Among other arguments used in the foregoing chapter to persuade us against sin, and to holiness, this was one (Rom. 6:14), that we are not under the law; and this argument is here further insisted upon and explained (Rom. 7:6): We are delivered from the law. What is meant by this? And how is it an argument why sin should not reign over us, and why we should walk in newness of life? 1. We are delivered from the power of the law which curses and condemns us for the sin committed by us. The sentence of the law against us is vacated and reversed, by the death of Christ, to all true believers. The law saith, The soul that sins shall die; but we are delivered from the law. The Lord has taken away thy sin, thou shalt not die. We are redeemed from the curse of the law, Gal. 3:13. 2. We are delivered from that power of the law which irritates and provokes the sin that dwelleth in us. This the apostle seems especially to refer to (Rom. 7:5): The motions of sins which were by the law. The law, by commanding, forbidding, threatening, corrupt and fallen man, but offering no grace to cure and strengthen, did but stir up the corruption, and, like the sun shining upon a dunghill, excite and draw up the filthy steams. We being lamed by the fall, the law comes and directs us, but provides nothing to heal and help our lameness, and so makes us halt and stumble the more. Understand this of the law not as a rule, but as a covenant of works. Now each of these is an argument why we should be holy; for here is encouragement to endeavours, though in many things we come short. We are under grace, which promises strength to do what it commands, and pardon upon repentance when we do amiss. This is the scope of these verses in general, that, in point of profession and privilege, we are under a covenant of grace, and not under a covenant of works—under the gospel of Christ, and not under the law of Moses. The difference between a law-state and a gospel-state he had before illustrated by the similitude of rising to a new life, and serving a new master; now here he speaks of is under the similitude of being married to a new husband.
I. Our first marriage was to the law, which, according to the law of marriage, was to continue only during the life of the law. The law of marriage is binding till the death of one of the parties, no matter which, and no longer. The death of either discharges both. For this he appeals to themselves, as persons knowing the law (Rom. 7:1): I speak to those that know the law. It is a great advantage to discourse with those that have knowledge, for such can more readily understand and apprehend a truth. Many of the Christians at Rome were such as had been Jews, and so were well acquainted with the law. One has some hold of knowing people. The law hath power over a man as long as he liveth; in particular, the law of marriage hath power; or, in general, every law is so limited—the laws of nations, of relations, of families, etc. 1. The obligation of laws extends no further; by death the servant who, while he lived, was under the yoke, is freed from his master, Job 3:19. 2. The condemnation of laws extends no further; death is the finishing of the law. Actio moritur cum personâ—The action expires with the person. The severest laws could but kill the body, and after that there is no more that they can do. Thus while we were alive to the law we were under the power of it—while we were in our Old-Testament state, before the gospel came into the world, and before it came with power into our hearts. Such is the law of marriage (Rom. 7:2), the woman is bound to her husband during life, so bound to him that she cannot marry another; if she do, she shall be reckoned an adulteress, Rom. 7:3. It will make her an adulteress, not only to be defiled by, but to be married to, another man; for that is so much the worse, upon this account, that it abuses an ordinance of God, by making it to patronise the uncleanness. Thus were we married to the law (Rom. 7:5): When we were in the flesh, that is, in a carnal state, under the reigning power of sin and corruption—in the flesh as in our element—then the motions of sins which were by the law did work in our members, we were carried down the stream of sin, and the law was but as an imperfect dam, which made the stream to swell the higher, and rage the more. Our desire was towards sin, as that of the wife towards her husband, and sin ruled over us. We embraced it, loved it, devoted all to it, conversed daily with it, made it our care to please it. We were under a law of sin and death, as the wife under the law of marriage; and the product of this marriage was fruit brought forth unto death, that is, actual transgressions were produced by the original corruption, such as deserve death. Lust, having conceived by the law (which is the strength of sin, 1 Cor. 15:56), bringeth forth sin, and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death, Jas. 1:15. This is the posterity that springs from this marriage to sin and the law. This comes of the motions of sin working in our members. And this continues during life, while the law is alive to us, and we are alive to the law.
II. Our second marriage is to Christ: and how comes this about? Why,
1. We are freed, by death, from our obligation to the law as a covenant, as the wife is from her obligation to her husband, Rom. 7:3. This resemblance is not very close, nor needed it to be. You are become dead to the law, Rom. 7:4. He does not say, “The law is dead” (some think because he would avoid giving offence to those who were yet zealous for the law), but, which comes all to one, You are dead to the law. As the crucifying of the world to us, and of us to the world, amounts to one and the same thing, so doth the law dying, and our dying to it. We are delivered from the law (Rom. 7:6), katergethemen—we are nulled as to the law; our obligation to it as a husband is cassated and made void. And then he speaks of the law being dead as far as it was a law of bondage to us: That being dead wherein we were held; not the law itself, but its obligation to punishment and its provocation to sin. It is dead, it has lost its power; and this (Rom. 7:4) by the body of Christ, that is, by the sufferings of Christ in his body, by his crucified body, which abrogated the law, answered the demands of it, made satisfaction for our violation of it, purchased for us a covenant of grace, in which righteousness and strength are laid up for us, such as were not, nor could be, by the law. We are dead to the law by our union with the mystical body of Christ. By being incorporated into Christ in our baptism professedly, in our believing powerfully and effectually, we are dead to the law, have no more to do with it than the dead servant, that is free from his master, hath to do with his master’s yoke.
2. We are married to Christ. The day of our believing is the day of our espousals to the Lord Jesus. We enter upon a life of dependence on him and duty to him: Married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, a periphrasis of Christ and very pertinent here; for as our dying to sin and the law is in conformity to the death of Christ, and the crucifying of his body, so our devotedness to Christ in newness of life is in conformity to the resurrection of Christ. We are married to the raised exalted Jesus, a very honourable marriage. Compare 2 Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:29. Now we are thus married to Christ, (1.) That we should bring forth fruit unto God, Rom. 7:4. One end of marriage is fruitfulness: God instituted the ordinance that he might seek a godly seed, Mal. 2:15. The wife is compared to the fruitful vine, and children are called the fruit of the womb. Now the great end of our marriage to Christ is our fruitfulness in love, and grace, and every good work. This is fruit unto God, pleasing to God, according to his will, aiming at his glory. As our old marriage to sin produced fruit unto death, so our second marriage to Christ produces fruit unto God, fruits of righteousness. Good works are the children of the new nature, the products of our union with Christ, as the fruitfulness of the vine is the product of its union with the root. Whatever our professions and pretensions may be, there is no fruit brought forth to God till we are married to Christ; it is in Christ Jesus that we are created unto good works, Eph. 2:10. The only fruit which turns to a good account is that which is brought forth in Christ. This distinguishes the good works of believers from the good works of hypocrites and self-justifiers that they are brought forth in marriage, done in union with Christ, in the name of the Lord Jesus, Col. 3:17. This is, without controversy, one of the great mysteries of godliness. (2.) That we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter, Rom. 7:6. Being married to a new husband, we must change our way. Still we must serve, but it is a service that is perfect freedom, whereas the service of sin was a perfect drudgery: we must now serve in newness of spirit, by new spiritual rules, from new spiritual principles, in spirit and in truth, John 4:24. There must be a renovation of our spirits wrought by the spirit of God, and in that we must serve. Not in the oldness of the letter; that is, we must not rest in mere external services, as the carnal Jews did, who gloried in their adherence to the letter of the law, and minded not the spiritual part of worship. The letter is said to kill with its bondage and terror, but we are delivered from that yoke that we may serve God without fear, in holiness and righteousness, Luke 1:74, 75. We are under the dispensation of the Spirit, and therefore must be spiritual, and serve in the spirit. Compare with this 2 Cor. 3:3, 6 It becomes us to worship within the veil, and no longer in the outward court.