For the flesh craves what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are opposed to one another, so that you do not do what you want.
I. EVERY MAN HAS TWO SELVES - A HIGHER SELF AND A LOWER SELF.
1. A bad man has his better self. When temptation is away, in calm thoughtful moments, or when he is stricken by mortal illness or bowed with a great sorrow, or perhaps when the beauty of a sunset or the strains of sweet music call up memories of childhood, the true self will rise in the heart of a wicked man with pain and unutterable regrets.
2. A good man has his lower self. The human saint is far removed from the heavenly angel. The body and its appetites are with him; the soul has its meaner powers, its earthly passions, its self-regarding interests. There are times when the spiritual life is dull and feeble; then some sudden temptation, or even without that the depressing atmosphere of the world, will reveal to a man his worse side.
II. THE TWO SELVES ARE IN CONFLICT. They are not content to lie at peace each in its own domain. Both are ambitious to rule the whole man. While the flesh brooks any restraint, the Spirit strives to bring the body into subjection. Thus it comes to pass that life is a warfare and the Christian a soldier. The battle of life is not mainly a fighting against adverse circumstances and external concrete evils of the world. "A man's foes are they of his own household," nay, of his own heart. The great conflict is internal. It is civil war - rebellion and the effort to quell it; of all wars the most fierce.
III. THE CONFLICT BETWEEN THE TWO SELVES IS SUCH THAT EACH IS HELD IN CHECK BY THE OTHER. "Ye cannot do the things that ye would." There is a dead-lock. Each army holds itself safe in its own entrenchments. Neither can turn the enemy's position. Not that there is perfect balance of power. In most of us one or other force gives a temporary advantage. In many the lower self has the upper hand; in many, let us thank God, the better self maintains the supremacy. But neither has the victory that will enable it to drive the other off the field. Bad men, now and again, see yawning before them deep, black pits of wickedness, from the brink of which they start back in horror, arrested by the invisible hand of conscience. No man is wholly bad, or he would cease to be a man - he would be a devil. On the other hand, it is clear to all of us that no good man is wholly good.
IV. IN THE STRENGTH OF THE SPIRIT OF CHRIST THE BETTER SELF OF THE CHRISTIAN WILL ULTIMATELY OBTAIN COMPLETE VICTORY. The stress and strain of the war is but for a time. In the end all enemies shall be subdued. Meanwhile the secret of success is with those who "walk by the Spirit." So great a hope should lighten "the burden of the mystery."
"The heavy and the weary weight
For the flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh.
1. Before the struggle begins. The soul living utterly regardless of any will but his own, any law but his own desires; sin slumbering within him, lying hid and unknown; at peace with himself, and having no idea of his danger. Terrible condition; yet, alas! how many baptized Christians are in it.
2. The struggle going on. The sinner sees what God commands, and tries to obey. Then comes the difficulty. The mind approves one thing, but the flesh strives after another; and alas! how often the flesh comes off victorious.
3. The spirit subduing the flesh. Still a struggle, but by God's grace the good is now conquering the evil, the Holy Spirit dwelling in the heart and making the will strong to persist in following the law of God. Oh, how happy, how blessed a state is this!
4. The struggle over. In the first state there was no struggle, because the evil held undisputed sway. In the second state there was a struggle, but it was the helplessness of the natural man striving in vain to fulfil the law of God. In the third state there is a struggle too, but now it is the grace and power of God striving in us against the rebellious nature which before held us captive, and that grace and power gain the victory. In the fourth state there is again no struggle. But it is because the battle has been fought, and the victory gained for ever. No more foes to oppose, no sins to do battle with. A state we may not look for in this life; but it shall be reached by all who persevere. A little while, and the last struggle will be over; and then — rest, peace, joy, glory, victory!
(Bishop Walsham How.)
(T. Binney.)i.e., between the old nature and the new; between Christians themselves usually so called, and that which is higher, stronger, holier, than themselves. It is a conflict, we may say, between Christ and anti-Christ: for the soul, on the battlefield of the soul. The old nature is strong and very active, and loses no opportunity of plying all the weapons of its deadly armoury against the new-born grace: the new nature, on the other hand, is ever on the watch to resist and destroy its enemy. Grace within us employs prayer and faith and hope to cast out evil All growing Christians are like men working under difficulties; like racers who must carry weights; like men .rowing against wind and tide, yet compelled for dear life to row. This is not the popular conception of a Christian's career. With some religious teachers Christianity is a mere sentiment; a given idea as to moral accountability, and as to escape through Jesus Christ, has to be fixed in the mind, and Presto! a man is "fully saved." Such teaching is void of danger only when explained to mean that he who has seen his sinfulness, and rested upon his Saviour, has passed the strait gate and entered upon the narrow way. Men need salvation from their all but infinite conceits. There can be no salvation "unto the uttermost " apart from character. Faith as a disposition must follow faith as an act.
1. A Christian's life must be a battle from the nature of the case. Flesh and spirit are contrary as water and oil, as light and darkness, as good and evil; and so, to do the things they would and ought, Christians have to fight.
2. Because we gain immensely from fighting. All valuable discipline comes of difficulties faced and overcome. Better to fight and win than to obtain moral mastery without fighting.
(J. S. Swan.)
1. Original sin. An evil principle within, dishonouring our best service. The old Adam, pride, profaneness, deceit, unbelief, selfishness, greediness, the inheritance of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; sin which the words of the serpent sowed in the hearts of our first parents, which sprang up and bore fruit, some thirty fold, some sixty, some an hundred, and which have been by carnal descent transmitted to us.
2. Sins arising from former evil habits, now abandoned. Sin once committed retains power over our souls; it has given a colour to our thoughts, words, works; and though, with many efforts, we would wash it out from us, yet this is not possible except gradually. Sloth, self-conceit, self-will, impurity, worldly-mindedness; sins such as these, though cast off, cling like a poisoned garment to the soul.
3. Sins arising from went of self-command; the conscience informed, but the governing principle weak. Difficult to do as one would wish — to govern the feelings, the tongue, the thoughts.
4. Sins which we fall into from being taken unawares.
5. Sins which rise from the devil's temptations, inflaming the wounds and scars of past sins healed, or nearly so; exciting the memory, and hurrying us away; and thus making use of our former selves against our present selves contrary to our will.
6. Sins which rise from a deficiency of practical experience, or from ignorance how to perform duties which we set about. Men attempt to be munificent, and their acts are prodigal; they wish to be firm and zealous, and their acts are cruel; they wish to be benevolent, and are indulgent and weak; they do harm when they mean to do good; they engage in undertakings, or promote designs, or put forth opinions, or set a pattern, of which evil comes; they mistake falsehood for truth; they are zealous for false doctrines; they oppose the cause of God.
7. Unworthy motives, low views, mistakes in principle, false maxims.
8. Negligences and ignorances. Forgetfulness, heedlessness, want of seriousness, frivolity. All these infirmities may be and are found in persons living consciously sinful lives, and in them of course they only serve to heighten transgression and hasten judgment; but they are also to be found in persons free from wilful sin, and such persons need not despond, or be miserable on account of failings which in them are not destructive of faith or incompatible with grace. Who these are is only known for certain by God. He is able, amid the maze of contending motives and principles within us, to trace out the perfect work of righteousness steadily going on there, and the rudiments of a new world rising from out the chaos. He can discriminate between what is habitual and what is accidental; what is on the growth and what is in decay; what is a result and what is indeterminate; what is of us and what is in us. He estimates the difference between a will that is honestly devoted to Him, and one that is insincere. And where there is a willing mind He accepts it, "according to that a man hath, and net according to that he hath not." In those whose wills are holy He is present for sanctification and acceptance; and, like the sun's beams in some cave of the earth, His grace sheds light on every side, and consumes all mists and vapours as they rise.
(J. H. Newman, D. D.)deeds of evil, the fruits of wilfulness, malice, or revenge, or uncleanness, or intemperance, or violence, or robbery, or fraud; alas! the sinful heart often goes on to commit sins which hide from it at once the light of God's countenance; but I am sup. posing what was Eve's case, when she looked at the tree and saw that the fruit was good, but before she plucked it, when lust had conceived and was bringing forth sin, but ere sin was finished and had brought forth death. I am supposing that we do not exceed so far as to estrange God from us; that He mercifully, chains the lions at our cry, before they do more than frighten us by their moanings or their roar, before they fall on us to destroy us: yet at best, what misery, what pollution, what sacrilege, what a chaos is there then in that consecrated spot which is the temple of the Holy Ghost! How is it that the lamp of God does not go out in it at once, when the whole soul seems tending to hell, and hope is almost gone? Wonderful mercy indeed it is which bears so much! Incomprehensible patience in the Holy One, so to dwell, in such a wilderness, with the wild beasts! Exceeding and Divine virtue in the grace given us, that it is not stifled! Yet such is the promise, not to those who sin contentedly after they have received grace; there is no hope while they so sin; but where sin is not part of a course, while it is still sin, whether sin of our birth, or of habit's formed long ago, or of want of self-command, which we are trying to gain, God mercifully allows and pardons it, and the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth us from it all... To know thus much, that infirmities are no necessary mark of reprobation, that God's elect have infirmities, and that our own sins may possibly be no more than infirmities, this, surely, by itself, is a consolation. And to reflect that at least God continues us visibly in His Church; that He does not withdraw from us the ordinances of grace; that He gives us means of instruction, patterns of holiness, religious guidance, good books; that He allows us to frequent His house, and to present ourselves before Him in prayer and Holy Communion; that He gives us opportunities of private prayer; that He has given us a care for our souls; an anxiety to secure their salvation; a desire to be more strict and conscientious, more simple in faith, more full of love than we are; all this will tend to soothe and encourage, us when the sense of our infirmities makes us afraid.
(J. H. Newman, D. D.)
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
(H. G. Salter.)
(T. Guthrie, D. D.)I. THE FACT STATED. "The flesh," etc. Remnants of indwelling sin remain. "Flesh" does not mean "sinews," "fibres," etc., but carnal propensities. Fact stated shared by apostles. They no exception to general rule. Not by nature more saintly than ourselves. Indwelling sin affects all. Sinners not perfected in holiness here. Why?
1. To make us watchful. Common idea, "way to heaven easy." Nature of sin misunderstood, so that men fly to it as moths to candle. But saints are taught another lesson. Sin is a deadly enemy. Truth is known, "flesh lusteth," etc. This keeps them alive, watchful, safe. Sleep is fatal. The story is told that Satan once summoned his angels to inquire what they had been doing. One said, " I saw a company of Christians crossing the desert, and I let loose the winds of heaven, and their bones are bleaching in the sun." "What of that?" said Satan; "perhaps their souls are saved." Another said, I saw a ship with missionaries on board, going to a heathen land, and I raised a storm and drowned them all." "What of that?" said Satan; "perhaps their souls are saved." And then came forward a subtle spirit, who said, "For fifteen years I have been trying to lull an old Christian to sleep, and I have just succeeded." Whereupon there arose a shout of triumph, the bells of hell rang for joy, and Satan spoke approvingly. So the old nature is never made better, but a new one added. Always an enemy within.
2. That we may never mistake the grounds of our salvation. Works have no meritorious part. All of grace. Beginning (1 Corinthians 15:8, 9), ending (Philippians 1:6). But only failures teach this. Past sins like past gales to the seaman — forgotten. Present sickness, distress, make us cling to friends. So indwelling sin and conflict bring the saint close to Christ.
II. THE ATTITUDE OF INDWELLING SIN. Not dead or restful, quiet or submissive. Romans 7:23, 24, describes a deadly feud, very unlike common idea of personal depravity. Never feud more deadly, not even the Wars of the Roses or the Indian Mutiny. Its nearness makes it so. If distant, less painful, less distressing. Near. I would press this. Saints contest every step. Bunyan's description of Apollyon's conflict with Christian graphically describes the state. Weapons vary, but enemy never. Pride, anger, lust, sloth, despair (Ephesians 6:11) "lusteth."
III. THE CONQUEST. "So that ye," etc. Not the flesh hindering grace. Vice versa. What a mercy! Shout of victory always follows cry of battle. Gospel purposes not accomplished when men, even Christians, are stationary. More glorious. Rich become liberal, godless godly, etc. (1 Corinthians 6:11). Not preach defeat. "Greater is He that is," etc. Are you ready to despair? Think of the issue. Not always slaves or prisoners. Deliverance. Wait as Wellington behind the lines of Tortes Vedras. So you behind the grace of God. Then go forth to victory.
(H. T. Cavell.)
1. Paul regards all the events that constitute the general course of the world, whether of private history or of public affairs, as the works of the flesh. As water cannot rise beyond its spring, so neither can life rise beyond its origin and inspiration. The natural life of man is " animal." The awful catalogue which is given of the "works of the flesh" (ver. 19) is a condensed history of the weed of mankind in all latitudes and in all ages. There is a close alliance between man and the animal races. In this state the gospel finds mankind.
2. They that lead this animal life, under whatever form of civilization or barbarism, "cannot please God" (Romans 8:7, 8).
3. But God, in His mercy, has provided redemption for man from his fleshly or animal condition — from sin and its consequences — by the Incarnation of the Divine Word, by the sacrifice of the Cross, by the Resurrection of Christ, and by His new creating Spirit. Christ is the new Head of life for mankind — the second Adam. Those who are not born twice will die twice.
4. But God affords His Spirit of renovation to dwell with all believers. The Spirit originates a struggle of forces within the nature of a Christian, the issue of which, as with the unborn Jacob and Esau (Genesis 25:22, 23), is that the elder serves the younger, the newer vanquishes the older man — the wild and shaggy animal Nature is subdued in the Israel of God by the civilizing power of Divine grace. We are surrounded on all sides in the creation by the struggle of rival forces; gravitation and muscular power; the vital powers and the chemical laws; the opposing forces which combine to send the earth along its nearly circular orbit. But there is no struggle in physical nature half so interesting or half so glorious as this inward contest between the flesh and the spirit. It is emphatically a war between heaven and earth in the body and soul of man. The condition of the contest is that God by His Spirit supplies a new power in supplying a new life. It is the part of man, as a living and intelligent will, to yield to the inspirations of the new power and life, and so to overcome the works of the flesh. God does not operate irresistibly, as upon dead matter, but intellectually and spiritually, as upon honest mind. He "worketh in us to will and to do," but we must "work out our own salvation."
5. How does the Holy Spirit accomplish the work of renewal in the Divine image? As it were by infusing a new blood into the system — a new life. What is this life-blood? It is the truth of Christ. "Sanctify them by Thy truth" The old corrupt humanity is cut down. The new vine now bears fruit unto God, the "fruit of the spirit" of life in Christ Jesus. There is a new motive in life. God has become real, and near, and dear in Jesus Christ. Here are revealed the secrets of power, the mystery of that supernatural "life in Christ Jesus " which begins in the gift of God, and repentance from dead works is strengthened by the assurance of salvation from sin already visible, and will be perfected in the resurrection.
(H. W. Beecher.)
(H. W. Beecher.)
(George Philip.)good things which we desire to do." Whereas, the real intention of it is exactly the reverse — that by reason of "the good," that is in us, "we cannot do the bad things," which, nevertheless, we wish to do. That this is the chief and true signification, the whole line of thought proves. No one who knows anything of human nature, or of his own heart, can doubt, for a moment, that the ninth article of our Church is thoroughly and literally true, and that "the infection of nature doth remain, yea in them that are regenerated; whereby the lust of the flesh, called in the Greek, phronema sarkos, which some do expound the wisdom, some sensuality, some the affection, some the desire, of the flesh, is not subject to the law of God." Nay, many could give painful testimony that the more they have striven to do what is right, the more they have been dragged back again! that the stronger the light, the deeper has been the shadow! that the presence of God in them seemed to serve only to stir up the violence of the wicked one! The fact is that the process of sanctification, in a man, is not exactly what almost all of us beforehand thought it would be. It is not in the main that evil gradually ceases, and good gradually takes its place. It is not the extirpation of sin at all — but it is the subjugation of sin. The Philistines are yet in the land, in their strongholds, though the land belong to the people of God. I am not sure that what is wrong in a man is at all diminished by his sanctification. It is rather (if I may so call it) the increase of grace than the decrease of nature. Imaginations — the wicked desires — are all there; and there they are in their strength, their tremendous strength! Do not doubt it. They are there to the very end! Witness the falls, the awful falls of Christian men — long after their conversion! Witness the fearful struggles which we all have passed through sometimes! Sin lives a subject, a slave, a rebel — but Christ reigns! Ah! brethren, what if there were not something by reason of which "we could not do the things that we would?" This, then, brings us to the immediate force of St. Paul's words. The way to subdue sin is to introduce a master-power. You will never actually destroy the wrong will; but you must neutralize it by another will. You must bring in, and cultivate, and enlarge the prohibitive and preventive forces of the heart, till at last you have come to the state that "you cannot do the things that you would." Let us look at this a little in detail. I will take one of you who is still much too fond of the world. The world exercises a particular fascination over that man. He is probably ashamed of the influence; and yet he is unable to resist it. At last, the fact is certain, that he goes more into the world than is good for his soul; and he knows that he does. Now, what shall we say to that man? No man can really and honestly live higher than his level. While the level of your heart — its tastes, and pleasures, and ideas — is the level of the world, into the world, of course, you will go. It would not do much good — it would not make you a better Christian — if you kept out of it. What you want is to raise your level. You want to taste pure pleasures — to have a higher ambition — to pursue more satisfying objects to live in a holier atmosphere — to get into an upper range. How shall you do this? You must accept the love of God — you must have more peace — you must have more real communion with God — more of the spiritual life, with all its deep, absorbing influences — more of the fellowship with God's people — more work done for usefulness, and for the Church, and for Christ. As soon as ever you reach that point, those lesser things will descend in the scale; they will not be congenial to the new life; they will become insipid; they will be actually distasteful.
(J. Vaughan, M. A.)I. ITS FEATURE.
1. The flesh has its desires, so has the spirit as acted upon by the Spirit of God; and both are strong, contradictory, and antagonistic.
2. The struggle between the two is a matter of the commonest Christian experience.(1) Of the flesh against the spirit. The sense of obligation arouses the spirit of revolt. Hence even Paul had to keep his body under.(2) The spirit against the flesh. The revolt against command is checked by the grace of submission, and the desire to be faithful awakens disgust at sin.
3. The Divine nature is imparted to us with all its love and longing that the flesh with its lusts may be overcome.
4. The nobler shall be victor over the meaner.
II. ITS PURPOSE.
1. That the antagonism of righteousness and unrighteousness may work out the highest good and accomplish the destiny of the faithful.
2. To prevent the Christian life becoming one of impulse, merely the doing simply as we would because we will it.
3. To force on us the task of deliberation and wise resolve; to make us choose as well as will, and determine as well as choose, and thus —
4. To add the steadfastness of Christian purpose to the eagerness of Christian passion.
(A. Mackennal, B. A.)
I. The flesh desires EASE, and thus comes into collision with the spirit, which requires us to fight the good fight of faith (Hebrews 12:1-2).
II. The flesh desires EXCITEMENT, whereas the spirit requires us to deny ourselves and take up our cross.
IV. The flesh desires to make SELF SUPREME, whereas the spirit desires to make God supreme.
(W. Landells, D. D.)There are eight main incom-modities which the soul hath cause to complain of in her conjunction with the body.
1. The defilement of original sin.
2. A proneness to actual sin.
3. The difficulty of doing well.
4. The dulness of our understanding in the things of God.
5. Perpetual self-conflict.
6. Racking solicitude of cares.
7. Multiplicity of passions.
8. Retardation of our glory.
(W. Arnot, D. D.)
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