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Chapter XVI.

A Conflict Is Constantly Maintained In The Christian Between The Spirit And The Flesh.

I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind.Rom. 7:23.

The two opposite principles in the heart of the real Christian, are spoken of by the apostle under different names, viz.: the inward and outward man (2 Cor. 4:16), the law of the mind and the law of the members (Rom. 7:23), and the flesh and spirit. “The flesh,” says he, “lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh.” Gal. 5:17.

2. When the Spirit conquers the flesh, then man lives in the new nature and is in God and in Christ: but when the flesh vanquishes the Spirit, and thus gains the ascendency, then man lives in the devil and in the old nature; he is under the dominion of the world, and without the kingdom of God, and, consequently, is called carnal. And “to be carnally minded is death.” Rom. 8:6.

3. It is according to the predominance of either of these principles (the flesh and the Spirit), that a man obtains his name in Scripture, and is called carnal or spiritual. When the flesh and its sensual lusts are subdued, it is an indication of the strength of the spirit, and of a man's proficiency in the inward life; but if a man be vanquished by the flesh, it betrays the weakness both of his faith and spirit.

4. Solomon says, “He that ruleth his spirit (his mind), is better than he that taketh a city.” Prov. 16:32. If, then, thou desirest to be a valiant conqueror, and to gain an immortal victory, conquer thyself; subdue thy passions, mortify thy pride, quell thine ambition, and destroy every inordinate lust with which thou art assailed; and thus shalt thou overthrow the kingdom of Satan, who, by means of such sins, ruleth in the world. Many have signalized themselves by the capture of towns and cities; but, alas! how few are they who, in a higher sense, may be denominated conquerors of the world!

5. If thou yieldest too far to the flesh, thou destroyest thy soul. It is surely better that the soul overcome, and that the body also be preserved, than that, the body overcoming, both body and soul should be destroyed together.

6. This contest, though attended with various trials and difficulties, will, however, issue in a glorious victory and a heavenly crown: “Be thou faithful unto death,” saith the Captain of our salvation, “and I will give thee a crown of life.” Rev. 2:10. And the disciple that lay in his bosom tells us, “This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.” 1 John 5:4. Thou wilt say, What is it to overcome the world? We answer, It is the world within us, which is here principally meant. Overcome thy self, and then the victory over the world is thine.

7. Some may, perhaps, be here ready to inquire, “What, if sin sometimes closely beset me, and bear me away against my will; must I be excluded 49 from the number of God's children, according to that saying of St. John, ‘He that committeth sin is of the devil’?” 1 John 3:8. To this it must be replied: If thou feelest the conflict of the Spirit against the flesh, and art grieved that thou sometimes doest things which thou wouldst not, it is an evidence that, amidst the infirmities which encompass thee, thy faith and thy spirit struggle against the flesh, and are opposed to it. St. Paul himself teaches us that this warfare has place even in godly and believing souls, when he says, “I see another law in my members warring against the law of my mind (that is, against the new, inward man), and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members” (Rom. 7:23); thus causing him sometimes to do the things which he would not. To will, was present with him; but to perform the good which he would, he was not always able; inasmuch as he could not do of himself the good which he would, while to do the evil which he would not, was always easy to him. Hence he exclaims, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” Rom. 7:24. And to this agrees what Christ himself says: “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Matt. 26:41; Mark 14:38.

8. As long, therefore, as this conflict is felt in man, sin cannot be said to rule in him; for he who is continually fighting against sin, resists its struggles for dominion; and sin cannot destroy the man who opposes the attempts which it makes upon the soul.

9. It is the experience of all the saints, that they alike have sin, according to the word of St. John: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves.” 1 John 1:8. It is not, however, the indwelling sin that condemns a man, but the reigning sin. The sin with which we contend, and to the commission of which we do not consent, is not imputed to us; as St. Paul says: “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Rom. 8:1); that is, who do not permit the flesh to rule. But as for those who are altogether strangers to this spiritual strife, this combat of the flesh and Spirit, they are not born again, but are under the reigning influence of sin; they remain the servants of sin and Satan, and are, consequently, damned; for “the law of the Spirit of life” hath not made them “free from the law of sin and death” (Rom. 8:2), so long as they thus suffer sin to rule over them, and to “reign in their mortal body.”

10. All this is illustrated in Josh. 16:10. The remnant of the Canaanites were permitted to dwell amongst the children of Israel, but not to have dominion over them; and thus the Israel of God feel their remaining imperfections, but do not allow them to gain the pre-eminence. To preserve this pre-eminence is the duty of the new man in Christ, whose name is Israel (that is, a prince of God) (Gen. 32:28); and who, as a prince, hath power with God, and shall at last prevail.

11. This daily strife with the old man, is an encouraging evidence of the existence of the new man; for it plainly indicates that there are two contending principles in him who is the subject of it. The strength of the spirit and the victory succeeding it, demonstrate the true Israelite; and the warfare of the spirit indicates the real Christian. The land of Canaan 50 cannot indeed be gained without war: but when the flesh, like the Canaanite of old, invades the territories of the spirit, it then becomes the part of the spiritual and true Israel not to submit to such a master; but, after true repentance and remission of sin, to collect new strength in Christ, and by the grace of God to rise again from his fall, and earnestly implore Jesus, our true Joshua, to vanquish for him and in him, the spiritual Canaanite, the enemy of his soul. When this is accomplished, the sinner is not only forgiven and restored to favor, but he is likewise refreshed and strengthened in Christ, his great Captain in this spiritual combat. With regard, therefore, to such as continue to feel many infirmities in the flesh, and who cannot do the things which they would, I exhort them to cleave to Jesus as sincere penitents, and to cover their blemishes with his perfect obedience. It is in this order, and in this order alone, that the imputation of Christ's merits becomes salutary and effectual; that is, when a man forsakes his sin, and by daily repentance strives against it; repairs his former losses, and guards against future temptations. But while the sinner remains a stranger to brokenness of heart on account of transgression; while he continues to gratify the unholy propensities of the flesh, nothing can be more absurd than for him to suppose that the merits of Christ are imputed to him; for how can the blood of Christ benefit him who treads it under foot? Heb. 10:29.

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