The Rev. CHARLES G. FINNEY’S SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY (1851)
IN WHAT SAINTS AND SINNERS DIFFER.
(10.) Saints are interested in, and sympathize with, every effort to reform mankind, and promote the interests of truth and righteousness in the earth.
The good of being is the end for which the saint really and truly lives. This is not merely held by him as a theory, as an opinion, as a theological or philosophical speculation. It is in his heart, and precisely for this reason he is a saint. He is a saint just because the theory, which is lodged in the head of both saint and sinner, has also a lodgement and a reigning power in his heart, and consequently in his life. The fact is, that saints, as such, have no longer a wicked heart. They are “born again,” “born of God,” and “they cannot sin, for his seed remaineth in them, so that they cannot sin, because they are born of God.” “They have a new heart,” “are new creatures,” “old things are passed away, and behold all things are become new.” They are holy or sanctified persons. The Bible representations of the new birth forbid us to suppose that the truly regenerate have still a wicked heart. The nature of regeneration also renders it certain that the regenerate heart cannot be a wicked heart. His heart or choice is fixed upon the highest good of God and the universe as an end. Moral agents are so constituted, that they necessarily regard truth and righteousness, as conditions of the highest good of moral agents. These being necessarily regarded by them as indispensable to the end, will, and must be considered as important, as the end to which they sustain the relation of indispensable conditions. As they supremely value the highest good of being, they will, and must take a deep interest in whatever is promotive of that end. Hence, their spirit is necessarily that of the reformer. To the universal reformation of the world they stand committed. To this end they are devoted. For this end they live, and move, and have their being. Every proposed reform interests them, and naturally leads them to examine its claims. The fact is, they are studying and devising ways and means to convert, sanctify, reform mankind. Being in this state of mind, they are predisposed to lay hold on whatever gives promise of good to man. A close examination will show a remarkable difference between saints and sinners in this respect. True saints love reform. It is their business, their profession, their life to promote it; consequently they are ready to examine the claims of any proposed reform; candid and self-denying, and ready to be convinced, however much self-denial it may call them to. They have actually rejected self-indulgence, as the end for which they live, and are ready to sacrifice any form of self-indulgence, for the sake of promoting the good of men and the glory of God. It is not, and cannot be natural to them to be prejudiced against reform, to be apt to array themselves against, or speak lightly of, any proposed reform, until they have thoroughly examined its claims, and found it wanting in the essential attributes of true reform. The natural bearing or bias of the saint’s mind is in favour of whatever proposes to do good, and instead of ridiculing reform in general, or speaking lightly or censoriously of reform, the exact opposite is natural to him. It is natural to him to revere reformers, and to honour those who have introduced even what proved in the end not to be wholesome reforms, if so be there is evidence, that they were sincere and self-denying in their efforts to benefit mankind. The saint is truly and greatly desirous, and in earnest, to reform all sin out of the world, and just for this reason is ready to hail with joy, and to try whatever reform seems, from the best light he can get, to bid fair to put down sin, and the evils that are in the world. Even mistaken men, who are honestly endeavouring to reform mankind, and denying their appetites, as many have done in dietetic reform, are deserving of the respect of their fellow men. Suppose their philosophy to be incorrect, yet they have intended well. They have manifested a disposition to deny themselves, for the purpose of promoting the good of others. They have been honest and zealous in this. Now no true saint can feel or express contempt for such reformers, however much mistaken they may be. No; his natural sentiments and feelings will be, and must be, the reverse of contempt or censoriousness in respect to them. If their mistake has been injurious, he may mourn over the evil, but will not, cannot, severely judge the honest reformer. War, slavery, licentiousness, and all such like evils and abominations, are necessarily regarded by the saint as great and sore evils, and he longs for their complete and final overthrow. It is impossible that a truly benevolent mind should not thus regard these abominations of desolation. The cause of peace, the cause of anti-slavery, and that of the overthrow of licentiousness, must lie near the heart of every truly benevolent mind. I know that sinners often have a certain kind of interest in these and other reforms. This will be noticed and explained in the proper place. But whatever is true of sinners under certain circumstances, it must be always true of Christians, that they hail the cause of peace, of the abolition of slavery, and of the abolition of every form of sin, and of every evil, moral and physical, with joy, and cannot but give them a hearty God-speed. If they see that they are advocated on wrong principles, or with a bad spirit, or by bad men, and that injurious measures are used to promote them, the saints will mourn, will be faithful in trying to find out and to proclaim a more excellent way. Do but keep in mind the fact, that saints are truly benevolent, and are really and heartily consecrated to the highest good of being, and then it will surely be seen, that these things must be true of real saints.
The saints in all ages have been reformers. I know it is said, that neither prophets, Christ, nor apostles, nor primitive saints and martyrs declaimed against war and slavery, &c. But they did. The entire instructions of Christ, and of apostles and prophets, were directly opposed to these and all other evils. If they did not come out against certain legalized forms of sin, and denounce them by name, and endeavour to array public sentiment against them, it is plainly because they were, for the most part, employed in a preliminary work. To introduce the gospel as a divine revelation; to set up and organize the visible kingdom of God on earth; to lay a foundation for universal reform, was rather their business, than the pushing forward of particular branches of reform. The overthrow of state idolatry, the great and universal sin of the world in that age; the labour of getting the world and the governments of earth to tolerate and receive the gospel as a revelation from the one only living and true God; the controversy with the Jews, to overthrow their objections to Christianity; in short, the great and indispensable and preliminary work of gaining for Christ and his gospel a hearing, and an acknowledgment of its divinity, was rather their work, than the pushing of particular precepts and doctrines of the gospel to their legitimate results and logical consequences. This work once done has left it for later saints to bring the particular truths, precepts, and doctrines of the blessed gospel to bear down every form of sin. Prophets, Christ, and his apostles, have left on the pages of inspiration no dubious testimony against every form of sin. The spirit of the whole Bible breathes from every page blasting and annihilation upon every unholy abomination, while it smiles upon everything of good report that promises blessings to man and glory to God. The saint is not merely sometimes a reformer; he is always so. He is necessarily so, if he abide a saint. It is a contradiction to say, that a true saint is not devoted to reform; for, as I have said, he is a true saint just because he is devoted, heart, and soul, and life, and all, to the promotion of the good of universal being.
(11.) The sinner is never a reformer in any proper sense of the word.
He is selfish and never opposed to sin, or to any evil whatever, from any such motive as renders him worthy the name of reformer. He sometimes selfishly advocates and pushes certain outward reforms; but as certain as it is that he is an unregenerate sinner, so certain is it, that he is not endeavouring to reform sin out of the world from any disinterested love to God or to man. Many considerations of a selfish nature may engage him at times in certain branches of reform. Regard to his reputation may excite his zeal in such an enterprize. Self-righteous considerations may also lead him to enlist in the army of reformers. His relation to particular forms of vice may influence him to set his face against them. Constitutional temperament and tendencies may lead to his engaging in certain reforms. For example, his constitutional benevolence, as phrenologists call it, may be such that from natural compassion he may engage in reforms. But this is only giving way to an impulse of the sensibility, and it is not principle that governs him. His natural conscientiousness may modify his outward character, and lead him to take hold of some branches of reform. But whatever other motives he may have, sure it is that he is not a reformer; for he is a sinner, and it is absurd to say that a sinner is truly engaged in opposing sin as sin. No, it is not sin that he is opposing, but he is seeking to gratify an ambitious, a self-righteous, or some other spirit, the gratification of which is selfishness.
But as a general thing, it is easy to distinguish sinners, or deceived professors from saints by looking steadfastly at their temper and deportment in their relations to reform. They are self-indulgent, and sinners just for the reason that they are devoted to self-indulgence. Sometimes their self-indulgent spirit takes on one type, and sometimes another. Of course they need not be expected to ridicule or oppose every branch of reform, just because it is not every reformer that will rebuke their favourite indulgences, and call them to reform their lives. But as every sinner has one or more particular form of indulgence to which he is wedded, and as saints are devising and pushing reforms in all directions, it is natural that some sinners should manifest particular hostility to one reform, and some to another. Whenever a reform is proposed that would reform them out of their favourite indulgences, they will either ridicule it, and those that propose it, or storm and rail, or in some way oppose or wholly neglect it. Not so, and so it cannot be, with a true saint. He has no indulgence that he values when put in competition with the good of being. Nay, he holds his all and his life at the disposal of the highest good. Has he, in ignorance of the evils growing out of his course, used ardent spirits, wine, tobacco, ale, or porter? Has he held slaves; been engaged in any traffic that is found to be injurious; has he favoured war through ignorance; or, in short, has he committed any mistake whatever? let but a reformer come forth and propose to discuss the tendency of such things; let the reformer bring forth his strong reasons; and from the very nature of true religion, the saint will listen with attention, weigh with candour, and suffer himself to be carried by truth, heart, and hand, and influence with the proposed reform, if it be worthy of support, how much soever it conflict with his former habits. This must be true, if he has a single eye to the good of being, which is the very characteristic of a saint.
But the sinner, or deceived professor, is naturally a conservative as opposed to a reformer. He says, Let me alone in my indulgences, and I will let you alone in yours, provided they in no way interfere with my own. Consequently, he is in general disposed to distrust, to discountenance, and to ridicule reforms and those that advocate them. He is uncandid and hard to convince; will demand an express, “Thus saith the Lord,” or what is equivalent to a demonstration, of the wisdom and utility and practicability of a proposed reform. He will evince in many ways, that his heart is not predisposed to reforms. He will be eagle-eyed in respect to any faults in the character or measures of the reformers; he will be eager to detect and seize upon any error in their logic, and is easily displeased and repelled with their measures.
In short, sinners will be almost sure to manifest a latent dislike to reforms. They will dwell much and almost exclusively upon the evils of revivals of religion, for example; the danger of spurious excitements; of promoting fanaticism and misrule; of encouraging false hopes; and they will in various ways manifest a disrelish for revivals of religion, but always under the pretence of a concern for the purity of the church, and honour of God. They will be too much taken up with the evils and dangers, ever to give themselves heartily to the promotion of pure revivals. They act on the defensive. They have enough to do to resist and oppose what they call evils, without even trying to show a more excellent way. They in general take substantially the same course in respect to almost every branch of reformation, and especially to every reform that can touch their idols. They are so much afraid of mistakes and evils, that they withhold their influence, when in fact the difficulty is, they have no heart to the work. Benevolence has been for thousands of years endeavouring to reform the world, and selfishness is opposing it. And often, very often, under the sanctimonious garb of a concern for the honour of religion, selfishness utters its sighs and lamentations over the supposed ignorance, mistakes, fanaticism, and injurious measures, of those whose hearts and hands and entire being are devoted to the work.
(12.) Christians overcome the world. I will here introduce an extract from a discourse of my own upon this text, reported in the Oberlin Evangelist:–
“For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.”– 1Jo_5:4.
FIRST. What is it to overcome the world?
(i.) It is to get above the spirit of covetousness which possesses the men of the world. The spirit of the world is eminently the spirit of covetousness. It is a greediness after the things of the world. Some worldly men covet one thing, and some another; but all classes of worldly men are living in the spirit of covetousness, in some of its forms. This spirit has supreme possession of their minds.
Now the first thing in overcoming the world is, that the spirit of covetousness in respect to worldly things and objects, be overcome. The man who does not overcome this spirit of bustling and scrambling after the good which this world proffers, has by no means overcome it.
(ii.) Overcoming the world implies, rising above its engrossments. When a man has overcome the world, his thoughts are no longer engrossed and swallowed up with worldly things. A man certainly does not overcome the world, unless he gets above being engrossed and absorbed with its concerns.
Now we all know how exceedingly engrossed worldly men are with some form of worldly good. One is swallowed up with study; another with politics; a third with money-getting; and a fourth, perhaps, with fashion and pleasure; but each in his chosen way makes earthly good the all-engrossing object.
The man who gains the victory over the world, must overcome not one form only of its pursuits, but every form–must overcome the world itself, and all that it has to present, as an allurement to the human heart.
(iii.) Overcoming the world implies overcoming the fear of the world.
It is a mournful fact that most men, and indeed all men of worldly character have so much regard to public opinion, that they dare not act according to the dictates of their consciences, when acting thus would incur the popular frown. One is afraid lest his business should suffer, if his course runs counter to public opinion; another fears, lest if he stands up for the truth, it will injure his reputation, and curiously imagines and tries to believe, that advocating an unpopular truth will diminish and perhaps destroy his good influence–as if a man could exert a good influence in any possible way besides maintaining the truth.
Great multitudes, it must be admitted, are under this influence of fearing the world; yet some of them, and perhaps many of them, are not aware of this fact. If you, or if they, could thoroughly sound the reasons of their backwardness in duty, fear of the world would be among the chief. Their fear of the world’s displeasure is so much stronger than their fear of God’s displeasure, that they are completely enslaved by it. Who does not know that some ministers dare not preach what they know is true, and even what they know is important truth, lest they should offend some whose good opinion they seek to retain? The society is weak perhaps, and the favour of some rich man in it seems indispensable to its very existence. Hence the terror of this rich man is continually before their eyes, when they write a sermon, or preach, or are called to stand up in favour of any truth or cause, which may be unpopular with men of more wealth than piety or conscience. Alas! this bondage to man! Many gospel ministers are so troubled by it, that their time serving policy becomes virtually renouncing Christ, and serving the world.
Overcoming the world is thoroughly subduing this servility to men.
(iv.) Overcoming the world implies overcoming a state of worldly anxiety. You know there is a state of great carefulness and anxiety which is common and almost universal among worldly men. It is perfectly natural, if the heart is set upon securing worldly good, and has not learned to receive all good from the hand of a great Father, and trust him to give or withhold, with his own unerring wisdom. But he who loves the world is the enemy of God, and hence can never have this filial trust in a parental Benefactor, nor the peace of soul which it imparts. Hence worldly men are almost incessantly in a fever of anxiety lest their worldly schemes should fail. They sometimes get a momentary relief when all things seem to go well: but some mishap is sure to befall them at some point soon, so that scarce a day passes that brings not with it some corroding anxiety. Their bosoms are like the troubled sea, which cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt.
But the man who gets above the world, gets above this state of ceaseless and corroding anxiety.
(v.) The victory under consideration implies, that we cease to be enslaved and in bondage by the world, in any of its forms.
There is a worldly spirit, and there is also a heavenly spirit; and one or the other exists in the heart of every man, and controls his whole being. Those who are under the control of the world, of course have not overcome the world. No man overcomes the world till his heart is imbued with the spirit of Heaven.
One form which the spirit of the world assumes is, being enslaved to the customs and fashions of the day.
It is marvellous to see what a goddess Fashion becomes. No heathen goddess was ever worshipped with costlier offerings or more devout homage, or more implicit subjection. And surely no heathen deity, since the world began, has ever had more universal patronage. Where will you go to find the man of the world, or the woman of the world, who does not hasten to worship at her shrine? But overcoming the world implies, that the spirit of this goddess-worship is broken.
They who have overcome the world are no longer careful either to secure its favour or avert its frown, and the good or the ill opinion of the world is to them a small matter. “To me,” said Paul, “it is a small thing to be judged of man’s judgment.” So of every real Christian; his care is to secure the approbation of God; this is his chief concern, to commend himself to God and to his own conscience. No man has overcome the world unless he has attained this state of mind. Scarcely any feature of Christian character is more striking or more decisive than this,–indifference to the opinions of the world.
Since I have been in the ministry I have been blessed with the acquaintance of some men who were peculiarly distinguished by this quality of character. Some of you may have known the Rev. James Patterson, late of Philadelphia. If so, you know him to have been eminently distinguished in this respect. He seemed to have the least possible disposition to secure the applause of men, or to avoid their censure. It seemed to be of no consequence to him to commend himself to men. For him it was enough if he might please God. Hence you were sure to find him in everlasting war against sin, all sin, however popular, however entrenched by custom, or sustained by wealth, or public opinion. Yet he always opposed sin with a most remarkable spirit, a spirit of inflexible decision, and yet of great mellowness and tenderness. While he was saying the most severe things in the most severe language, you might see the big tears rolling down his cheeks.
It is wonderful that most men never complained of his having a bad spirit. Much as they dreaded his rebuke, and writhed under his strong and daring exposures of wickedness, they could never say that father Patterson had any other than a good spirit. This was a most beautiful and striking exemplification of having overcome the world.
Men who are not thus dead to the world have not escaped its bondage. The victorious Christian is in a state where he is no longer in bondage to man. He is bound only to serve God.
SECONDLY. We must inquire, who are those that overcome the world?
Our text gives the ready answer. “Whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world.” You cannot fail to observe, that this is a universal proposition,–all who are born of God overcome the world–all these, and it is obviously implied, none others. You may know who are born of God by this characteristic–they overcome the world. Of course the second question is answered.
THIRDLY. Our next question is, Why do believers overcome the world? On what principle is this result effected?
I answer, this victory over the world, results as naturally from the spiritual or heavenly birth, as coming into bondage to the world results from the natural birth.
It may be well to revert a moment to the law of connection in the latter case: namely, between coming into the world by natural birth, and bondage to the world. This law obviously admits of a philosophical explanation, at once simple and palpable to every one’s observation. Natural birth reveals to the mind objects of sense, and these only. It brings the mind into contact with worldly things. Of course, it is natural that the mind should become deeply interested in these objects, thus presented through its external senses, especially as most of them sustain so intimate a relation to our sentient nature, and become the first and chief sources of our happiness. Hence our affections are gradually entwined around these objects, and we become thoroughly lovers of this world, ere our eyes have been opened upon it many months.
Now, alongside of this universal fact, let another be placed of equal importance, and not less universal; namely, that those intuitive powers of the mind, which were created to take cognizance of our moral relations, and hence to counteract the too great influence of worldly objects, come into action very slowly, and are not developed so as to act vigorously, until years are numbered as months are, in the case of the external organs of sense. The very early and vigorous developement of the latter brings the soul so entirely under the control of worldly objects, that when the reason and the conscience come to speak, their voice is little heeded. As a matter of fact, we find it universally true that, unless Divine power interpose, the bondage to the world thus induced upon the soul, is never broken.
But the point which I particularly desired to elucidate was simply this, that natural birth, with its attendant laws of physical and mental developement, becomes the occasion of bondage to this world.
Right over against this, lies the birth into the kingdom of God by the Spirit. By this the soul is brought into new relations, we might rather say, into intimate contact with spiritual things. The Spirit of God seems to usher the soul into the spiritual world, in a manner strictly analogous to the result of the natural birth upon our physical being. The great truths of the spiritual world are opened to our view, through the illumination of the Spirit of God; we seem to see with new eyes, and to have a new world of spiritual objects around us.
As in regard to natural objects, men not only speculate about them, but realize them; so in the case of spiritual children do spiritual things become, not merely matters of speculation, but of full and practical realization also. When God reveals himself to the mind, spiritual things are seen in their real light, and make the impression of realities.
Consequently, when spiritual objects are thus revealed to the mind, and thus apprehended, they will supremely interest that mind. Such is our mental constitution that the truth of God, when thoroughly apprehended, cannot fail to interest us. If these truths were clearly revealed to the wickedest man on earth, so that he should apprehend them as realities, it could not fail to rouse up his soul to most intense action. He might hate the light, and might stubbornly resist the claims of God upon his heart, but he could not fail to feel a thrilling interest in truths that so take hold of the great and vital things of human well-being.
Let me ask, Is there a sinner, or can there be a sinner on this wide earth, who does not see, that if God’s presence were made as manifest and as real to his mind as the presence of his fellow men, it would supremely engross his soul, even though it might not subdue his heart?
This revelation of God’s presence and character might not convert him, but it would, at least for the time being, kill his attention to the world.
You often see this in the case of persons deeply convicted; you have doubtless seen persons so fearfully convicted of sin, that they cared nothing at all for their food nor their dress. O, they cried out in the agony of their souls, what matter all these things to us, if we even get them all, and then must lie down in hell!
But these thrilling and all-absorbing convictions do not necessarily convert the soul, and I have alluded to them here only to show the controlling power of realizing views of divine truth.
When regeneration has taken place, and the soul is born of God, then realizing views of truth not only awaken interest, as they might do in an unrenewed mind, but they also tend to excite a deep and ardent love for these truths. They draw out the heart. Spiritual truth now takes possession of his mind, and draws him into its warm and life-giving embrace. Before, error, falsehood, death, had drawn him under their power; now the Spirit of God draws him into the very embrace of God. Now, he is begotten of God, and breathes the spirit of sonship. Now, according to the Bible, “the seed of God remaineth in him,” that very truth, and those movings of the Spirit which gave him birth into the kingdom of God, continue still in power upon his mind, and hence he continues a Christian, and as the Bible states it, “he cannot sin, because he is born of God.” The seed of God is in him, and the fruit of it brings his soul deeply into sympathy with his Father in heaven.
Again: the first birth makes us acquainted with earthly things, the second with God; the first with the finite, the second with the infinite; the first with things correlated with our animal nature, the second with those great things which stand connected with our spiritual nature, things so lovely, and glorious as to overcome all the ensnarements of the world.
Again: the first begets a worldly, and the second a heavenly, temper; under the first, the mind is brought into a snare, under the second, it is delivered from that snare. Under the first, the conversation is earthly, under the second, “our conversation is in heaven.”. . . . .
He who does not habitually overcome the world, is not born of God. In saying this, I do not intend to affirm that a true Christian may not sometime be overcome by temptation; but I do affirm that overcoming the world is the general rule, and falling into sin is only the exception. This is the least that can be meant by the language of our text, and by similar declarations which often occur in the Bible. Just as in the passage: “He that is born of God doth not commit sin, and he cannot sin because he is born of God.” Nothing less can be meant than this–that he cannot sin habitually–cannot make sinning his business, and can sin, if at all, only occasionally and aside from the general current of his life. In the same manner, we should say of a man who is almost universally truthful, that he is not a liar.
I will not contend for more than this, respecting either of these passages; but for so much as this I must contend, that the new-born souls here spoken of do, all of them, habitually overcome the world. The general fact respecting them is, that they do not sin, and are not in bondage to Satan. The affirmations of Scripture respecting them must, at least, embrace their general character.
What is a religion good for that does not overcome the world? What is the benefit of being born into such a religion, if it leaves the world still swaying its dominion over our hearts? What avails a new birth, which, after all, fails to bring us into a likeness to God, into the sympathies of his family, and of his kingdom, which leaves us still in bondage to the world and to Satan? What can there be of such a religion more than the name? With what reason can any man suppose, that such a religion fits his soul for heaven, supposing it leaves him earthly-minded, sensual, and selfish?
We see why it is that infidels have proclaimed the gospel of Christ to be a failure. You may not be aware that of late infidels have taken this ground, that the gospel of Christ is a failure. They maintain that it professes to bring men out from the world, but fails to do so; and hence is manifestly a failure. Now, you must observe, that the Bible does indeed affirm, as infidels say, that those who are truly born of God do overcome the world. This we cannot deny, and we should not wish to deny it. Now, if the infidel can show that the new birth fails to produce this result, he has carried his point, and we must yield ours. This is perfectly plain, and there can be no escape for us.
But the infidel is in fault in his premises. He assumes the current Christianity of the age as a specimen of real religion, and builds his estimate upon this. He proves, as he thinks,–and perhaps truly proves–that the current Christianity does not overcome the world.
We must demur to his assuming this current Christianity as real religion. For this religion of the mass of nominal professors does not answer the descriptions given of true piety in the word of God. And, moreover, if this current type of religion were all that the gospel and the Divine Spirit can do for lost man, then we might as well give up the point in controversy with the infidel; for such a religion could not give us much evidence of having come from God, and would be of very little value to man,–so little as scarcely to be worth contending for. Truly, if we must take the professedly Christian world, as Bible Christians, who would not be ashamed and confounded in attempting to confront the infidel? We know but too well, that the great mass of professed Christians do not overcome the world, and we should be confounded quickly if we were to maintain that they do. Those professed Christians themselves know, that they do not overcome the world. Of course they could not testify concerning themselves, that in their own case the power of the gospel is exemplified.
In view of facts like these, I have often been astonished to see ministers setting themselves to persuade their people, that they are truly converted, trying to lull their fears and sustain their tottering hopes. Vain effort! Those same ministers, it would seem, must know that they themselves do not overcome the world, and equally well must they know that their people do not. How fatal then to the soul must be such efforts to “heal the hurt of God’s professed people, slightly; crying peace, peace, when there is no peace!”
Let us sift this matter to the bottom, pushing the inquiry–Do the great mass of professed Christians really overcome the world? It is a fact beyond question, that with them the things of the world are realities, and the things of God are mere theories. Who does not know that this is the real state of great multitudes in the nominal church?
Let the searching inquiry run through this congregation–What are those things that set your soul on fire–that stir up your warmest emotions, and deeply agitate your nervous system? Are these the things of earth, or the things of heaven? the things of time, or the things of eternity? the things of self, or the things of God?
How is it when you go into your closets? Do you go there to seek and to find God? Do you, in fact, find there a present God, and do you hold communion there as friend with friend? How is this?
Now you certainly should know, that if your state is such that spiritual things are mere theories and speculations, you are altogether worldly and nothing more. It would be egregious folly and falsehood to call you spiritual-minded; and for you to think yourselves spiritual, would be the most fatal and foolish self-deception. You give none of the appropriate proofs of being born of God. Your state is not that of one who is personally acquainted with God, and who loves him personally with supreme affection.
Until we can put away from the minds of men the common error, that the current Christianity of the church is true Christianity, we can make but little progress in converting the world. For, in the first place, we cannot save the church itself from bondage to the world in this life, nor from the direst doom of the hypocrite in the next. We cannot unite and arm the church in vigorous onset upon Satan’s kingdom, so that the world may be converted to God. We cannot even convince intelligent men of the world that our religion is from God, and brings to fallen men a remedy for their depravity. For if the common Christianity of the age is the best that can be, and this does not give men the victory over the world, what is it good for? And if it is really of little worth or none, how can we hope to make thinking men prize it as of great value?
There are but very few infidels who are as much in the dark as they profess to be on these points. There are very few of that class of men, who are not acquainted with some humble Christians, whose lives commend Christianity and condemn their own ungodliness. Of course they know the truth, that there is a reality in the religion of the Bible, and they blind their own eyes selfishly and most foolishly, when they try to believe that the religion of the Bible is a failure, and that the Bible is therefore a fabrication. Deep in their heart lies the conviction that here and there are men who are real Christians, who overcome the world, and live by a faith unknown to themselves. In how many cases does God set some burning examples of Christian life before those wicked, sceptical men, to rebuke them for their sin and their scepticism–perhaps their own wife or their children–their neighbours or their servants. By such means the truth is lodged in their mind, and God has a witness for himself in their consciences.
(13.) But the sinner does not overcome the world. The world in some form overcomes him. Its cares, engrossments, pleasures, business, politics, influence, in some form, are his master. Nor does he escape from its dominion over his heart, if he resorts to a nunnery or a monastery, or betakes himself to the life of an ascetic or of a recluse, and shuts himself out from human society. The world is still his master, and holds him in a state of banishment from its domain. Many think they have overcome the world, merely because the world has so completely overcome them. It is so completely their master, as to force them to back out of it, to hide themselves from it. They have not got the world under their feet, but it has got them into banishment from that field of labour and of usefulness, where God and reason call them to labour. The world has prevailed to rout them from their stronghold in Christ, and drive them to take refuge in monasteries, nunneries, and in caves and dens of the earth. What an infinite mistake to suppose that this is overcoming the world! To forsake our field of labour, to give over our work, to let the world of sinners go down to hell, and go ourselves into exile from the world. Or at the bidding of the world, be driven completely from the battle field, and hide in caves and dens, and proclaim ourselves the victors, when in fact we have fled before, and unbelievingly succumbed to, the enemy, instead of subduing and overcoming him by faith.
But in general. Sinners do not betake themselves to flight in this way, but abide in the world, and tamely submit to wear its chains. Let it be distinctly understood, that the true difference between saints and sinners is, that while they both live in the world, both mingle in its scenes, and engage in its affairs, both have families or not, as the case may be, both provide for the body, cultivate the soil, or follow some occupation, the saint has not a worldly, selfish end in view. He is not enslaved by the world, but his heart is steadfast, serving the Lord. Whatever he does, he does it, not for some selfish end, but for God. Does he provide for himself and his family? he does it as a service rendered to God. He regards himself as the Lord’s and not his own. He regards himself as the Lord’s steward, and in whatever employment he is engaged, he accounts it the Lord’s business, and himself as the Lord’s servant in transacting it. He is not his own; he has no business of his own. The world is not his, nor is he the world’s. He does not bow down to it, nor serve it. He has been chosen out of the world, and therefore, while employed by his Master in it, he does all, not for self, but for God.
Not so with the sinner. He counts his business his own. Hence he is full of cares and anxieties. The losses in business are his losses, and the profits are his profits. Living and transacting business for the Lord is only a theory with him. The practical fact with him is, that he is in bondage to the world. He serves the world, or rather, he serves himself of the world. The world he serves as a means of self-gratification. The saint serves God of, or with, the world; the sinner, himself. The saint uses the world as not abusing it; the sinner abuses it, and uses it to gratify his own lusts. The saint overcomes the world, because he uses it for God: the sinner is overcome by the world, because he uses it for himself.
(14.) The true saint overcomes the flesh. This term is sometimes used in the gospel to signify the sensibility, as distinguished from the intelligence, and at other times in a more literal sense, and signifies the bodily appetites and passions. The true saint is represented in the Bible as one who overcomes both his bodily appetites and passions, and also as overcoming the flesh, in the still wider sense of the sensibility. “This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary the one to the other, so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. But if ye be led by the Spirit, ye are not under the law. 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; of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.”– Gal_5:16-24. “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death; that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we should walk in newness of life.”– Rom_6:1-4. “There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. 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. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life, because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you. Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh to live after the flesh. For 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. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.”– Rom_8:1-14.
With the saint it is not merely acknowledged to be a duty to overcome the flesh, but he actually does overcome, and he is a saint just because he is delivered from the bondage of the flesh, and introduced into the glorious liberty of the children of God. Saints no longer mind or obey the flesh. Their God is not their belly, nor do they mind earthly things. This is the uniform representation of scripture respecting them. They are not the slaves of appetite, or passion, or lust, under any form, but they are the Lord’s freemen. This is not only the representation of scripture, but must of course be true from the nature of regeneration. Regeneration consists, let it be remembered, in the will’s ceasing to be governed by the propensities of the flesh, and committing itself to the good of being. If the Bible did not represent the regenerate as overcoming the world and the flesh, it would not only be inconsistent with itself, but also with matter of fact. It would not, in such case, recognize the nature of regeneration. We are now considering, not what is true of the mass of professing Christians, but what is and must be true of real saints. Of them it must be true, that they do overcome the world and the flesh. While they live in the flesh, they walk not after the flesh; for if they did, they would not be saints. What is a religion worth that does not, as a matter of fact, overcome the flesh? The dominion of the flesh is sin, and does not the new birth imply a turning away from sin? Let it be for ever understood, that regeneration implies, not merely the conviction and the theory that the flesh ought to be overcome, but that it actually is overcome. The regenerate “do not sow to the flesh;” “do not live after the flesh;” “do not mind the flesh;” “do not war after the flesh;” “have crucified the flesh with its affections and lusts;” “through the Spirit do mortify (kill) the deeds of the body;” “keep under their bodies, and bring them into subjection.” This not only ought to be, but it must be, the character of a true saint.
(15.) The sinner is overcome by the flesh. Self-indulgence is his law. Some one or more of the phrenological, or constitutional impulses always control his will. He not only “lives in the flesh, but walks after the flesh.” He “fulfills the desires of the flesh and of the mind.” He is “carried away with his own lusts, and enticed.” “His God is his belly,” and “he minds earthly things.” He “is in bondage to the flesh.” This is his unfailing characteristic, that he is governed, not by the law of God, but by his own desires. He is the creature of impulse, and a sinner, just because he is so. With him to conquer the flesh is a matter of duty, of opinion, of theory, and not of actual performance and experience. He holds that he ought to overcome, but knows that he does not. He acknowledges the obligation in theory, but denies it in practice. He knows what he ought to do, but does it not. He knows what a Christian ought to be, but is aware that he is not what a Christian ought to be. There seems to be an infatuation among sinners, those especially that profess to be Christians. They can profess to be Christians, and yet know and acknowledge that they are not what Christians ought to be, strangely assuming that a man can be and is a Christian, who is not what a Christian ought to be: in other words, that he can be a Christian without possessing just that which constitutes a Christian; to wit, a heart conformed to the intellect’s apprehension of duty. This is just what makes a Christian; not his seeing and acknowledging what he ought to be, but his actually doing his duty, his actually embracing and conforming to the truth. The deceived professor knows, that he is not free, that he is in bondage to his flesh and his desires, but hopes on, because he thinks that this is common to all Christians. He sees and approves the truth, and often resolves to overcome his flesh, but, as in the seventh of Romans, he “finds a law in his members warring against the law of his mind, and bringing him into captivity to the law of sin in his members.” He can resolve, but does not carry out his resolves. When he resolves to do good, evil is present with him, and conquers him. Of all this he is conscious, but he has taken up the fatal delusion that this was Paul’s experience at the time he wrote this chapter, and consequently, that it must be the experience of all Christians. He does not run his eye along into the eighth chapter, and see the contrast between the experience there portrayed, and affirmed to be the experience of all Christians. He does not observe, that the apostle is designing in these two chapters to contrast a Christian, with a legal and self-righteous experience, but holds on to his delusion, and observes not, that the apostle begins the eighth chapter by the affirmation, that all who are in Christ Jesus are delivered from the bondage of which he was speaking in the seventh chapter, and no longer walk after the flesh, but after the Spirit; that the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has actually made them free from the law of sin and death, which is in their members. How strange that these chapters are so misunderstood and perverted. And how monstrous and how melancholy the fact, that the great mass of professing Christians, to this day, recognize the seventh and not the eighth chapter of Romans, as their own experience! According to this, the new birth or regeneration does not break the power of the propensities over the will. The truth is, and must not be disguised, that they have not a just idea of regeneration. They mistake conviction for regeneration. They are so enlightened, as to perceive and affirm their obligation to deny the flesh, and often resolve to do it, but, in fact, do it not. They only struggle with the flesh, but are continually worsted and brought into bondage; and this they call a regenerate state. O! sad. What then is regeneration good for? What does it avail? The Bible represents regeneration as a “being born from above,” “being born of God,” and expressly affirms, that “whatsoever is born of God, overcometh the world,” and affirms, that “whosoever is born of God does not commit sin, and cannot sin, because his seed (God’s seed) remaineth in him, so that he cannot sin, because he is born of God;” “that he is a new creature, that old things are passed away, and that all things are become new;” “that he is alive from the dead;” that he “has crucified the flesh with its affections and lusts;” that “he is dead to sin, and alive unto God,” and many such like representations: and yet, infinitely strange to tell, the seventh chapter of Romans is recognized as a Christian experience, in the face of the whole Bible, and in opposition to the very nature of regeneration, and the experience of every true saint. The sinner is a sinner just, and only, because he knows his duty and does it not. He apprehends the law of the intelligence, but minds the impulses of his sensibility. This is the very character which the apostle is so graphically portraying in the seventh chapter of Romans. He could not possibly have given a more graphic picture of a sinner when he is enlightened, and yet enslaved by his propensities. It is a full-length portrait of a sinner, enlightened and struggling for liberty, and yet continually falling and floundering under the galling bondage of his own lusts. And that this should be considered the experience of a regenerate heart!
Now let it be remembered, that just the difference between saints and sinners, and especially deceived professors, is expressed and clearly illustrated in the seventh and eighth chapters of Romans; and to do this was the very design of the writer of this epistle. The difference consists in just this: they both see what they ought to do; the one does it in fact, while the other only resolves to do it, but does it not. They both have bodies, and both have all the constitutional propensities. But the saint overcomes them all. He has the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him he is delivered from the body of sin and of death, and made free from the law of sin in his members. He is a conqueror, and more than a conqueror. The sinner only cries out, “O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” But he cannot add, “I thank God through Jesus Christ my Lord,” I am delivered, which is the evident meaning of the apostle, as appears from what immediately follows, in the beginning of the eighth chapter. The sinner sees his captivity and groans under it, but does not escape. They are both tempted. The saint overcomes through Christ. The sinner is overcome. The sinner is conquered, instead of being like the saint, a conqueror. He cannot exultingly say with the saint, “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death;” but still complains with the captive, “I see a law in my members warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am!”