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For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no
good thing; for to will is present with me, but how to
perform that which is good, I find not. For the good that I
would, I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.
From these words the following things may be fairly concluded,
namely, If no good thing dwells in a regenerate man, that is, in his
flesh, much less in an unregenerate one, who is wholly flesh,
carnal, and corrupt; and if in a renewed man, where there is a will,
there is not a power to do that which is spiritually good, much less
able is an unrenewed man to do that which is so, who has neither
power nor will; and if such is the strength of corrupt nature in one
that is born again, as often to hinder him from doing that good he
would, and to put him on doing that evil he would not, how much
greater must its strength be in unsanctified persons? These
conclusions will appear to be just, if it is but allowed, that the
apostle is here speaking of himself, and of himself as regenerate.
But to this, the following things are excepted.
1st. "The scope of the place; which is to show the necessity of the
abrogation of the law, from the inefficiency of it to deliver men
from sin; since it rather increased it; to prove which, an
unregenerate person, in whom sin reigns, was the most proper
instance the apostle could pitch upon." But to this may be replied,
that though the apostle, in the beginning of the chapter, is
speaking of the abrogation of the law to believers by the body of
Christ, yet, nearer the discourse in controversy, his obvious scope
and design is to show the spirituality and perfection of the law;
that it was holy, just, and good, and that it was owing to the
weakness of man that it was not fulfilled. This he could not better
illustrate and exemplify than in a regenerate person; for if such an
one does not come up to the spirituality of the law, and is not able
to keep it perfectly, it cannot be thought that an unregenerate man
2ndly The coherence of the words; It is observed, "that the
apostle speaks of an unregenerate man from verse 7 to the l4th,
and therefore, why should it be thought that he discontinues his
discourse concerning him?" In answer to this it should be
observed, that the apostle, even within the limited period, is not
speaking of a man in a pure, natural estate, but of himself, under
great convictions of sin, under the powerful work of the law upon
his conscience, showing him the exceeding sinfulness of sin.
Besides, the apostle changes the tense; for whereas, within the
mentioned compass, he speaks in the past tense; from verse 14,
to the end of the chapter, he uses the present tense. And
therefore supposing, that in the former part of the chapter, he
considers himself as unregenerate; there is good reason to
conclude, he does not continue his discourse of himself as such,
or of any unregenerate man. And whereas it is urged, that he
says in verse 9, I was alive without the law once, or I lived without
the law once; which it is observed cannot be true of him in his
own person, seeing he was born a Jew, and brought up under the
law all his days: it may be replied, that though he never lived
without the letter of the law, vet without the knowledge of the
spirituality and perfection of it; or that he was alive, that is, in a fair
way for heaven and eternal life, in his own apprehensions, before
the law came with power, and entered into his conscience; but
then sin, which lay before as dead, revived, and he died to all his
hopes of obtaining life by his obedience to it.
3rdly The most considerable objection is taken from the
description and character of the parson spoken of; as,
1. "He is said to be carnal (v. 14), whereas regenerate ones have
crucified the flesh with the lusts, and are debtors, not to the flesh
to live after the flesh (Gal. 5:24; Rom. 8:12)." I answer, though
regenerate persons have crucified the flesh, and are not debtors
to it to live after it, yet from some considerations may be
denominated carnal; as partly from their first birth, and the
corruption of nature they bring into the world with them; partly
from the continuance of the flesh, in which dwells no good thing
and with which they serve the law of sin; and partly from the lusts
of the flesh, which remain in them, and war against them; and on
account of which the Corinthians, though babes in Christ, and so
regenerate ones, are styled and treated as carnal. Add to this,
that the apostle here says of himself, I am carnal, in comparison
of the law, which was spiritual. And, indeed, when compared with
this, the holiest man in the world must be reckoned carnal; for if
the holy angels, when compared with the Divine Being, are
chargeable with folly, much more must the saints, in this state of
imperfection, be accounted carnal in comparison of the spiritual
law of God, which is a transcript of the divine nature.
2. "He is said to be sold under sin (v. 14), which is a character of
the greatest sin-hers; as of Ahab (1 Kings 21:20, and others, Isa.
50:1), and even of revolters from the true religion (1 Mac. 1:16),
and signifies, that he was a servant and slave to sin; whereas
regenerate persons are free from sin, and become the servants of
righteousness. " I reply, that though the person spoken of is said
to be sold under sin, yet not to sell himself to work wickedness, as
Ahab and others did; between these there is a wide difference; in
the one, man is passive, in the other, active; the one is against his
will, the other with it. So, though the apostle was sold under sin, it
was not his own act, and was against his will, as a renewed man;
with his flesh he served the law of sin, but with his mind the law of
God; which proves, that he speaks of himself as regenerate: for
his character as unregenerate was, that he was serving, that is,
readily, cheerfully, and willingly, divers lusts and pleasures.
Besides, the apostle is to be understood of his other I, which was
carnal, of the flesh, or old man, which was under sin; and not of
the new man. which is not under the law of sin, but under grace,
as a reigning, governing principle.
3. "He is said hot to do the good he would, but the evil which he
would not (v. 16), whereas it is said of regenerate persons, that
they work out their salvation with fear and trembling, God working
in them both to will and to do of his good pleasure; that they will,
in newness of life, and after the Spirit, and not after the flesh (Phil.
2:12,13; Rom. 6:4; 8:1)." To which I reply, that though regenerate
ones do that which is good, ye not always, there is not a just man
on earth, that doth good and sinneth not (Eccl. 7:20); nor does
God always work in them to will and to do, but when he pleases,
of his own good pleasure. Besides, the good this person did not,
he willed it, he desired it; whereas a carnal man wills, desires, and
savors the things of the flesh, and them only, and not the things o:
the Spirit; and also hated the evil he did whereas an unregenerate
man chooses his own ways, and his soul delights in his
abominations: so that this character proves the person to be a
regenerate, and not an unregenerate man.
4. "It is said of this person, that sin dwelleth in him (vv. 17, 20),
but regenerate ones are dead to sin and alive to God, and the
Spirit of Christ, and Christ himself dwells in them (Rom. 6:11;
8:11; Gal. 2:20)." To this may be replied, that though the saints
are dead to sin being justified from it by the righteousness of
Christ, and freed from the dominion of it by the power of divine
grace, yet they are not delivered from the being of it; sin is in
them, dwells in them, lives in them, though they do not live in sin,
and sometimes very strongly works in them; all which is no
contradiction to the inhabitation of Christ, and his Spirit in them.
These dwell under the same roof with sin, but not in the same
apartment; sin dwells in the flesh, in the old man, in the
unrenewed self, in which dwells no good thing; Christ and the
Spirit dwell in the new man, in the new heart, in the renewed self.
Moreover, the saints in all ages have found, and have complained
of sin dwelling in them, as Job, David, Solomon, the church in
Isaiah’s time, and the beloved disciple John (Job 9:20; Ps. 38:3,4;
Prov. 20:9; Isa. 14:6; 1 John 1:8). This character therefore agrees
with a regenerate man.
5. This person affirms of himself that no good thing dwelt in him
(v. 18), whereas there are many good things dwell in regenerate
ones. This is very true, there are many good things in the saints;
as the good work of grace and the good word of God, the good
Spirit of Christ, and Christ himself, yea, God the Father dwells in
them, and makes his abode with them. But then let it be
observed, how cautiously and with what limitation the apostle
expresses himself: In me, that is in my flesh, dwells no good
thing. Now had he spoken of himself as unregenerate, or in the
person of an unregenerate man, he had no need to have used
this restrictive clause; for who knows not, that in an unregenerate
man dwells no good thing?
6. "This man is said to will but not to perform that which is good
(v. 18), whereas regenerate men are the workmanship of God,
created in Christ Jesus, unto good works, and God works in them
both to will and to do." What has been said in answer to the third
objection may be sufficient to remove this; for though the saints
do that which is good, yet not always, nor does God always work
in them to do, when they have a will to do that which is good.
Besides, in unregenerate persons, there is no will present with
them to that which is good; they desire not the knowledge of
God’s ways; their carnal minds are enmity against God, and are
not subject to the law of God; nor can they be subject to it, without
the grace of God.
7. "This person complains that he was a captive of the law of sin
(v. 23), whereas regenerate persons are freed from the law of sin
and death (Rom. 7:2)." But though they are freed, from
condemnation by sin which is what is meant in the place referred
to, as appears front the context, and from the dominion of sin, yet
not from the being of it, nor altogether from the power of it; for it
sometimes brings into captivity, though even then it has not the
dominion; a man may be taken prisoner, and carried captive, and
yet remain a subject of his lawful prince; so the saints may be
brought into captivity to the law of sin, and yet not be under the
dominion of it, but continue under the reign of grace, and in the
kingdom of God’s dear Son.
8. "This same person bitterly complains of a body of death, and
desires to be delivered from it; which shows that he was detained
by it, and under it." I reply, that the desire of deliverance from the
body of death shows that it was distressing, uneasy, and
uncomfortable to him, but not that it had the dominion over him;
he was delivered from condemnation by it, and from the
government of it, and was vary desirous of being freed from the
very being of it, which was so great a clog and encumbrance to
him; and this none but a regenerate person truly desires, as none
but such an one knows from whence a deliverance of this kind
comes, which proves the person speaking to be a renewed man,
since he adds, Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.
9. "The apostle elsewhere speaks of himself in a different
manner, as one that walked worthy of the Gospel, to be imitated
by others, and who was able to do all things through the grace of
God (1 Cor. 11:1; Phil. 3:17; 4:13). But then this does not
contradict what he here says in this chapter, which perfectly
agrees with other passages of his, in which he owns his
sinfulness and weakness, and ascribes all he did to the grace of
God (see 1 Tim. 1:15; 2 Cor. 12:10; 1 Cor. 15:10). It is evident,
from all his epistles, that this great man God lived under a
continual sense of the corruption of his nature, his own
unworthiness and inability.
10. "Origen, Chrysostom, Theodoret, and others, interpret these
words of men under the thralldom and dominion of sin, through a
long use and custom." This interpretation of the words was indeed
first given by Origen, was greedily catched at by Pelagius, revived
by Socinus and his followers, and some popish writers, and at last
adopted by the Arminians. But Methodius, a martyr, whose
judgment Dr. Whitby seems fond of, first in the words of one
Procius, and then in his own, delivers the sense of them
agreeable to ours, understanding them of a regenerate man.
Wherefore what Vorstius affirms is false, that all the ancients
before Austin interpreted these words of unregenerate men. I
4thly. Subjoin some arguments, proving that this part of the
chapter, from verse 14 to the end or it, is spoken by the apostle of
himself, and of himself as regenerate.
1. The apostle all along speaks of himself in the first person: That
which I do I allow not; what I hate that I do; I know that in me, that
is in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing; I delight in the law of God: I
find a law in my members; yea, says he, With the mind I myself,
the passages usually alleged prove such a way of speaking
common, (as 1 Cor. 6:12; 10:23; 13:1-3; Gal. 2:18,20).
2. When he speaks of his unregenerate state, and the first
convictions of sin, he speaks of them as things past: When we
were in the flesh; I had not known sin, but by the law; Sin taking
occasion by the law wrought in me all manner of concupiscence,
deceived me, and by it slew me; I was alive without the law once,
etc. But from verse 14 to the end of the chapter, he speaks in the
present tense, of what he then was, and found: I am carnal, I do
what I would not, I consent to the law that it is good, I delight in
the law of God, etc.
3. The several things which are said of this person, cannot agree
with the apostle, nor with any other, but as regenerate; such only
hate evil, delight in the law of God, and serve it with their mind.
4. The distinction of flesh and spirit, the inward and outward man,
is not applicable to any other but a regenerate man; for the spirit,
and inward man, is not the soul, opposed to the body, but the
spiritual man, the new man, the hidden man of the heart, the truth
of grace, in opposition to the flesh, the old man, or corrupt nature.
Now only the latter, and not the former, is to be found in an
5. The struggle between flesh and spirit, between the law in the
members and the law of the mind, proves that these words can
belong to no other than a regenerate person; with which agrees
Galatians 5:17. Only in the Shulamite (Song of Sol. 6:13.) true
believers are to be ‘seen, as it were the company of two
companies, flesh and spirit, sin and grace, warring against each
6. The thanksgiving for deliverance from sin through Christ,
towards the close of the chapter, can only come from a believer;
none but a regenerate man knows any thing of the nature of it,
from whence it is, and can only be thankful for it.
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