There are some remaining points with regard to our responsibility as to the two natures which come more under the head of practical conclusions, or advice, which follow logically from what has been received from Scripture. Not that we would put readers under any rules or regulations. But, after what we have learned from the Word of God, there are certain responsibilities which are inevitable if we would enjoy the full blessing and fruits of the doctrine, in our own experience. It is not enough for us to "hold the truth" as to the two natures. The truth must hold us, if we are to know its value and its power. If the truth holds us, then:
1. WE SHALL DAILY IGNORE THE FLESH, AND DENY ALL ITS CALLS AND CLAIMS.
We have to remember that though we are "not in the flesh", the flesh is in us, and that we can never get rid of it till death, or resurrection. If we fail to keep this in daily remembrance we are at the mercy of every false teacher; liable to fall into any error which may spring up; and to be led astray into any of the new fashions and modern methods, the tricks and contrivances of fleshly religion. All these errors in doctrine and practice come from this one source. This source is the acknowledging of the claims and capabilities of the old nature. It is the essence and foundation of all false religions, as seen in the Church of Rome and elsewhere. We have it set forth in one sentence in a Roman Catholic book; (45)
"We are commanded by Jesus' suffering and dying for us to imitate Him by the crucifixion of our flesh, and by acts of daily mortification."
Wherein does this differ from the popular holiness teaching of the present day? True, it may be put in a different way; it may be looked at from other points of view; but this is the ultimate end, aim, and object of all who cultivate or attend to the claims of the old nature. The means employed or recommended may vary: but the result desired is one and the same, viz., to arrive at a state of sinlessness more or less. All this comes from one root, the flesh, with all its claims and calls, is not ignored as being "as good as dead".
If this practical duty be not attended to, the door stands wide open for every form of error that may choose to enter. If we can bear this responsibility in daily remembrance, it will keep us from embarking on any efforts, plans, or schemes which have for their object the cultivation or improvement of the flesh. It will preserve us also from any form of modern teaching which would excite the hope that, by following certain rules, the flesh can be eradicated. Both hopes are absolutely groundless, and can end only in grievous disappointment. Let us make no mistake as to this first fundamental fact, and then we shall not be misled by false hopes that, by suitable food and training, we can change flesh into spirit: or that, by mortifying it in any way, we can get rid of it.
2. THE BEST PRACTICAL WAY OF TREATING THE OLD NATURE IS TO STARVE IT,
by keeping it on low diet. But this cannot be done directly by making that an aim or a "work". It can be done only indirectly by constantly attending to the claims and desires, and satisfying the ever heaven-ascending longings of the new nature. We have seen that the food of the new nature is the Word of God. While we are directly feeding upon that we are indirectly starving the old nature. For (and this is the important fact) we cannot be feeding both natures at the same time! The nourishment on which the one nature thrives will starve the other. And this fact cuts both ways. If we are feeding the old nature on man's books and man's teachings, we shall be keeping the new nature ill-fed, impoverished and weak. The old nature will thrive on general literature. But the new nature will thrive only on the Word of God. His words "are spirit, and they are life" (John 6:63); and only what is spiritual can be assimilated by spirit.
Many Christians are constantly occupied with man's thoughts and man's books; and then they are surprised at the low condition of their Christian life and walk. They then rush off to adopt some new fashion (just as the old nature flies to stimulants or drugs), which promises to supply the want and the vacuum which has actually been created; whereas it is only a matter of diet. If, in our physical life, people will persist in eating or drinking what is bad for them, they must suffer the inevitable consequences. It is exactly the same in the spiritual sphere: and if the palpable effects are seen in our walk and conversation, then the one and only remedy is to remove the cause. That will prove much less expensive; give much less trouble; prove perfectly effective; and will bring with it no disappointment. Our practical conclusion, therefore, is: do not read any book, do not listen to any speaker, teacher, or preacher unless you are sure that you will know more of God's Word after so doing than you did before. It matters nothing to you what any mortal man thinks. Unless he can help you to understand more clearly what God says, he will be a hindrance to you instead of a help. You cannot thrive upon man's words. It is only "by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD doth man live" (Deut. viii. 3). If you feed on the words that proceed out of the mouth of man you will starve. God's words are "spirit and they are life" . Do not talk so much about the Scriptures. Be more ready to let them talk to you. In conversation about them, do as Ezra the scribe did. Instead of trying to remember imperfectly what the Word says, and hence, often misquoting it, "open the book"
(Neh. 8:5). Let it speak for itself. Its words will be more weighty than your own, for God is with them to make them work effectually. Bind the Word about your heart. For,
"When thou goest it shall lead thee; when thou sleepest it shall keep thee; when thou awakest it shall talk with thee. For the commandment is a lamp; and the law is light; and reproofs of instruction are the way of life"
You will find people always ready to talk on any subject but God, and His Christ, and His Word. They will talk about man, and the news of the world. On Sundays they will vary this by talking of churches and ministers and sermons and services; but it is still man! Those who possess the new nature find that these things do not satisfy; they leave a craving for something better. Nothing will ever satisfy but God Himself, and the Living Word and the written Word. If "David's Psalm of praise" (Ps. 145) was true of him, how much more shall it be true of us. How shall not we say,
"I will extol Thee, my God, 0 King; and I will bless Thy Name for ever and ever. Every day will I bless Thee; and I will praise Thy Name for ever and ever ... I will speak of the glorious honour of Thy Majesty, and of Thy wondrous works. And men shall speak of the might of Thy terrible acts: and I will declare Thy greatness. They shall abundantly utter the memory of Thy great goodness, and shall sing of Thy righteousness" (Ps. 145:5-7).
This will be found to have a very different practical conclusion to talking of the eloquent words of one, or the inconsistent acts of another, or the wonderful works of another. The former is a sowing to the spirit, the latter is a sowing to the flesh.
If our new nature is to thrive, and if we are to be "fat and well-liking", we must feed upon the words of God, and thus starve the old nature (Gal. 6:8).
We must be occupied either with the flesh or with the spirit; with the old nature or with the new; and according as we sow to the one or the other we must reap. This is the plain truth and teaching given to us in Galatians 6:7, 8, commencing with the solemn warning--
"BE NOT DECEIVED,"
given to the Galatian saints, who, having begun their walk in the spirit (or the new nature) were seeking to be made perfect in the flesh (Gal. 3:3). They had "run well", but someone had come in and hindered them, so that they forgot, and did not obey this important truth and teaching (Gal. 3:7) which we are now seeking to enforce. We all desire (according to the desire of our new nature) so to walk as "not to fulfil the lusts of the flesh" (the old nature). What, then, are we to do to accomplish these our desires? Many put themselves under a yoke of bondage, and try to obey rules, and make vows and give pledges, and wear badges. But it is all in vain. All this, instead of weakening the flesh, only strengthens it by ministering to it, and occupying our minds with it. God's way is much more simple. It is -- "Walk [according] to [the] spirit (or new nature), and the lust of the flesh ye shall in no wise
fulfil" (Gal. 5:16). This is God's promise and God's rule. Try it! It will take you clean out of the hands of man. It will deliver you from a terrible bondage. It will bring peace and blessing into your life. It will give you refreshment and rest. Walk according to the
pneuma; occupy yourselves with your new nature; minister to its needs; make provision in every way for it, and it alone; and you have God's word for it that your desire shall be attained. He assures you that "Ye shall in no wise fulfil the lusts of the flesh." This expression ou me, in no wise, is the very strongest that can be used! It is a double negative, which emphasises and intensifies the assertion to such a degree that whenever it was used by man it was never made good. But whenever it was used by the Lord, it was surely and certainly abundantly fulfilled. When He said, "Him that cometh unto Me I will in no wise cast out" (John 6:37), He used the expression, ou me, by no means, on no account, will He cast out.
Even so is this the case with the Divine assurance of Galatians 5:16: "Ye shall in no wise fulfil the lust of the flesh."
Let us blessedly and thankfully rest on this Divine assurance.
3. WE MUST NEVER PUT OURSELVES UNDER LAW (Rom. 7:6,
This is another thing we must never do. The moment we fail to remember this, we quicken the flesh into activity. The flesh revels in law, as we have seen. The law was meant for the flesh; but only, and on purpose to prove the "weakness" of the flesh (Rom. 8:3). The law was never meant for a man "in Christ". Hence, the moment we come down from the high position in which grace has set us, and put ourselves under law, we stir up the flesh into greater activity and power.
This is what Scripture means by the expression "falling from grace". This does not mean backsliding or apostasy, as we call it, but it means walking according to the old nature instead of the new; thinking of that; cultivating and attending to that, instead of to the new nature. "Christ is become of none effect unto you (48) whosoever [of you] are being justified by law" (Gal. 5:4). No wonder, then, that this important chapter (Gal. 5) commences with the solemn exhortation: "For liberty Christ made us free: stand fast, therefore, and do not be entangled again in a yoke of bondage." Do not put yourselves under any vows, or take any pledges of any kind whatsoever. Do not wear any badges of any kind. They are only badges of bondage. They are the signs and tokens of "the yoke of bondage" under which you have put yourselves. They are entanglements. They imply that grace is not able to keep you, apart from some human props and devices. They practically deny the divine assurance "My grace is sufficient for thee" (2
True, we may constantly feel our weakness, through the flesh being in us; but all this has been provided against by "the God of all grace"; for He has said, "My power is made perfect in [your] weakness" (2
Cor. 12:9). Avoid, therefore, all "rules for daily living", all "directories", or guides for living a "devout life". Shun them as you would your most deceitful enemy. They will prove fatal to your peace; they will take all the sunshine out of your life; they will turn you from a son, into a bondservant; and sap your spiritual powers at their fountain head. Cease all efforts either to improve the flesh or to get rid of it. Feed the new nature regularly with the divinely prepared food, and everything else will fall into its own proper place. Have full confidence in the grace of God and the power of God (2
Cor. 12:9). And adopt no schemes or plans that would imply that you need any help outside the Word of God.
4. Finally, remember THE DISTINCTION BETWEEN RELIGION AND CHRISTIANITY.
Religion has to do with the flesh; but only Christ will do for the new nature. The flesh knows nothing of Christ, the Son of God, as our Life. It is concerned only with what it can see and hear and comprehend. But the new nature cannot be satisfied with anything lower than Christ Himself. Not even with Christianity or the "Christian religion" apart from Him. In Philippians 3: we have this great contrast fully exhibited and illustrated in the personal experience and "pattern" of the Apostle Paul. His example will help us more than any precept. He tells us of the wonderful ground of "confidence in the flesh" which he once had as a strictly religious Jew. However much confidence in the flesh others might have, he could still say, "I more": and in seven particulars he enumerates them and sums them up (Phil. 3:5,6). But all this time he was blind. He had as yet no new nature within to bring the old and sinful (though religious) nature to light. But when he received that priceless gift of the new nature, then he discovered that he had been all that time really "a blasphemer, a persecutor, injurious", and the "chief of sinners" (1 Tim. 1:13-16). So that, as to religion, he could say, "I more"; and as to sinners, "I chief". But when his eyes had been opened to know the Lord Jesus as his Saviour and his Lord, then he was only too thankful to cast away all his religion, which he had as a Jew, for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus his Lord (Phil. 3:8). He counted all things but loss, and as garbage, compared with Christ. He did not merely change the "Jews' religion" for the "Christian religion"; but he thankfully gave up all religion for Christ.
As to his standing before God, his glory was that he was now "found in Him" (Phil. 5:9). As to his new object as a Christian, it was that he might "get to know Him" (Phil. 5:10). As to his hope, it was to be "like Him" in resurrection (Phil. 5:21). It was all "Him". As a Jew he had the hope of resurrection, but he gladly gave even that up for the far greater hope of having part in what he calls "the out-resurrection from among the dead" (Phil. 5:11), which had become his as a member of the one spiritual Body of Christ. This does not mean that he, as a Christian, hoped that by certain efforts he might obtain some advantage over other Christians; but that, as a Christian (a man in Christ), he already had a more blessed hope than any which the "Jews' religion" could ever give him. He is not speaking of giving up his sins, but of giving up his "gains". All that he once counted religious gains he now counted as garbage, compared with the real "gain" which he had in the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus his Lord; for he had gotten to know "the power of Christ's resurrection", and what that meant for all the members of the One body: for all who had fellowship in His sufferings, and had died with Him in His death (Phil. 5:10). Nothing less than this is Christianity. All short of this is religion. Christianity consists, not in articles, creeds, or confessions; not in churches, memberships, or fellowships; but, in a Person. God grant that each of our readers may be enabled by grace to say of all their supposed advantages in the flesh -- "What things were [counted] gain to me, these I have esteemed as garbage for Christ" (Phil. 3:7).
5. But, in conclusion, FORGET NOT THAT THIS IS THE WAY OF SORROW AND OF CONFLICT;
not from within, but from without. Not merely conflict arising from our own old nature, but from that of others. It remains true, and will be found to be true in our own experience, and to the end : -- "As then, He who was born according to the flesh persecuted him that was born according to Spirit, thus also it is now" (Gal. 4:29). The emphasis is placed on the two words "then" and "now": one being the first word in the sentence, the other the last word. This is to assure us that we must look for no change in the old nature; no change in these circumstances. All we are exhorted to do is to be reminded that we are sons of the free-woman, not of the bond-woman; and that we are to "stand fast in this liberty" (Gal. 5:1). Blessed liberty! The word "then" in Galatians 4:29 refers to Ishmael and Isaac, but it points backward, further still, even to Cain and Abel, and to the religious hatred which ended, and would always, if it could, end in murder still. It points also to the fact that it was the religious party among the Jews, not the rabble, but "the chief priests", who were determined on the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus. Even so it is "now", "All who will (i.e., are determined) to live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution" (2 Tim. 3:12). And this persecution will come chiefly from religious flesh. Who among us will not mournfully admit that his chief troubles and trials have come to him through the working of the flesh in his fellow-Christians? Instead of the persecutions coming as of old from the world, which broke people's bones, they come now from fellow-believers and break people's hearts!
It was when Saul was carrying out his religion the more earnestly that he was engaged in the work of persecution (Phil. 3:6). It is religion that has shed the blood of the saints; it is religion which has filled the ranks of "the noble army of martyrs".
"Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us. that we should be called 'children of God'. On account of this the world does not get to know us, because it has no knowledge of Him."
It is in connection with this that we are told: "Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hateth you (1 John 3:1, 13).
"If the world hateth you, ye know that it has hated Me before [it
hated] you. If ye were of the world, the world would love its own; and because ye are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, on account of this, the world hateth you" (John 15:18, 19, and 17:14).
If these words were true "then", of the Apostles to whom they were addressed, how much more true shall we find them "now" in our own experience. Therefore, as possessors of the new nature, let us "marvel not" either at its conflict with the old nature within us, or at its conflict with those without us: but let us rather rejoice that we have in this very conflict the greatest assurance that we are "sons of God", and are "His workmanship". This is the surest proof we can have that, as the children of God, we have been chosen out of the world; and let us "count it all joy" if we are privileged to suffer anything for Him who suffered all for us -- "for the joy that was set before Him".