1. He does not approve of that which he does, neither does he do that which he would, but he does that which he hates.
2. The nature of the contest carried on in man.
3. The opinion of St. Augustine and Peter Martyr, respecting the conflict in men who are not born again.
1. The fifteenth verse contains a proof of the affirmation in the preceding verse, which is, that the man about whom the apostle is treating, is "sold under sin" or is the bond-slave of sin. For the argument is taken from the office and proper effect of a purchased servant, and of one who has no legal control over himself, but who is subjected to the power of another. For it is the property of a servant, not to execute his own will, but that of his lord, whether he does this willingly and with full consent, or he does it with the judgment of his own mind exclaiming against it, and with his will resisting it. This is expressed in no unskillful manner by St. Augustine, in his Retractions (lib. I, cap. i, ) "he who by the flesh that lusteth against the Spirit, does those things which he would not, lusteth indeed unwillingly; and in this he does not that which he would; but if he be overcome [by the flesh lusting against the Spirit] he willingly consents to his lusts--and in this he does nothing but what he has willed, that is, devoid of righteousness and the servant of sin." This is confirmed by Zanchius, on the works of Redemption: (lib. I, cap. iii, ) "Undoubtedly Peter, therefore, denied Christ because he would, though he did not that with a full will, but reluctantly." But the proof [which the apostle adduces in the fifteenth verse] is accommodated to the condition of the man about whom he is treating, that is, of a man who is under the law, and who is the servant of sin just so far as to serve it not with full consent, but with a conscience crying out against it. For these are the words of the apostle: "For that which I do, I allow not," that is, I do not approve of it. This sentiment, he explains and proves more at large in the words which immediately follow in the same verse: "For what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that I do," from which we frame this syllogism. He who approves not of that which he does, nor does that which he would, is the slave of another, that is, of sin; But the man about whom the apostle is treating, approves not of that which he does, nor does what he would, but he does that which he hates: Therefore, the man who is in this place the subject of discussion, is the slave of another, that is, of sin; and therefore the same man is unregenerate, and not placed under grace.
2. But perhaps you will say, "In this passage is described a contest in the man about whom the apostle is treating, which contest cannot take place in a man who is unregenerate." Answer. In this passage, the contest between this man and sin is not described; but the dominion of sin, and the servitude of the man himself under sin, are demonstrated from the proper effect of a servant by purchase, which effect, in reality, is not produced by this man without much reluctance of conscience and great mental struggles, which precede the very production of the act; but this deed is not committed except by a mind which is conquered and overcome by the force of sin. Then I deny the preceding affirmation that, in an unregenerate man, of what description soever he may be, there is discovered no contest of the mind or conscience with the inclinations and desires of the flesh and of sin. Nay, I further assert and affirm, that, in a man who is under the law, there is necessarily a conflict between the mind and conscience on the one part, that prescribe those things which are just and honest, and the inclinations or motions of sin, on the other, which impel the man to things that are unlawful and forbidden. For the Scriptures describe to us a two-fold conflict against sin--the First, that of the flesh, and of the mind or the conscience-the Second, that of the flesh, or sin, and of the Spirit. The former of these obtains in all those who have a knowledge of what is righteous and iniquitous, of what is just and unjust, "in whose hearts is written the work of the law, and whose thoughts, in the mean while, either accuse or excuse one another," as it is recorded in Romans ii. 15, "who hold the truth in unrighteousness," (i, 18) whose consciences are not yet seared as with a hot iron, who are not yet "past all feeling," (Ephes. iv. 19,) and who know the will of their Lord, but do it not. (Luke xii. 47)
3. This view of the matter is confirmed to us by St. Augustine, in his book "The Exposition of certain propositions in the Epistle to the Romans,"(cap. 3) in which he says, "Before the law, that is, in the state or degree before the law, we do not fight; because we not only lust and sin, but sins have also our approval. Under the law we fight, but are overcome; for we confess that those things which we do, are evil; and, by making such confession, we intimate that we would not do them. But, because we have not yet any grace we are conquered. In this condition it is shown to us, in what situation we be; and while we are desirous of rising up, and still fall down, we are the more grievously afflicted," &c. This is likewise acknowledged by Peter Martyr, who observes, on Romans v. 8, "We do not deny that there is occasionally some contest of this kind in unregenerate men; not because their minds are not carnal and inclined to vicious pursuits, but because in them are still engraven the laws of nature, and because in them shines some illumination of the Spirit of God, though it be not such as can justify them, or can produce a saving change." The latter contest, that between the flesh and the Spirit, obtains in the regenerate alone. For in that heart in which the Spirit of God neither is nor dwells, there can be no contest--though some persons are said to "resist the Holy Spirit," and, to "sin against the Holy Ghost," which expressions have another meaning. The difference between these two contests is very manifest from the diversity of the issue or consequence of each: For, in the first, the flesh overcomes; but, in the latter, the Spirit usually gains the victory and becomes the conqueror. This may be seen by a comparison of this passage with Gal. v. 16,17 -- a comparison which we will afterwards undertake. But from the proper effects of the law itself, it may be most certainly demonstrated that a contest against sin is carried on within a man who is so under the law as that it has discharged all its office towards him, and has exerted all its powers in him. For it is the effect of the law to convict a man, already convicted of sin, of the righteousness of God, to incite him to obedience, to convince him of his own weakness, to inflame him with a desire to be delivered, and to compel him to seek for deliverance. It is well known, however, that these effects cannot be completed without a contest against indwelling sin. But we have already said that about such a man as this the apostle treats in this passage - - one who is in this manner under the law. If any man will yet obstinately maintain, that all unregenerate persons in general perpetrate that to the commission of which, sin and the flesh persuade, with full consent and without any reluctance, let him not view it as a grievance if I demand proof for his assertion, since it is made against express testimonies of Scripture, and since many examples may be adduced in proof of the contrary, such as that of Balsam, who, against his own conscience, obeyed the king of Moab--that of Saul, who, against his own conscience, persecuted David--that of the Pharisees, who, through obstinate malice, resisted the Holy Spirit, &c. But even that very common distinction, which sins are distinguished into those of ignorance, infirmity and malice, is likewise by this method destroyed, if all unregenerate persons commit sin with full assent and without any struggle or reluctance. I am desirous also, on this occasion, to bring to the recollection of the adverse party, the steps or degrees by which God is accustomed to convert his children to himself from wickedness of life, and which, if they will diligently and without prejudice consider, they will perceive that the contest between the mind and the flesh, which is excited by the law, must of necessity be placed among the beginnings and the precursors of regeneration.