In this issue of Present Truth Magazine we bring together some articles by Luther, Bunyan, Wesley, Spurgeon, Pink and the contemporary English scholar, James D. G. Dunn. In one way or another all these articles relate to the man of Romans 7:14-25 and, we believe, throw some light on this passage. We have also included a section of our own, which tries to put Romans 7:14-25 into perspective by looking at some basic concepts of New Testament theology.
Most of our readers will be well aware that Romans 7:14-25 has a very interesting history of interpretation. Augustine changed his mind about its meaning and found in the passage some very valuable ammunition to oppose Pelagius. The Reformers made great use of it in their opposition to Rome. Many of the Pietists, the Arminians and the Wesleyans defected from the position held by the Reformers. But John Wesley, in his sermon, "Sin in Believers," seems to have changed his stance on Romans 7:14-25. At least his thoughts in this sermon harmonize very well with Luther and Calvin. If Wesley did change his views on Romans 7, he is certainly not the only one who has. This editor would be included in that company too.
In the modern scene the majority of scholars do not hold to the interpretation of the Reformers but agree with the interpretation given by most Roman Catholics. However, the historical side of this matter is not so simple, because Aquinas, one of the greatest Catholic theologians of them all, held the same position on Romans 7:14-25 as did Augustine and the Reformers.
This passage poses some pressing problems which need answering. Those who think that Romans 7:14-25 describes a regenerate Christian need to face the following questions: Did the Reformers and orthodox Protestantism adopt a view of the Christian life and its possibilities which was altogether too negative? If we say that Romans 7:14-25 describes a man like Saint Paul, does this do justice to the freedom and joy of the Spirit-filled life which are often held out as a real possibility in the New Testament? Do not many professed Christians use Romans 7:14-25 to excuse their bondage to their carnal nature instead of rising above it in Christ? Is not Romans 7:14-25 made into a soft pillow on which hypocrites lay their heads? But for a certain view of Romans 7, would not many Christians strive to live on a higher plane of existence?
Nor can those who believe that Romans 7:14-25 describes the man who is less than an ideal Christian escape some serious questions—such as: Will not a gospel which promises only triumphant living result in converts who sooner or later become discouraged or deceitful about their Christian experience? Is there not a real danger of romanticizing the Christian life in such
a way that it does not face realism?
Maybe we are faced with the old question of how to use Scripture skillfully so that it will afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. At least that should be the result when the message of the Bible is correctly handled.
Come, let us reason together.