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Commentary On Romans by Jean Calvin

Romans 7:5-6

5. For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death.

5. Quum enim essemus in carne, affectus peccatorum qui sunt per Legem, in membris nostris operabantur ad fructificandum morti:

6. But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.

6. Nunc vero soluti sumus a Lege, mortui ei in qua detinebamur; ut serviamus in novitate spiritus, et non in vetustate literæ.

5. For when we were, etc. He shows still more clearly by stating the contrary effect, how unreasonably the zealots of the law acted, who would still detain the faithful under its dominion; for as long as the literal teaching of the law, unconnected with the Spirit of Christ, rules and bears sway, the wantonness of the flesh is not restrained, but, on the contrary, breaks out and prevails. It hence follows, that the kingdom of righteousness is not established, except when Christ emancipates us from the law. Paul at the same time reminds us of the works which it becomes us to do, when set free from the law. As long, then, as man is kept under the yoke of the law, he can, as he is sinning continually, procure nothing for himself but death. Since bondage to the law produces sin only, then freedom, its opposite, must tend to righteousness; if the former leads to death, then the latter leads to life. But let us consider the very words of Paul.

In describing our condition during the time we were subject to the dominion of the law, he says, that we were in the flesh. We hence understand, that all those who are under the law attain nothing else but this -- that their ears are struck by its external sound without any fruit or effect, while they are inwardly destitute of the Spirit of God. They must therefore necessarily remain altogether sinful and perverse, until a better remedy succeeds to heal their diseases. Observe also this usual phrase of Scripture, to be in the flesh; it means to be endued only with the gifts of nature, without that peculiar grace with which God favors his chosen people. But if this state of life is altogether sinful, it is evident that no part of our soul is naturally sound, and that the power of free will is no other than the power of casting evil emotions as darts into all the faculties of the soul.

The emotions of sins, which are through the law, etc.; that is, the law excited in us evil emotions, which exerted their influence through all our faculties; for there is no part which is not subject to these depraved passions. What the law does, in the absence of the inward teacher, the Spirit, is increasingly to inflame our hearts, so that they boil up with lusts. But observe here, that the law is connected with the vicious nature of man, the perversity of which, and its lusts, break forth with greater fury, the more they are checked by the restraints of righteousness. He further adds, that as long as the emotions of the flesh were under the dominion of the law they brought forth fruit to death; and he adds this to show that the law by itself is destructive. It hence follows, that they are infatuated, who so much desire this bondage which issues in death.

6. But now we have been loosed from the law, etc. He pursues the argument derived from the opposite effect of things, -- |If the restraint of the law availed so little to bridle the flesh, that it became rather the exciter of sin; then, that we may cease from sin, we must necessarily be freed from the law.| Again, |If we are freed from the bondage of the law for this end, that we may serve God; then, perversely do they act who hence take the liberty to indulge in sin; and falsely do they speak who teach, that by this means loose reins are given to lusts.| Observe, then, that we are then freed from the law, when God emancipates us from its rigid exactions and curse, and endues us with his Spirit, through whom we walk in his ways.

Having died to that, etc. This part contains a reason, or rather, indicates the manner in which we are made free; for the law is so far abrogated with regard to us, that we are not pressed down by its intolerable burden, and that its inexorable rigor does not overwhelm us with a curse. -- In newness of spirit; He sets the spirit in opposition to the letter; for before our will is formed according to the will of God by the Holy Spirit, we have in the law nothing but the outward letter, which indeed bridles our external actions, but does not in the least restrain the fury of our lusts. And he ascribes newness to the Spirit, because it succeeds the old man; as the letter is called old, because it perishes through the regeneration of the Spirit.

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