Part 2 Chapter 5

Section 5—Romans 7:18, 19.

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;[1] 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 should.

2ndly The coherence of the words;[2] 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,[3] 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[4] 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[5] 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),[6] 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),[7] 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[8] 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[9] 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[10] 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[11] 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[12] 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,[13] 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 shall now,

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,aujto<v ejgw, serve the law of God;which can never be understood in a figurative sense as personating another; nor do 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 unregenerate man.

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 other.

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.


[1] Vorstius, in loc.; Limborch, p. 458, 459.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Vorstius and Hammond in loc.

[4] Vorstius and Limborch, Ibid.

[5] Whitby, p. 332; ed. 2.323; Vorstius and Limborch, Ibid.

[6] Vorstius and Limborch, Ibid.

[7] Limborch, Ibid.

[8] Limborch, Ibid.

[9] Vorstius and Limborch, Ibid.

[10] Vorstius, Ibid.

[11] Limborch, Ibid.

[12] Whitby, p. 332; ed. 2.323.

[13] Apud Epiphau. haeres. 64.

Gill Index