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obligations on such, after considering their ways, to turn unto the Lord. And thankful should they be that space is afforded them for repentance and salvation ! *
CLAIMS OF THE FLESH.
Rom. viii. 12.—Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the
flesh, to live after the flesh.
It is of great importance for us to ascertain, not only the quality of particular actions, but the general principle on which our life is regulated; since it is this that must determine our true character in the sight of God. As there are but two sorts of persons in the world, the righteous and the wicked, the carnal and the spiritual, so there are only two grand principles which respectively actuate these two classes of mankind, and produce all that diversity of character by which they are distinguished. In the context, they are characterized with such perspicuity and precision, that it is not difficult to decide to which we belong. The one are described as enslaved, the other as free; the one as being in the flesh, and “ minding” the things of it; the other as inhabited and actuated
* Preached on the morning of Sunday, October 31, 1814, at Leicester.
by the Spirit; the former as the heirs of death; the latter as the joint-heirs with the Lord of a happy immortality. The text we have chosen for our present meditation, is a legitimate inference, deduced by the inspired writer from the premises he had been laying down; it is a conclusion at which he arrives, resulting from the views which he had been exhibiting of the condition and expectation of two opposite descriptions of persons. “ Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh to live after the flesh.”
I shall endeavour in the first place to settle the meaning of the terms flesh and Spirit, employed in the context, in order to a right conception of the import of the proposition; and in the second place, compare and adjust the opposite claims of the flesh and of the Spirit.
1. Flesh most properly denotes the body, in contradistinction from the soul; the matter of which the corporeal structure is formed : “ there is one flesh of men.”* And,
2. As all men are possessed of this, it is by an easy figure of speech applied to denote human nature, or mankind universally. “ The end of all flesh is come before God.”op
3. Because the fleshly or corporeal part of our nature may be perceived by the eye, it is sometimes used to denote that in religion which is merely outward and ceremonial. Thus St. Paul says, “ Having begun in the Spirit, are ye made
* 1 Cor. xv. 39. † Gen. vi. 13.
perfect by the flesh ?”* Thus the same apostle speaks of “ carnal ordinances.” of
4. On account of the deep and universal corruption of human nature, and this corruption displaying itself in a peculiar manner, in producing an addictedness to the indulgence of bodily or fleshly appetites, the term flesh is frequently used to denote moral corruption, or human nature considered as corrupt. It is manifest, from the consideration of the context, that this is the sense in which it is to be taken here. " That which is born of the flesh is flesh;”. that is, corrupt and sinful. In this sense of it, the works of the flesh are contrasted by St. Paul with the fruits of the Spirit. “ Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these : adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like.” S From the extent of the enumeration, which comprehends many mental vices, it is manifest nothing less can be intended by the term flesh than the principle of corruption, the dictates of unrenewed nature. By the Spirit, it is plain we are not to understand the immaterial principle in man, but the blessed Spirit of God, the author of all holiness. This is evident from the context.
Secondly. As they divide mankind betwixt them, and every man walks according to the dictates of the one or the other, they are considered as competitors. We shall examine and adjust their respective claims, that we may discern to which the preference is due, and come then fully to acquiesce in the decision of the apostle: “ Therefore we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh.”
* Gal. iii. 3.
+ Heb. ix. 10.
There is an ellipsis in the text, which must be supplied from the train of thought in the context.
Let us examine the claims of the flesh, or of corrupt nature.
We may conceive the flesh pleading ancient possession. The pleasures and freedom from restraint attending a compliance with her dictates. The general usage and course of the world, which she reminds us has been such in every age. That the far greater part of mankind have been under her sway, the greatest of men not excepted, so that she can number nobles among her vassals, and among her subjects the princes of the earth. The most distinguished by their birth, their talents, or their fortune, she may allege, never dreamed of an exemption from her dominion, never thought of any other method of life, than that of living after the flesh: faithful to her dictates through the whole of their lives, they bowed submissive at her shrine, were initiated into her mysteries, and died in her communion. Notwithstanding these specious pleas, however, we shall see sufficient cause to decline her yoke, and to come to the apostolic conclusion, if we take the following things into our consideration.
I. Its claims are founded upon usurpation; they rest on no basis of equity. It alienates the property from its lawful possessor; it interferes with a prior claim, which nothing can fairly defeat. Sin, considered as a master, does not enter upon a property that is derelict or abandoned by its owner; but it attempts to occupy and appropriate what the proprietor never meant to resign, what he never can resign without irreparable injury to his honour. The souls of men are the most valuable part of his possessions below, and the most capable; indeed in one sense they alone are capable, of glorifying his perfections.
1. Let us consider that the Lord is our Maker, and we the work of his hands; it is “ he that created the heavens, and stretched them out; he that spread forth the earth, and that which cometh out of it; he that giveth breath unto the people upon it, and spirit to them that walk therein."* The noble powers, by which we are so highly distinguished from the inferior parts of the creation, the powers of thought, and reason, and conscience, are of his production; from him they are derived, and by him they are sustained. His right in us is, consequently, more extensive than it is possible for us to conceive in any other instance, because none else ever gave existence to the smallest particle of dust in the balance; it is incomparably more than that, to which it is compared, of the potter over the clay. Whatever
* Isaiah xlii. 5.