7:12 holy and righteous and good. The law reflects God’s character (“holy”); it is the objective norm for humanity’s covenantal response to God (“righteous”); and it is beneficial for each one of us personally, since we have been created in the image of God (“good”).
7:12 law is holy Paul praises the law as a good and holy gift from God, since it requires what is right from humanity. He rejects any argument that blames the law as the cause of human sin.
7:12 In light of vv. 7–11, Paul affirms the holiness of the law and the goodness of God’s commands.
7:12 The fact that the law reveals, arouses, and condemns sin, bringing death to the sinner, does not mean that the law is evil (cf. v. 7). Rather the law is a perfect reflection of God’s holy character (cf. vv. 14, 16, 22; Ps 19:7–11) and the standard for believers to please Him.
7:12 — Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good.
The Word of God reveals to us the character of God—His holiness, righteousness, justice, goodness, kindness, and more. As a reflection of Him, the Word both celebrates His perfect nature and reveals to us our own fallen nature.
7:12 The conclusion is that the law as a whole and the individual commandments are holy. Our problem with sin is not the fault of the holy law of God, only of how our sinful nature (vv. 8, 11, 13) responds to the law.
7:12 The law itself is holy, and each commandment is holy and just and good. In our thinking we must constantly remember that there is nothing wrong with the law. It was given by God and therefore is perfect as an expression of His will for His people. The weakness of the law lay in the “raw materials” it had to work with: it was given to people who were already sinners. They needed the law to give them the knowledge of sin, but beyond that they needed a Savior to deliver them from the penalty and power of sin.
7:12. The fourth value is that the law reveals the nature of the Lawgiver. The troublemaker in the death scenario is not the law, but the sin nature, on which Paul is about to pull back the curtain in the second half of the chapter. But here he brings to a conclusion his essential answer to the objector who had asked, “Is the law sin?” (v. 7). Because the law comes from a holy, righteous, and good God, the law itself must reveal those same characteristics, which it does. Is there an unholy commandment to be found among God’s laws? No, because God is holy (Lev. 19:2). Is there an unrighteous commandment to be found among God’s laws? No, because God is righteous (Dan. 9:14). Is there an evil commandment to be found among God’s laws? No, because God is good (Mark 10:18).
7:12 This is Paul’s affirmation of the goodness of the Law. It is not the problem. However Paul’s parallel structure, using “sin” in chapter 6 and “law” in chapter 7, must have upset the legalistic Jewish believers (the weak of 14:1–15:13) in the Roman church.
Ver. 12. Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.
- Its nature. It is—1. Universal in its extent. It is binding at all times, in all places, and upon all. 2. Perpetual in its obligation: it can allow of no change. Other laws, the ceremonial laws, e.g., may be abrogated or altered, but the moral law, being founded upon the Divine nature, knows no change. “Heaven and earth shall pass away,” &c. 3. Perfect in its character. Being the expression and emanation of the perfect nature and will of God, “the law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul.” 4. Spiritual (ver. 14). It comes from God who is Spirit; and it demands of man spiritual obedience. 5. “Holy”; free from all spot and blemish. 6. “Just,” founded upon the eternal principles of right. 7. “Good,” benevolent in its design, tending to promote happiness, and promising life to those that observe it.
- Its excellence and importance. This is implied in its nature; but it will further appear if we consider—1. It was originally implanted in the constitution of man’s nature. A written law was not necessary, for the love of God, the essential principle of this law, was bound up in the constitution of Adam (Gen. 1:27; Rom. 2:15). And it is the purpose of God to replace the law in the position which it originally occupied; to rewrite it upon man’s heart. 2. In the giving of this law at Sinai we see another illustration of its excellence. (1) The law contained in the ten commandments was given directly by word of mouth from God. All the other commandments were given through Moses. (2) It was written twice by the finger of God upon both sides of the tables, perhaps covered the whole of them to show that there was to be no addition or alteration. (3) It was written not upon parchment, but upon stone, to show its perpetual obligation. 3. Our Lord (1) Ever recognised it, vindicated its authority, expounded its import, and enforced it by His own sanction and teaching. (2) Not only taught the law, but practised it, rendering it a perfect and sinless obedience. (3) Honoured it by undergoing the penalty which it threatens against all that break its enactments.
III. Its use. 1. To mankind at large—(1) It exhibits, magnifies, and explains the character of God. (2) It teaches men the principles of right and wrong, and how they are bound to act with reference to God, their neighbour, and themselves. The gospel has in no sense superseded or abrogated the law. It comes in as a supplemental system, saving man from the penalty which the law threatens, and placing man in a position whereby he may render obedience to that law. 2. But whilst saying this a considerable difficulty suggests itself as to the relation of the believer to the law. We find a class of passages which appear to teach its eternal obligation upon all men (Matt. 5; Rom. 3:31; 13:10; James 1:25; 2:8). But we find other passages which appear to teach that the Christian is not under the law (1 Tim. 1:9; Rom. 6:14; 7:6). How are we to understand this? The true believer is not under the law—(1) As a ground of condemnation or as a ground of justification. Inasmuch as Christ has perfectly obeyed the law, and atoned for the law’s breach, that work is imputed and made over to him that believes, so that he is delivered from the condemnation of the law (Rom. 8). So far therefore as his judicial standing before God is concerned, he and the law are altogether separated. (2) In regard to sanctification. When a man believes truly in Christ, he has not only imputed to him the merits of Christ, but he has imparted to him the power of Christ’s new life. He is born again of the Spirit. And where that Holy Spirit is, every desire which He inspires, every principle which He suggests, is holy. The man is no longer under the law as a handwriting against him, for he has its principle implanted in his heart, and he can say, “Oh, how I love Thy law; it is my meditation all the day.” 3. Of what use then is the law to a believer? I answer that if the work of grace were perfected within us, that if we acted in perfect harmony with the instincts and quickenings of the Spirit of God, it would be of no use. But inasmuch as the work of grace is not perfected within us, inasmuch as there is a tendency oftentimes towards evil, the law of God is necessary for him who is not under the law, but under grace. (1) In keeping us under grace. The law not only leads him as to a schoolmaster first of all to Christ, but keeps him trusting in the Saviour. (2) In restraining the believer from sin. There are those who think there is but one motive which ought to influence a Christian’s heart—love, and no doubt perfect love would be enough. But we are not perfect, and therefore, though we are delivered from the fear of bondage and the fear of terror, yet the fear of reverence ought ever to influence the Christian. 4. As regards the unconverted, the law is of great importance. (1) As a restraining principle to keep them back from open and notorious sin. (2) As a convincing principle (ver. 9). (3) As a principle of conversion. “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul.” Use it honestly, prayerfully, perseveringly, and you will find you can have no rest, until it has shut you up into the faith, until it has been the means of driving you to that refuge which is open for the sinner in Christ. (E. Bayley, B.D.)
The law holy and just and good:—Observe—
- The doctrine laid down in my text. 1. The law has different meanings. At one time it stands for the whole religion of Moses; as when the Jews are said to “make their boast of the law.” In another place it means the ceremonies which formed a prominent part of that religion; in which sense “the law had a shadow of good things to come.” But, very frequently the ten commandments are meant, as here. (1) By quoting the tenth commandment in ver. 7, Paul shows that the whole argument relates to the moral law. (2) This allusion also explains the repetition in the text. The whole law, but particularly that commandment to which I have alluded, is “holy, just, and good.” (3) The selection of this particular command shows that Paul viewed it as a spiritual law; extending, not to actions only, but to desires. He never knew what the law was till this tenth commandment came with power to his conscience; e.g., the sixth, he thought, forbad only actual murder; the seventh, actual adultery; the eighth, actual stealing. But when at length it was said, “Thou shalt not covet,” he then perceived that even the desire of things forbidden was sinful. 2. What, then, is the doctrine laid down by St. Paul concerning this heart-searching law? (1) It is holy. (a) The things which it forbids are evil; the dispositions which it requires are excellent. (b) By what standard shall we estimate holiness and unholiness? There is none other but the will and character of God. Those actions and dispositions which are agreeable to His nature, and which resemble His inimitable perfections, are holy; those of a contrary kind are unholy. God’s law is the very copy of His own Holy character; were it perfectly obeyed man would be holy, as God is holy. (2) It is just. (a) God could require nothing short of this. Anything less than entire purity of heart is not only different from God’s nature, but directly opposed to it. We may, without offence, be less wise or powerful; but it is impossible to admit the thought of His consenting that we shall be less holy. God made man “in His own image, and after His own likeness”; “God made man upright.” Was it unreasonable to require that man should preserve this holy likeness? (b) But you may object that we have now lost our original likeness to God; and that it is therefore no longer just to demand from us perfect obedience. But God’s rights cannot be diminished by any change in our condition. A bankrupt has lost the power of paying his debts; yet it is still just in the creditor to demand them, especially when, as is the case with men, the bankruptcy is the result of wickedness. (3) It is good. The whole of it tends to our welfare. If we had never broken it, there would have been no such thing as sorrow; and, if men would govern their hearts and lives by it, the world’s miseries would soon have an end. For what is the sum and substance of its requirements? Love to God above all, love to our neighbour as to ourselves. Now we know that love is happiness. The joys of heaven will consist of perfect love to God, and the mutual love of each other.
- Its practical uses. Learn—1. A lesson of the deepest self-abasement. The law, when first given to man, only made known to him his duty; but ever since the fall it has taught “the knowledge of sin.” The law is holy; but what are we? Moreover, the doctrine shuts out all excuse. We cannot complain of the law, for it is just and good. Yet have we all our lives acted contrary to it. 2. A lesson of despair. Whatever it may have been to man in a state of innocence, it is now the ministration of condemnation. It pronounces a curse on every transgressor; it worketh wrath; it has shut us up like prisoners, under a charge of sin so fully proved that it cannot be evaded. From all this let us learn that by the deeds of the law no flesh can be saved. Perfect obedience is necessary if we are to be justified by it. Can you, then, stand up and claim a full acquittal? If once you have sinned your soul is lost. Learn this and you will then be prepared to hear of a Saviour, who hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us, and despair will prove the parent of hope and joy. 3. How you ought to walk and please God. The law is what it ever was, holy, and just, and good. And therefore, though it cannot justify us as a covenant, it must still instruct us as a guide. (J. Jowett, M.A.)
The law holy and just and good:—
- Holy. 1. In principle. 2. In requirement. 3. In operation. 4. In tendency. As a whole and in each commandment it bears the character and expresses the mind and will of Him who is infinitely holy, and requires only what is holy and pure (Micah 6:8).
- Just. It demands what is just and right and nothing more, and requires only what man was made capable of rendering. It tends to promote justice and righteousness everywhere; and secures to each his due—God, our neighbour, ourselves.
III. Good—useful, beneficial, tending to the happiness of man. The commandment broken was Paradise lost; the commandment observed will be Paradise restored. (T. Robinson, D.D.)
The law holy and just and good:—Some think these high characters are given to the law as being holy, in teaching us our duty towards God; just in prescribing our duty towards our neighbour, and good in regard to ourselves. Others thus, the law is holy respecting the matter of it, because it prescribeth holy things; just in propounding rewards and punishments, and good in respect to the end, leading to holiness and happiness. But I think we ought to carry the point much further: all these titles are given to the law, both in relation to the Author, the matter, and the end of the law. The Author of the law is holy, just and good; so is the doctrine or matter contained in the law; and so is the end proposed by the law. (J. Stafford.) The excellence of the law:—Holy in its origin, just in its requirements, good in its purpose. (Archdn. Farrar.)
The holy law:—Holy in its nature, just in its form, good in its end. (T. Robinson, D.D.)
Perfection of the law:—God’s justice is seen in the law given to man as the universal law of his existence. To give law to rational creatures is the prerogative of their Creator, and His law is, by an inevitable consequence, holy, just and good; it neither prohibits nor enjoins anything that is not in the most perfect accordance with the infinite perfections of God and the true and best interests of man. “It represents Him as the Righteous Governor of the universe, whose laws are in perfect consistency with the principles of equity, and whose character is in accordance with His laws. Referring to these principles of morality which are engraven on the heart of man, it declares that they were engraven by the finger of God, and that conscience is His vicegerent, speaking to us in His name, and making known to us the principles of His moral administration. And it unfolds a more copious code of morality, in which the same principles are revealed, for our better information and surer guidance—principles which, being engraven in the book of nature, and revealed in the written Word, are infallibly certain, and ought to be regarded as a true manifestation of the righteous character of Him who is the Author alike of nature and of revelation.” (J. Buchanan.)
The law and the gospel:—
- Their difference. 1. In time and mode of original relation. The law is coeval with creation; the gospel was made known after the fall. The law is discoverable by the light of nature, the gospel is a hidden mystery. 2. The law addresses man as a creature, the gospel as a sinner. 3. Command, the characteristic of the law; promise of the gospel is the promise of life in Christ. Contrast between the covenant of Sinai and the covenant of grace. 4. The law condemns, the gospel justifies. Law only acquits or condemns, mercy is revealed in the gospel. 5. The law requires, the gospel enables. No enabling power in a command; motive and power supplied by the gospel.
- Their harmony. 1. There is no real antagonism. (1) The law prepares the way for the gospel. (2) The gospel fulfils, and so establishes the law. There are two ways of dealing with law, repeal and relaxation. Neither mode supposable in Divine government. How can man be saved and yet the law upheld? Perfect obedience the one condition of life. Christ undertakes for man. Fulfilment in man’s own person. Faith lays hold of precepts as well as promises. The law is a rule of life, written on the heart. The gospel secures its fulfilment for man and in man. (a) Assigns its just place and value to the Law in the Christian scheme. (b) Assigns its just place and value to the gospel. Conclusion; 1. How sure a foundation laid for the believer’s hope. 2. How sure a provision made for the believer’s holiness. (E. Bayley, B.D.)
12. The law … the commandment … The law is the law in its entirety; the commandment is each of the precepts which it comprises (613, according to the traditional reckoning). The law is holy, because God, whose character it reflects and whose will it declares, is himself holy (cf. Lev. 11:45; 19:2).
12. So then the law is indeed holy, &c. Some think that the words law and commandment is a repetition of the same thing; with whom I agree; and I consider that there is a peculiar force in the words, when he says, that the law itself and whatever is commanded in the law, is holy, and therefore to be regarded with the highest reverence,—that it is just, and cannot therefore be charged with anything wrong,—that it is good, and hence pure and free from everything that can do harm. He thus defends the law against every charge of blame, that no one should ascribe to it what is contrary to goodness, justice, and holiness.
7:12 the law is holy. Verse 12 is a concluding statement qualifying verses 1–11 and is reminiscent of verse 7. Here in verse 12, Paul reiterates that the law is not the culprit in bringing about disobedience to God; sin is the perpetrator of disobedience. Rather, the law (the entire law of God to Moses) or commandment (a summary command of that law) is holy, righteous, and good. The law originated from God’s holy character and prescribes just conduct, and it is good because it is applicable to all humanity, proceeding as it does from the ultimate good—God himself.
12 Having shown that the law is the innocent cat’s-paw of sin, Paul can now return and complete the point with which he began the paragraph. “Is the law sin? Of course not! [v. 7a].… The law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good.” Paul introduces this verse as the inference to be drawn from the true role of the law in the history that he has sketched in vv. 7b–11. Paul brings together as essentially parallel terms “law” and “commandment”; both refer to the Mosaic law, the former as a body, the latter in terms of the specific commandment that Paul has cited in v. 7 as representative of the whole. In calling the law “holy,” Paul is not describing its demand for holiness777 but its origin—it was given by the one who is in his nature “holy.” Again, the description “just” may allude to the function of the law, in that it prescribes “just” conduct, or perhaps to the nature of the law, as demanding no more than what is “right.” But the context encourages us to view “just” in accordance with the legal connotation this word group often has in Paul: the law, being holy, “cannot be charged with anything wrong.” “Good,” finally, also denotes the nature of the law, attributing to it that “goodness” which is characteristic, ultimately, of God alone (see Mark 10:18).
Although it is the experience of Israel with the Mosaic law that Paul describes in vv. 7–12, their experience, as we have seen, is symptomatic of that of all people who, in various ways, are confronted with God’s law in its various forms. Thus the failure and death of Israel should serve to remind all of us that salvation can never be earned by doing the law, but only by casting ourselves on the grace and mercy of God in Christ. Augustine says, “God commands what we cannot do that we may know what we ought to seek from him.” And Calvin: “In the precepts of the law, God is but the rewarder of perfect righteousness, which all of us lack, and conversely, the severe judge of evil deeds. But in Christ his face shines, full of grace and gentleness, even upon us poor and unworthy sinners.”780 The experience of Israel with the law should also remind Christians never to return to the law—whether the Mosaic or any other list of rules—as a source of spiritual vigor and growth.
12 “So that the law is holy.” “So that” intimates a conclusion drawn from what precedes. We might have expected, “Nevertheless the law is holy”, in view of the function performed by the law as providing the occasion for sin. But, instead, we have a deduction drawn from verses 7–11 to the effect that the law is holy. What is it that warrants this inference? It is surely the fact that the law intrinsically and originally was unto life and therefore directed to the promotion of what is holy, just, and good. It becomes the occasion of sin only because of the contradiction which inheres in sin both as principle and as principle incited to action. The law is not sinful (vs. 7).
“The law is holy, and the commandment holy, and righteous, and good.” The law itself and in its concrete stipulations is holy. The “commandment”, no doubt, reflects specifically on that mentioned in verse 7, “thou shalt not covet”. But the proposition that it is holy, just, and good applies to every commandment. As holy, just, and good it reflects the character of God and is the transcript of his perfection. It bears the imprint of its author. This, as we shall see, is stated expressly in different terms in verse 14. As “holy” the commandment reflects the transcendence and purity of God and demands of us the correspondent consecration and purity; as “righteous” it reflects the equity of God and exacts of us in its demand and sanction nothing but that which is equitable; as “good” it promotes man’s highest well-being and thus expresses the goodness of God.
12 It is time for the apostle to give a decisive answer to the question he had raised in v. 7: “Is the law sin?” So very far from being identifiable with sin, “the law is holy” (hagios, GK 41), as are the individual commandments it contains. It is possible to understand “the commandment” (hē entolē, GK 1953) as a reference to every single precept of the law, but the singular form leads one to think that Paul is casting a backward glance at the tenth commandment. But what Paul says of that commandment refers equally to the law as a whole. The commandment is “holy” because it comes from a holy God and searches out sin. It is “righteous” (dikaia, GK 1465) in view of the just requirements it lays on humans, and also because it forbids and condemns sin. It is “good” (agathē, GK 19), or beneficent, because its aim is life (v. 10). The misuse of the law at the hands of sin has not altered its own intrinsic character. Its goodness is twice reaffirmed in v. 13. Stuhlmacher, 108, writes, “In contrast to what his opponents maintain, the law is, for Paul, in no way a sinful power, but rather the arrangement and gift of God.”
 Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2005). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (p. 1624). Orlando, FL; Lake Mary, FL: Ligonier Ministries.
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