CHAPTER SEVEN By Mr. Jeff Paton
The seventh chapter of Romans has been appropriately called the battleground of
theologians. This battle has waged since the days of Augustine until now and
will probably be with us until the end of time. The question is whether the man
who is describing this experience a regenerate or unregenerate man. More that
likely you have already made up your mind concerning this issue and this
decision flavors your understanding of all the key biblical doctrines such as
regeneration, sanctification, and sin.
The possibility of swaying your convictions is minimal since your understanding
of these verses are a link to almost every doctrine of your theology. To change
your view here would mean changing anything that comes into contact with it. Are
you willing to challenge your cherished beliefs in exchange for the truth? Or
will truth be sacrificed to maintain the integrity of your theological system?
THE AUGUSTINE DIVERSION
Augustine of Hippo (354 - 430 AD.) is the key theologian in the transition of
the historical view of Romans chapter seven to the which is most popular today.
" Augustine in his earlier days, acknowledged, in harmony with the Greek
Fathers since Irenaeus, that the language here is that of the unregenerate man;
though later, in opposition to Pelagianism he gave currency to the view that the
"I " is that of the regenerate." ( Meyer's commentary).
Dr. Daniel Steele commented that "The Greek Fathers, during the first three
hundred years of church history, unanimously interpreted this scripture as
describing a thoughtful moralist endeavoring, without the grace of God, to
realize his highest ideal of moral purity. Augustine, to rob his opponent
Pelagius of the two proof-texts, originated the theory that the seventh of
Romans delineated a regenerate man." ( Half Hours p.74) " In
estimating Augustine as a theologian, we must remember that he commenced life as
a Manichaean; many believe that traces of the Manichaean doctrine can be traced
in the later and severer forms of his belief." ( Mc Clintock and Strong,
Cylopedia). Early Christians believed that this was Paul's experience as a legal
Jew, and not as a spiritual Christian. Even Augustine agreed with this view
until he was pressed to salvage his theory. So as far church history is
concerned, Augustinian interpretation is the deviant view.
AUGUSTINE AND HIS
Some see Paul's language here as a confession of indwelling sin and failure.
This goes hand in hand with the popular attitude of spiritual pride that brags
about how sinful and unworthy we are. The more self loathing we are, the more
spiritual we are, right? At least that is what modern Calvinism argues for. But
Calvin's spiritual Father, Augustine, gave this idea through a record of all of
his failures called his "Confessions". William Barclay writes
"Here begins one of the greatest of all passages in the New Testament; and
one of the most moving; because here Paul is giving us his own spiritual
autobiography and laying bare his very heart and soul." This is very true,
but Paul never identifies any indwelling sin, nor does he brag about living a
life of sinful failure as Augustine has. "As to his (Paul's) purpose
undoubtedly is not (like Augustine and his "Confessions" to tell about
himself, but to depict generally the throes of human soul when convinced of
sin." ( Pulpit Commentary 18:184). "When we compare the Confessions of
Augustine with the epistles of Paul we see at once the striking and almost
irreconcilable difference between the two. Augustine's spiritual autobiography
is rightly named. It is a series of confessions of shortcomings and failures and
defects, with occasional glimpses of profound philosophy and constant longings
for holiness unattained. Now it is a strange fact that in all the epistles of
Paul there are no such confessions of spiritual inconsistencies and
Never once does he express any penitence for wrongdoing of any sort. He was the
chief of sinners before he was converted. He acknowledges that fact without any
hesitation. After his conversion there is no acknowledgment of sin. On the
contrary, in passage after passage he confidently affirms that he has been an
example to all believers in purity of motive and integrity of life. He appeals
to his converts again and again to testify to the holiness and unblamableness of
his behavior among them at all times." ( Paul and his Epistles, D.A. Hayes
In most of our churches we request prayers for our many trials. Dr. Daniel
Steele observed three things about the prayers of Paul. " 1. There is not a
hint of an inward warfare between the flesh and spirit. 2. They are for greater
impressiveness and success in preaching, and for the removal of obstacles to the
advance of the gospel. 3. There is no intimation of doubts respecting his
present and full salvation; no confession of daily sins, nor the root of sin
existing in him.) (Half Hours P.39).
Who are you going to pattern your spirituality after? The biblical
example of Paul, or the spiritually defeated example of Augustine and his
followers? Enough of the historical background of how we got to where we are
today, now let us tackle the text at hand. First observe that there is a shift
in the thought of the writer from a doctrinal argument into a argument from
personal experience at verse four where he leaves off Christ and reveals the
nature and purpose of the law. If Romans seven is a picture of the high
watermark of Christian living, then it seems entirely out of place between
chapters six and eight, which talk about victory of the Christian over sin and
the power of the Spirit over the flesh.
ROMANS SEVEN AND THE BIBLE
Statistics of this man from verses 5-24: He uses "I" 28 times;
"Law" 21 times; "sin" 16 times; "Me" and
"My" 17 times; "Dead" 8 times; "Death" 5 times, AND
NOTHING OF CHRIST.
( A.M. HILLS, Scriptural Holiness and Keswick Teaching Compared P. 179) When he
finds Christ in verse 25, he move on to 8:1 and finds "no
condemnation". When you have nothing but "yourself", the
"law", and the end result, "death", you can see why Paul
never again glories in himself! In Romans seven Paul is self centered, and in
Romans eight he is Christ Centered.
Those who boast about having the same experience as Paul in chapter seven need
to observe that he did not stay there, he moved on to chapter eight! They need
to do the same.
Hills quotes Godet "St. Paul is
not here depicting his Christian experience"
a) For his conversion made a tremendous and radical change in his life which is
not even hinted at in the entire passage, and which should have been described
between verses 13 and 14;
b) Because the Holy Spirit, who plays so great a role in a Christians
experience, is not named in the whole section, nor even Jesus himself, whom the
apostle so constantly glorified. The contrast between this and the eighth
chapter is most striking in this respect.
( The Establishing Grace P.57).
But what about Paul's use of the present tense? This is truly the strongest
argument the Calvinists can muster. I does seem to pull some weight at first
glance, but it cannot be reconciled with its context which is a man under the
burden of the law. So why would he present it in this fashion? John Fletcher
observed that " Paul frequently wrote thus for vividness (see 1 Cor 4:6; 1
Cor. 13: 1-3; Rom 3:7). Paul was no more a liar in Rom 3:7, or uncharitable in 1
Cor 13: 1-3, than he was a carnal slave to sin in Rom 7:14." "It is
the figure hypotyposis, so called in rhetoric, by which writers use the present
tense to relate things past or to come, to make narration more lively. It is
St. Paul's past in the present tense."
Dr. Clarke thinks that "the theory that this is the experience of all
Christians has most pitifully and most shamefully, not only lowered the standard
of Christianity, but destroyed its influence and disgraced its character."
(Quoted by Hills). The Augustinian theory makes the gospel as big of a failure
to deliver the believer as the law.
The final summary is by D.A. Hayes, and is too keen not to
"If the seventh chapter of the Epistle to the Romans may be taken as a
picture of the apostle's experience as a Pharisee and before his conversion, the
eighth chapter of the same epistle just as certainly ought to be received as a
faithful portrayal of the apostle's experience after his conversion. It begins
with "no condemnation" for those who are more that conquerors through
him. It is no ideal picture of an impossible state of grace. It had been
realized in Paul himself. At the point of loyalty, devotion, and consecration
his conscience was clear. He never had any condemnation because of any conscious
deficiency in these. From the moment of his conversion to the day of his death
he seems never to have known any separation in mind and heart, in soul and
spirit from his Lord."
"If Paul had backslidden at any time, he was too honest a soul to have
concealed the fact. If he had been conscious of falling into disfavor with the
God whom he served or the Christ whom he proclaimed, he could not have repressed
the acknowledgment of it in some one of his utterances or writings. His theology
is the outgrowth of his own experience. In some one of his theological epistles
he would have made room in his system for failures which seemed to him
inevitable. He never does make any allowance for sin. " (Paul and his
chapters in Romans
|7:14 "I am carnal, sold
||6:2 "we who died to sin, how
shall we Any longer live therein?
|7:17 "It is no more I that
do it, but sin that dwelleth in me"
||8:2 "The Spirit of life in
Christ Jesus made me free From the law of sin"
|7:23 "I saw a law in my
members warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into
captivity, under the law of sin which is in my members"
||6:22 "But now being made
free from sin, and Become servants of God"
||8:10 "If Christ is in you,
the body is dead because Of sin; but the spirit is life because of
The seventh chapter depicts a dark picture of a servant of sin, while the sixth
and the eighth depict the ideal Christian experience. How is it possible for
Paul to be both at the same time? He found either enslavement, or victory in
Christ. It may be asked, if freedom cannot be found in the law, and it cannot be
found in Christ, then it isn't it futility to have hope in either?