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Commentary On Romans by Jean Calvin

Romans 7:7-8

7. What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet

7. Quid ergo dicemus? Lex peccatum est? Absit: sed peccatum non cognovi nisi per Legem: concupiscentiam enim non noveram, nisi Lex diceret, Non concupisces

8. But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. ...

8. Occasione autem sumpta, peccatum per mandatum effecit in me omnem concupiscentiam.

7. What then shall we say? Since it has been said that we must be freed from the law, in order that we may serve God in newness of spirit, it seemed as though this evil belonged to the law, -- that it leads us to sin. But as this would be above measure inconsistent, the Apostle rightly undertook to disprove it. Now when he adds, Is the law sin? what he means is, |Does it so produce sin that its guilt ought to be imputed to the law?| -- But sin I knew not, except through the law; sin then dwells in us, and not in the law; for the cause of it is the depraved lust of our flesh, and we come to know it by the knowledge of God's righteousness, which is revealed to us in the law. You are not indeed to understand, that no difference whatever can be known between right and wrong without the law; but that without the law we are either too dull of apprehension to discern our depravity, or that we are made wholly insensible through self-flattery, according to what follows, --

For coveting I had not known, etc. This is then an explanation of the former sentence, by which he proves that ignorance of sin, of which he had spoken, consisted in this -- that he perceived not his own coveting. And he designedly referred to this one kind of sin, in which hypocrisy especially prevails, which has ever connected with itself supine self-indulgence and false assurance. For men are never so destitute of judgment, but that they retain a distinction in external works; nay, they are constrained even to condemn wicked counsels and sinister purposes: and this they cannot do, without ascribing to a right object its own praise. But coveting is more hidden and lies deeper; hence no account is made of it, as long as men judge according to their perceptions of what is outward. He does not indeed boast that he was free from it; but he so flattered himself, that he did not think that this sin was lurking in his heart. For though for a time he was deceived, and believed not that righteousness would be violated by coveting, he yet, at length, understood that he was a sinner, when he saw that coveting, from which no one is free, was prohibited by the law.

Augustine says, that Paul included in this expression the whole law; which, when rightly understood, is true: for when Moses had stated the things from which we must abstain, that we may not wrong our neighbor, he subjoined this prohibition as to coveting, which must be referred to all the things previously forbidden. There is no doubt but that he had in the former precepts condemned all the evil desires which our hearts conceive; but there is much difference between a deliberate purpose, and the desires by which we are tempted. God then, in this last command, requires so much integrity from us, that no vicious lust is to move us to evil, even when no consent succeeds. Hence it was, that I have said, that Paul here ascends higher than where the understanding of men can carry them. But civil laws do indeed declare, that intentions and not issues are to be punished. Philosophers also, with greater refinement, place vices as well as virtues in the soul. But God, by this precept, goes deeper and notices coveting, which is more hidden than the will; and this is not deemed a vice. It was pardoned not only by philosophers, but at this day the Papists fiercely contend, that it is no sin in the regenerate. But Paul says, that he had found out his guilt from this hidden disease: it hence follows, that all those who labor under it, are by no means free from guilt, except God pardons their sin. We ought, at the same time, to remember the difference between evil lustings or covetings which gain consent, and the lusting which tempts and moves our hearts, but stops in the midst of its course.

8. But an occasion being taken, etc. From sin, then, and the corruption of the flesh, proceeds every evil; the law is only the occasion. And though he may seem to speak only of that excitement, by which our lusting is instigated through the law, so that it boils out with greater fury; yet I refer this chiefly to the knowledge the law conveys; as though he had said, |It has discovered to me every lust or coveting which, being hid, seemed somehow to have no existence.| I do not yet deny, but that the flesh is more sharply stimulated to lusting by the law, and also by this means more clearly shows itself; which may have been also the case with Paul: but what I have said of the knowledge it brings, seems to harmonize better with the context; for he immediately subjoins --

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