Writings Vol. One
III."IN THE FLESH" AND "IN THE SPIRIT."
THE doctrine of chap. vii. i - 6, which is the key to all
that follows, is that of the fourth verse - that "ye are become dead to the law
by the body of Christ, that ye should belong to another, even to Him who is
raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit to God." It is the same
doctrine of our being dead with Christ, dead in His death, but differently
First of all, as a fundamental necessity for holiness, the spirit of lawlessness is met by the doctrine that we are dead to sin. Here, as a step further in the same direction, the spirit of legality is met by the doctrine that we are dead to the law. In either case it is holiness - fruit-bearing - that is in question; not justification from sins, and peace with God, which the former part of the epistle has already answered. Here, it is "that we may bring forth fruit," "that we may serve in newness of spirit."
The sixth chapter deals with the objections of unbelief, whether outside or inside the profession of Christianity. The seventh chapter deals with the objections of earnest but self-occupied hearts, ignorant of Gods way of liberty and power. The objections in the one case are of those who have no experience, as we may say; the objections in the other are drawn from experience, but yet unenlightened by the Word. In the one case, the apostle can appeal to the experience of men who had found no fruit in things of which now they were ashamed (vi. 21); in the other, he appeals from experience to the truth of the place which God had given them, and which faith, and only faith, could receive.
We are not now to look at the whole argument, (for argument it is,) but at two pregnant expressions, which must be understood, rightly to apprehend it. "For, when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death." "But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of Christ dwell in you; now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His."
What is it, then, to be in the flesh, and what to be in the Spirit,- these two evidently contrasted and mutually exclusive conditions? In the one, (if Christ's,) we are not; in the other we are. In the one, we "cannot please God;" in the other, if we live, we have yet to walk in order to please Him (Gal. v. 25).
Turning to the doctrine of the seventh chapter, it would seem the simplest thing possible to define what is meant by being "in the flesh." To be in the flesh is to be just a living man. We have it twice applied in the natural sense - Gal. ii. 20, Phil. i. 22. Here in Romans it is the condition of one who has not died with Christ. It is as "dead ... by the body of Christ" that the apostle can say with all Christians, "When we were in the flesh" (vii. 4, 5).
Condition and standing, as we have seen, are here inseparable. Condition is, in the context of the passages before us, the thing most dwelt upon; but it is the condition of one in the standing, and of no other. "When we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death," This is what we find in the sixth chapter: "What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death. But now, being freed from sin, and made servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life." The man in the flesh is one on the road to death.
Again in the eighth chapter: "For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh, and they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit; for the mind of the flesh is death, but the mind of the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind of the flesh 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." (viii. 8.)
They that are in the flesh are thus in a state of spiritual death, going on to eternal death. They are "after the flesh" characterized by and identified with it. They are mere natural men: flesh, as born of flesh.
Here, then, was no fruit, while we were in this condition. The law is what applies to it, but is no remedy for it. "The law was not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and unruly, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane" (i Tim. i., R. V.). Moreover, "the law is not of faith" faith is not its principle (Gal. iii. i 2); and "as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse "(v. lo). To be "under the law" and "under grace" are things exclusive of one another (Rom. vi. 14).
It is true that God had once a people under law, for His own purposes of unfailing wisdom. As the "ministration of death" and "of condemnation"
It may be urged that God never put the Gentile under law at all, and this is true. The apostle addresses himself especially to Jewish converts. Yet the practical freedom is the same for all. And the Gentile needs the apprehension as well as the Jew, as we are witness to ourselves.
(2 Cor. iii. 7, 9), it was a "schoolmaster" under which in Israel even saints were "kept, shut up unto the faith which should afterward be revealed" (Gal. iii. 23, 24). The wholesome lessons of man's natural helplessness and hopelessness were taught by it, God saving of course all the time by a grace which He could not yet declare openly. But to believers it was necessarily bondage, "added" only "till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made," and when "faith came," as God's openly acknowledged principle, they were "no longer under the schoolmaster" (v. 19, 25). We are henceforth disciples of Christ and not of the law, although we have the good of the tutorship under which others were of old. For the child of God, from the first moment of his being that, "faith" and "grace,"- the opposites of law,- are God's linked principles of unfailing blessing. The ministry of the new covenant is the "ministration of life" and "of righteousness" (2 Cor. iii. 6, 9). "The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord,"- a new standing and a new condition. The power of His death attaches to the gift of His life, and he who lives in Him has died with Him. This is death to sin and to law alike.
The law was in Israel, then, that to which man was linked, a link from which fruit was looked for, nay, demanded. In fact, only "passions of sins" were "by the law" (v. 5), the full account of which the apostle gives afterward (vv. 7-13). The law is not merely the ministration of condemnation; it is also "the strength of sin" (i Cor. xv. 16). "Sin shall not not have dominion over you, because ye are not under the law, but under grace" (vi. 14). Death to the law is therefore absolutely necessary for fruitfulness. The death of Christ is the believer's effectual divorce, that he may be free to be linked with Christ raised up from the dead, that thus there may be fruit.
But here, the doctrine goes beyond that of the sixth chapter. For the figure is that of marriage, - of union; and a divorce from the law must have come first in order that we may be united to Christ. We cannot be re-united by what unites us to another. It is not, therefore, by life in Christ that we are united to Christ, nor is this what could be figured by marriage. For this, we must go on to what really unites Christians to their Lord,- the gift of the Spirit. It is the contrast of chap. viii. 9 to which this brings us. "In the flesh," the link is with law; the fruit, the passions of sins; the end, death. "In the Spirit," we are linked with Christ, the fruit is holiness, the end everlasting life. "If ye through the Spirit mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live." I pass over the experience of the seventh chapter entirely now to consider the statement of chap. viii. 9, "But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you;" to which is emphatically added, "Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His."
It seems unaccountable how any one, except by some preoccupation of the mind, should see in this the statement that we only cease to be in the flesh by the indwelling of the Spirit. To take the figure already used by the apostle: one alive in the flesh is married to the law; if by the Spirit he is now married to Christ,- does he die to the law by the new marriage? must he not be dead to the law to be free for the new marriage? Surely it is as clear as noonday that a new marriage cannot dissolve an old one, but that the old, as long as it existed, would forbid the new!
On the other hand, what more simple than to argue that if you are in the new bond (the Spirit), you are not in the old one (the flesh), without at all implying that the new bond had destroyed the old? It only shows, and that conclusively, that the old does not exist. The "old man"- what for a Christian is now such - is a man in the flesh, as the sixth chapter has already shown us. He is the man "corrupt according to the deceitful lusts," and "they that are in the flesh cannot please God." Is it in such the Spirit comes to dwell? They may think so who suppose the indwelling of the Spirit to be only tantamount to being born again; but Scripture is of course clear that it is "having believed, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise" (Eph. i. ii, R. V.), the very form of expression showing that it is that which began at Pentecost (Acts i. 4) that is referred to, and not the common possession of believers of all time.
God's order is, first, new birth, then sealing; first, the preparing of the house, and then dwelling in the house prepared; not simply a new life for us, but a divine Person dwelling in us: and this is the testimony to the perfection of the work now accomplished for us, for God's seal can only be set on perfection. Having believed, we have already seen that we are in the value of Christ's work before God, sin and flesh completely gone from before Him, ourselves dead to sin, alive to God in Christ. It is here the Spirit of God can seal us, and unite us to Christ as His. And where one is found upon whom the value of that work is, there is but one thing for which He waits, and that is the acknowledgment of Christ as Lord and Saviour, before He takes possession of His dwelling-place, and unites that soul to Christ on high.
Hence, among those owning Christ it can be said, "If any one have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His." The seal of the Spirit is Christ's mark upon His own; therefore among those professing to be His, if the mark is not, it is a false profession.
Thus there is no thought in the New Testament of persons the existence of which the apostle here denies. To the Corinthians he writes in the most general way, so as to include all bowing really to the name of Jesus,- "To the Church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours." And what does he ask of all these? "Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?" (i Cor. i. 2; vi. 19.) Surely, this is the prescience of the divine Word, to settle all controversy. Who will say, in face of this, that one who in heart calls on the name of Jesus Christ his Lord has not the Holy Ghost?
But then Romans viii. 9 becomes simplicity itself, and the many questions raised receive their absolute settlement. Our eyes have not to roam over christendom, lamenting that in so few of Christ's people the work of God is no more than half accomplished. That there is so little manifestation we may still lament, as even at Corinth the apostle could, and we may urge upon men still, with the apostle to the Galatians, "If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit"(v. 25), for these still are different things.
Does it make less of the gift that it is so little realized? or would it be more honouring to God to suppose that He has not bestowed it, where there is so little manifestation of it? Surely, surely, it is no such thing. Let the grace, and the responsibility of the grace, be pressed upon Christians; for it is faith that works for God, not doubt. Oh for a voice of power to cry in the ears of slumberers, "Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?" Ye belong to Christ - ye are Christ's, and the seal of God is upon you. Lord, wake up Thy beloved people to the apprehension of Thy marvellous gift!
Chapter Four - Re-tracings of Truth.
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