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In some instances this is so evident, that all men see and believe it. How often does the haughty, the peevish, or the choleric temper of the parent appear in the son or the daughter beyond all contradiction? And often, when we see a drunken or a wanton sinner, we cry, "He is the express copy of his father, he borrows his vices as well as his features, and seems to be his perfect image." And though it is not so evident in all men, that they borrow the seeds of iniquity from their predecessors, yet there is proof enough from the word of God, that we are conceived in sin, and shapen in iniquity that man who is born of a woman is neither clean nor righteous. Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? It is impossible; for that which is born of the flesh is flesh; Psalm li. 5. Job xv. 14. John iii, 6. Irregular tendencies towards lawful delights, and strong propensities towards unlawful ones, a neglect of God, and aversion to all that is holy or heavenly, with an inclination towards fleshly and sinful objects, are conveyed to us all, even from our first parents. Sinful Adam begat his sons in his own likeness; Gen. v. 3. and therefore sin is described by flesh, because it came from the father of our flesh.
III. Another reason why sin is called flesh, is because the chief springs of sin lie most in our fleshly natures; all the while we continue here in this world, the occasions of sin lie much in our body, in our blood, in our natural constitution, in this mortal frame and contexture; fancy and passion, in all their wild irregularities, are much influenced by the flesh and blood. Our bodily senses, our natural appetites, are continually tempting us away from our duty, and leading or enticing us to the commission of sin; or, at least, immediately falling in with temptation: insomuch that sin is said to work in our members; Rom. vii. 5. to reign in our mortal body; vi. 12. Sinful actions are called the deeds of the body; viii. 13. Our sins are called our members, Col. iii. 5. Mortify by the spirit the deeds of the body, saith the apostle in one place; mortify your members which are upon the earth, saith he in the other place; in both which he means the mortification of sin. He borrows words from the human body to describe sin.
Here let it be noted, that we do not suppose that mere flesh and blood, distinct from the soul, are capable of sin, properly speaking, or can become guilty in a proper sense; for these are but mere matter, and, separate from the mind, cannot be under a moral law, any more than brute creatures: Therefore we say, sin is not formally in the body of man, but it is occasionally there; because the senses and appetites, the parts and powers of the body become very often an unhappy occasion of sin to the soul; and upon this account the apostle often describes sin by the word flesh.
I proceed now to the second thing proposed, and that is, to
shew the grounds of this metaphorical use of the word spirit: And there are the same sorts of reasons to be given why this word is used to represent the principles of holiness, as there are why flesh should signify the principles of sin.
I. Because the objects and aim of holy souls are chiefly spiritual, viz. God and heaven, invisible and eternal things. Spiritual objects are chief in their esteem, most in their thoughts, and in their desires, and have the first place in their designs and pursuits: As they that are after the flesh, mind the things of the flesh; so they that are after the spirit, mind the things of the spirit; Rom. viii. 5. A saint, who is spiritually-minded, aims at those things that are more a-kin to the nature of a spirit; he seeks the knowledge of the favour of God, who is the supreme of Spirits, the infinite and selent Spirit, in whose knowledge, and in whose love, all intelligent creatures find a full sufficiency of blessedness. He knows that all created spirits who are holy and happy, are made so by derivations from God's all-sufficient holiness and happiness; and therefore he applies himself with zeal and vigour to all those spiritual exercises of meditation, faith and prayer, wherein God reveals himself and his mercy. The knowledge of God and his worship, of Christ and his gospel, of the Holy Spirit and his grace, is the chief desire of a holy soul. These are the objects of the pursuit of a spiritual man; he has devoted himself to God and things divine; upon account of which, a man is denominated holy, and therefore holiness is called spirit.
The holy man seeks the welfare of his own soul or spirit before that of his flesh; and while sinful men lay out their whole care and contrivance about the body, which must die, and grasp at the things of this life to make provision for the flesh, the saint is most concerned about his soul, which is an immortal spirit; he endeavours to rectify those disorders of it, which sin and the flesh have introduced, and is ever diligent to make provision for this soul of his in the spiritual and unseen world, because it must have a being there for ever. The holy man is most solicitous that his soul may be happy in an unknown hereafter, while the sinner seeks all his happiness here.
As the natural man neglects the two chief Spirits he has any concern with, that is, God and his own soul; so fleshly objects are his chief desire: But the spiritual man despises them all, in comparison of the unseen desirables of the spiritual world. The men of this world take pains to gratify their senses, and indulge every fleshly appetite among the entertainments of this present world; but those who are holy, mortify their sinful passions, and set their affections on things above; Col. iii. 1, &c. They look and aim at things that are unseen, that are eternal,
while the men of this world look only at the things that are visible and temporal; 2 Cor. iv. 18. The sinful many, or multitude of sinners, say, Who will shew us any good? But they seek it only among corn, wine, and oil, &c. The saint prays to his God, Lord, lift upon me the light of thy countenance; and this shall put gladness into my heart more than in the time that their corn and their wine increased; I's. iv. 6, 7. This is the first reason holiness is described by the word spirit.
II. Holiness is represented by the spirit, because it is communicated to us by God the Father of our spirits, even as sin is conveyed down to us by the parents of our flesh, It is wrought in us by his blessed Spirit, whose character it is to be holy. In Rom. viii. 13, 14. you see holiness described as receiving its very nature and operation in us from the Spirit of God. As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God; and it is by the spirit we mortify the deeds of the flesh, or body, that so we may live. As they that are born of the flesh are flesh, so they that are born of the spirit are spirit: John. iii. 6. This is the language of our Lord Jesus Christ. They who have past through no renewing and reforming change of heart since their natural birth, they are still in a natural sinful state, and the principles of sin are prevalent in them: but they who have been thus changed and renewed by the blessed Spirit of God, have a new and spiritual natural principle and temper given to them, and are made holy. As by being born of man, we become the children of Adam, and gain a sinful nature; so by being born of God we become the sons of God, and gain a divine, a holy nature. We are born of God unto holiness, as we are born of flesh unto sin; 1 John iii. 9. He that is born of God sinneth not; that is, sin is not his nature and delight, nor his common and allowed practice. We are regenerated and new-created by the Spirit of God; Titus iii. 5. Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but of his own mercy hath he saved us by regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Spirit.
III. Another reason why the principle of holiness is called spirit, is because the chief springs of holiness, and of opposition to sin, are found in the soul or spiritual part, as the springs and occasions of sin are chiefly seated in the flesh.
This is true both in saints and sinners, for even in sinners that have no renewing grace, there is the light of nature, as well as the knowledge of scripture in our nation; there are the powers of reason and conscience; and these judge concerning vice and virtue, that one is to be avoided, and the other practised; these inward and intellectual principles tell us, that sin is offensive to God our Maker; that it exposes us to his anger, and deserves terrible punishment; and by the exercise and influence of natural E
reason, added to the knowledge of scripture, and by the inward stings, and sharp reproofs of natural conscience, many an evil motion of the flesh is suppressed, many an inordinate appetite and passion subdued, and many a grosser sin prevented. Now though all this is not properly called holiness, till the nature itself be renewed, the love of sin broken, and the love of God wrought in the heart; yet it is evident that those principles which resist sin, and have any distant tendencies toward holiness, lie chiefly in the mind or spirit.
This is yet more evident in a saint, a man that is regenerated and sanctified by grace: For though in such a person, the body as well as the spirit, may be in part sanctified; that is some of its irregular appetites may be much weakened and subdued; yet still I cannot help supposing that the spirit, or soul, has a greater share of sanctification than the flesh in this life. It is in the soul that the love of God is wronght by the Holy Spirit; it is the soul that repents of past sins, and watches against temptation; it is the soul that believes the gospel, and trusts in our Lord Jesus Christ: it is the soul that by faith takes a distant prospect of heaven and hell, and converses with invisible things beyond the reach and power of flesh and sense: It is by the powers of the soul enlightened and renewed, that we come to see the value and excellency of religion, and spiritual things above temporal; and are inclined to chuse God for our only happiness, and Jesus Christ as the way to the Father. The understanding and will are faculties of the soul, and the flesh has no part in their operations. The soul of a believer seems to be the more proper, immediate, and receptive subject of the sanctifying influences of the Spirit of God and this will appear by consulting the word of God, or the experiences of men.
The word of God leads us very naturally into this sentiment by its constant language. The apostle speaks indeed in one place of being sanctified wholly, and our whole spirit, soul and body, being preserved blameless, &c. 1 Thess. v. 23. But he much oftner expresses sanctification by the renewing of the mind; Rom. xii. 2. Renewing of the spirit of the mind; Eph. iv. 23. Though the outward man, or body, perish, yet the inward man, or spirit, is renewed day by day; 2 Cor. iv. 16. And the constant language of the scripture calling sin flesh, and holiness spirit, in the saint, intimates that there is more sin in the flesh, and more holiness in the spirit of one that is sanctified. Thus we read in St. Paul's discourse from the 16th ver. of Romans vii. to the 25th, where you find him all along distinguishing the flesh and the mind. By one of them he complains in a variety of expressions, that he is led away to sin, while the other of them approves and pursues after holiness; and though the words flesh and spirit are often used for
the principles of sin and holiness, yet it may be remarked, that he does not confine himself here to these terms, but uses also the words body and members, tó represent sin; inward man and mind, when he points to the springs of holiness; which would lead one very naturally to believe that there is more sanctification in the mind or soul of a believer, and more of the occasions of sin remaining in his body or flesh.
We may find this also in a great measure from our own experience: We are tempted to many more sins by our various carnal appetites and senses, than by the mere inclinations that belong to the mind, which are purely intellectual. There are indeed the lusts or sinful desires of the mind, as well as the lusts of the flesh; Eph. ii. 2. There is a sinful curiosity of the mind; such was part of the temptation of Eve, a desire to know evil as well as good; there is a spiritual, malice and envy against God and his saints: there is a spiritual pride of intellectual endowments, &c. and some of these are found too much in true christians, as well as in unbelievers; yet it must be acknowledged from constant observation, that the lusts of the flesh are much more frequent, more numerous, and more powerful in the greatest part of men; and it is manifest that acts of religion and holiness, and exercises of grace, begin more frequently in the inward inclination of the spirit, distinguished from the flesh, as sin more frequently begins in, and from the flesh itself, either in the outward or inward parts and powers of it.
Surely if our souls were sanctified by divine grace, but so much as many are in this world, and had no flesh about them, they would not sin so much as they do. When we are engaged in the exercise of grace, or performance of spiritual duties, such as meditation, prayer, delighting in God, rejoicing in Christ Jesus, we should not be so soon weary of it, nor so immediately called away from it by the mere vanity or wandering of our minds, if we had no fleshly objects about us, no outward senses, no inward treasures of fancy, no appetites of the body to start up and mingle with our religion, to clog us in our sacred work, to make us grow weary under it, and draw us from it. How often must a saint say, "My soul is sincerely set against every sin, and I fear to offend him whom my soul loveth; with my mind I serve the law of God, and I watch against every rtsing iniquity: But my outward senses, or the inward ferments of fleshly appetite or passion, surprize me before I am aware and defile my soul. Sometimes my spirit wrestles hard with flesh and blood; I summon all the powers of reason and scripture, conscience and christianity; I make a firm stand for a season, and maintain a brave and painful resistance; but the restless and perpetual assaults of fancy or passion, at last over-power the feeble spirit, and I sinfully