O Wretched Man That I Am! Who Shall Deliver Me?

Romans 7  •  13 min. read  •  grade level: 7
Romans 7
How often do we find a soul in the state which is in the Apostle’s mind in the closing verses of Romans 7! And how often is it judged to be the proper healthy state in which a soul should be! To be sure, the deep work which we find there is most useful to be learned in the conscience, but we should ever remember that it is not proper Christian experience at all. It is plain enough that the soul there is awakened to the sense, more or less deeply, of what it is in God’s sight, and even this is blessed. It is so blessed to see consciences searched to the very deepest depths by whatever means the Lord uses to this end. There never is a true work of God done in the soul till this is so. Many and many a “stony ground” hearer has had a thorough intellectual knowledge of the Gospel, without a single bit of conscience, or life towards God. What a solemn truth for many a heart. May such be led to see to it that they have more than an intellectual interest in the Gospel of God’s grace. Many a soul who has had views of the salvation of God in the Gospel, as clear and as correct as might be, will be found as those of whom the Lord Jesus says, “Depart from me, I never knew you.”
This is not the case however in Romans 7. There it is the feelings of a conscience which is thoroughly searched and awakened, but miserable, Occupied entirely with self, and the claims of the law upon a man alive in the flesh, and responsible before God, and not possessing any knowledge of Christ as a Savior, or enjoying the Spirit of adoption. It is not the state of a dead sinner, but of a quickened soul before deliverance, groaning under the sense of the nature of sin within it, which is so twisted round the heart, that when it would do good, evil only is present with it.
Just picture a friend on a bed of sickness, groaning and writhing in pain. Well, you say, “he is not dead — he is alive; but that is a poor way of showing that he is alive.” So with the soul here, it is not dead. It is alive; but if alive, it should be happy to be in health: and not be showing that it is alive in such a miserable way as this.
There is an order too, in the discovery of self which we find here. For it is really the discovery of a nature, which the soul makes. It is not the fruits of that nature, or the sins which have come from the root within. It is (the discovery of) the nature and principle —the root of sin, which we find twisted round the heart, desolating it under the thought that, while I would desire to do the good, and delight to do it, I am unable to do it, for sin is present with me. But what happiness to discover even so far as we find in Romans 7:1717Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. (Romans 7:17), that “it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.” That I have a nature apart from, and wholly distinct from the sinful principle which I find wrought into my very heart’s core. A nature which consents to the law that it is good, and hates the evil of which the other nature alone is capable. This is the first step of the soul here, but a step that is on the way to better things. How blessed for a soul that has been writhing under the sense of its own sinfulness, to make this discovery. To find out that what I thought was myself, was in truth only the workings of a bad, and hopelessly bad nature, which the possession of a good nature only brought to light. Blessed to discover that I have a better nature, which has the desire to do the right, even though I find that it has no power over the workings of the old.
But if I have made this discovery of two natures, I must find out something more. I discover that even this new nature has got no power to combat with, and contend with, the evil and bad nature. And that while “to will is present with me, how to perform that which is good I find not.” That even when with heart and soul I would do good, evil is present with me. That the law, or tendency, of the bad nature, “brings me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.” I have discovered a new nature, but oh, desolating discovery, it has got no power, it cannot struggle successfully against the evil nature to which I am a captive. What then am I to do? Ah, there is the secret out. You want to Do! You want to get victory and peace by progress over this bad nature, and thus be delivered. Well, you never will get peace thus. If you did, you would be congratulating yourself for the victory. “What then must I learn?” you would say. “I have learned that I have got two natures. I have learned that the good nature has got no power in itself. What is now to be done?” “I am a wretched man, WHO SHALL DELIVER ME?” Ah, yes, now you have come to the end of yourself: you do not ask now “what shall I do?” You have discovered that you can do nothing — that you must have some one else to come in and deliver you — that you cannot deliver yourself. You have been like one floundering about in a quagmire — every plunge for deliverance only putting you deeper; instead of getting you out. You have now come to the end of your strength — the end of yourself; and to the conclusion when there, that you cannot deliver yourself — that you must have another to deliver you. Blessed discovery. When the soul is driven, as it were, to the cry, “O, wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” — It is not now, What shall I do? but the cry of a soul that has consciousness that it can do nothing to get free, and that it must have another to do for it — another to deliver! And the moment the soul is there it discovers the soul-emancipating truth that all is done; and already it is thanking God for deliverance, “I thank God, through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Yes, it has found that it was when we were without strength, in due time when this had been thoroughly proved, Christ died for the ungodly — that He had been down in the very depths in sin-bearing and judgment on account of sin — that what the law could not do, that is, give deliverance, or bring to God. God has done. How? He sent His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, a sacrifice for sin; and He condemned sin in the flesh! condemned what He could not pardon, that is, the nature of sin which was twisted and knotted round the heart of the groaner of Romans 7:2424O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? (Romans 7:24); and now, instead of the law of sin in his members. bringing him into captivity, it is the law of the Spirit of life (in resurrection) in Christ Jesus, has made him free from the law of sin and death.
The deliverance is complete, and he is thanking God through Jesus Christ. But the natures remain and their tendencies are unaltered — this he learns in Romans 7:2525I 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. (Romans 7:25). “So, then, with the mind, (the new nature which he alone acknowledges as himself) I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.” Not that he does serve it, but the characteristic tendencies of each are discovered; and he only speaks of the “the flesh” as an evil thing to be treated as an enemy and overcome.
It is remarkable that when the soul is in this state before the knowledge of deliverance, that it is all self — I, I, I — which occupies him. The passage shows us the soul under the breaking-up process under law, or the pressure of God’s claims upon a man in himself, still looking upon itself as a man alive in the flesh. This condition the apostle looks upon as a bygone thing to the Christian in Romans 7:55For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death. (Romans 7:5), “When we were in the flesh,” that is, when we were alive as children of Adam, and responsible in such a state to God. But the Christian is dead. He has died to, and from under, the law, by the body of Christ. Having died to that wherein he was held (vs. 6, read margin, which is correct), in coming into a new state in Christ risen from the dead, he might be to another, even to Christ risen from the dead, and thus, and thus only, bring forth fruit unto God. He is not now in the flesh — it is a bygone state. “When we were in the flesh.” Just as we would say, “When we were in such or such a place, in which we are not now.” He is now in the Spirit. “Ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit” (Rom. 8:99But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. (Romans 8:9)). Romans 8:1-111There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. 2For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. 3For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: 4That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. 5For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. 6For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. 7Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. 8So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. 9But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. 10And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you. (Romans 8:1‑11)is the answer, in deliverance, to the cry, “Oh! wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me” and it goes on, as verse 11 shows, even to the deliverance of the body, or the dust of the saints, which is raised because of the Spirit of God having dwelt in their bodies. And in treating of this deliverance, notices by the way the natures concerned in it —the carnal mind and the spiritual mind.
The great secret of our Christian position is, that we are not alive “in the flesh” at all. The death and blood-shedding of Christ has met our whole condition as sinners, whether as regards the nature of sin which is in us, or the fruits of that nature — sins, and has put it away. But He was not only thus delivered for our offenses — He was also raised up from the dead. God raised Him up from the dead, after He was perfectly glorified by Christ on the cross, as to sin. Every moral character of God was exhibited there. God then comes in and raises Him up from among the dead, and brings Him into a new place in resurrection, and the believer, whose case as a sinner was met in the death of Christ, passes by faith into a new place in Christ risen. Thus, as dead with Christ, he is discharged or freed, as is Christ Himself, from sin. His business, then, is to reckon himself dead. To act upon this, and to count himself alive unto God in Christ risen from the dead. Thus he gets power over sin, over Satan’s power, who only can deal with the old nature. The law has lost its claim over him too. It applied to his fallen nature, and to it only. It forbade the lusts of a heart which had departed from God. By the law was the knowledge of sin. It pursued its claims upon him, as a man alive in the flesh, as far as the cross; then, having died with Christ, it can pursue him no farther. He has become dead to the law by the body of Christ. He has been delivered from the law, having died to that wherein he was held. Therefore, when the apostle comes to Romans 8:11There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. (Romans 8:1), he sees the Christian in a new place — in Christ. Therefore, he says there is no condemnation for those who are there. How could there be? Christ had been in death and sin-bearing, had fully met the judgment of God on sin and sins. The wrath of God had discharged itself fully upon His head — the justice of God had been satisfied. He had come forth out of that place in resurrection — how, then, could there be any condemnation to those who are in Him They are in a new place, to which these things do not belong. The law of the spirit of life in Him hath set them free from that which, as children of the first Adam, fallen and estranged from God, they had been subjected — even from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do — it could condemn the sin, but without delivering the sinner. It could, and it did, discover the sin, and prohibit it —and, finding it there, it could and did establish the distance between God and the sinner —but it could not give life, or bring to God — well, what the law could not do, God has done. He has sent His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and as a sacrifice for sin. He has condemned the nature that could not be pardoned, that is, “Sin in the flesh.” I forgive my child for its fault, but I do not forgive the nature from which it came. So with God — He forgives the sins, but not the nature from which they came. So He condemns what He could not pardon. Thus the holy requirements of the law, its righteousness, are fulfilled in us who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit; never by being under it. And thus God has brought us to Himself in Christ.
The conflict, or breaking-up process, of Romans 7 is that of the flesh under law. There is no knowledge of Christ as a Deliverer, a Savior, known in the soul as such; and the Spirit of Christ is not there. It has been confounded with the conflict of Galatians 5:1717For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. (Galatians 5:17), and wrongly. There, it is the conflict between the flesh and the spirit which goes on. And there we find, “If we walk in the Spirit, we shall not fulfill the lusts of the flesh.” And, “If we are led of the Spirit, we are not under law” at all. “The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary, the one to the other, so that ye may not (this is the force) do the things that ye would.” The whole context and teaching of the passage shows that living and walking in the Spirit, which is the proper Christian state, enables us to overcome the workings of the flesh, and walk in the liberty of grace. Therefore, where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty (2 Cor. 3:1717Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. (2 Corinthians 3:17)). No more the groanings of a soul under bondage, but entire and perfect liberty. A liberty for the new man to live unto God.
Words of Truth 1:192-197.