Galatians, v. 16, 17. 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.
Does this text seem to any of you difficult to understand? It need not be difficult to you; for it does not speak of anything which you do not know. It speaks of something which you have all felt, which goes on in you every day of your lives. It speaks of something, certainly, which is very curious, mysterious, difficult to put into words: but what is not curious and mysterious? The commonest things are usually the most curious? What is more wonderful than the beating of your heart; your pulse which beats all day long, without your thinking of it?
Just so this battle, this struggle, which St. Paul speaks of in this text, is going on in us all day long, and yet we hardly think of it. Now what is this battle? What are these things which are fighting continually in your mind and in mine? St. Paul calls them the flesh and the spirit. 'The flesh,' he says, 'lusts against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh.' They pull opposite ways. One wants to do one thing, and the other the other. But if so, one of them must be in the right, and the other in the wrong. Now, St. Paul says, when these two fall out with each other, the spirit is in the right, and the flesh in the wrong. And therefore, the secret of life is, to walk in the spirit, and so not to fulfil the lusts of the flesh.
But if so, it must be worth our while to find out which is flesh, and which is spirit in us, that we may know the foolish part of us from the wise. What the flesh is, we may see by looking at a dumb beast, which is all flesh, and has no immortal soul. It may be very cunning, brave, curiously formed, beautiful, but one thing you will always see, that a beast does what it likes, and only what it likes. And this is the mark of the flesh, that it does what it likes. It is selfish, and self-indulgent, cares for nothing but itself, and what it can get for itself.
True, you may raise a dumb beast above that, by taming and training it. You may teach a horse or dog to do what it does not like, and give it a sense of duty, and as it were awaken a soul in it. That is very wonderful, that we should be able to do so. It is a sign that man is made in God's likeness. But I cannot stay to speak of that now. I say our flesh, our animal nature, is selfish and self- indulgent. I do not say, therefore, that it is bad: God forbid. God made our bodies and brains, as well as our souls; and God makes nothing bad. It is blasphemous to say that he does. No, our bodies as bodies are good; the flesh as flesh is good, when it is in its right place; and its right place is to be servant, not master. We are not to walk after the flesh, says St. Paul: but the flesh is to walk after the spirit--in English, our bodies are to obey our spirits, our souls. For man has something higher than body in him. He has a spirit in him; and it is just having this spirit which makes him a man. For this spirit cares about higher things than mere gain and comfort. It can feel pity and mercy, love and generosity, justice and honour; and when a man not only feels them, but obeys them, then he is a true man--a Christian man: but, on the other hand, if a man does not; if he be a man in whom there is no mercy or pity, no generosity, no benevolence, no justice or honour; who cares for nothing and no one but himself, and filling his own stomach and his own pulse, and pleasing his own brute appetites in some way, what should you say of that man? You would say, he is like a brute beast--and you would say right--you would say just what St. Paul says. St. Paul would say, that man is fulfilling the lusts of the flesh; and you and St. Paul would mean just the same thing. Now, St. Paul says, 'The flesh in us lusts against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh.' And what do we gain by the spirit in us lusting against the flesh, and pulling us the opposite way? We gain this, St. Paul says, 'that we cannot do the things that we would.'
Does that seem no great gain to you? Let me put it a little plainer. St. Paul means this, and just this, that you may not do whatever you like. St. Paul thought it the very best thing for a man not to be able to do whatever he liked. As long, St. Paul says, as a man does whatever he likes, he lives according to the flesh, and is no better than a dumb beast: but as soon as he begins to live according to the spirit, and does not do whatever he likes, but restrains himself, and keeps himself in order, then, and then only, he becomes a true man.
But why not do whatever we like? Because if we did do so, we should be certain to do wrong. I do not mean that you and I here like nothing but what is wrong. God forbid. I trust the Spirit of God is with our spirits. But I mean this:--That if you could let a child grow up totally without any control whatsoever, I believe that before that lad was twenty-one he would have qualified himself for the gallows seven times over. Thank God, that cannot happen in England, because people are better taught, most of them at least; and more, we dare not do what we like, for fear of the law and the policeman.
But, if you knew the lives which savages lead, who have neither law outside them to keep them straight by fear, nor the Spirit of God within them to keep them straight by duty and honour, then you would understand what I mean only too well.
Now St. Paul says,--It is a good thing for a man not to be able to do what he likes. But there are two ways of keeping him from it. One is by the law, the other is by the Spirit of God. The law works on a man from the outside by fear; but the Spirit of God works in a man by honour, by the sense of duty, by making him like and love what is right, and making him see what a beautiful and noble thing right is.
Now St. Paul wants us to restrain ourselves, not from fear of being punished, but because we like to do right. That is what he means when he says that we are to be led by the Spirit, instead of being under the law. It is better to be afraid of the law than to do wrong: but it is best of all to do right from the Spirit, and of our own free will.
Am I puzzling you? I hope not: but, lest I should be, 1 will give you one simple example which ought to make all clear as to the struggle between a man's flesh and his spirit, and also as to doing right from the Spirit or from law.
Suppose you were a soldier going into battle. You see your comrades falling around you, disfigured and cut up; you hear their groans and cries; and you are dreadfully afraid: and no shame to you. It is the common human instinct of self-preservation. The bravest men have told me that they are afraid at first going into action, and that they cannot get over the feeling. But what part of you is afraid? Your flesh, which is afraid of pain, just as a beast is of the whip. Then your flesh perhaps says, Run away--or at least skulk and hide--take care of yourself. But next, if you were a coward, the law would come into your mind, and you would say, But I dare not run away; for, if I do, I shall be shot as a deserter, or broke, and drummed out of the army. So you may go on, even though you are a coward: but that is not courage. You have not conquered your own fear--you have not conquered yourself--but the law has conquered you.
But, if you are a brave man, as I trust you all are, a higher spirit than your own speaks to your spirit, and makes you say to yourself, I dare not run away; but, more, I cannot run away. I should like to--but I cannot do the things that I would. It is my duty to go on; it is right; it is a point of honour with me to my country, my regiment, my Queen, my God, and I must go on.
Then you are walking in the Spirit. You have conquered yourself, and so are a really brave man. You have obeyed the Spirit, and you have your reward by feeling inspirited, as we say; you can face death with spirit, and fight with spirit.
But the struggle between the Spirit and the flesh is not ended there. When you got excited, there would probably come over you the lust of fighting; you would get angry, get mad and lose your self- possession.
There is the flesh waking up again, and saying, Be cruel; kill every one you meet. And to that the Spirit answers, No; be reasonable and merciful. Do not fulfil the lusts of the flesh, and turn yourself into a raging wild beast. Your business is not to butcher human beings, but to win a battle.
Well; and even if you have conquered the enemy, you may not have conquered your worst enemy, which is yourself. For, after having fought bravely, and done your duty, what would the flesh say to you? I am sure it would say it to me. What but--Boast: talk of your own valiant deeds and successes; get all the praise and honour you can; and shew how much finer a person you are than any of your comrades. But what would the Spirit say?--and I trust you would all listen to the Spirit. The Spirit would say, No; do not boast; do not lower yourself into the likeness of a vain peacock: but be just, and be modest. Give every man his due; try to praise and recommend every one whom you can; and trust to God to make your doing your duty as clear as the light, and your brave actions as the noonday.
So, you see, all through, a man's flesh might be lusting, and would be lusting, against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and see, too, how in each case, the flesh is tempting the man to be cowardly, brutal, vain, selfish, and wrong in some way, and the Spirit is striving to make him forget himself, and think of his comrades and his duty.
Now when a man is led by the Spirit, if he is tempted to do wrong, he does not say, I will not do this wrong thing, but I cannot. I cannot do what you want me. I like to hear a man say that. It is a sign that he feels God's voice in him, which he must obey, whether he likes or not; as Joseph said when he was tempted. Not, I had rather not, or I dare not: but, How can I do this great wickedness against my master, who has trusted me, and put everything into my hand, and so, by being a treacherous traitor, sin against God?
Now, is this Spirit part of our spirits, or not? I think we confess ourselves that it is not. St. Paul says that it is not. For he says, there is one Spirit--that is, one good Spirit--of whom he speaks as the Spirit; and this, he says, is the Spirit of God, and the Spirit of Christ, and the Spirit which inspires the spirits of all noble, Christ-like, God-like men.
In this Spirit there is nothing proud, spiteful, cruel, nothing selfish, false, and mean; nothing violent, loose, debauched. But he is an altogether good and noble spirit, whose fruit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance. This, he says, is the Spirit of God; and this Spirit he gives to those spirits,--souls, as we call them now,--who desire it, that they may become righteous with the righteousness of Christ, and good with the goodness of God.
And is not this good news? I say, my friends, if we will look at it aright, there is no better news, no more inspiriting news for men like us, mixed up in the battle of life, and often pulled downward by our own bad passions, and ashamed of ourselves more or less, every day of our lives;--no better news, I say, than this, that what is good and right in us is not our own, but God's; that our longings after good, our sense of duty and honour, kindliness and charity, are not merely our own likings or fancies: but the voice of God's almighty and everlasting Spirit. Good news, indeed! For if God be for us who can be against us? If God's Spirit be with our spirits, they must surely be stronger than our selfish pleasure-loving flesh. If God himself be labouring to make us good; if he be putting into our hearts good desires; surely he can enable us to bring those desires to good effect: and all that is wanted of us, is to listen to God's voice within, and do the right like men, whatever pain it may cost us, sure that we, by God's help, shall win at last in the hardest battle of all battles, the victory over our own selves.