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Dissertation of the 7th Chapter of Romans: Chapter 3 - Proposition of the Apostle

By Jacobus Arminius


      Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin." Hortatory.--"But yield your members as instruments of righteousness unto God." THE REASON "For sin shall not have dominion over you." Hence, an enthymeme, whose Antecedent is--"Sin shall not have dominion over you." Its consequent--"Therefore, neither yield your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin, but yield yourselves unto God," &c.

      THE PROOF OF THE ANTECEDENT OR OF THE REASON "For ye are under grace; therefore, sin shall not have dominion over you." AN ILLUSTRATION OF THE PROOF FROM ITS CONTRARY For ye are not under the law." A BRIEF EXPLICATION OF THE PROOF, AND OF ITS ILLUSTRATION "If, indeed, you were yet under the law, as you formerly were, sin would have the dominion over you as it once had; and, having followed its commands and impulses, you would not be able to do any other than yield your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin. "But as you are now no longer under the law, but under grace, sin shall not in any wise have the dominion over you, but by the power of grace you shall easily resist sin, and yield your members as instruments of righteousness unto God." From the 14th verse, the apostle perseveres in the same exhortation throughout the remainder of the sixth chapter, with a slight intermission of this argument, yet having previously refuted the objection which might be deduced from it; being about to resume the same argument, and to treat it more at large, in the whole of the seventh chapter, and in the former part of the eighth, since, as we have already perceived, the prosecution of this argument contributes very materially to his design.

      2. But the apostle treats this subject in the order and method which was demanded by reason itself, and by the necessity of its discussion. For he had said, "Sin shall not have dominion over you, for ye are not under the law, but under grace."

      3. In these words, are contained the four following enunciations: (1.) Christians are not under the law. (2.) Christians are under grace. (3.) Sin shall have dominion over those who are under the law. (4.) Sin shall not have dominion over those who are under grace. Of these four enunciations, the second and the fourth are necessary and sufficient to persuade in favour of this exhortation; but the first and the third are adduced, both for the sake of illustration, and because they were required by the principal design of the entire epistle. The former of these [pairs of conjoint enunciations] is well known to all who understand the nature of a separated axiom and the mutual relation which exists between its parts; but the latter of them will he rendered very apparent by the deduction of the epistle itself, and on a diligent inspection of its conformation.

      4. The apostle, therefore, thought that these four axioms ought to be treated by him in order, and indeed always with the mention of the conclusion which he was desirous to infer from them as from premises; and in which the sum of the exhortation consisted.

      5. But the apostle treats those two former enunciations conjointly, such a course being required by their nature. For he gives one thing to those from which he takes another away, and this very properly; because there exists one and the same cause why the one should be attributed and the other taken away, why they are under grace and not under the law. This cause is expressed in the fourth verse of the seventh chapter, in the following words: "Ye, also, are become dead to the law in the body of Christ, that ye should be married to another."

      6. But in the first four verses, the apostle proves that Christians or believers are not under the law, but under grace; which proof may be comprised in this syllogism: They who are dead to the law, and this in the body of Christ, that they may be married to another, even to Christ, are no longer under the law, but are now under grace; But Christians are dead to the law, that they should he married to another, even to Christ; Therefore, Christians are no longer under the law, but under grace. The first part of the proposition--"They who are dead to the law, are no longer under the law," is expressed in the first verse of the seventh chapter in these words: "The law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth." The latter part of it, "They who are made Christ's are under grace, -- is included in the fourth verse, from which it may be deduced. But a confirmation of the first part of the proposition is added, in the first verse, from the testimony of the consciences of those who are expert in the knowledge of the law; and the same part of the proposition is illustrated, in the second and third verses, by a simile, that of marriage, in which the woman is no longer liable to the law of her husband than "so long as he liveth;" but when he is dead, she is free from the law of her husband, so that she may be allowed to transfer herself to another man without committing the crime of adultery. The application of this comparison is evident, the difference only being observed, that the apostle has declared, by a change in the mode of speaking, that Christians are become dead to the law, and not that the law is become dead to them. This change of speech is attributed by some persons to the prudence of the apostle, who wished to avoid the use of a phrase which he previously knew would be offensive to the Jews. By others it is transferred to the nature of the thing, in which they say that sin, and not the law, sustained the part or person of the husband, because in the sixth verse sin is said to be dead; but this makes nothing to our present purpose. The assumption, in the fourth verse, is in these words: "we also are become dead to the law in the body of Christ, that ye should be married to another, even to Christ." This assumption is illustrated, First, by the efficient cause of that mortification or death, which is the crucifixion and the resurrection of the body of Christ, and the communion of believers with Christ in that crucifixion and in the rising again of His body. Secondly. This assumption is illustrated by the final cause of deliverance, which contains the scope or design of the apostolical exhortation, that is, "to bring forth fruit unto God." But he perseveres in the same end in the two subsequent verses, the sixth and seventh, by treating it through a comparison of things similar, as he had also done in the nineteenth verse of the sixth chapter. The parallel is, that we serve God, and since we are not now in the oldness of the letter, but in the newness of Spirit, and are delivered from the law, that thing being dead in which we were held, it is equitable that we bring forth fruit unto God; because when we were in the flesh, the motion of sins, existing through the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death. The conclusion is not openly inferred, but is understood, which is a mode of frequent occurrence, because the proposition, or question to be treated, does not differ from the conclusion in the matter, but only in the mode of position.

      7. But though these two verses, the fifth and sixth, have such a relation to those things which preceded as has been already explained, yet they are likewise to be referred to those which follow. For the third and fourth enunciations are proposed in these two verses--the third in the fifth verse, and the fourth in the sixth. For, this expression, "The motions of sins, which are by the law, are vigourous, or operate in the members of men who are yet in the flesh," (verse 5) is tantamount in meaning to these words: "Sin has the dominion over those who are under the law." These words likewise, "But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held, wse so that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter," (verse sixth,) agree well with the following: "Sin shall not have the dominion over those who are under grace." This will be rendered evident if any one translates the particle wse as an ancient interpreter has done, by the words "so that," and understands it not of the end or intention, but of the issue or event, as the almost perpetual use of that particle requires. For the sense is this: "When we were yet in the oldness of the letter and under the law, then we were held under sin; and when we are now delivered from the law and placed in newness of spirit, we are able to serve God in righteousness and true holiness," agreeably to this state of our newness of living.

      8. But let us now more closely inspect how this third enunciation is treated, since in it is laid the principal part of the controversy. The exposition of the whole matter consists of the proposing of the enunciation, and of its investigation, the latter of which is partly an explanation, and partly an application of the cause. Both of these are briefly joined to the proposition, as it is laid down in the fifth verse of this chapter; wherefore they are more copious, and better accommodated to the more prolix investigation, than as they are proposed from the fourteenth verse of the sixth chapter.

      9. For that proposition is, "sin," or, as it is more energetically expressed, "The motions of sins have the dominion over those who are under the law." This attribute is likewise more nervously expressed by this method of speech, by which the motions of sins are said to have existence by the law itself. Two effects of this dominion, therefore, are added to the proposition for the sake of explication. One is, its vigour, and its working in the members; the other is, its bringing forth fruits unto death. The cause why, in men under the law, "the motions of sins work in their members to bring forth fruit unto death," is rendered in these words, "when we were in the flesh." For the reference to the time preceding is taken from the carnal state, which state comprises the cause why, in times past, "the motions of sins did work in our members." As if the apostle had said, "It is not wonderful that the motions of sins have had the dominion over us, and have worked in our members to bring forth fruit unto death; for we are in the flesh; and the law itself is so far from being able to hinder this dominion and to restrain the vigourous growth of sin, that these motions are by the law far more fervid and vehement, not through the fault of the law, but through the wickedness and obstinacy of sin that holds the dominion and abuses its power."

      10. This proposition, therefore, is more largely explained, from the seventh verse to the fourteenth; and its cause is fully treated from the fourteenth verse inclusive, to the end of the chapter. The explanation is occupied about this two- fold effect--the working of sin, and its fructification by which it brings forth fruit unto death. The rendering of the cause is continually intent upon what is said in the fifth verse, "When we were in the flesh." But on both these points, we must carefully guard against bringing the law under the suspicion of blame, as though it were of itself the cause of depraved desires in us, and of death; when it is only the occasion, upon which sin violently seizes, and uses it to produce these effects in men who live under the law. In the explanation, both these effects are removed from the law, and they are attributed to sin as to their proper cause; yet this is done in such a way, that it is at the same time added, that sin abuses the law to produce these effects.

      11. (i) The former of these effects is removed from the law, in the seventh verse, by these words: "What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid." That is, as if he had said, "Can it, therefore, be attributed to the law that it is itself, or the cause of depraved desires in us, because it is called in the fifth verse, the motions of sin which are by the law?" The apostle replies, that it is very wrong to entertain even the bare thought of such a thing concerning the law. He subjoins a proof of this removal of the first effect, from the contrary effect which the law has; for the law is the index of sin, or that which points it out; therefore, it is neither sin nor the cause of sin. He then illustrates this proof by a special example: "For I should not have known concupiscence, unless the law had said, Thou shaft not desire or covet." But the same effect is, in the eighth verse, attributed to sin, in these words: "But sin wrought in me all manner of concupiscence," yet so that it abuses the law as an occasion to produce this effect. This is intimated in the words which immediately follow:. "Sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me," &c. The latter effect [the fructification of sin] is proved in the next verse, in these words: "For, without the law, sin was dead; but, on the approach of the law, sin revived," which is illustrated by its opposite privatives, "For I was alive when sin was dead; but when sin revived then I died;" but, as this was done by the law, it is evident that sin abused the law to produce this effect. But the apostle here joins the second effect to the first, (because they cohere together by nature, and the former is the cause of the latter,) and thus in the tenth and eleventh verses, ascribes death to sin, which abuses the law, yet so as to excuse the law also from the effect of death, as it is expressed in the tenth verse, "the commandment which was unto life;" the cause of death being transferred to sin, in the expression, "for sin, taking occasion by the commandment," &c. But he follows up his exculpation of the law, in the twelfth verse, by a description of the nature of the law, that it "is holy, and just, and good," and, therefore, by no means the cause of death--an insinuation against the law which he indignantly repels in the former part of the thirteenth verse, by saying, "God forbid that that which is good, should be made death unto me." But in the latter part of this verse, he ascribes the same effect to sin, with the addition of a two-fold end, both of them inclining to the disparagement of sin itself, in these words: "That sin might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin, by the commandment, might become exceedingly sinful." As though he had said--"Sin, by this abuse of the law to seduce and kill us, has produced the effect, that. in return, its own depravity and perverseness be made manifest by the law. This perverse depravity consists in sin working death by the law which is good, and in being made exceedingly sinful by the commandment which is just and holy, and that it might only become as it were a sinner above measure by its own wickedness, but also might be declared to be such by the indication of the law, which it has so shamefully abused to produce these effects." But it is apparent from the whole of this explanation, that the apostle has so attempered his style as to draw a conclusion of the necessity of the grace of Christ, from the efficacy of sin, and from the weakness of the law. This will be still more perspicuous, if we briefly comprise this explanation of the apostle in the following form: "Sin has the dominion over those who are under the law, by working in them all manner of concupiscence through the law itself, and also by killing them through it, yet so that the law is free from all blame in both cases, since, it is holy and good, the index of sin, and was given for life. But sin is so powerful in men who are still under the law, that it abuses the law to produce those effects in a man who is under subjection to it; by which abuse of the law, sin, on the other hand, takes away the reward from the law, that its own perverse and noxious disposition and tendency may be manifested by the indication of the law. From these circumstances a man who is under the law is compelled to flee to grace, that he may by its beneficent aid be delivered from the tyranny of such a wicked and injurious master."

      12. The rendering of the cause follows from the fourteenth verse to the end of the chapter; in which, as we have already observed, the utmost care is evinced not to impose any ignominy on the law, or to ascribe any blame to it; and the entire mischief is attributed to the power of sin, and to the weakness of that man who is under the law. But the cause is briefly given in the fourteenth verse, in these words: "For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold under sin." But in order that this rendering of the cause may be accurately understood, we must again consider that proposition, the cause of which the apostle determines in this place to explain, and which is this: "Sin has dominion over those who are under the law;" or, "The motions of sins, which are by the law, work in men who are under the law."

      13. That the cause of this may be fully and perfectly rendered, it must be shown why the law cannot weaken the force and tyranny of sin in those who are under the law, and why sin holds those who are under the law bound and obnoxious to itself as by some right of its own. Therefore, this rendering of the cause consists of two parts: The first is contained in these words: "For truly the law is spiritual; but I am carnal." That the particle "indeed" or "truly" must be added, is proved both by its relative de, "but," as well as by the very subject. The second is contained in these words: "For I am sold under sin;" that is, I am under the dominion of sin, as one who is constituted a purchased servant by the right of sale, and like one who becomes the bond-slave of sin. As though the apostle had said, "That the law is incapable of hindering the strength and operation of sin in men who are under the law, arises from this, that men under the law are carnal; in whom therefore the law, though it is spiritual, does not possess so much power as to enable it to restrain the strong inclination of the flesh to things which are evil and contrary to the law. And since sin, by a certain right of its own, exercises dominion over those men who are under the law, therefore it comes to pass that they have been made bond-slaves to sin, and are bound and "fettered like a purchased menial."

      14. The apostle immediately subjoins a proof, in the fifteenth verse, not so much of the fact that a man under the law is carnal, as that he is the slave of sin. But the proof is taken from the peculiar adjunct or effect of a purchased servant, in these words: "For that which I do I allow not." For a servant does not do that which seems good to himself, but that which his master is pleased to prescribe to him; because thus is the word "I allow" used in this passage, for "I approve." But if any one thinks that it is here used in its proper signification, the argument will be the same, and equal its validity; "for," as Christ has told us, "the servant knoweth not what his Lord doeth;" (John xv. 15;) neither is his Lord bound, nor is he accustomed, to make known to his servant all his will, except so far as it seems proper to himself to employ the services of his menial through the knowledge of that will.

      15. But the first signification of the word is better accommodated to this passage, and seems to be required by those things which follow; for a more ample explanation of this argument is produced in the following words: "For what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I;" which is an evident token of a will that is subjugated, and subject to the will of another; that is, to the will of sin. Therefore he is the servant and the slave of sin.

      16. The apostle now deduces two consectaries from this, by the first of which he excuses the law, and by the second, he throws on sin all the blame respecting this matter, as he had also done in a previous part of the chapter. The first consectary is, "if, then, I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good." (16.) That is, "if I unwillingly do that which sin prescribes to me, now, indeed, I consent unto the law that it is good, as being that against which sin is committed. I assent to the law that commands, though, while placed under the dominion of sin, I am unable to perform what it prescribes." The second consectary is, "Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me." (17.) That is, "therefore, because I reluctantly do what I do, not at my own option but at that of another, that Is, of my master, who is sin; it follows from this, that it is not I who do it, but sin which dwells in me, has the dominion over me, and impels me to do it."

      17. Having treated upon these subjects in the manner now stated, the apostle returns to the same rendering of the cause and the proof of it. The eighteenth verse contains the rendering of the cause, in these words: "For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing:" Wherefore it is not surprising that the law, though it be spiritual, is not able to break the power of sin in a man who is under the law; for that which is good does not dwell, that is, has not the dominion, in a carnal man who is under the law. The proof of this is subjoined in the same verse: "For to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not." Or, "I do not find how I can perform any thing good."

      18. The more ample explanation of it is given in the nineteenth verse, "For the good that I would, I do not; but the evil that I would not, that I do;" which is an evident token that no good thing dwelleth in my flesh. For if any good thing dwelt in my flesh, I should then be actually capable of performing that to which my mind and will are inclined. He then deduces once more the second consectary, in the twentieth verse: "Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me."

      19. But from all these arguments, in the twenty-first verse he concludes the thing intended: "I find then a law, [which is imposed in this way,] that, when I would do good, evil is present with me." That is, In reality, therefore, I find from the circumstance of "to will being present with me," but of not being capable of performing what is good, that evil or sin is present with me, and not only has it a place in me but it likewise prevails. This conclusion does not differ in meaning from the rendering of the cause which is comprised in the fourteenth verse, in this expression: "But I am carnal, sold under sin." But in the two subsequent verses, the twenty-second and twenty-third, the apostle proves the conclusion which immediately preceded; and, in proving it, he more clearly explains whence and how it happens, that a man who is under the law cannot have dominion over sin, and that, whether willing or unwilling, such a person is compelled to fulfill the lusts of sin; and he says, "for I delight in the law of God after the inward man; but I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members."

      20. At the close, from a consideration of the miserable state of those men who are under the law, a votive exclamation is raised for their deliverance from this tyranny and servitude of sin, in the following terms: "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver (or snatch) me from the body of this death?" That is, not from this mortal body, but from the dominion of sin, which he here calls the body of death, as he calls it also in other passages the body of sin.

      21. To this exclamation he subjoins a reply--"the grace of God, through Jesus Christ our Lord, will deliver thee"--or a thanksgiving, in which the apostle intimates, in his own person, whence deliverance must be sought and expected. In the last place, a conclusion is annexed to the whole investigation, in the latter part of the twenty-fifth verse, in which is briefly defined the entire condition of a man under the law, that had been previously and at great length described; "so then, with the mind, I myself, serve the law of God, but with the flesh, the law of sin." And in this manner is concluded the seventh chapter.

      22. But in order that these arguments, after having been reduced to a small compass, may be perceived at a single glance, let us briefly recapitulate this second part likewise, in the following manner: "We have already declared, that sin has dominion over those men who are under the law: But the cause of this is, that, though the law itself is spiritual, and though the men who are under it consent unto it that it is good, and though they will what is good and delight in the law of God after the inward man; yet these very men who are under the law are carnal, sold under sin, have no good thing dwelling in their flesh, but have sin dwelling in them, and evil is present with them; they have likewise a law in their members which not only wars against the law of their mind, but which also renders them captives to the law of sin which is in their members. Of this matter it is a certain and evident token, that the good which such men would, they do not; but the evil which they hate, that they do; and that when they will to do good, they do not obtain the ability. Hence it is undoubtedly evident, that they are not themselves the masters of their own acts, but sin which dwelleth in them; to which is also chiefly to be ascribed the culpability of the evil which is committed by these men who are like the reluctant perpetrators of it. But on this account, these persons, from the shewing of the law, having become acquainted with their misery, are compelled to cry out, and to implore the grace of Jesus Christ."

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See Also:
   Chapter 1 - The Thesis to be Proved
   Chapter 2 - The Connection Between the 6th & 7th Chapter
   Chapter 3 - Proposition of the Apostle
   Chapter 4 - Romans 7:14
   Chapter 5 - Romans 7:15
   Chapter 6 - Romans 7:16
   Chapter 7 - Romans 7:17
   Chapter 8 - Romans 7:18, 19
   Chapter 9 - Romans 7:20
   Chapter 10 - Romans 7:21
   Chapter 11 - Romans 7:22, 23
   Chapter 12 - The Ancient Fathers
   Chapter 13 - Romans 7:24
   Chapter 14 - Romans 7:25
   Chapter 15 - Under the Law
   Chapter 16 - The Grace of God
   Chapter 17 - The Connection Between the 7th & 8th Chapters
   Chapter 18 - The Opinion Corroborated by Testimonies
   Chapter 19 - Christian Fathers Approve of our Interpretation
   Chapter 20 - The Opinion of St. Augustine
   Chapter 21 - Writers from the Middle Ages Support our Opinion
   Chapter 22 - Favorable Testimonies of Recent Divines
   Chapter 23 - This Opinion Isn't Heretical
   Chapter 24 - Our Opinion is Opposed to the Pelagian Heresy
   Chapter 25 - Ancient Church Doctors Didn't Approve the Opposite Opinion
   Chapter 26 - The Opposite Opinion is Hurtful to Grace & Good Morals
   Chapter 27 - Common Interpretation Answered


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