Deliverance from Law

Notes of an address on Romans 7.

W. J. Hocking.

1919 246 There are two verses in this chapter that I wish to read to you again, viz., the sixth and the last.

"But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held" (or rather, "being dead to that wherein we were held" as in the margin, for there is no doubt that this is the correct reading of the text), "that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter."

"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."

There is a great deal in this chapter that bears upon the practical life of the believer — far more than we shall be able to consider in the short time at our disposal this evening. But there are two great subjects in the chapter of which we may speak briefly.

In the first part the apostle brings out the relationship of the Christian to the law, that is, to the law of Moses; and in the latter part he shows that in every converted man there are two opposing forces. There is what is known as the old nature, and also the new nature; a desire to sin, and a desire to serve God. A great conflict is outlined, and then, at the close of the chapter, the way of deliverance from that conflict is indicated. Jesus Christ our Lord is declared to be the One who delivers a person from this distressing conflict within his own heart.

In the first part of the chapter, the apostle, under the figure of the two husbands, refers to the law and the Christian's relationship to it. On this account you cannot help connecting the antithesis with the preceding chapter where the relationship of the believer to sin and to the power of sin within him is set forth under the figure of two masters. There it is shown that a man as an unbeliever, as he once was, was under the dominion of a great tyrant within his own breast. There was within him a power which carried him into the ways of sin irresistibly, and the question was, how could a man be delivered from this condition?

The apostle shows in Romans 6 that the believer is delivered through the death of the Lord Jesus Christ. In this remarkable way he finds that through the death of Christ he passes out of the state of bondage to sin in the person of Another, One who went down into death and rose again. Every believer is declared to be associated with the Lord Jesus Christ in His resurrection, and therefore, by reason of this association he is delivered from the bondage to the old nature in which he was held.

This deliverance is a question of faith so far as it is to be realised, because any person looking into his own heart would come to the reverse conclusion to that we find in this Epistle; but as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ and followers of Him, we must by faith adopt this teaching as a fact in our Christian life, and be guided in this and other matters by the truth of Scripture. We must not go for guidance to other persons, whose hearts are the same as our own, for we shall only listen to a repetition of the thoughts of our own hearts, unless they are themselves taught by the Word of God.

If you examine your own attitude you will probably find that in reading the Scriptures your main wish is to see exactly how it fits other persons, but the essence of gaining real help is rather to see how the truth fits myself, and to realise that its teaching is addressed to me, and speaks about me.

And just as this principle of deliverance through Christ is applied in the sixth chapter so it is in the seventh, where the believer's relationship with the law is developed.

Let me first say a word in connection with this subject of the law. What is to be here understood by the law? Is it the ten commandments? We read certainly in Scripture of the law of Moses. Turning to the Old Testament we read of the ten commandments engraved on two tables of stone, handed to the Israelites by Moses for them to keep. But there was a great deal more beside the ten words; there were rites and ceremonies associated with the law of Moses carried on from century to century. To some extent they were being observed in the days of our Lord, and after His resurrection and ascension to heaven the ritual was still in some respects performed until the destruction of the Temple by the Romans.

But the law as it is spoken of in our chapter refers mainly to the great principle under which God acted towards His people in Old Testament times. He brought Israel out of the land of Egypt, and from Sinai He gave them His instructions. He told them what His commandments were, and He put it to the nation whether they were competent to do what He told them. They had experienced His delivering power on the paschal eve when Jehovah passed over their houses and protected them in the hour when judgment fell in Egypt. It was no question of the law of Sinai then, but the people were saved by His mercy and protected by the blood. And when they went through the Red Sea, where was the law then? Was the power of Egypt destroyed because the Israelites kept God's commandments? No, but because of His grace and mercy towards them. But when from Sinai Jehovah propounded the law and said in effect to them, Will you keep this? They said, 'We will; all that the Lord has spoken to us we will do.' They thus put themselves on that conditional ground; they said, 'Whatever God tells us to do, we will do; we sign the pledge; it is a bargain.'

But how long was it before the tables were cast down and broken before their eyes? They soon had another God beside Jehovah. They worshipped the golden calf. They broke the commandments, and the penalty attached to the law was that if they did not keep the law they should die. It was a similar principle of action in the garden of Eden. God said to Adam, "In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die." Thus the principle of law was, Do this and thou shalt live.

Now to whom was this law given? To one people only, and that was the people of Israel. The twelve tribes of Israel alone received that law, and therefore, the law, strictly speaking, has no bearing upon Gentiles at all, and the apostle Paul in his teaching here refers to persons who were converted from amongst the Jews. They had believed in Christ. They then said, What about the Law? Are we to give that up? Cannot we keep on with the law as before? Many wanted to keep on with the law, and the apostle had to tackle them over and over again on this very point. Paul said to them, If you take up the law and try to live by the law, you are fallen from grace. Grace and truth came by Jesus Christ, while the law was given by Moses.

I want you to see clearly that the original ten commandments were never given to the Gentiles, and that a believer has no scriptural right to put himself under that law.

Why did God give men the law? He gave them the law to prove to them what hopeless sinners they really were. The law entered bye-the-bye, that the offence might abound. Sin was in the world before the law, but when the law came it showed how vile men really were and how obstinately they made up their minds to do what they liked rather than what God liked.

For instance, you may have a child playing at mud pies in the gutter who is not aware that it is wrong. You say, Now, my dear child, you must not do that again; it is the wrong thing to do.' if the child does it a second time, it has infringed a commandment; it is now disobedient. And on similar grounds the Jews were more guilty before God than the Gentiles.

Now the principle of law may be taken up by the believer in another way. There are a great many Christians who, although they are not definitely striving to keep the ten commandments, are still living on the principle of law. The principle of law is that I feel I must find out what God's commandments for myself are, what He wants me to do, and what He does not want me to do. I therefore go on searching the Scriptures in order to find out what God forbids me to do, and I try to escape coming under a just condemnation because of disobedience to a definite verse. Such action arises out of the principle of law-keeping.

A child in a family acts on the contrasted principle of love; it yields a loving obedience. It obeys its parents, but not in the same manner as it would obey a policeman. Its action is on the principle of love because the child loves to do what the parents wish it to do. But no person loves the law of his country. I hardly suppose any person, when he pays his taxes, for instance, does so on the principle of love, that is, because he really rejoices in doing it, but because he has this duty. It is a commandment, so to speak. The demand is something enforced by the law of the country, and all have to pay. We do not love the Government for the demand. The obedience, though ready and cheerful, is not on the ground of love at all; but the Christian is called to serve God by love.

A believer is expected to follow Christ who was absolutely obedient in everything. As He obeyed, so we have to obey. Love draws us to do the will of God even as He did. He said, "Lo, I come to do Thy will, O God." "I delight to do Thy will, O God." It was His joy and pleasure to do the will of God. And this is the spirit we should seek to display.

You may say, How can we do that? Only in one way, by realising the goodness of our God as our Father and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, only by realising in our hearts the grace of God toward us, and the wonderful way in which He has acted in giving His own Son to die for us. If we have our hearts so charged with the love of God and the riches of Christ in His ineffable grace, we shall then be able to do what He wishes.

Many young Christians often say, Tell me the Scripture against smoking, or against wearing feathers in one's hat, and they manufacture arguments to prove whether it is right or wrong, trying to find out some Scripture that just its the pipe or the feathers; and they cannot do it quite satisfactorily. They are working on the principle of law. They are trying to find what God tells them not to do. This is the wrong way. You have to find out what God tells you to do, and you will find out that He wishes you to be like His Son, and to follow His steps.

Well then, have we to take the exact steps that Jesus Christ did when He was here? That of course would be a foolish view. We cannot go to Palestine and put our feet into the same footprints, and go along the two thousand miles that He travelled, doing the will of God. But following His steps means that just as the Lord Jesus Christ found His joy and delight in doing His Father's will, so ought we to find our joy and delight in doing those things that we know are well-pleasing to God. But do not spend a lot of time discussing doubtful things, whether they should be done or not.

You will find that a great deal of what I have said is embraced in this sentence of the sixth verse. "Now we are delivered from the law." The apostle is speaking directly of Christians who were converted from Judaism, though the legal principle is of general application. We are not on the ground of law at all, and for this reason — because in Christ we died to that wherein we were held. Paul, for instance, as Saul of Tarsus, was a Pharisee of the Pharisees. He was held in the thraldom of the law, but as a believer in Christ he was delivered; and how? Because Saul of Tarsus died; he died with Christ, and became a new man in Christ Jesus, just as he received the new name of Paul.

But it will be observed that the ground of deliverance from the law is precisely the same as it is from the bondage of sin, that is, by the death of Jesus Christ. The law is not dead, how could it be? Whatever is given of God cannot die.

In Zion in a future day, the people of Israel will walk before God in the spirit of the law into which His Holy Spirit will guide them. Under the blessed rule of the Anointed Lord they will be obedient, for the law will be written in their hearts and minds, and all the aspirations that we find in Romans will be their aspirations, and they will take to themselves the 119th Psalm. How that composition expresses the delight of the person in God's law! The people of Israel will yet sing that Psalm to their Messiah and to Jehovah in the temple when it is built again in Jerusalem. The law, therefore, has not died.

Why should we serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter? God considers what is the desire, the will. What do you want to do? You know that if left to yourself you want to have your own way. When our will is in conflict with the will of God, then it is certain we are going wrong. We have, therefore, to watch that our will is in perfect unison with the will of God, and that the will of God so dwells in us that we want just to do what He would have us do.

For instance, if we plan a picnic, and there comes on a fearful storm so that we cannot go, we accept the situation. We do not storm and rage and worry ourselves about it, but quietly accept the circumstances. Our will was to go, but there was another Will that we should not go, and the Higher Will is best. I subject my will to His and there is but one, for the will in me coincides with the will above. When it is like this with me I am walking in the steps of Jesus Christ. This is serving in newness of spirit.

If you want to see an example of the person who serves in the oldness of the letter, and the awful warning he is to us, go into the temple where the Pharisee and the Publican are, and listen to what the Pharisee has to say to his God, "God, I thank thee that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, and give tithes of all that I possess." He was serving in the oldness of the letter, and perfectly contented with himself. But we are to serve in newness of spirit, that spirit which is ready and anxious to do anything that God tells us to do.

It behoves us to watch that our wills are brought into line with the will of God. But you say, How can I know what is the will of God? Referring again to the picnic, you might not be able to find out from the scripture whether the proposed affair was the will of God or not. But I can find out from the inspired writings that it is the will of the Lord Jesus that I should remember Him in His death by eating bread and drinking wine, and that this is the special and accredited way of remembering Him. And learning His will in this respect, if I fail to obey, how can I be serving in the newness of the spirit? I read my Bible to find what the Lord expressly desires me to do. Having learned what is His will, it rests upon me to be obedient to His word.

And then again, when I come to His table, how do I take part in the service? How do I serve Him in this respect — in newness of spirit or in oldness of letter? When the bread comes to me I take my piece, and when the wine comes I take my sip, and then go home. If there is nothing more, I have done it all in the oldness of the letter. If I have not realised the presence of Christ, I am not serving in newness of the spirit. He wants the best of me, the heart, the spirit, and so I am called to serve in that special way not in a legal formal fashion, but in newness of spirit.

In the latter part of this chapter we have a very important subject. There are those who speculate as to whether the person referred to is an unbeliever or not. One thing we know without doubt — that the man is in a great predicament and cannot get out of it. He wants to do something and finds he cannot. He tries and tries, and fails every time. There is sin dwelling in him. There are two conflicting principles. He feels, I do not do the wrong thing wilfully, and yet I do do it. I dare say there are persons here who can remember such times in their histories.

When I was a young Christian I certainly "went through" the seventh of Romans. I remember that shortly after my conversion a venerable person at a meeting of young believers read the verses we have read tonight, and looking over the top of his spectacles, said, "Remember now, that is a true Christian's experience." I could not understand it. It seemed to me there was something wrong about this statement; but still I was young, and knew very little.

Afterwards, however, I found the truth of this scripture produced in my own experience, for I felt that though I knew through God's grace a great deal about the love of God to me, I also knew that I was far worse than I formerly thought I was, yet in spite of that I still felt God's love was towards me, and that God's love was something far greater than it had yet entered my heart to conceive. But my misery was that there was not a sufficient response in my heart to that love, and the more I tried to amend, the worse I seemed to get.

I turned my condition over in my mind for a time, and the difficulties grew greater, and I felt that I was not fit to go to the meetings, and I did not go. I stayed at home and read my Bible, and I wrote down my miserable experience which I believe I have to this day. If I were to produce the paper, it would be my version of the seventh of Romans, that is, I felt that I was not doing what I ought to do. I felt I was not living as a Christian ought to live, and yet I was trying to do so; and this was my puzzle.

This was exactly what this person expresses here, he does not know where to turn for deliverance until he prays. He says, I cannot deliver myself from this body of death, "O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me?" and then he gets the answer, "I thank God through Christ Jesus our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin."

I found that the same One Who died for my sins was alive to give me the very power that I had been seeking in vain to find in my own heart. I had been trying to keep myself, help myself, work myself up into a fine frame of mind, and I failed. It was trying in my own strength, and I found that I was not strong enough to combat my own heart. I wonder how many persons here tonight have proved the same thing for themselves. It is a very real experience to find that you have no strength. The person who has proved that, never fails to cry to God, and he is never disappointed. It is the person who tries to live in his own way, and by his own endeavours, that fails and becomes miserable, and it is the greatest of blessings that he does become miserable, because if he were happy in such a state as that, how could he live to the glory of God?

No, beloved friends, what we have to prove in this world is that "without Christ we can do nothing." We need Him every step of the journey and we have to find this out in some way or the other. The truth is that in the heart of the converted person there is 'begotten a new nature entirely, something which is absolutely new and of God. That new will, that new desire within him is that which loves God and desires to do the will of God, cares for the name of Christ, delights in the things that appertain to obedient service to God. At the same time there is the evil will, the disobedient heart that still loves evil and hankers after the things of this world. Thus there are two desires, two wills as it were, side by side, and if you don't get something beside these then you will make no progress at all in your Christian career.

One danger is that when persons find themselves in circumstances where they have no christian associations, the old nature prevails, because to some extent we are helpers one of another. There is a fellow-feeling between Christians, and they exercise a certain amount of helpful influence towards one another, often by their very presence. But imagine a person taken right away from such surroundings and suddenly robbed of all outside help; then is the trying moment. Will he fight his own battles? Will he haul down the colours and sail under false ones? Then is the testing time, and once the wrong step is taken, it is so difficult to get right again, because shame comes in, and shame always carries a person away from Christ. I mean false shame. But if there is confession to God of personal weakness, and also where there is bold confession before men of the name of Christ, then Christ comes in, and by His power gives needed and effectual help fore the conflict.

"O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" "I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord." He gives the necessary power and help, and all that is required to live and walk for Him in this world. And hence the apostle concludes, "So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin."

I leave these words with you. I know the subject is difficult, and we need to come to it over and over again to understand it, but it is given for our enlightenment and help in the things that appertain to our own hearts and the things that arise up within us. It is needful to watch and pray, but not necessarily always to be examining what is within us. If we look off unto Jesus the Author and Completer of faith, then we shall see the source of real power. His hand will keep and preserve us, as His heart is ever towards us. W.J.H.