THE case of conscience to be discussed this morning, from these words, is, How a Christian may be able to check sin in the first risings of it.
“And without controversy great is this mystery of godliness,” and, if any other, of inestimable use and moment in the practice of Christianity. As the title which Solomon inscribes on the frontispiece of that divine poem of his, the Canticles, is, שיר השירים, “the Song of Songs;” and as Aristotle calls the hand, “the instrument of instruments,” and the mind, “the form of forms;” so may we with as just a reason style this holy skill of arresting and intercepting sin in its earliest motions and overtures, “the art of arts.” Could the chymists ever compass their grand elixir, it were but a poor and cheap trifle in comparison of this grand secret of the school of Christ. So that the case of conscience before us, like Diana of the Ephesians, is great and illustrious amidst its fellows.
My text presents us with it resolved in this excellent rule of sanctification: “Walk in the Spirit,” &c.
Wherein we have,
I. The principle and root of sin and evil,—the flesh with its lusts.
II. The opposite principle and root of life and righteousness,—the Divine Spirit.
III. The terms and bounds of a Christian’s conquest, how far he may hope for victory: “Ye shall not fulfil the lusts of the flesh.”
IV. The method and way of conquering: “Walk in the Spirit.” Of each a word:—
I. The principle and root of sin and evil, the flesh with its lusts.—The apostle meaneth (pardon the phrase) a spiritual flesh, not that of the body, but the mind. The immortal souls of men, through their apostasy from God, the blessed Source and Original of all goodness, are become carnal. (Rom. 8:7.) There is a principle of evil radicated in the very nature, interwoven in the very frame, and births, and constitution of all men; a bias that turns us off in large and wide aberrations from the paths of life and happiness, but with notorious partiality seduceth us into the ways of sin and death. This the Scripture calls “the old man,” (Eph. 4:22,) “the law of sin in our members,” and “the body of death,” &c. (Rom. 7:23, 24.)
The wiser Heathen felt, by the very dictate of reason, that human nature was not either as it should be, or as they could have wished it. What meaneth else that απτερια, ῶτεροῤῥυησις, “that hanging and flagging of the soul’s wings,” that drooping of her noblest faculties, and that fatal unwieldiness, and untractableness of the will to virtue, which the Platonists so much complain of?* and what meaneth that αναγκη ῶολλα τῳ Θεῳ δυσμκχουσα και αφηνιαζουσα, “that reluctancy to the divine life, and that impetuous hurry and propension” wherewith they felt themselves driven headlong towards folly and sensuality?
This “flesh” in man, this corrupt and depraved nature, is perpetually fly-blown with evil lustings. “This body of death,” like a rotten carcass, is constantly breeding vermin, as a filthy quagmire, a noisome Mephitis or Camarina, sends out stench and unsavouriness. This region of the lesser world, like Africa in the greater, swarms with monsters. It is “the valley of the shadow of death,” “a habitation for dragons, and a court for owls,” where dwell “the cormorant and the bittern, the raven, the screech-owl, and the satyr,” if I may allude to that of the prophet, (Isai. 34:11–14.) The apostle sets down elegantly the whole pedigree and lineage of evil: “Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.” (James 1:15.) Lust is the root of bitterness, fruitful in all the unfruitful works of darkness; and these, like the apples of Sodom and clusters of Gomorrah, if you gather them, crumble into the dust and ashes of death. They are fruits “nigh unto a curse, and whose end is to be burned.” (Heb. 6:8.)
That is the first, the “old Adam,” “the flesh with its lusts.”