and Tertius writes down for the first time the now immortal and beloved words. So no adverse sentence is there now, in view of this great fact of our redemption, for those in Christ Jesus.120120There can be no reasonable doubt that the words "who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit," should be omitted. They are probably a gloss from ver. 4; inserted (perhaps first as a side-note) by scribes who failed to appreciate the profound simplicity of the Apostle's dictum. "In Christ Jesus"—mysterious union, blessed fact, wrought by the Spirit who linked us sinners to the Lord.121121We thus indicate the thought given by the otherwise difficult "For" of ver. 2. That "for" cannot mean to imply that there is no condemnation because the Spirit has enabled us to be holy; this would stultify the whole argument of chapters iii.-v. What, in that context, it must imply is the complex fact (1) that we are in Christ—where there is no condemnation, and (2) that we are there by the Holy Spirit, who brought us to saving faith. Now we are to learn (3) what that Spirit has done also for us in giving us union with Christ. For the law of the Spirit of the 210 life which is in Christ Jesus122122Τοῦ πνεύματος τῆς ζωῆς ἐν Χπριστῷ Ἰησοῦ. In the Greek of the N. T. it is possible so to interpret. Classical Greek would require τῆς ζωῆς τῆς ἐν Χ. Ἰ. The rendering, however, "the law of the Spirit of life, in Christ Jesus," (making the last three words govern the whole previous thought,) is amply admissible. freed me, the man of the conflict just described, from the law of sin and of death. The "law," the preceptive will, which legislates the covenant of blessing for all who are in Christ, has set him free. By a strange, pregnant paradox, so we take it, the Gospel—the message which carries with it acceptance, and also holiness, by faith—is here called a "law." For while it is free grace to us it is also immovable ordinance with God. The amnesty is His edict. It is by heavenly statute that sinners, believing, possess the Holy Spirit in possessing Christ. And here, with a sublime abruptness and directness, that great gift of the Covenant, the Spirit, for which the Covenant gift of Justification was given, is put forward as the Covenant's characteristic and crown. It is for the moment as if this were all—that "in Christ Jesus" we, I, are under the fiat which assures to us the fulness of the Spirit. And this "law," unlike the stern "letter" of Sinai, has actually "freed me." It has endowed me not only with place but with power, in which to live emancipated from a rival law, the law of sin and of death. And what is that rival "law"? We dare to say, it is the preceptive will of Sinai; "Do this, and thou shalt live." This is a hard saying; for in itself that very Law has been recently vindicated as holy, and just, and good, and spiritual. And only a few lines 211 above in the Epistle we have heard of a "law of sin" which is "served by the flesh." And we should unhesitatingly explain this "law" to be identical with that but for the next verse here, a still nearer context, in which "the law" is unmistakably the divine moral Code, considered however as impotent. Must not this and that be the same? And to call that sacred Code "the Law of sin and of death" is not to say that it is sinful and deathful. It need only mean, and we think it does mean, that it is sin's occasion, and death's warrant, by the unrelieved collision of its holiness with fallen man's will. It must command; he, being what he is, must rebel. He rebels; it must condemn. Then comes his Lord to die for him, and to rise again; and the Spirit comes, to unite him to his Lord. And now, from the Law as provoking the helpless, guilty will, and as claiming the sinner's penal death—behold the man is "freed." For—(the process is now explained at large) the impossible of the Law—what it could not do, for this was not its function, even to enable us sinners to keep its precept from the soul—God, when He sent His own Son in likeness of flesh of sin, Incarnate, in our identical nature, under all those conditions of earthly life which for us are sin's vehicles and occasions, and as Sin-Offering,123123Περὶ ἁμαρτίας: the phrase is stamped with a sacrificial speciality by the Greek of the O. T. See e.g. Levit. xvi. 3, 5, 6, 9, 11, 15, 16, 25, 27. And cp. Heb. x. 8. expiatory and reconciling, sentenced sin in the flesh; not pardoned it, observe, but sentenced it. He ordered it to execution; He killed its claim and its power for all who are in Christ. And this, "in the flesh," making man's earthly conditions the scene of sin's defeat, for our everlasting encouragement in our "life in the 212 flesh." And what was the aim and issue? That the righteous demand (δικαίωμα) of the Law might be fulfilled in us, us who walk not flesh-wise, but Spirit-wise; that we, accepted in Christ, and using the Spirit's power in the daily "walk" of circumstance and experience, might be liberated from the life of self-will, and meet the will of God with simplicity and joy.

Such, and nothing less or else, was the Law's "righteous demand"; an obedience not only universal but also cordial. For its first requirement, "Thou shalt have no other God," meant, in the spiritual heart of it, the dethronement of self from its central place, and the session there of the Lord. But this could never be while there was a reckoning still unsettled between the man and God. Friction there must be while God's Law remained not only violated but unsatisfied, unatoned.124124"The way of him that is laden with guilt is exceeding crooked." Prov. xxi. 8 R.V. And so it necessarily remained, till the sole adequate Person, one with God, one with man, stepped into the gap; our Peace, our Righteousness, and also by the Holy Ghost our Life. At rest because of His sacrifice, at work by the power of His Spirit, we are now free to love, and divinely enabled to walk in love. Meanwhile the dream of an unsinning perfectness, such as could make a meritorious claim, is not so much negatived as precluded, put far out of the question. For the central truth of the new position is that the Lord has fully dealt, for us, with the Law's claim that man shall deserve acceptance. "Boasting" is inexorably "excluded," to the last, from this new kind of law-fulfilling life. For the "fulfilment" which means legal satisfaction is for ever taken out of our hands by Christ, 213 and only that humble "fulfilment" is ours which means a restful, unanxious, reverent, unreserved loyalty in practice. To this now our "mind," our cast and gravitation of soul, is brought, in the life of acceptance, and in the power of the Spirit. For they who are flesh-wise, the unchanged children of the self-life, think, "mind," have moral affinity and converse with, the things of the flesh; but they who are Spirit-wise, think the things of the Spirit, His love, joy, peace, and all that holy "fruit." Their liberated and Spirit-bearing life now goes that way, in its true bias. For the mind, the moral affinity, of the flesh, of the self-life, is death; it involves the ruin of the soul, in condemnation, and in separation from God; but the mind of the Spirit, the affinity given to the believer by the indwelling Holy One, is life and peace; it implies union with Christ, our life and our acceptance; it is the state of soul in which He is realized. Because—this absolute antagonism of the two "minds" is such becausethe "mind" of the flesh is personal hostility (ἔχθρα) towards God; for to God's Law it is not subject. For indeed it cannot be subject to it; those125125We do not translate the δὲ. It seems to be best represented in English by connecting the clause only by position with what goes before. who are in flesh, surrendered to the life of self as their law, cannot please God,126126The Greek lays a solemn emphasis by position on Θεῷ. "cannot meet the wish" (ἀρέσαι) of Him whose loving but absolute claim is to be Lord of the whole man.

"They cannot": it is a moral impossibility. "The Law of God" is, "Thou shalt love Me with all thy heart, and thy neighbour as thyself"; the mind of the 214 flesh is, "I will love my self and its will first and most." Let this be disguised as it may, even from the man himself; it is always the same thing in its essence. It may mean a defiant choice of open evil. It may mean a subtle and almost evanescent preference of literature, or art, or work, or home, to God's will as such. It is in either case "the mind of the flesh," a thing which cannot be refined and educated into holiness, but must be surrendered at discretion, as its eternal enemy.

But you (there is a glad emphasis on "you") are not in flesh, but in Spirit, surrendered to the indwelling Presence as your law and secret, on the assumption that (εἴπερ: he suggests not weary misgivings but a true examination) God's Spirit dwells in you; has His home in your hearts, humbly welcomed into a continuous residence. But if any one has not Christ's Spirit, (who is the Spirit as of the Father so of the Son, sent by the Son, to reveal and to impart Him,) that man is not His. He may bear his Lord's name, he may be externally a Christian, he may enjoy the divine Sacraments of union; but he has not "the Thing." The Spirit, evidenced by His holy fruit, is no Indweller there; and the Spirit is our vital Bond with Christ. But if Christ is, thus by the Spirit, in you, dwelling by faith in the hearts which the Spirit has "strengthened" to receive Christ (Eph. iii. 16, 17)—true (μὲν), the body is dead, because of sin, the primeval sentence still holds its way there; the body is deathful still, it is the body of the Fall; but the Spirit127127We refer the word πνεῦμα here, as throughout the passage, to the Holy Ghost. No other interpretation seems either consistent with the whole context, or adequate to its grandeur. is life, He is in that body, your secret of power 215 and peace eternal, because of righteousness, because of the merit of your Lord, in which you are accepted, and which has won for you this wonderful Spirit-life.

Then even for the body there is assured a glorious future, organically one with this living present. Let us listen as he goes on: But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus, the slain Man, from the dead, dwells in you, He who raised from the dead Christ Jesus, the Man so revealed and glorified as the Anointed Saviour, shall also bring to life your mortal bodies, because of (διὰ τὸ κτλ128128We read thus, not διὰ τοῦ κτλ ("by means of, by the agency of, His Spirit"). The two readings have each strong support, but we think the balance of evidence is for the accusative not the genitive. Happily the exegetical difference is not serious. The accusative gives indeed a meaning which may well include that given by the genitive, while it includes other ideas also.) His Spirit, dwelling in you. That "frail temple," once so much defiled, and so defiling, is now precious to the Father because it is the habitation of the Spirit of His Son. Nor only so; that same Spirit, who, by uniting us to Christ, made actual our redemption, shall surely, in ways to us unknown, carry the process to its glorious crown, and be somehow the Efficient Cause of "the redemption of our body."

Wonderful is this deep characteristic of the Scripture; its Gospel for the body. In Christ, the body is seen to be something far different from the mere clog, or prison, or chrysalis, of the soul. It is its destined implement, may we not say its mighty wings in prospect, for the life of glory. As invaded by sin, it must needs pass through either death or, at the Lord's Return, an equivalent transfiguration. But as created in God's plan of Human Nature it is for ever congenial to the 216 soul, nay, it is necessary to the soul's full action. And whatever be the mysterious mode (it is absolutely hidden from us as yet) of the event of Resurrection, this we know, if only from this Oracle, that the glory of the immortal body will have profound relations with the work of God in the sanctified soul. No mere material sequences will bring it about. It will be "because of the Spirit"; and "because of the Spirit dwelling in you," as your power for holiness in Christ.129129We are aware that ver. 11 has been sometimes interpreted of present blessings for the body; as if the fulness of the Holy Ghost was to effect a quasi-glorification of the body's condition now; exempting it from illness, and at least retarding its decay. But this seems untenable. If the words point this way at all, ought they not to mean a literal exemption from death altogether? But this manifestly was not in the Apostle's mind, if we take his writings as a whole. That spiritual blessings may, and often do, act wonderfully in the life of the body, is most true. But that is not the truth of this verse.

So the Christian reads the account of his present spiritual wealth, and of his coming completed life, "his perfect consummation and bliss in the eternal glory." Let him take it home, with most humble but quite decisive assurance, as he looks again, and believes again, on his redeeming Lord. For him, in his inexpressible need, God has gone about to provide "so great salvation." He has accepted his person in His Son who died for him. He has not only forgiven him through that great Sacrifice, but in it He has "condemned," sentenced to chains and death, his sin, which is now a doomed thing, beneath his feet, in Christ. And He has given to him, as personal and perpetual Indweller, to be claimed, hailed, and used by humble faith, His own Eternal Spirit, the Spirit of His Son, the Blessed One who, dwelling infinitely in the Head, 217 comes to dwell fully in the members, and make Head and members wonderfully one. Now then let him give himself up with joy, thanksgiving, and expectation, to the "fulfilling of the righteous demand of God's Law," "walking Spirit-wise," with steps moving ever away from self and towards the will of God. Let him meet the world, the devil, and that mysterious "flesh," (all ever in potential presence,) with no less a Name than that of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Let him stand up not as a defeated and disappointed combatant, maimed, half-blinded, half-persuaded to succumb, but as one who treads upon "all the power of the enemy," in Christ, by the indwelling Spirit. And let him reverence his mortal body, even while he "keeps it in subjection," and while he willingly tires it, or gives it to suffer, for his Lord. For it is the temple of the Spirit. It is the casket of the hope of glory.

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