Adam Clarke on Romans 7:14
provided by SEA member, Roy Ingle
Romans 7 is a debated passage. It was here, in his teaching through the book of Romans, that Arminius differed with the Calvinists of his day by asserting that the man described in Romans 7 was not regenerated. This led to the controversy he would have with the theologians of his day over Romans 7 and then other aspects of Calvinism. Arminians, to this day, are not congruent on the issue. Some hold that Romans 7 is describing our common struggle as Christians with the flesh. No doubt we all can read Romans 7 and see glimpses of our own experiences in there (1 John 1:8-10). Some hold that Paul is describing his own life under the Law before his salvation. Others hold that Paul is speaking here of the natural man in his state of sin (Ephesians 2:1-3).
Adam Clarke had interesting things to write about this chapter. In Clarke’s notes on Romans 7:14 we read the following and we see where he stood on the issue set before us.
Verse 14. “For, we know that the law is spiritual” – This is a general proposition, and probably, in the apostle’s autograph, concluded the above sentence. The law is not to be considered as a system of external rites and ceremonies; nor even as a rule of moral action: it is a spiritual system; it reaches to the most hidden purposes, thoughts, dispositions, and desires of the heart and soul; and it reproves and condemns every thing, without hope of reprieve or pardon, that is contrary to eternal truth and rectitude.
“But I am carnal, sold under sin.” – This was probably, in the apostle’s letter, the beginning of a new paragraph. I believe it is agreed, on all hands, that the apostle is here demonstrating the insufficiency of the law in opposition to the Gospel. That by the former is the knowledge, by the latter the cure, of sin. Therefore by I here he cannot mean himself, nor any Christian believer: if the contrary could be proved, the argument of the apostle would go to demonstrate the insufficiency of the Gospel as well as the law.
It is difficult to conceive how the opinion could have crept into the Church, or prevailed there, that “the apostle speaks here of his regenerate state; and that what was, in such a state, true of himself, must be true of all others in the same state.” This opinion has, most pitifully and most shamefully, not only lowered the standard of Christianity, but destroyed its influence and disgraced its character. It requires but little knowledge of the spirit of the Gospel, and of the scope of this epistle, to see that the apostle is, here, either personating a Jew under the law and without the Gospel, or showing what his own state was when he was deeply convinced that by the deeds of the law no man could be justified, and had not as yet heard those blessed words: Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way, hath sent me that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost, Acts ix. 17.
In this and the following verses he states the contrariety between himself, or any Jew while without Christ, and the law of God. Of the latter he says, it is spiritual; of the former, l am carnal, sold under sin. Of the carnal man, in opposition to the spiritual, never was a more complete or accurate description given. The expressions, in the flesh, and after the flesh, in ver. 5, and in chap. viii. 5, 8, 9, &c., are of the same import with the word carnal in this verse. To be in the flesh, or to be carnally minded, solely respects the unregenerate. While unregenerate, a man is in a state of death and enmity against God, chap. viii. 6-9. This is St. Paul’s own account of a carnal man. The soul of such a man has no authority over the appetites of the body and the lusts of the flesh: reason has not the government of passion. The work of such a person is to make provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof, chap. xiii. 14. He minds the things of the flesh, Romans viii. 5; he is at enmity with God. In all these things the spiritual man is the reverse; he lives in a state of friendship with God in Christ, and the Spirit of God dwells in him; his soul has dominion over the appetites of the body and the lusts of the flesh; his passions submit to the government of reason, and he, by the Spirit, mortifies the deeds of the flesh; he mindeth the things of the Spirit, chap. viii. 5. The Scriptures, therefore, place these two characters in direct opposition to each other. Now the apostle begins this passage by informing us that it is his carnal state that he is about to describe, in opposition to the spirituality of God’s holy law, saying, But I am carnal.
Those who are of another opinion maintain that by the word carnal here the apostle meant that corruption which dwelt in him after his conversion; but this opinion is founded on a very great mistake; for, although there may be, after justification, the remains of the carnal mind, which will be less or more felt till the soul is completely sanctified, yet the man is never denominated from the inferior principle, which is under control, but from the superior principle which habitually prevails. Whatever epithets are given to corruption or sin in Scripture, opposite epithets are given to grace or holiness. By these different epithets are the unregenerate and regenerate denominated. From all this it follows that the epithet carnal, which is the characteristic designation of an unregenerate man, cannot be applied to St. Paul after his conversion; nor, indeed, to any Christian in that state.
But the word carnal, though used by the apostle to signify a state of death and enmity against God, is not sufficient to denote all the evil of the state which he is describing; hence he adds, sold under sin. This is one of the strongest expressions which the Spirit of God uses in Scripture, to describe the full depravity of fallen man. It implies a willing slavery: Ahab had sold himself to work evil, 1 Kings xxi. 20. And of the Jews it is said, in their utmost depravity, Behold, for your iniquities have ye sold yourselves, Isa. l. 1. They forsook the holy covenant, and joined themselves to the heathen, and WERE SOLD to do mischief, 1 Macc. i. 15.
Now, if the word carnal, in its strongest sense, had been sufficiently significant of all he meant, why add to this charge another expression still stronger? We must therefore understand the phrase, sold under sin, as implying that the soul was employed in the drudgery of sin; that it was sold over to this service, and had no power to disobey this tyrant, until it was redeemed by another. And if a man be actually sold to another, and he acquiesce in the deed, then he becomes the legal property of that other person. This state of bondage was well known to the Romans. The sale of slaves they saw daily, and could not misunderstand the emphatical sense of this expression. Sin is here represented as a person; and the apostle compares the dominion which sin has over the man in question to that of a master over his legal slave. Universally through the Scriptures man is said to be in a state of bondage to sin until the Son of God make him free: but in no part of the sacred writings is it ever said that the children of God are sold under sin. Christ came to deliver the lawful captive, and take away the prey from the mighty. Whom the Son maketh free, they are free indeed. Then, they yield not up their members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin; for sin shall not have the dominion over them, because the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made them free from the law of sin and death, Romans vi. 13, 14; viii. 2. Anciently, when regular cartels were not known, the captives became the slaves of their victors, and by them were sold to any purchaser; their slavery was as complete and perpetual as if the slave had resigned his own liberty, and sold himself: the laws of the land secured him to his master; he could not redeem himself, because he had nothing that was his own, and nothing could rescue him from that state but a stipulated redemption. The apostle speaks here, not of the manner in which the person in question became a slave; he only asserts the fact, that sin had a full and permanent dominion over him. – Smith, on the carnal man’s character.
“I am carnal, sold under sin.” – I have been the more particular in ascertaining the genuine sense of this verse, because it determines the general scope of the whole passage.
For the original post, go to: http://arminiantoday.com/2012/10/23/adam-clarke-on-romans-714/