SIN AND DEATH, OR GRACE AND LIFE.
ROM. viii. 13.
If ye live after the flesh, ye shall die; but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.
These words set before us Life and Death—eternal life, or eternal death: they plainly shew us what will be the eternal consequence of a life of sin, or of a state of grace; and therefore it is of the greatest importance to us clearly to understand them, in order that we may know what will be our future portion. "It is a question," said an old divine, "you ought seriously to put to yourselves, Shall I be saved, or shall I be damned? If you have any spark of conscience left, when you are sick or dying, you will put it with an anxious and trembling heart: Poor soul, whither art thou going? It is better, my friends, to put this question now, while you have opportunity to correct your error, if hitherto you have been wrong. And nothing will sooner determine it than this text." " If ye live after the flesh, ye shall die," &c. These words contain two things, which I shall express in two plain sentences.
I. If sin live in us, we must die eternally, and
II. If sin die in us, we shall live eternally.
I. If sin live in us, we shall die; that is, if it reign and rule; "If we live after the flesh we shall die."
By the flesh, we are to understand human nature in its present fallen state. Man is made up of two parts, body and soul, or flesh and spirit, but man is now called flesh, because the spirit is dead to God, and he lives only a fleshly and animal life.
So God spake of the wicked world before the flood, Gen. vi. 3. "And the Lord said, My Spirit shall not always strive with man," that is, by the good counsels and faithful warnings of Noah and others, "for that he also is flesh"—incurably corrupt, carnal and sensual; sunk into the mire of sin and fleshly lusts. This is still the case of all men before they receive the grace of God; they are flesh. They take their names from that part which rules, which is the flesh, and not the spirit; they are wholly engaged by things which concern the body and its sensual delights. Hence it is that the mind itself is called carnal or fleshly, verse 5, 6, "For they that are after the flesh, do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace." This bad turn of mind is called flesh, because it exerts itself by means of the senses and members of the body; for carnal men "yield their members servants to uncleanness, and to iniquity unto iniquity," Rom. vi. 19. Habits and practices of uncleanness and iniquity are like tyrannical lords and masters, which rule over sinners, to whom they have resigned the members of their bodies, and the affections of their minds.
Now to live after the flesh, is to obey the dictate and orders of our corrupt nature; to gratify its sinful desires, without regard to the will of God, yea in direct contradiction to his will. And this will appear more plainly by considering the actions, the words, and the thoughts of a carnal man.
Take a view, in the first place of his actions. Among these the Apostle, Gal. v. 19, mentions "Adultery, Fornication, Uncleanness," &c. These are abominations to which corrupt nature is strongly inclined. The world is full of pollution through lust. In youth, especially, these sins are predominant; and "it is a shame even to speak of the things that are done in secret." And however lightly the sins of uncleanness may be thought of in general, we are assured by the scriptures, that "whoremongers and adulterers God will judge," Drunkenness is a work of the flesh. Fools make a mock at this sin, but St. Paul declares, 1 Cor. vi. 10, that "drunkards shall not inherit the kingdom of God." It is very common for a person to promise himself security in this sin, and to say, "I shall have peace, though I walk in the imagination of mine heart, to add drunkenness to thirst;" but what does God say in this case? "The Lord will not spare him, but the anger of the Lord and his jealousy shall smoke against that man," Deut. xxix. 19. The profane man also lives after the flesh. What can be a plainer proof that man is destitute of the fear of God, than his daring to set the Most High at defiance, and wantonly and wickedly to take his awful name in vain? The Sabbath breaker lives after the flesh. The man who, having no regard to the authority of God, no love to his service, and no care for his own soul, dares to spend the sacred hours of the Lord's day in worldly business, idleness, and pleasure. The conduct of the Sabbath breaker proves in a dreadful manner, that he is flesh, and as much a stranger to the life of God in the soul as the beasts that perish. "Let no man, then, deceive himself with vain words; for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience."
But it is not only by these grossly immoral actions that men appear to live after the flesh; a man's speech bethrayeth him. "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh." We have already mentioned cursing and swearing, on account of which our land mourneth. Equally carnal is that "corrupt communication which proceedeth out of the mouth;" that "filthiness, foolish talking, and jesting, which are not convenient." O how is the tongue, the glory of man, debased by lying, slandering, evil speaking, lewd songs, and wanton speeches. "The tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity; it defileth our members, and is set on fire of hell," James iii. 6. The conversation of carnal men is wholly carnal. They can talk fluently for hours together upon worldly subjects, but let the things of God be introduced, the company is struck dumb! Natural men can find nothing to say to God, or to one another, on the great and glorious subjects of salvation and eternal life.
But we must go a step further. "As a man thinketh in his heart, so he is." A man must be judged of by his prevailing, chosen, and delightful thoughts. "Out of the heart," said our Lord, "proceed evil thoughts." A good man may have bad thoughts, but a bad man, a natural man, cannot have good thoughts. A good man hates vain, wicked, or blasphemous thoughts; but a wicked man loves, cherishes, and delights in them. It is said of the wicked, "God is not in all his thoughts." He rises in the morning without any thoughts of God. He goes about his business without any thoughts of him. He sits down to his table, and rises from it without any thoughts of him. And he goes to rest, like a beast, in the same manner. Thus it is said in verse 5, of this chapter— "They that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh" —they are carnally minded; they constantly and habitually consult and relish, pursue, and delight in only worldly, sensual, and sinful things, such as are agreeable to their carnal and unrenewed appetites. And this may serve to convince some persons, how much they deceive themselves respecting their true state before God. They flatter themselves that they shall be saved, because they are not so wicked as others; but they have never noticed the prevailing bent and inclination of their minds. They are not drunkards, or swearers, or liars; "but they mind earthly things;" and St. John assures us, that "if we love the world, the love of the Father is not in us." Doubtless there is a necessary, lawful, and commendable regard to our proper callings, and worldly affairs, and there is a lawful enjoyment of worldly comforts; but the evil lies in this, so to love the world as to make it our portion, our chief good; to love the world more than God, who does not reckon himself to be loved sincerely, unless he be loved supremely, "with all our heart, and soul, and strength." The love of God and the love of the world are like the two scales of a balance, as the one rises the other falls; and let every man ask himself how it is with him. O how little place have the blessed God, the precious Redeemer, the Holy Spirit, the care of the soul, the duties of religion, or the concerns of eternity, in the hearts of natural men! The thoughts of these things are seldom entertained, and then they are not welcomed. They are a burden and a task; and the mind, when forced to regard them, dislikes them, and springs from them again into the worldly matters with delight, as a fish into the water, which is its own proper element.
Now, my friends, as you love your souls mark the consequence of living after the flesh—"If ye live after the flesh ye shall die!" Dreadful words, "Ye shall die!" "To be carnally minded is death." It is a kind of death in itself. The carnal man is now dead to God; "dead while he liveth;" "dead in trespasses and sins." And "the wages of sin is death." Not only the death of the body, which is the separation of the soul from it; but the death of soul and body, too, in their everlasting separation from God the fountain of all happiness. "This is the second death," as it comes after that of the body, and is inexpressibly more terrible; and shall never end in a resurrection to eternal life. At present, God exercises much patience towards his enemies. His sun shines and his rain descends, both on good and bad men. He gives them time and space for repentance, to which his merciful goodness ought to lead them. But when all these have proved in vain, and the man has persisted in his carnal course to the end of life, then, God will withdraw all his favours; his mercy indeed will be clean gone for ever, and he will be favourable no more. And O, woe, woe, woe to the man from whom God departs, and to whom he will say, "depart from me ye cursed."
All this is the natural and necessary consequence of living after the flesh. What else could be reasonably expected? There are but two eternal states for men after this life. Every man is training up for one of these. The carnal man is unfit for heaven. There he cannot come; for all the joys and employments of the blessed are spiritual. Delighting in God, loving God, praising God, are the charming employments of the redeemed. But the carnal man well knows that he has no relish for these things; and he could not be happy in heaven, were he admitted there. What then must be his portion? There is no other place for him but hell; and for this he was fitting himself all his days. He was training up in enmity against God, hardening his heart, and abusing his mercies, despising his grace, neglecting his salvation, trampling on his authority, and blaspheming his name; thus was he preparing for that horrid dungeon, where he must be the companion of men like-minded, and of devils whose dictates he obeyed. "Depart ye cursed into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels."
O think of this, ye who live in sin! See what an enemy you have, even the flesh; an enemy within; an enemy without which the devil might tempt and the world invite in vain. Beware, then, of indulging the flesh; it may seem to be your friend; but it is your worst foe; and, like Judas, it kisses to betray. Fly then from the allurements of sinful pleasure and sensual enjoyments. I beseech you to abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; and in your turn declare war against the flesh. This indeed is a just and necessary war; a war that shall be successful and glorious; for, as it is added in our text—"if ye through the spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live;" which leads us to the second thing proposed, namely,
II. If sin die in us we shall live eternally.
Here we must consider what is meant by mortifying sin— by what help we may do it; and—the blessed consequences of doing it.
To mortify sin is to kill it; to put it to death, as the magistrates put a felon to death, by due course of justice. He is suspected, apprehended, tried, and executed. We must first suspect ourselves and our sins. Consideration is the first step in religion. He who never suspected he was wrong, may depend upon it he is not yet right. Sin must be considered as our worst enemy; the tyrant that would enslave and destroy our souls. We must find out our sins, or "be sure they will find us out." We must determine by the grace of God, to destroy them or else they will destroy us. The matter must be brought to this issue, kill or be killed. You must kill sin, or it will kill you.
But how is this to be done? Sin must be crucified. This is the manner of killing it which God has appointed. "They that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts," Gal. v. 24. The destruction of our sins is compared to the crucifixion of Christ, not only because it is like it, but because it proceeds from it. There is no death of sin but by the death of Christ; by virtue of it, and by interest in it.
Crucifixion is a violent and painful death; and so is the death of sin. Our sins must not be left to die of themselves. Some people, especially old people, think that they have left their sins, when the fact is, their sins have left them, or one sin has left them to make room for another. Sin must be seized, though in the height of its health and power; seized as a thief or a murderer who breaks into your house. It may be very painful to mortify the deeds of the body. Jesus Christ compares it to cutting off a right hand, or plucking out a right eye; but he says, this is better than going to hell with two hands or two eyes. It may be very hard to break off from old sins, but it must be done; and by the grace of God, it may be done.
Crucifixion is a scandalous death. Only the worst of slaves and criminals were put to death in this manner. So the Christian, who through the Spirit, mortifies the deeds of the body, puts off the old man of sin, and puts on the Lord Jesus Christ, may expect to be despised as his saviour was. The world will bear morality, but it hates holiness. Religion has generally borne some nick names. Formerly they called pious men Puritans as if it were a scandalous thing to be purified from the pollutions of the world; and now they call religious people Methodists, as if it were shameful to pursue methods which God himself prescribes. But "he that will live godly in Christ Jesus must suffer persecution."
Crucifixion is a slow and lingering death. Our Lord was several hours on the cross; and some have been as many days. So sin dies slowly. Mortifying the deeds of the body is a constant act; to be continued as long as we live. The best believer cannot say sin is dead, but he can bless God that sin is dying. It is nailed to the cross; has received some mortal wounds; it is gradually weakening; and, ere long, God will send death to give the finishing stroke, and the believer shall shout Victory, saying, Blessed be God who hath delivered me from this body of sin and death; I thank God through Jesus Christ my Lord.
But, by what means, or by what help, may we effectually mortify sin? Our text says, "Through the Spirit"—by the gracious aid and influences of the Holy Spirit enabling us to do it. "Without me,” said Christ, "ye can do nothing:" and experience proves it true. How many poor souls have been sensible of the error of their ways, at times alarmed about their sins, and have resolved to forsake them, and lead a new life? But knowing nothing of their own weakness or of Christ's strength, they have
"Resolved, and Re-resolved, and died the same."
To as little purpose have others said many prayers, fasted certain days, denied themselves the comforts of life, or submitted to the painful penance of popish priests. The power of sin was not lessened; the principle of sin was not weakened, the practice of sin was not prevented. When the sense of sin was worn off, and the fears of hell abated, they "returned like the dog to his vomit, and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire."
"A young gentleman, whose sensual lusts were extremely violent, procured an entire female skull; and every morning, before he went out, spent some minutes in surveying it; expecting that the sight of so unpleasing an object would operate as an antidote to the power of that temptation to which he was so subject. But alas, his corrupt inclination still prevailed, and he sinned as frequently as ever. So he gave away the skull, finding it did him no service. Afterwards God was pleased to convert him; and vital grace did that for him which a dead skull was unable to effect. His easily besetting sin had no more dominion over him from the day that the Holy Ghost laid effectual hold of his heart."
We must first have the Spirit, that we may experience his sanctifying power. Having the Spirit makes all the difference between a true Christian and a man of the world; for "if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his." "That which is born of the flesh is flesh." There is nothing in the flesh, or corrupt nature, that can crucify the flesh, or prevent its corrupt actings. Something of a nature directly contrary to it must be added, and that is a new and divine principle, implanted by regeneration; for "that which is born of the Spirit is Spirit:" The regenerated person is a spiritual person, possessed of a principle like its Author, and this principle acts according to its spiritual nature, in spiritual duties, and particularly in this, the mortification of sin.
The Spirit helps us to mortify sin by enabling us to discover it, and by shewing us its hateful and abominable nature; filling our souls with a sincere dislike to it, and a holy determination to destroy it. He takes away the stony insensible heart, and gives us a heart of flesh, a heart to mourn for sin, a heart to oppose sin, a heart to watch against sin, and shun the first approaches towards it.
But especially he helps us to mortify sin by giving us faith, and leading us to Christ for pardon, righteousness, and strength. In the first verse of this chapter it is said—"There is no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus,'' and then it follows—"who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit." Many of the Jews "followed after righteousness, but they did not attain it. Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law: for they stumbled at the stumbling stone." Let us beware of stumbling in the same manner. Faith in Christ is the chief instrument for killing sin. Behold the Lamb of God, bleeding and dying, not only to take away the guilt of sin that it may not condemn, but the power of sin also that it may not prevail. "Sin shall not have dominion over thee, believer, for thou art not under the law, but under grace." See, flowing from the wounded side of thy crucified Lord, blood and water; blood to pardon, water to cleanse. It was the design of the dear Redeemer "to destroy the works of the devil;" "to redeem us from all iniquity, and to purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works." The Lord Jesus having thus designed the death of sin in believers by his own death, is ready to apply the power of it for that purpose, to all who believe in him. Come, then by faith to Jesus; tell him of the power of thy sins, and of thy inability to destroy them; plead the fullness that is in him for thy supply; beseech him to subdue thine iniquities, and leave the matter in his hands. His grace is sufficient for thee: his strength shall be perfected in thy weakness. Expect his help. His power, his grace, his faithfulness, are all engaged for thine assistance, and thou shalt not apply or wait in vain.
This promised help of the Spirit does not exclude the use of means on our part. The Spirit so works in us, as also to work by us. The duty is ours; the grace is his. We must watch and pray, lest we enter into temptation. We must remember his eye is always upon us. We must call to mind the obligations we are under, from duty, from gratitude, from baptismal and sacramental engagements; the relation we bear to Christ, to the church, and the world. We must use with moderation the comforts of life, and instead of pampering the body, bring it under and keep it in subjection.
Thus doing, we shall live. There is no condemnation to persons of this character. Though they find, to their daily sorrow, that "the flesh lusteth against the Spirit," they have reason to rejoice that "the Spirit fighteth against the flesh." This is an evidence that they have "passed from death unto life." They live, indeed, for Christ liveth in them. They live to purpose, they live to God. And in this, their gradual sanctification, consists their meetness for heaven, where sin shall be done away. O, Christian, go on. Be not weary in well-doing, fight the good fight of faith, and lay hold on eternal life.
But, O, Sinner, what will be the end of thy present pursuits? "The end of these things is death." Lay to heart the solemn truths you heard in the beginning of this discourse. Remember that life and death have been set before you; life, if sin be slain; death, if sin prevail. Put home then to thy conscience the important question, Am I living after the flesh, or after the Spirit? And by this you may determine your present state and future prospects. If thou livest after the flesh thou shalt die; that is, thou shalt be damned. And are you in love with death and destruction? Is it nothing to you that the terrors of the Almighty are sounded in your ears? Do you love your sins so well as to be damned for them? O, be wiser! Set eternal pains against momentary pleasures. "The pleasures of sin are but for a season, but the pains of sin are for ever more." And O, do not flatter yourselves that you may enjoy the pleasures of sin in this world, and yet enjoy the pleasures of heaven in another. The God who says in our text, "If ye live after the flesh ye shall die,'' is a God of truth; he cannot lie. "Upon the wicked he will rain snares, fire and brim stone, and a horrible tempest; this shall be the portion of their cup." Come, then, forsake the foolish and live. Wrong not your own souls. Forsake not your own mercies. Let the time past suffice to have wrought the will of the Gentiles, and to have served divers lusts and pleasures. Open your eyes and behold your danger. Flee from the wrath to come. Confess your sins to God. Beseech him to pardon them; and pray for the Holy Spirit to work faith in your heart, and enable you to "mortify the deeds of the body, that you may live."