Wrested Scriptures Made Plain

By W.E. Shepard      

Romans Chapter Seven        


 This is a wonderful rendezvous. People come from the North, from the South, from the East, and from the West and find in this chapter a common solace. It is a very fitting chapter. What wonderful comfort it gives to many to find out that Paul had just such a hard time as they. How often we hear the expression, “Well, my experience is a good deal like Paul’s,” and then quote the seventh chapter of Romans, or pervert some of his other writings, making them mean what he never intended them to mean. Only the cither day a lady remarked to the writer, when trying to justify herself in not being sanctified, that her experience was a good deal like Paul’s. We told her if it was like his she was all right.  Another lady once said that her experience was in the seventh of Romans, and she never expected to get above Paul. We wonder what that grand old apostle of full salvation would say now to these professing Christians, who are wresting his teachings “unto their own destruction.”

In this chapter, Paul makes use of the following expressions:

“But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good.”

“But I am carnal, sold under sin.”

“But what I hate, that do I.”

“Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.”

“For the good that I would, I do not; but the evil which I would not, that I do.”

“Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.”

“I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me.”

“0 wretched men that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" 

Looking at this chapter, as we find it with these statements in it, we ask the question, Was this Paul’s experience at the time he wrote this Scripture? Paul was a Christian from young manhood to old age, and this was written only a few years before his death. So, if it was his experience at the time of his writing it, then we may suppose it was his experience from first to last. The gist of the statements which he makes is this:

Sin wrought death in him; he was carnal and sold under sin; what he hated he did, because sin dwelt in him. He did not do the good that he ought to have done, but did the evil which he ought not. There was a law of sin in him which caused him to do thus. He cried out in misery, “0 wretched man that I am !"

We will compare these expressions with some of his other sayings, and see if there is harmony. Comparing Scripture with Scripture is a good method of interpretation. The Word, properly understood, does not contradict itself. If all those who claim that they do not believe in holiness would only take this into consideration it would marvelously help to clear away their doubts. Now for the comparisons.

“But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me,” etc. Compare this with Gal. 2:20:

“And the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me.” This was some two years before he wrote the epistle to the Romans. He declares that he has life—spiritual life. How one can have life, and at the same time have spiritual death, is a mystery hard to solve.

“But I am carnal, sold under sin.” Then see Rom. 8:2: “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.” If one is sold under sin, by what process of reasoning can one make out that he is free from the same? When, a few years ago, they sold a Negro under slavery, was he at the same time free from slavery?

“But what I hate, that I do.” He says it was because sin dwelt in him. This sin caused him to do evil when he wanted to do good. He discovered that it was a law in him, which he called the law of sin, which brought all this about, and consequently, evil was an ever present factor in his life. How does this compare with I Thes. 2:10: “Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily and justly and unblameably we behaved ourselves among you that believe ?“ Notice also his dying testimony: “I have fought a good fight; I have finished my course;  I have kept the faith. ”Does this look like doing the things he hated; that sin was constantly working in him; that there was a law which kept him from doing what he wanted to do?

“0 wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death ?“ Did wretchedness mark the experience of Paul? Hear him:

“Yet always rejoicing.”—2 Cor. 6:10. We understand how one would be miserable had he to drag around with him a “body of death,” and continually to have his good motives thwarted by the evil which was ever present; but we fail to see how one at this same time could look up and say that he was always rejoicing. If he were to give both testimonies at the same time, we would certainly think he was mistaken in one of them. But, says one, “Paul did not give both these testimonies at the same time.” Now, we are getting at the truth of the thing. If we make Paul say that both these were his experiences throughout his Christian life, we certainly make him irreconcilably contradict himself. To make him say that this “wretched” experience was his at the time at which he wrote the epistle to the Romans, will cause the same contradiction. Does he not say in the sixth chapter, that “Our old man is crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin ?“ Does he not say, “For he that is dead is freed from sin ?“ Does he not say, “How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein ?“ Again he says, “That like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” “For sin shall not have dominion over you; for you are not under the law, but under grace.” “For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness.” “But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.” Here we have diametric opposition in experience to the seventh chapter, and this all occurs in the preceding chapter. In the seventh he says that he was sold under sin; that sin dwelt in him and held the mastery over him. In the sixth he declares that the body of sin is destroyed; that the proper Christian experience is freedom from sin; that we may have our fruit unto holiness. Probably not more than an hour or two at the most elapsed between writing the two opposites. Now, the candid seeker after light will honestly look for an explanation of this, and not seek a refuge in something that will not enable him to pass muster at the judgment day.

The fact is, that the seventh chapter of Romans is a great parenthesis, thrown in. between the sixth and the eighth, no doubt for the benefit of the Jews, as he says at the beginning, “For I speak to them that know the law.” He does it to show ‘the weakness of human effort under the law to give a satisfactory experience, either in saving from sin or satisfying the soul. Whether he meant us to understand that it was his actual experience, trying to obey God under the law without grace, or that he uses the first person singular simply as an illustration of one’s experience in that condition, is immaterial;  the lesson is the same. In the fifth verse of this same chapter he says: “For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sin (sinful  passions, R. V.) which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death.” In the eighth chapter and eighth verse he tells us, “They that are in the flesh (un­regenerate state) cannot please God.” Here we have an explanation to the whole chapter. Coupling these statements with the thirteenth verse, where he says that sin worked death in him, shows beyond any question of doubt that: he is describing the case of one “in the flesh” under the law. Not that he was in the flesh at the time of that writing, for he says, as just quoted, “For when we were in the flesh,” showing here past experience. Being  in the flesh, he had the experience of death worked in him, and, of course, could not please God. So in that condition he found evil present with him; the things that he hated he did; he was a wretched man, and cries out for deliverance. But, says one, in describing the experience of this chapter, he makes use of the present tense, which shows that it is his experience at the time of writing. And we have just proved that he uses in the fifth verse the past tense, describing the same experience, which is conclusive evidence that he is referring to his past experience. To say the least, it is an offset to the present tense argument. Does Paul contradict himself? By no means. His purpose is to impress this solemn fact upon the readers. He is a wise writer, and a great scholar from a human point of view. But when inspired by the Holy Spirit, his wisdom cannot be questioned. We want to call attention to the place where he changes the tense, and why. In describing his past experience he gives in the thirteenth verse his closing reason for this awful condition. Now, having made it plain that sin was in him; that the law revealed things in a clearer light; and that human effort was inadequate to the occasion, he puts it down as an inevitable result that such  state would follow, and, simply to make it more forcible, he changes to the present tense in the fourteenth verse, and says, “I am carnal, sold under sin.” That is, under the conditions above described in the chapter, “I am carnal, sold under sin.” Then follows a vivid and impressive account of the distressed state of such a man. Do we not resort to the same method of employing the present tense for the purpose of emphasis? Perhaps the familiar rule of speech obtained in his day: “Habitual truths are in the present tense,” increasing the force. Suppose I should take the same plan in describing my experience to a friend; would he misunderstand me and say it was my experience at time of writing? Let us see. “My Dear Friend:

“I want to tell you a bit of my experience. There was a time in my life when I thought I was good enough. I was unawakened, and was living a good moral life. But under the preaching of the Word I saw my uncleanlinness and sinfulness. I was all right before the light shone upon my path, but when the light came my sinfulness was revealed, and I found myself in a state of death. I try again to do good, but I cannot. The things I hate I find myself doing. It is the sin that dwells in me that causes the whole trouble. I find myself in a sad condition. “0 wretched man that I am !“ Who shall bring about my deliverance? Thank God I have found the way; it is through Jesus Christ my Lord. There is therefore now no condemnation in my experience, for the Lord has taken it all away, and enables me to walk no more in the old sinful state." 

If I should write thus to a friend, would he misunderstand me and try to make it out that I am yet in a state of sin and living a miserable life? He certainly would not. Yet I have changed the tense, just as Paul did, in the very midst of describing the experience.

It would seem that any candid seeker after the truth would notice the remarkable and sudden change in the experience which Paul is describing, which immediately follows the statement, “0 wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” Now hear him:

“I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Here is the change; here is the deliverance. He gets out of the seventh chapter and into the eighth—just what every sin-tormented soul ought to do. With triumphant joy he declares in the first verse of the next chapter: “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus,  who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit."  Not only does he clearly show that now he is, at this writing, enjoying the grace of God, having all the condemnation consequent upon a life of sin removed, but he also has the experience of full salvation or deliverance from inward sin. Hear him in the second verse: “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.” Not only was he at the time of that writing free from the condemnation of sin, but also from the inbred sin, which was the very root of all his troubles.

In this lesson which is before us we have four laws mentioned, namely: The law of sin and death, the law of God, the law of the mind, and the law of the Spirit. It is a common belief that all through this life there will be of necessity a warfare between the law of sin and these other laws; that in the economy of grace the three good laws can no more than keep the evil law in subjection, but cannot expel it, till later on at the hour and article of death the three will conquer and overcome the law of sin. But was this Paul’s experience? No. It took only one of these laws to finish the law of sin, and that in this life. “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death” Blessed deliverance! Wonderful freedom! Who would not seek for this grace, rather than pervert Paul’s language and hide behind sin?

But I hear some say, that the seventh chapter of Romans was Paul’s justified experience, prior to his sanctification. If I remember correctly, Paul had a powerful conversion. It certainly was up to the standard of that experience. Is that chapter a proper delineation of a regenerated life? Reader, was that your experience as a child of God? Were you sold under sin?  Did sin slay you and work death in you? Did you do the things that you hated, and the things that you would do, did you not do? Did you cry, “0 wretched man that I am?” We are confident that God’s regenerating power produces a better life than this. We do not deny that there come times in the justified life, when one feels the workings of sin. We know this is true. One may have times when sin gets the upper hand and causes him to do the things that he hates. In fact, as as he endeavors to keep up the spiritual life and finds such an evil principle within, he may in a discouraged moment cry out, “0 wretched man that I am!"  We do not deny the occasions, but we do deny that this is the life. Paul was giving this as his every-day life. This is not the life of a converted person. It is not the experience that Jesus gave me in conversion. I was not wretched. The Lord gave me power over the troublesome evil within. I found out that it was there, but had the blessed victory over it. I do not mean to say that I never yielded to its power, but that certainly was not my life.

I am well aware of the fact that this is a mooted question with many as to whether this was Paul’s experience in justification or not. It was not my object to discuss this phase, but to show that it was not his experience at the time of writing the epistle. To show that we are not alone, however, in both views, we quote from Wesley’s Notes on this seventh chapter of Romans. Beginning with the seventh verse, he says: “‘What shall we say then?’ This is a kind of digression (to the beginning of the next chapter), wherein the apostle, in order to show, in the most lively manner, the weakness and inefficiency of the law, changes the person, and speaks as of himself concerning the misery of one under the law. This, St. Paul frequently does when he is not speaking of his own person, but only assuming another character. (Rom. 3:6; I Cor. 10:30; chap. 4:6.) The character here assumed is that of a man first ignorant of the law, then under it, and sincerely but ineffectually striving to serve God. To speak thus of himself, or of any true believer, would be foreign to the whole scope of his discourse; nay, utterly contrary thereto, as well as to what is expressly asserted. (Chap. 8.2.) ‘Is the law sin?  Sinful in itself, or a promoter of sin? ‘I had not known lust.’ That is, evil desire. I had not known it to be sin. Nay, perhaps I should not have known that any such desire was in me. It did not appear till it was stirred up by the prohibition.”

We think that a few thoughts from Clarke’s Commentary would help establish this truth upon the hearts of the people. Commenting upon this chapter in Romans, he says, concerning the fourteenth verse: But I am carnal, sold under sin. “This was probably, in the apostle’s letter, the beginning of a new paragraph. I believe it is agreed, on all hands, that the apostle is here demonstrating the insufficiency of the law in opposition to the Gospel. That by the former is the knowledge; by the latter, the Cure of sin. Therefore, by I here he cannot mean himself, nor any Christian believer; if the contrary could be proved the argument of the apostle would go to demonstrate the insufficiency of the Gospel, as well as the law.

“It is difficult to conceive how the opinion could have crept into the church, or prevailed there, that ‘the apostle speaks here of his regenerate state; and that what was, in such a state, true of himself, must be true of all others in the same state! This opinion has most pitifully and most shamefully not only lowered the standard of Christianity, but destroyed its influence and disgraced its character. It requires but little knowledge of the spirit of the Gospel, and of the scope of this epistle, to see that the apostle is here either personating a Jew, under the law and without the Gospel, or showing what his own state was when he was deeply convinced that by the deeds of the law no man could be justified; and had not as yet heard those blessed words, Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus that appeared unto thee in the way, hath sent me that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.—Acts 9:17.

“In this and the following verses he states the contrariety between himself or any Jew while without Christ, and the law of God. Of the latter he says it is spiritual; of the former, I am carnal, sold under sin. Of the carnal man, in opposition to the spiritual, never was a more complete or accurate description given. * * *

“Those who are of another opinion maintain that by the word carnal here the apostle meant that corruption which dwelt in him after his conversion but this opinion is founded on a very great mistake, for, although there may be, after justification, the remains of the carnal mind, which will be less or more felt, till the soul is completely sanctified, yet the man is never dominated from the inferior principle, which is under control, but from the superior principle, which habitually prevails. * * *

“But the word carnal, though used by the apostle to signify a state of death and enmity against God, is not sufficient to denote all the evil of the state he is describing; hence he adds, sold under sin. This is one of the strongest expressions which the Spirit of God uses in Scripture to describe the full depravity of fallen man. * * *

“We must, therefore, understand the phrase, sold under sin,’ as implying that the soul was employed in the drudgery of sin; that it was sold over to this service, and had no power to disobey this tyrant until it was redeemed by another. And if a man be actually sold to another, and he acquiesce in the deed, then he becomes the legal property of that other person. This state of bondage was well known to the Romans. The sale of slaves they saw daily, and could not misunderstand the emphatical sense of this expression. Sin is here represented as a person; and the apostle compares the dominion which sin has over the man in question, to that of a master over his legal slave. Universally through the Scriptures man is said to be in a state of bondage to sin, until the Son of God make him free; but in no part of the Sacred Writings is it ever said that the children of God are sold under sin. Christ came to deliver the lawful captive and take away the prey from the mighty. Whom the Son maketh free, they are free indeed. * *