Living in the Seventh of Romans
September 26th, 1954 @ 7:30 PM
LIVING IN THE SEVENTH OF ROMANS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
9-26-54 7:30 p.m.
Now tonight, I’m preaching on Living in the Seventh of Romans, and I suppose that means practically nothing to everybody. But by the time I get through with this sermon, I hope you’ll never forget it: what it is to live in the seventh of Romans. So turn with me tonight to the seventh chapter of the Book of Romans, and we’re going to read from the seventh verse to the end of the chapter.
Are you ready? The seventh verse of the seventh chapter – you follow it as I read the Book:
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."
But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead.
For I was alive without the law once, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died.
And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death.
For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me.
Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just and good.
Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid! But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good, that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful.
For we know that the law is spiritual, but I – I am carnal, sold under sin.
For that which I do, I allow not. For what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.
If, then, I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good.
Now then, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.
For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing; for to will is present with me, but how to perform that which is good I find not.
For the good that I would, I do not; but the evil which I would not, that I do.
Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.
I find then a law, that when I would do good, evil is present with me.
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 bringeth me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.
O wretched man – wretched, wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?
I thank God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!
So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.
That is the seventh of Romans. There is a whole library – I mean a whole library written about that passage. It is the introduction to one of the great chapters of the Bible. The eighth chapter of the Book of Romans is one of the great chapters of the Bible. The eighth chapter of Romans is the habitat of the Christian. It’s the life in Christ raised to its sublime highest, but before the eighth chapter of the Book of Romans is the seventh; and the seventh is the introduction to it. Now I say there’s a whole library written about it – a whole library. And these men who are theologians and scholars and commentators, how vastly do they differ about this seventh chapter of the Book of Romans.
Do you know many times he says "I, I, I" here? All through that passage – "I." "That which I do, I allow not; but what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, I do" [Romans 7:15]. I. I. "For I know that in me the good which I do not, but the evil which I would not, I do. If I do that I would not" [Romans 7:18, 19]. "I" all the way through.
Now, just to take two of the opposite extremes as they try to interpret this passage in the Book of Romans. Charles G. Finney stands at one extreme – incomparable evangelist and preacher and Christian author, theologian of a century ago. Charles G. Finney says this. He says that this seventh chapter of Romans is a picture of an unregenerated man. It is a picture of Paul before his conversion. It is a picture of Paul in the days when he lived under the Law. It is a picture of an unregenerated and unconverted man; and he says the only reason that Paul uses the "I" here is by way of illustration, but it is nothing personal at all [Lecture XXXVIII, Systematic Theology, Charles G. Finney, 1878].
And then Charles G. Finney says this, "If this seventh chapter of the Book of Romans is a picture of you," this is his exact words, "then," he says, "you are unregenerated and damned and going to hell." That’s what Charles G. Finney says about this passage. If this is you in the seventh chapter of the Book of Romans, you’re lost, you’re damned, you have never been saved, you’ve never known the Lord, and you’re going to hell. That’s what Charles G. Finney says.
Now another extreme. Died not long ago, a wonderful theologian and a matchless interpreter of the Scriptures is A. C. Gaebelein. A. C. Gaebelein says that this seventh chapter of Romans is a picture of every Christian as he struggles against the principle of sin in his soul and in his life [fromThe Annotated Bible, A.C. Gaebelein, 1919]. Now those are the two extremes.
"Well Pastor, what do you think about the seventh chapter of the Book of Romans and the picture that Paul has written here?" Well this is what I believe. I believe the seventh chapter of the Book of Romans is a universal experience of all mankind everywhere, everywhere. You, I, we, they, close by, abroad, yesterday, today, the generations past, the generations to come. It is a picture of humanity, and it is an experience, I say, common to all mankind. It was the experience of the Apostle Paul in the days when he lived under the Law; and by struggle, and by fight, and by warring, he was trying to do right before God and failed in it ingloriously and miserably and finally found salvation in Jesus Christ. He found deliverance in the Law, in the Lord, which is the glorious eighth chapter of the Book of Romans.
Now, it is a picture of you, of us, of all of us before we were converted. We tried. We failed; and we took our defeat to Jesus, and He saved us. And it is also a picture of all of us who have been saved. The principle of this warfare between the flesh and the spirit still goes on; and we fight, and we war, and we battle, and we fail. And then we take it, wretched people, defeated as we are, we take it to the Lord Jesus Christ. And that war goes over and over, again and again, in the day and the night, yesterday, today; tomorrow we face it anew.
It’s a picture of all mankind. It’s a universal picture of all the people everywhere; a picture of the saved; a picture of the lost – "for I find a law that when I would do good, evil is present with me" [Romans 7:21]; and it never varies, and it never leaves. I never get so holy; I never get so good; I never get so high up; I never get so close to God; I never get so nigh to heaven but that always evil is ever there right by my side, here in this pulpit. I’m not only referring to these close by me here. I mean the principle everywhere – and I mean it in you all too – in you all too. There’s nobody I have around me that’s holy. They all are sinners – every last one of them – and they fall into mistake and into error, and they fall into a lot of things. They all do. They all do. There’s just nobody that I’ve ever seen that is sanctified and holy and above the principle of evil that surrounds him and is in him. It’s a universal experience – the saved and the lost.
It is the experience of the young. Before he goes to school, he battles against that thing of evil in his heart. And it’s the experience of the old man with a lifetime and a background; he fights it too. It’s the experience of the civilized man with all of his culture and his education, and it’s the experience of the heathen before the missionary comes to tell him the name of the true God. It’s the experience of the learned and the unlearned, of the high churchman and the low churchman and the no-church man.
Humanity is divided by many geographical divisions, and we have different creeds and different races and different colors and different kinds. But, there is one common denominator under which all of us gather, and there’s one common plane upon which all of us move and that is this: "that when I would do good, evil is present with me," [Romans 7:21] always in us and around us. We touch hands with all the generations of all of the centuries in this seventh chapter of the Book of Romans.
However things may be on the outside and however circumstances may change, I still have to live with myself; and on the inside of me, there is a principle of evil. There is a flesh; and however the outside may change, however cultured or learned or scholarly or dedicated I am, that thing of me is still on the inside. Christina Rosetti one time wrote of it like this,
God strengthen me to bear myself;
That heaviest weight of all to bear,
Inalienable weight of care.
All others are outside myself;
I lock my door and bar them out
The turmoil, tedium, gad-about.
I lock my door upon myself,
And bar them out; but who shall wall
Self from myself, most loathed of all?
If I could set aside myself,
And start with lightened heart upon
The road by all men overgone!
Myself, arch-enemy to myself;
My hollowest friend, my deadliest foe,
My clog down whatever road I go.
[from "Who Shall Deliver Me?" Christina Rosetti, 1876]
I can shove them out and shove them out and shove them out and lock them out, but I can’t lock myself from myself. When I lock myself in, there I am; and with me is this principle of evil serving the flesh.
So Paul says in the seventh chapter of the Book of Romans there are two spirits that war on the inside of every man. "There is a law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin . . . So then, with my mind," my spiritual highest soul, "I serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin" [Romans 7:23, 25]. And those two, Paul says, war on the inside; and that experience is a universal experience and a continuing experience, and it doesn’t change when you become a Christian.
"Preacher, I’m going down that aisle tonight and give you my hand and my heart to God. And I’m going to settle forever this thing of the devil, and he’ll never touch me, and he’ll never bother me, and he will never come to me again. I’m going down that aisle and win that battle forever!" So you come down that aisle and give me your hand and your heart to God. And brother, I want to tell you something. You have just enrolled to fight. That’s all you’ve done. You’ve just got in the war, that’s all.
One of these preachers one time stood up, and he’s talking to a bunch of little children. And he said, "Now you little children, now you little ones." He said, "You listen to me. Now, you little children, when you give your heart to Jesus, why, God gives you a lamb’s heart. What you’ve got now," he said, "is a pig’s heart. You’ve got a pig’s heart. But you give your heart to Jesus, and in place of a pig’s heart, God will give you a lamb’s heart; and you’ll have a lamb’s heart, little children." Oh, wouldn’t that be sweet if it were so? Wouldn’t that be heavenly if it were true – if when I gave my heart to Jesus, He’d give me a lamb’s heart, and that’s all I had on the inside of me was a lamb’s heart?
Now what that preacher should have said is this: "My little children, my little children, when you come to Jesus, you’ve got a pig’s heart; and when you come to Jesus, He’s going to give you a lamb’s heart. But, my little children, you still got the pig’s heart! And the pig’s heart and the lamb’s heart, they just go to war on the inside; and from then on it’s civil battle." That’s what it is. That’s the way it is. That’s the way it is. When you come to the Lord, you’ve just enrolled in the army. You just getting ready to fight [Philippians 2:25; 2 Timothy 2:3-4; Philemon 1:2].
Now, I know there are a whole lot of people, there are a whole lot of people who say, "I’m removed above that. I’m sanctified, I am. I’ve gotten above sin, and I have come to that holiest state where I live without defilement and transgression. I’ve had the blessing. I’ve been set aside, and I live in that holiest state far and removed." Well that’s great. That’s great.
And some of the great preachers of all time like John Wesley, like John Wesley, like all of those old Methodist preachers, every one of them was a holiness preacher. Every one of them, the old Methodist, was a holiness preacher. John Wesley was a holiness preacher. They said they lived above sin. They’d gotten above the place where they ever sinned.
Now I say that’s wonderful thing. That’s a marvelous thing, and I would glory in a man who could stand up here before this congregation and say, "I have come to the place in my Christian life where I no longer ever sin." Wouldn’t that be wonderful?
There’s only one thing about that that scares me and frightens me and that’s this: you know, the great sin above all sin is the sin of the Pharisee. It’s the sin of the self-righteous; it’s the sin of the self-proud. It’s the sin that, "I have achieved." It’s the sin that, "Thank God, I’m not like other men. They do this, they do that; they do everything! But, I don’t do this, and I don’t do that, and I don’t do the other thing" [Luke 18:9-14]. And it isn’t long until the sense of pride and self-righteousness comes into our lives; and we gather our robes around ourselves, and we wouldn’t be brushed, and we wouldn’t be touched by those ungodly and defiled people on the outside. And so we build our walls around ourselves, and we have little circles of friends around ourselves; and we look on all others as being vile transgressors while we in our self-righteousness, that’s up there to see, we live separate and apart and look down upon all others.
My brother, I am persuaded that as long as we live in this flesh and as long as we live in this body of death that we have that fight going on in the seventh chapter of the Book of Romans. And I came across a godly, godly man who wrote here a thing that I think is the heart of all of us who have given our lives to the Lord Jesus and who pride ourselves on the fact that we don’t go out here and live like the world lives. We’ve pulled away from it. They couldn’t invite us to a shindig on Sunday night, and take a bottle of liquor with us, and go out with an old something and spend the night in revelry and in drunkenness and debauchery and iniquity like thousands are doing on Sunday night and Saturday night. We don’t live that way. We’re not like that, but that doesn’t mean that the principle of evil and sin is not also in us too.
And I say one of these godly men, a great Christian and good man, wrote these lines. You listen to him: a godly Christian man. What he’s talking about is that even though he doesn’t go out here and do these abominable and indescribable things, yet on the inside of his heart – well, let him speak for himself. Listen to him.
It is not what my hands have done,
That weighs my spirit down,
That casts a shadow on the sun,
And over earth a frown:
It is not any heinous guilt,
Or vice by men abhorred;
For fair the frame that I have built,
A fair life’s just reward;
And men would wonder if they knew,
How sad I feel with sins so few!
Alas! they only read in part,
When thus they judge the whole: –
They cannot look upon the heart, –
They cannot read the soul:
But I survey myself within,
And mournfully I feel,
How deep the principle of sin,
Its roots may there conceal,
And spread its poison through the frame,
Without a deed that men may blame.
[from "What The Year Has Left Undone," Henry Ware, Jr., 1847]
A righteous man above the tentacles of the Law, living like a fine and good citizen and a member of the church, but when you get close to God, on the inside of your soul, there is that shortcoming again. Don’t measure up. "O God, how far, how far short." And I’ve always felt the nearer you get to God, the more of that way you feel. "Master, I am not worthy to stand in Thy sight. Depart from me. I am a sinful man."
F. B. Meyer said he was out calling on his parishioners, and one of the members of his church was a washer woman. And she had out there on the line a beautiful, beautiful white string of laundry that she’d done – a washing she’d put out there on the line. And he complimented her on it and said how fine it looked and how she’d done a wonderful thing – that pure white wash. And it pleased the old washer woman, and she asked the pastor inside for a cup of tea. So they went inside for a cup of tea.
And while they talked and visited together drinking the cup of tea, while they were there, the heavens frowned and it crowded and it came a sudden snowstorm. And when the pastor left, the ground was white with snow and he looked at the clothesline. And looking at it he said, "Well, it looks as if your laundry is not so white now, is it?" And the old washer woman replied and said, "Pastor, there’s nothing wrong with that laundry. It’s just that there’s nothing that can stand against God Almighty’s white." And that’s right. And that’s right.
You compare yourself with another man, and you may be pretty good. Yes sir, you’re all right. But you compare yourself against God Almighty’s white, and you’ll fall to your knees: "Lord, it isn’t with me as I thought it was. Master have mercy upon me too; me too; me too."
And I say this battle goes all through our lives, all through our lives. In youth: the sins of passion, the drive of a hot heart, the fire that’s in the stream – the sins of youth. The sins of manhood and of womanhood: the sins of pride, and self-righteousness, and achievement. And the sins of age, the most despicable sins of all, the sins of age: the sins of littleness and cynicism and criticism, the sins of looking askance, the sins of failing to encourage, the sins of trying to hang on to a yesteryear and to destroy the present and the now – the sins of old age. And you never get beyond it. You never get beyond it.
There are some things you fight when you’re young. There are some things you fight when you’re in manhood. There are some things you fight in age. And as long as you live in this body of death, you have this cry of the seventh chapter of the Book of Romans: "O wretched man, O wretched man that I am, what shall I do and where shall I turn? Who shall deliver me from this body of this death?" [Romans 7:24]
Thank God there’s another chapter. I haven’t got time to preach about it tonight. All I can do is just show it to you, and then next Sunday we start again. Thank God there’s another chapter. "O wretched man that I am. Wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" Long as I live in it – this house of clay, this flesh, this principle of sin, always there and always with me. "O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" [Romans 7:24]
And there’s an answer: "I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" [Romans 7:25] Deliverance and victory, consummating salvation, never comes from ourselves. We’re never equal to it. But it comes – a victory, a triumph, a glorious deliverance. It comes through Jesus Christ our Lord. It is a gift of God. It’s in Christ. It’s in Him. Not by any superficial means will a man win this thing on the inside of his soul. Not by culture, not by training, not by education, not by his own strength or his own power, but a man wins it. A man wins it in the power and in the strength and in the righteousness and in the presence and in the glory of Jesus Christ our Lord.
"I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord;" and He – He who could touch the eyes of the blind and they could see; touch the ears of the deaf and they could hear; touch the foulest loathsome leper and he was clean again; touch the fevered brow and they were well again; touch the dead and they could live again [Matthew 8:14-15, 11:15]. He that could do that can touch a man’s soul and a man’s life and deliver him forever and forever. "I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" That’s the gospel. That’s the Book. This is the real thing.
That’s what we invite you to come to tonight. Not to a system, not to an organization, not to a culture, not to a development, but an invitation to come to the Lord and King who, enthroned in a man’s soul and in the center of a man’s heart and in the very depths of a man’s life, He never lets us down. He will see us through. Now will you take Him? Will you do it? Will you do it?
"Lord I’m not equal, and I don’t say I am; but I believe God is equal and I entrust my soul and my destiny and my life in God’s hands. And here I am Preacher, and here I come. It’s for God. It’s to God. It’s God’s." Would you? Would you? Any other way the Lord shall put into your heart to come – put your life in the church with us; any way the Spirit shall say the word, point the way, would you make it now? Would you make it now?
In the balcony around, in the great press of people on this lower floor, "Pastor, here I come. Here’s my family." Or just one somebody you, "Here I am, Preacher, and this is my friend." However God shall press home to your heart the appeal while we sing, will you come while we stand and while we sing?