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blamed, it was not the less beset with danger. And here we have a great warning, and a no less consolation: a great warning, indeed, for if they slumbered at such an hour, how may we not fear that our temptations will often fall upon us unawares? and yet, for our consolation, we see how gently He bare with them; and He will surely be no more severe with us. In truth, He made their defence for them; His very warning taught them how to plead with Him; and by teaching it, He acknowledged the truth of the plea: "the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." Let us consider these words.
And, first, we must observe, that by "the spirit" is to be understood what we call the heart or will, illuminated by the grace of God: as where St. Paul says, "the flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh;" and where he prays for the Thessalonians, that their "whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless ;" and again, "the Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God." And next, by "the flesh" is to be understood our fallen manhood, with its affections and lusts, so far as they still remain even in the regenerate. Now before our regeneration we are under the power of the flesh; then there is no willingness to serve God aright: after our regeneration, the flesh is put under the dominion of the
1 Gal. v. 17.
2 1 Thess. v. 23.
Rom. viii. 16.
Spirit. St. Paul speaks not as an Apostle endowed above other men, but as one born again of the Spirit, when he says, "I can do all things through Christ, which strengtheneth me." Such, I say, is the state of the regenerate. They "can do all things;" but, alas, they do not. The flesh has no more dominion, except we willingly re-invest it with its sovereignty. We may still betray ourselves to it again, and become two-fold more enslaved to it than before; and short of this, even though we no more yield to it a dominion over us, yet it is to us "a sore let and hinderance in running the race that is set before us." When it cannot overcome, yet it still can sap and weaken; or, in other words, it is a weakness in itself; for, under the governing power of the Spirit, our regenerate manhood becomes a servant of God; it is once more consecrated to God's service; but having been stripped and wounded by the powers of sin, and left as it were dead, even after its rising again through holy baptism, it is weak and failing: and therefore we find such paradoxes in the lives of true Christians. They are ever willing, and purposing, and desiring, and yearning, and beginning well; and even more than this, we see them growing in grace and spiritual strength; and yet we find them also failing and falling short, ever trying to reach some far
1 Phil. iv. 13.
mark, but not attaining it-purposing great things, and hardly accomplishing little things. Such, indeed, for at least a large part of their earthly life, is the state of most baptised people: and that not because they are under any subduing dominion of indwelling sin, as some would have us believe, who expound St. Paul's description of his state before his regeneration as if he were speaking of himself after he had been born again through the grace of Christ; but because "the flesh is weak,”—that is, their whole nature, though made new of the Spirit, is still feeble, and soon exhausted, and ready to slumber, and easily cast down. And this is what St. Paul means when he says, "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." is speaking, not of two natures, but of one-of one fallen but regenerate manhood, in which linger still the susceptibilities of evil, besetting and weakening the renewed heart and will by many sore and stubborn hinderances. Such, then, is the state of good men, of whom it may be truly said, that the " spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak." Now we may take one or two particular examples of this truth.
1. For instance, we may trace the weakness of our nature in the great fluctuations of our inner state.
1 Gal. v. 17.
I do not mean in such as end in a falling away from baptismal grace, or even the mastery of any grievous sin. These are examples rather of the strength of the flesh in its own hereditary rebellion against God, than of the weakness of our regenerate nature. I am speaking now of such variations as fall within the limits of a life in the main obedient to the faith. Now no one can have carefully watched over himself, without perceiving how different he is at different times. Let him compare the trembling exactness of his obedience, his prolonged and earnest prayers, his subdued and yielding temper, in a time of sorrow or great fear; or, again, the depth of his self-accusation and repentance, and the watchful abhorrence with which he repelled the approaches of evil thoughts in a time of severe sickness, or in a season of great spiritual blessings; let him compare such state with his condition, it may be, some few years after, when change of position in life, or mere toil, or elevation, or accession of wealth, has come upon him. Though he is still in the fear of God, he is a changed man. It is difficult, perhaps, to see exactly what is the change. It may be, though he feels it himself, he could not tell what it is; only that he is more self-possessed, less vivid in faith, less susceptible of impressions that he retains them less steadily, and has lost, as it were, the life and flexibility of his mind. Now there can be no
doubt that all the while he has been sincere in his desires to serve God; but, either by the withdrawal of the outward discipline under which he was once brought nigher to the unseen world, or by weariness in well-doing, and the fretting of little daily counteractions, he has given way, and declined from his former and more devoted state. Of course such persons are in great danger of being overthrown by the direct assault of sins coming upon them suddenly, as St. Peter was, a few hours after our Lord warned him in the garden. It is more likely than not that such falls do mingle in from time to time; and, though really sorrowed over, yet leave behind a deadening effect, which is not enough noted at the time, and shews itself afterwards only indistinctly in effects, or as one among many causes of declension.
2. We may take as another example of this weakness, the speedy fading away of good impressions even in those that live lives of real devotion. In the first place, it seems true that the mind cannot without a strain be ever at one pitch. Like the power of sight, it must have its intervals of intension and remission. It seems by some law of its inscrutable nature, to need to be unbent; and therefore, after fixed contemplation of the unseen world, or prayer of greater length, or after a day of fasting, it may be that the conditions of our nature require that it