Sunday, April 25, 2010

Romans 6 & 7

I've started reading Darby again in the last few months. I'm on Collected Writings, Vol. 26. The volume starts with several articles on Romans, which has been good reading.

So naturally my thoughts have been on Romans in the last couple weeks. Hence my post about Newell on Romans 6.

I wanted to make a quick note about Romans 6 & 7 too. I remember the question coming up many years ago, of why Romans 7 comes after Romans 6. I never had a good answer, but I felt like there was something there, if only I could see it. While I've not had any sort of epiphany, I think I have a slightly better understanding of it now.

The progression of Romans starts in chapter 1, around verse 18. The first 17 verses (give or take) are more or less introductory. Starting in Romans 1:18 are a series of arguments that go pretty much to the last chapter. So the first few chapters go something like this:

  1. v. 1:18--1:32 the moral history of the Gentiles is traced from knowledge of God to complete depravity.

  2. v. 2:1--2:16 the condition of the moralist is considered. This is the person who recognizes heathen darkness, and eschews it: whether a Jew, or an enlightened Gentile.

  3. v. 2:17--3:20 demonstrate that the Jews are just as wicked as the Gentiles. While the Jews have God's law, they fail to live up to it. v. 2:12 is really the key to the first three chapters: Gentiles had no law and were lawless; Jews had the Law and were transgressors. So v. 3:19 declares "those under the Law" as wicked as the heathen at the end of chapter 1. Thus, "every mouth might be stopped".

  4. v. 3:21--4:25 introduce "righteousness by faith". The last 11 verses of chapter 3 introduce justification by faith alone through Christ alone; chapter 4 develops the concept from the life of Abraham in Genesis.

  5. v. 5:1--5:11 give the consequences of justification by faith alone in Christ alone, and introduce two new words into the argument: "love" (vv. 5 & 6) and "salvation" ("saved" in v. 10).

  6. v. 5:12--v. 5:21 begin a new discussion: the discussion of sin, rather than sins. Sin is demonstrated to have come into the world through Adam's disobedience, through which we have all become sinners. So while the first three chapters contain the complete picture of depravity, it's not until chapter 5 that the concept of man's sinfulness is really discussed. Chapters 1--3 tell us what man is, chapter 5 tells us what causes it. It's not just that [Gentiles and Jews alike] sin, but that they are actually sinners. The bad behaviour is actually the symptom of the bad heart.

So chapter 6 starts with asking the question that dangles at the end of chapter 5: If God has grace on sinners, and if His grace over-abounds where sin abounds, shouldn't we just go on sinning? And chapter 6 is an ontological argument against the line of reasoning. No you shouldn't, it goes, because you're no longer sinners. We were once sinners, but we've been crucified with Christ. We were once sinners, but now we're dead to sin so that we can walk in newness of life. We were once sinners, but now we're dead to sin and alive to God.

Then we read chapter 7, and we read the awful description of vv. 14--16, "for not what I will, this I do; but what I hate, this I practise." This really sounds like it belongs before chapter 6, doesn't it? Chapter 6 tells us we're dead to sin (v. 11) and "free from sin" (vv. 7 & 18). So what's the deal with Romans 7? Why the apparent step back?

I think there are two parts to the answer. The first is Newell's answer: Romans 7 introduces the idea of "Law as a rule of life" and demonstrates it doesn't work. Notice the introductory argument in vv. 4--6: we are "dead to the Law by the body of Christ". The Law was given to sinners to show them they're sinners (v. 3:20). To attempt to live up to it as one who is justified by faith is really pointless: you've already learned the lesson. And while we are crucified with Christ and are thus dead to sin, there is still certainly sin in our flesh (vv. 17--18) and the Law manages to ferret it out and get it to respond. This is what the Law was for: to reveal sin. "By the Law is the knowledge of sin". I'm justified by faith alone in Christ alone: I am not liable for sin in God's sight. But there is still sin in my flesh, and the Law draws it out. That's what vv. 9--11 teach.

So Newell says, the whole Romans 7 experience can just be avoided by not trying to keep the Law:
Therefore this conflict of Paul’s, instead of being an example to you, is a warning to you to keep out of it by means of God’s plain words that you are not under law but under grace.

But now you will adopt one of two courses: either you will read of and avoid the great struggle Paul had, under law, to make the flesh obedient by law,—with its consequent discovery of no good in him, and no strength; with his despairing cry, “Who shall deliver me?” and the blessed discovery of deliverance through our Lord Jesus Christ and by the indwelling Spirit: and this is, of course, the true way,—for you are not under law. It is the God-honoring path, for it is the way of faith. It is the wisest, because in it you profit by the struggle and testimony of another, written out for your benefit.

The second course, (and alas, the one followed by most in their distress and longing after a holy life), is to go through practically the same struggle as Paul had,—until you discover for yourself experimentally what he found.
(Romans, Verse-by-verse, Chapter 8)

But Romans 7 teaches something else too, and it's very important to grasp it. Romans 6 teaches that we have died with Christ so that we're now dead to sin. This is a wonderful and freeing thing. I am dead to sin, I am alive to God. But Romans 7 introduces us to a new word "flesh". There is something in us that Romans calls the flesh: "in me, that is, in my flesh, good does not dwell" (v. 7: 18). I am justified by faith alone in Christ alone. I am dead to sin. But I find when I look at myself, there is indwelling sin. And worse, I find I am utterly powerless over it. This is the lesson of Romans 7.

And how does the struggle with the flesh end? When he gives up in vv. 23--25 and realizes he can't fix it. When he realizes it's bigger than he is, and looks for a Deliverer.

Romans 8 fully develops the theme of indwelling sin and brings it to fruition in vv. 1--27. We are justified by faith alone in Christ alone (chapter 5). We are dead to sin (chapter 6). But we find sin still lives in our flesh (chapter 7). But Romans 8:1--27 assures us, we're not done yet. Our sinful and mortal bodies will some day be resurrected, and then we'll be free from sin's presence. We are waiting for "the redemption of the body" (v. 23). That day's coming: we're waiting for it, because it hasn't happened yet (vv. 24--25).

And we might notice the word "body" in each chapter. Chapter 6 talks about the "body of sin", chapter 7 calls it the "body of death", and chapter 8 calls it our "mortal body". There is a progression: sin in the flesh will inevitably lead to death. We're waiting for our bodies to be redeemed, so that we can be as free from sin's presence as we are from sin's guilt and sin's power.

There's one more difference I see between Romans 6 and Romans 7. Romans 6 starts out with the question of willful sin, "Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?". The question there is, since grace over-abounds, why not get more grace by sinning more? Romans 7 introduces a new idea: involuntary sin. This is not the sin we set our minds to, this is the sin we find ourselves committing over and over. Even though we may hate it, and even though we hate ourselves for doing it, we find we just keep doing it. That's the struggle in vv. 19--21

19* For I do not practise the good that I will; but the evil I do not will, that I do.
20* But if what *I* do not will, this I practise, it is no longer *I* that do it, but the sin that dwells in me.
21* I find then the law upon *me* who will to practise what is right, that with *me* evil is there.

So I don't have many answers. But I think Romans 7 comes after Romans 6 because the discovery of sin in the flesh is really a very different thing from being dead to sin. When man sinned, he fell from the inside out. His spiritual death preceded his physical death by a long time. God saves us the same way. First He justifies, then He transforms us, inside-out. He fixes us inside, and some day He'll fix the outside too.

We can't really learn Romans 7 if we don't have Romans 6. There's no real way to understand indwelling sin when we haven't yet grasped our death to sin. We need to learn we've died with Christ so that we can say "it is no longer *I* that do it, but the sin that dwells in me" (Romans 7:17).

And I think that is why Romans 7 comes after Romans 6.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Newell on Romans 6

Romans 6 is an interesting chapter in what is probably the most theological book in the Bible. It's the chapter that deals with the believer's death with Christ. Over the past fifteen or so years, I've glanced at various commentaries and books to see how they deal with Romans 6. There seem to be a few main schools of thought on the chapter, and each has some good points. But eventually each one ends up contradicting Scripture on some point, big or small.

So when I read Newell's commentary on Romans 6 in Romans Verse-by-verse, I was overjoyed. He does an excellent job of explicating the chapter. In my opinion, he goes right through the passage, avoiding the traps that we all seem to fall into.

Most importantly, he correctly differentiates between the old man and the flesh:
The word our indicates that what is said, is said of and to all those who are in Christ. The expression “our old man,” of course is a federal one, as also is “the new man.” The “old man,” therefore, is not Adam personally, any more than the “new man” is Christ personally. Also, we must not confuse the “old man” with “the flesh.”

This is a point of tremendous importance, it lies at the root of a lot of misunderstanding of this passage. He goes on to list four differences between the old man and the flesh. I was pleased to see his mention of Galatians 5: there is a crucifixion of the flesh, but it's taught in very different terms than the crucifixion of the old man.

Not to get on one of my hobby horses, but this distinction is very carefully maintained in Scripture. If we're not careful to maintain it ourselves, we end up in a bad spot. Particularly in Romans, the old man isn't mentioned after chapter 6, the flesh isn't mentioned until chapter 7. They're quite distinct. I think it's obvious in Romans 6 that the old man is something we were while the flesh is something we have.

The problem with equating them is that we have to choose between eradicationism (i.e. the believer is free not only from sin's guilt and sin's power, but also from sin's presence) and the strict "two-naturism" (really positionalism) more common among "brethren" and mainstream evangelicals, where the old man is "kinda-sorta-but-not-really" dealt with. The former leads into real trouble once we get into Romans 7 and Galatians 5, the latter leads to trying to "die to self". There's nothing good down that path.

So I was delighted that Newell is careful with that distinction. Sadly, even Darby seemed to get those mixed up. F. W. Grant seems to have done a better job of maintaining the Scriptural distinction.

I think Newell gets the body of sin right too. I've heard all sorts of explanations where the body of sin is just the sum total of sin. Even Darby takes that interpretation. It seems obvious to me that the body of sin is the unredeemed body. We are justified, we are crucified with Christ, we are to walk in newness of life; but our bodies are yet unredeemed. When the Lord Jesus comes to get us, we will be changed. That is the "redemption of the body" in Romans 8. In fact, that is one of the main arguments of Romans 8.

So I've been delighted to read his comments on Romans 6. I'd started to wonder whether I was totally in left field... it seems no matter whose comments I read on that chapter, I kept shaking my head. And my understanding of the chapter has really increased with Newell's help.

Because I tend to see the chapter ontologically instead of positionally, I needed to be reminded that there is a definite positional aspect to it. The old man really is a federal thing. I've been far too personal in my understanding of that term. It's as a positional thing that it's mentioned in Ephesians 4. I'd really lost sight of that.

So I'm as enthusiastic as ever I was in endorsing Newell's book on Romans. And I'm kicking myself again for letting it sit on my bookshelf for twelve years. Imagine such an excellent book gathering dust for all that time...

Monday, April 19, 2010

Looking up

I visited a small gathering of Christians in Tacoma for the second week in a row. I'm optimistic.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

See to yourselves

I noticed these paragraphs while reading Darby's article on Acts last night. I wanted to share this, it's really good.

The object of faith is the person of the Lord Jesus, and the redemption accomplished by Him; and all believers, reaping the benefits of this work, are saved. Now one investigates and scrutinises in order to know whether one has faith in the heart, and whether it be true faith. We all pass more or less through this state, but true peace is never to be found there. It is perhaps, however, useful in humbling us, and teaching us that in us dwells no good thing. But we are not called upon to believe in the faith which is in us, but to believe in Christ Jesus; and God declares that all believers are justified, and have eternal life. I do not examine my eyes to know whether I see, but look at the object before them, and know that I see. People quote the passage in 2 Corinthians 13: 5; but those who do so deceive themselves, leaving out the correct beginning of the passage, "Since ye seek a proof of Christ speaking in me, . . . examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith." The apostle shews them their folly in doubting his true apostleship. If Christ had not spoken by him, since they had received his word, how was it that he had been the means of their conversion? For the same reason he continues to inquire, "Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you?" Christ therefore had spoken by his mouth. There were many proofs of his apostleship. Here he shews them their stupidity, because if he were not an apostle, they would not be Christians. Of their conversion they had no doubt. If we examine ourselves to know whether we walk as Christians, we do well; but if we do so to know whether we are Christians, it is not according to the word.

Faith looks towards Jesus, not towards self. The experience of the examination of the heart, in order to discover what passes there to make one believe, leads us to see that it is impossible thus to find peace, or even victory, for we are looking at what is behind us; but when we are convinced of this, the answer of God is there - He has given salvation in Christ, and he who believes is justified. The Lord says, "Thy sins are forgiven; go in peace, thy faith hath saved thee," Luke 7. The woman looked to Jesus, and believed His word, not thinking of the state of her own heart. The state of her heart, the conviction that she could not find peace and salvation in herself, led her to look to Jesus, and in Him she found peace. The gospel gives the answer of God to the heart clearly and fully. "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved."

I learn by experience that in me dwells no good thing, and that I have not the strength to conquer. I cease to look towards myself, as though I could become better. The flesh is always there; the will may be good (in a converted man), but practice does not correspond to will. Not amendment, but salvation, is needful to us: and that we possess in Christ by faith, and, in salvation, peace. Being unable to accomplish justice in ourselves, we submit to the justice of God. By the faith that Christ Himself is our justice before God, we learn by experience what we are ourselves. This experience is itself the fruit of the work of the word by the Spirit in the heart; but by this we learn that we are lost, that, looking to Christ, we are saved. "Believe, and thou shalt be saved." Good works are what suit the position we then occupy. It is the same in human relationships of children, wives, servants; it is necessary to be in the relationship, or the duties do not exist. When we are saved, we become the sons of God, and then we find the duty of sonship; but it cannot exist before we are sons. The duty of man as the creature of God existed, but on that ground we are lost. Christian duty does not begin till we are Christians.

("Meditations on the Acts of the Apostles" Collected Writings of J. N. Darby, Vol. 25. Emphasis added.)

Great Day!

So I just got back from visiting a gathering here in town. I mentioned before meeting a guy at work who reads the same books I read. Well, it turns out he meets with some Christians in town. He invited me out to the gathering, and I went this morning.

My overall impression is very positive. I've been down this path before, so I'm a lot more cautious now. I tend to rein in my enthusiasm a little more, having been burned. But from one morning's visit, this really seems to be what I've been looking for.

I won't say too much more right now, but I'd really, really appreciate prayer from everyone on this.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Book Recommendation

I've been reading a lot more this year. These things are cyclical: I go months without picking up a book, then I pound out several in a flurry of prosaic activity. Even my Bible reading is that way.

At any rate, I decided to finish Volume 25 of Darby's Collected Writings, so I've been working at it off and on since February. Vol. 25 is an "expository" volume, so it's mainly exposition of Scripture. I find topical writing a lot easier to read, but I've been reading Darby in order, so I just had to muscle through it.

I'm glad I did.

The last two "articles" in the book are an exposition of John's gospel (Part 1, and Part 2) and "Meditations on the Acts of the Apostles" (Parts 1, 2, 3, 4 , and 5).

These are well worth the read.

It's interesting that my actual Bible reading caught up with me on this one. So I read the "Meditations on the Acts of the Apostles" today, having read Acts last weekend. And I started reading Darby's notes on John just before I read John, and finished a few days after I finished it.

What I love about reading Darby is, he really knows his Bible. Inevitably when I read Scripture I sit upright and say, "I didn't know it said that." I mean, every time. You'd think by now I'd know what it says. But Darby always seems to hit that phrase or verse I didn't know existed.

So when I was asked a few weeks back about when specifically Paul was wrong, and I responded: "I realize I'm in a minority here, but I've examined this one time and again, and I keep concluding that he should have left well enough alone." It turns out I'm in good company.

This last read through Acts, I noticed Acts 21:4, "And having found out the disciples, we remained there seven days; who said to Paul by the Spirit not to go up to Jerusalem." Notice the disciples by the Spirit told Paul not to go to Jerusalem. But Paul goes anyway, and it all unravels from there. So I'm still sure Paul was wrong to claim his Roman citizenship, and he was definitely wrong to rail against the high priest. But really, the root cause was that he went to Jerusalem in the first place. Darby notices this, and really demonstrates how this mis-step leads Paul into several problems. But at the same time, he points out God's sovereignty in the whole situation, and Paul's courage and faithfulness when caught in a bad situation; even though it was his own fault.

But even disregarding the last few chapters, it's worth reading this paper. It's not too obtuse, even though it's long.

In his comments on John, he makes some interesting conclusions about John 21 with regard to the roles of the Apostles. I noticed several years ago that John really wraps up the Apostolic era by writing the last seven epistles to the seven churches in Asia. Paul had been in Ephesus for three years, and had written at least two epistles to Ephesus (Ephesians and 1 Timothy, possibly 2 Timothy); and we know from Colossians 4 that the Laodiceans were in possession of at least one, probably two of his epistles. So they were Paul's turf, so to speak.

Darby notices this too, and points out the unique character of John's epistles as being the epistles of the "last days". Paul looked forward to the "last days" in Acts 20 and 2 Timothy. John wrote during those last days, exhorting and encouraging us who live in them. (As a side note, I equated the "last days" in Hebrews 1 with the "last days" in 1 John a couple years ago, but I now think I was wrong. I think Hebrews is talking about something else.) I found Darby's comments on this very insightful, if not very detailed. I intend to look more into this later.

Finally, I finished reading my Bible today. I get to start a new Bible reading project now, which is always exciting. I have an idea what I want to do next, but I want to consider it very carefully before going public. I'm making it a policy to read each of my Bibles through from Genesis to Revelation at least once... I still have a couple I haven't read through completely, but I think I'm going to go back to my ESV for this next round. I've already read it through once, but I want to use it for my next experiment. Of all my bibles, it's the easiest to read. Not the best to study from by any stretch, but the easiest to just sit and read several chapters at a time.

I essentially stopped "Bible study" several years ago in favour of reading from Genesis to Revelation very quickly and repeating the process. I've tried to read through every year, with mixed success. I once read Philippians through Revelation in a single sitting: that might have been too fast.

I've found reading as much as I possibly can in a single sitting is invaluable to really understanding what the Book says. I keep a pencil crayon with me and mark up the pages madly. It's a lot easier to see connections between passages when I read them in large chunks. This way I haven't forgotten what Ezekiel says by the time I get to Romans.

George Mueller supposedly read his Bible four times a year. I've never gotten anything like that pace.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


So I'm in a meeting today with two web developers. I mentioned in passing that I use LaTeX, and that led to me showing off a couple documents I've prepared. I showed them the version of Kelly's Lectures on the Church of God, because it has some Greek and Latin characters that are difficult to represent accurately in a word processor.

One of them says, "You read William Kelly?"

"Oh yeah!" I reply, "Do you?"

"I have all his books," he says, "I like Ironside too."

"My favourite author is J. N. Darby," I respond.

"I have all his books too," says the web developer.

Who'd have guessed? Here I am working at this ultra-liberal university, and it turns out one of the web developers---a web developer!---is reading Kelly, Darby, and Ironside.

This might well be the most exciting morning I've had since moving out here.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Kingdom of God

I've mentioned before my interest in the Kingdom of God. I was struck yesterday as I read through Acts, how frequently the Kingdom of God is mentioned, particularly in the second half of the book. Take, for example, the last two verses:
30* And he [Paul] remained two whole years in his own hired lodging, and received all who came to him,
31* preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching the things concerning the Lord Jesus Christ, with all freedom unhinderedly.
(Acts 28:30--31)