Wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me out of the body of this death?Romans 7:24 ASV
This is the cry of every one who is not saved.
In the large view, it is the agonizing cry of all the world, especially of the benighted populations of the pre-Christian ages.
Victory was impossible until Jesus came.
The law of Moses was indeed a beautiful and spiritual law, but it did not provide people with the power to keep its noble precepts.
This failure was due to the fact that the great Enabling Act of man’s redemption had not then taken place.
The Saviour had not come.
Indeed, there were learned pagans, as well as noble and upright Jews, who tried vainly to live as God directed, whether from their own inadequate notions of what God taught, or, as in the case of the Jew, from contemplating the higher and better revelation through Moses; but in every case, and without distinction, all fell short of the glory of God; all failed to acquire holiness; all were unable to achieve justification, sanctification, righteousness, or holiness.
It was the long, long night of earth’ darkness, during which people turned their eager faces to the stars and prayed for daylight.
It was truly a night of sin and death, during which the wretchedness of that disastrous defeat in Eden was communicated to every man that ever lived.
Hopelessness, despair, shame, misery and death – what a legacy of the reign of the evil one – and then Jesus came!
There seems to be here an allusion to an ancient custom of some tyrants, who bound a dead body to a living man, and obliged him to carry it about, until the contagion from the putrid mass took away his life!
Virgil paints this in all its horrors in the account he gives of the tyrant Mezentius.
The body of death to which every unregenerate is chained is that of his own unregenerated nature.
It is his freedom from that, that a man must have to escape the wretchedness mentioned here.
Acceptance of the gospel of Christ, through obedient faith, cuts the chains that bind people to their former selves, enabling them to be born again.
I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then I of myself with the mind, indeed, serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.Romans 7:25 ASV
“I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord” stands as the answer of the agonizing question of the previous verse respecting delivery from the body of death; and, although it is not framed grammatically as the answer to anything, the quality of its constituting an answer is inherent in the context.
If there had been no answer, there would have been no reason to thank God; and this outburst of praise, somewhat like a stroke of lightning, illuminates the darkness of this terrible chapter, and permits a fleeting glance at all that Paul was about to say in the eighth.
But, before proceeding to that, Paul was about to state formally, once more, the conclusion so carefully derived from the discourse in this chapter, namely this, that, regardless of how the unregenerated man might serve God with his mind, unless he had found refuge in Christ, he was yet chained to the body of death, and in consequence of that, he would serve the law of sin with his flesh.
It is imperative to note that the last sentence of this verse is still dealing with the same subject as the whole seventh chapter, and that it does not apply to Paul as a Christian.
The balance of this verse summarizes the dreary state of man in the flesh, as set forth in the preceding section.
In Phillips’ and Moffatt’s translations, the last sentence is placed adjacent to Romans 7:24, leaving the final words of the chapter, “I thank God …”
One must admit that such an arrangement seems logical and would help men to outline what Paul wrote; but the fact remains that Paul did not slavishly follow the rules of grammarians.
In the exegesis attempted in this chapter, it may appear shocking to some that the usual ascription of the depressions and conflicts of this chapter to the normal experience of Christians has been rejected; but it is the deepest conviction of this writer that incredible harm has derived from what has grown to be (since the Reformation) the usual method of explaining this chapter.
True, great and learned men have taken the position rejected here; but others just as great and learned have opposed them, some of them in the most emotional way, and with as much feeling as possible; and this chapter will be closed with a quotation from Adam Clarke whose skill and understanding of the scriptures are certainly not surpassed by any in the other school of expositors, and who so accurately expressed what is in the heart of this student of God’s word, as pertaining to this question.
That all that is said in this chapter of the carnal man, sold under sin, did apply to Saul of Tarsus, no man can doubt; that what is said here can ever with propriety be applied to Paul the apostle, who can believe?
Of the former, all is natural; of the latter, all here said would be monstrous and absurd, if not blasphemous.
If we are to take what is said here as his (Paul’s) experience as a Christian, it would be presumptuous in us to expect to go higher; for he certainly had pushed the principles of his religion to their utmost consequences.
Besides, there is nothing here spoken of the state of a conscientious Jew, or of St. Paul in his Jewish state, that is not true of every genuine penitent; even before, and it may be, long before, he has believed in Christ to the saving of his soul.
The assertion that every Christian, howsoever advanced in the divine life, will and musk feel all this inward conflict, is as untrue as it is dangerous.
That many so-called Christians, and probably sincere, do feel all this may be readily granted; and such we must consider to be in the same state with Saul of Tarsus previous to his conversion; but that they must continue thus is nowhere intimated in the gospel of Christ.
One other word from Clarke regarding the opinion that would refer the conflict of Romans 7 to the norm of Christian experience is the famous quotation from Clarke by Tholuck, which was disapprovingly quoted by Charles Hodge:
This opinion (that of referring the conflict in chapter seven to the norm of Christian experience) has most pitifully and shamefully, not only lowered the standard of Christianity, but destroyed its influence and disgraced its character.