In the believer there is the natural mind, and there is the spiritual, or "the mind of Christ". Now it is as each is addressed that the ministry is spiritual or carnal.
When the theme in the mind of the speaker is simply Christ in His divine reality, the ministry is spiritual; but when man, or his acceptance of the subject, is the attempt or desire before the mind, it is not so. My speaking, says the apostle, was not in the persuasive words of man's wisdom, but "in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God". It is not here a question of having the truth but of how it is presented. The same truth might be held by two men, and one would press it in the wisdom of man, and the other in the demonstration of the Spirit and of power.
The true servant, the more active his own mind, and the more he naturally values mind in itself, will seek the more sedulously to keep it under the control of the Spirit of God. This is in character the exercise which occurs in every godly soul daily, I might say hourly, whether I am led by the Spirit of God or by my own inclinations. We are set by grace with a divine nature, the nature of a Man new to us; and in His Spirit we are to act and behave ourselves, in the scene of our former self, as it were, in the way and manner of Christ. It is not that the old is annihilated, but while it still exists, and where it has existed without interference, there it is to be superseded by and contrasted with the life of the One who has pleased God in every path and line of life down here. This is the daily exercise of every true christian. "If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit". "Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh", Galatians 5: 25, 16. Now this true daily exercise, common to and incumbent on every saint, is par excellence to be observed by the minister.
If I minister to that which should be repressed and supplanted, I am defeating the very object of ministry; for instead of really helping souls, I am, by the wisdom of men, in some form ministering to the flesh. In every case, whether in myself, or in ministering to others, the one great thing is that the Spirit should be heard. Hence, if I were speaking to the unconverted, the one great thing I should seek would be that he should hear the voice of the Lord. I do not seek so much to convince him of anything as to bring his conscience under the eye of God. It is God I seek to present. It is His coming near in grace, detecting man's distance in the words, "Where art thou?" that I insist on as led by the Spirit of God. It is how God would speak, and not how man might be convinced. It is evident that it must be in intelligible language, for the conscience cannot be addressed if the words used are not comprehended. But as I carefully avoid, in my own private walk and course, the counsel or dictation of my natural mind, so do I refuse and avoid every mere natural means, in language or manner, which would recognize and minister to the natural mind which is enmity to God. The one aim is to bring God's voice close to man's conscience. It is not man's voice, nor man's arguments, for then it is all man; but it is to be the messenger of God, and that man's conscience may own it. As Manoah said, "we have seen God". It is more difficult, though not less necessary, in speaking to the unconverted, to avoid and refuse the wisdom of men, because they have no spiritual mind to reach, and, therefore, if I am not very truly and simply in the Spirit, I am not really coming from God to this dark soul. In speaking to quickened souls, one thing must be borne in mind, that anything that is not of the Spirit of God will not really cleave to the new man in the believer; hence there is loss of time on both sides when the wisdom of men is resorted to, instead of the demonstration of the Spirit and power, and it is here that bad building occurs. 1 Cor. 3: 10-15. Once the servant of God enters into the impossibility of the flesh and the Spirit being in any concert, he is on his guard, fearing the intrusion of the flesh, for the latter is not only labour in vain, but it damages souls. A tower begun in that crumbling material will not stand, like the house built on the sand. The more I am in the Spirit, the more closely do I adhere to the pure mind or revelation of God in His word; and the more this is insisted on, the more the flesh is repelled and subdued by it.
The wisdom of men excites and arouses the natural mind, and countenances the flesh, even though it provokes controversy and opposition. If the flesh, in its mind, is absolutely and continuously refused in ministry, there will be deepening in the soul as it is conscious of the incongruity of its being acknowledged and indulged in one's course and manner of life. But if in the ministry the flesh in any way gets a place, it will surely follow that in practical life there is a manifest admission of the tastes and ruling of the flesh. Whenever you see forwardness or timidity in one in natural life, there is surely an element of the flesh answering to it in that man's ministry, and if it had been refused in the ministry, it would have been rebuked in daily life. If not excluded from the pulpit, so to speak, it will be sure to be very prominent at one's fireside. If permitted and sanctioned in the house of God, it will almost reign in my own. The failure from the first has been that the Spirit of God has not been maintained in His proper place. He is here to testify of Christ, and to maintain Him in vigor and power in the believer's soul. When the servant loses sight of the Spirit as the sole power and aid in ministry, he is sure to enfeeble His activity or rule in his own heart, and thus a place is given to worldliness and the desires of the flesh. Surely if a place or recognition be given it in our services for God, there can be no escape from it in our own things; and it is here that the chief damage has resulted from carnal ministry. "They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them", 1 John 4: 5. Those who first withdrew from the church were not simply worldly, but the Spirit of God designates them as "sensual, having not the Spirit". They were of the natural mind, and could not brook the things of the Spirit of God. What gave the false teachers an acceptance denied to Paul, but that they in their ministry addressed the natural man? They desired to make a fair show in the flesh, that they might glory in your flesh; then would the offence of the cross cease. The carnal ministry gave countenance to the flesh, and with it the compound of ritualism and rationalism in Colossians 2.
Man will accept to be a religious being, when allowed and claimed in the natural state. Christianity was nominally embraced under a ministry which virtually denied it. The one hindrance on every side was the wisdom of men, and yet the great testimony of christianity is that man is no longer to live in the flesh; for if we live after the flesh we shall die, but if we through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, we shall live. The great thing now is to be in the body and yet neither to live in the flesh nor walk after it. The false teacher is the one who in some way spares the flesh, and then, however great may be the apparent effect of his words, it stands in the wisdom of men, and not in the power of God. Nothing can be plainer than that if I use carnal weapons I must, in some shape or degree, give the flesh a place, and whenever this is the case, I am allowing, nay, promoting, an element contradictory to and subversive of the truth I enunciate. Broadly, every enlightened servant would agree with this, but many would diverge from it in practice. The most spiritual may fail at times, but then, like Paul, he is afraid, he is in weakness and fear and much trembling, he eschews the wisdom of men, seeking only the power of God. Let us come to detail, and examine how and when we are drawn away from what is simply spiritual to human efforts or the wisdom of men.
Often in gospel preaching, when the danger of souls is vividly pressed on one's heart, simultaneously with the perfect grace and mercy in God to avert it, one is rightly almost overwhelmed, and words would fail to express the yearnings of the heart. This might be quite of the Spirit, and when truly so, there would be a deeper sense of how ineffectually anything the wisdom of men would suggest would meet the demand. And then this deep yearning of the heart would be expressed, not coldly and languidly surely, but in solemn words of divine teaching, in such a sense of the gravity of the subject that there would be increase of fear lest anything not of God might intrude. Everyone who has ever known the vigor of fresh light breaking in on the soul must know the desire for an ardent utterance. Often this is impossible to convey, but when possible, it affords an opportunity for vehement utterance with an excited manner. But then the power is lost in the display which would have been repressed if the Lord's presence were more before one, and thus depth of feeling would have been produced. For the deeper the feeling, the less possible is it to convey it, and the less necessary is it for God's glory that it should be conveyed through human means. So that when Paul came down from the third heaven, though his heart was stored with the deepest things, yet in a natural way he was less fitted to communicate them than before he was acquainted with them. The vessel is the Lord's, and He made it. Our care is that He uses us, and that our own feelings, or the wisdom of men, do not sway us in our service; for whenever the flesh is allowed in ministry, it ministers to flesh, and the end of ministry is defeated by itself. It is, however, clear that there can be demonstration if it be in a right way. Paul exhorted with tears.
They were the expression of his genuine sorrow at the moment, and not with any object of promoting the same demonstration in others; and then he was mindful of Timothy's tears. Tears as the expression of sorrow give no warrant for the histrionic appeals or persuasive words which seek to establish faith by the wisdom of men and not by the power of God. Let us begin at Romans and study every book to the end of Revelation, and we shall find that the element of hindrance in souls is the flesh in some form.
Whenever and however it was admitted, there mischief was introduced, and when it was by the teacher, then a taint of leaven and a carnal appetite was established which nothing could satisfy but carnal ministry after its own type. Thus we read, "The time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears". Carnal people like carnal teaching. The stern, elevating demands of truth are unpalatable to those who walk as men, for invariably the less spiritual any are, the more readily and cheerfully they listen to an appeal to their senses, unless it offends against their peculiar ideas of good taste. In conclusion, surely every faithful servant will heartily admit that his one and only duty is to promote the spiritual welfare of souls, and that Christ only, and nothing else, can effect this.
If we all truly and before God adhere to this, there will be more spiritual ministry, and therefore more practical unworldliness; whereas whenever we give a place to the flesh before God, it will insist on and enlarge its place before man.