When we speak of there being two natures in the believer, as these passages, with others, plainly teach, it is needful, in the first place, to explain the words that we are using. The more so, as the word "nature" is not of frequent use in Scripture, and such expressions as "the old nature" and "the new nature "- in frequent use among ourselves - do not occur. I am not on this account condemning the expressions. They may be useful enough, and accurate enough, without being taken literally from Scripture; and he who would exclaim against them on this account would show only narrowness and unintelligence really.
But what such persons have a right to insist upon, and what we should all be as jealous for as they, is that these expressions should really represent to us things that are in Scripture, - not fancies of our own, but truths of the Word of God. Our business, therefore, must be to explain the terms we use, and justify them by the appeal to Scripture, by showing that the things themselves are there for which we use these expressions as convenient terms. There is no word for "nature" in the Old Testament at all. In the New, the word translated so is, in every case but one, the word phusis, "growth." In the exceptional case, it is genesis, a word familiar to us as the title of the first book of Scripture, so called from its describing the origin or "birth" of the world. The two words in this application come nearly to the same meaning; they express the result of what we have by our origin - the qualities that are developed in us by growth.
Now, for us as Christians, there are two births, and two growths, and thus we can rightly speak of two natures, - two sets of moral qualities that belong to us: the one as born of Adam, the other as born of God. Each is dependent upon the life received, and from which it springs. We are one thing as children of men merely; we are another as children of God. Let us look at these separately now; and first at that which is first in order of time.
Men we are, of course, all through. Here, again, we must learn to distinguish between what we are as men by God’s creation and what we are as men fallen from the uprightness in which God created us at the beginning. We must distinguish between our nature as men and our nature as fallen men. Men we are, and are ever to be; whatever change we pass through in new birth as to spirit and soul, whatever change awaits the body at the time when the Lord shall call us to be with Himself, we shall never lose our essential identity with what God created us to be at the first. We are the same persons all through, - the same individuals. No question of life or nature, such as we are about to consider; affects the reality of our possession of what we commonly call human nature all the way through. The youth differs much from the infant; the man from the youth; yet the same human being, the same person, passes through these different stages. The caterpillar is the same being that is at first in the egg and that finally is the butterfly; so changed as to conditions that if we had not traced its continuity through these different forms, we should regard it as three or four different creatures; and yet we have the most absolute persuasion of its identity throughout. We might distinguish between the "nature" of the egg, the caterpillar, the chrysalis, and the butterfly, and yet again affirm its insect- nature to be unchanged throughout, and its individuality to be maintained too all through. It would be even its "nature" as an insect to go through these several changes. So we must distinguish between such terms as "our human nature," "our fallen nature," "our new nature." The fall did not unmake us as men; our new birth does not unmake us on the other side. What is essential to manhood we never lose, and our individuality too is never changed.
These distinctions are not useless, but on the contrary, most important. Did we keep them in mind, there could be no misunderstanding (such as there often is) as to the Lord assuming our nature, for instance. The words of the hymn, "He wears our nature on the throne," are objected to by some, because they do not make such simple distinctions; and on the other hand, some would press that taking of our nature into consequences as to our blessed Lord, such as every true soul would indignantly repudiate. He did take our human nature: He was in all respects true man; the consequences and conditions of the fall are as little essential to manhood as the fracture of an image is essential to the image. Let us consider, then, briefly and simply, what is essential to man as man, in order to separate from it as far as possible what is due to the fall; human nature from fallen nature, or what Scripture calls "the flesh." We shall find mysteries, no doubt. Mysteries surround us, into which all our researches will enable us to penetrate but a very little way. Our knowledge is very partial; our ignorance is great. And nowhere among created things do we find more mystery than when we attempt to penetrate the secrets of our own being. But in keeping closely to the Word, we shall find a sure and unfailing guide here as elsewhere, and a means of testing whatever may be gathered from other sources.
Man is constituted of spirit, soul, and body. He has lost none of these by the fall; he has only these when born again and a child of God. Mind, judgment, and therefore conscience, are properties of his spirit. The affections and emotions are faculties of his soul, which is also that wherein is found the link between the spirit and the body, and by which the former, while highest of all in its nature, and (rightly) controlling all, apprehends the things of sense.
Man is thus by constitution a conscious, intelligent, and moral being, but dependent, in his present state, upon his senses for the furniture even of his mind - a "living soul," as Scripture terms him, and not a pure "spirit," as the angels are. Yet, with other spirits, he is in relation to God as his God, and his Father too; only that in this last respect he has sold, like Esau, his birthright for a mess of pottage.
The fall has affected man in all his constituent parts. It has subjected the spirit to the soul, and the soul to the body. The scene in Eden, which Scripture represents to us at once so simply and so graphically, is recalled to our minds as we ponder the inspired descriptions of what man now is. The link of affection, reverence, and dependence which held him to God being broken, he is like a building in which the roof has fallen in upon the base. Named from his lowest part, into which spirit and soul have sunk, he is "flesh." Thus "flesh" is the scriptural designation of his old or fallen nature.
"And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food," - there the body, and in its lowest cravings, is first; - "and that it was pleasant to the eyes," - meeting the emotional desires of the soul; - " and a tree to be desired to make one wise," - there the spirit is, - last, but aspiring to independence of God. "Ye shall be as gods" had been the temptation. Yielding to it, the mental and moral structure had collapsed. A thing of sense rather than God man had chosen for his dependence: the things of sense became his necessity and his masters; his wisdom, henceforth not from above, was "earthly, sensual," and so, "devilish."
And this word "sensual," which, while it may well have that meaning here, is in fact the adjective of the word "soul," is the same word as that translated "natural" where we read, "The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned" (i Cor. ii. i’).
The spirit here has given up the reins to the soul; the soul is swayed by the allurernents of sense; the body itself, unbalanced and perverted in its natural instincts and appetites, becomes in turn the tempter of the soul. - The man is "sensual :" his nature is "flesh."
We must not expect to find this use of the word "flesh," however, in the Old Testament, for a reason which will easily suggest itself to one who knows the peculiar character of the Old Testament. The law being the trial of man in nature, as long as the trial was going on, the character of man could not be fully brought out. Nor is it even in those first three gospels in which Christ’s presentation to man is God’s last experiment with him. "Having yet, therefore, one son, his well-beloved," as the Lord Himself puts it in the parable, "he sent him last unto them, saying, ‘They will reverence my son’ (Mark xii. i). But in John’s gospel, it is seen that this trial too has failed: "He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not; He came unto His own, and His own received Him not." That is the very opening chapter; and thereupon He immediately goes on to speak of "the flesh," and of new birth: "But to as many as received Him, to them gave He [not "power," but] authority to become the sons of God, even to those who believed in His name." And who were these? "Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the FLESH, nor of the will of man, but of God."
One passage there is in the Old Testament in which man is characterized as "flesh," in a manner which seems to approach the style of the New. And this passage is found in almost the beginning of Genesis. Before the flood, the Lord says, "My Spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh, but his days shall be a hundred and twenty years." Yet even here the declaration seems more to point to the frailty of a creature with whom it would be unseemly for God to be always striving. And the limitation of his days seems to coincide with this interpretation. It is like the appeal to Job, - " What is man, that thou shouldst magnify him? and that Thou shouldst set Thine heart upon him? and that Thou shouldst visit him every morning, and try him every moment?" Or, like that hundred and forty-fourth psalm, so striking a contrast with the eighth, "Lord, what is man, that Thou takest knowledge of him? or the son of man, that Thou makest account of him? Man is like to vanity: his days are as a shadow that passeth away! Bow Thy heavens, 0 Lord, and come down. . . . Cast forth lightning, and scatter them!" All through the Old Testament, "flesh" is thus the symbol of weakness and nothingness: a use of it which is carried on also in the New. Witness a passage which is often cited in another way, and very falsely applied: it is the tender apology of the Lord for His disciples’ sleeping in the garden: "The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." Here, the "weak" flesh is clearly not at all the old nature. It is bodily infirmity, which prevents it yielding to the will of the spirit.
In the gospel of John, we find, for the first time, the "flesh" used in the other signification of an evil nature, - our sad inheritance by the fall. We hear of a "will of the flesh" from which new birth does not proceed. And in the third chapter of the gospel, the Lord enforces upon Nicodemus the absolute necessity of a new birth, from the irreclaimable character of this, - " That which is born of the flesh," - of man characterized as this, - " is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit: marvel not that I said unto you, ‘Ye must be born again.’" Thus, out of man’s fallen nature proceeds nothing that can be acceptable to God. Like a field unsown, the heart of man will never produce aught, so to speak, but thorns and thistles - fruit of the curse. Life of the right sort must be dropped into it in the living germ of the Word of God, as our Lord teaches in the parable, and from that alone is there fruit for Hirn.* New life is thus introduced into the field; and while this does take up and assimilate material from the soil, and thus there now goes on an active transformation of this kind, yet how false an account would it be to give of this to make this transformation the whole thing, and ignore the new life which was effecting it! Yet in the spiritual change of new birth, people are doing exactly this. They look at the moral transformation going on, and ignore what Scripture speaks of in the most decisive way - the introduction of a positive new life from God, from which the moral change proceeds.
It is no wonder if, in trying to define this, we soon lose ourselves, and are made aware of mysteries which crowd upon us at every step. Even natural life is a mystery, which the mind of man, vainly seeking to penetrate, is trying in an exactly similar manner to deny. We are told that we may as well talk of a principle of "aquosity" in water as of a vital principle in a living thing. Yet as a cause of certain effects otherwise unaccountable, it is as vain to deny it as it may be impossible to define. So spiritually we may learn lessons from experience which at least rebuke the folly of not listening to the Word. And Scripture points these out also, giving us, as needed explanation of what every child of God finds in experience, a doctrine which alone makes all intelligible, and enables us to learn and use the experience itself aright. As for natural birth there must be, not merely certain processes, but the communication of a life-principle which produces, controls, and harmonizes these processes, so is there precisely for new birth. The voice that soon will quicken out of death natural - which all that are in the graves shall hear and shall come forth - now quickens similarly the spiritually dead, -"Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and they that hear shall live: for as the Father hath life in Himself, so hath He given to the Son to have life in Himself" (Jno. v.25, 26). Here there is a life communicated by One who has it in Himself to communicate, - a new life for those "dead;" in whom, if there be not this first, no moral change is possible at all.
This new birth the Spirit and the Word combine to effect. A man is born of water and of the Spirit, the water here, as the symbol of purification, taking the place that the seed of the Word does in the parable elsewhere. As the apostle Peter tells us, we are "born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of God . . . . and this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you" (1 Pet. 2. 23, 25). And so the apostle of the Gentiles explains Christ’s purification of His Church to be "with the washing of water by the Word" (Eph. V. 26).
To take up again the former figure of the seed, used by both the Lord and the apostle, the seed is the incorruptible Word which gives form and character to the life - manifestation; but the life itself must be in the germ, or it cannot be manifested. So the word of the Lord embodies and manifests the new life we receive, but the energy of the life communicated by the Spirit works by the Word, and there is "growth"- the development of a new nature, which is characterized by its blessed and holy attributes.
Thus Scripture speaks of "the ingrafted Word" (Jas. i. 21); and the apostle John, similarly connecting the new nature with the Word, says, "Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for His seed remaineth in him, and he cannot sin, because he is born of God" (i Jno. iii. 9). This is Peter’s "incorruptible seed" of "the Word of God," but the life communicated by the Spirit, as already said, causes it to germinate; and, being "evcrlasting life," His seed remains.
The "nature" of the seed determines the form of life. The new nature, God’s gift, is not a mixed or partially good thing. It is in itself perfect (though capable of and needing development), without mixture of evil from the very first. In the man in whom it is implanted, evil indeed exists, as thorns and thistles in the field in which wheat is sown: these things being not the imperfection of the wheat in any wise, though hindrances to the crop they are. The character of the seed we have just seen, where the apostle says that the child of God "doth not commit (or rather "practise") sin; for His seed remaineth in him." The new life, is obscured by the evil, is untouched by it, and in essential, - nay, victorious opposition to sin. It will vindicate its character in one born of God, and manifest him as born of God; and where we do not see this result, we cannot recognize as a Christian the person in whom it fails, although granting the possibility of seed being in the ground that has not yet come to the surface. But "faith "- the first principle of the new nature -"worketh by love;" and "faith, if it have not works, is dead, being alone:" "as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God" (Gal. v. 6; James ii. i7; Rom. viii. 14). It is needful to insist on this at all times - never more needful than at the present time. It is no exaltation of faith to maintain it as justifying and saving, and yet possibly without power to produce fruit in the world, or to glorify God in a holy life. The apostle’s faith was the power of a life devoted as his was - " The life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Gal. 2: 20).
Such, then, in its character, and such in its energy, is the new nature. It will be understood that the gospel has to be received, and deliverance realized, before this can be properly known; nor do I dwell upon these now.
But such is the new nature; and being such, it is the means of effecting that wonderful change in a man which we speak of as "conversion." As the seed converts the lifeless elements of the soul into the beauty of the living plant, so the powers and faculties of soul and spirit are brought back from death to life. The spirit, redeemed from self-idolatry, and having learned the lesson of dependence upon God which faith implies, is reinstated in Its old supremacy; the affections of the soul, are taught to trail no longer upon earth, and set upon God as their only worthy object. The body, yet unredeemed, and "dead, because of sin," - awaiting its redemption at the time of the resurrection (Rom. 8:. 10, 11, 23), - can only as yet be "kept under, and brought into subjection" to the man new-created in Christ Jesus. (Rom. 8. 13; I Cor. ix. 27.)
But now we must again draw some very important distinctions. We speak of the old nature, or "flesh," and of the new. We speak also of the "old man" and of the "new." Is there any difference between these? and if so, what is the use of the distinction? A nature and a person are in many ways widely different. Unconverted and converted, the person is of course the same. It is the one who was dead in sin who is quickened and raised up; it is the same person who was condemned and a child of wrath who is justified, sanctified, and redeemed to God. It is the person too - the "man " - to whom accountability attaches, and not to the nature. Acts belong to the individual, and not to his nature; and in the case of man, the only rational and responsible creature of whom we have something that can be called knowledge, we know that he is responsible to walk contrary to [not indeed his nature as God first constituted him, but yet] his nature as he actually now possesses it, fallen from its primitive state.
Only, in fact, by a license of speech do we speak of nature acting. To say of a person, "nature acts in him," whether said approvingly or disapprovingly, still implies that the man himself has lost command of himself, or does not exercise it. Many a Christian thus talks of the flesh in himself or others, as if its being flesh that was exhibited explained matters sufficiently. Yet, if he thinks about it, he will realize that he uses this language to escape responsibility, so little idea has he of responsibility attaching to a nature. Yet if this excused him, it would excuse every sinner that ever lived; and how could God judge the world? In point of fact, men do use everywhere the truth of their sinful nature in order to escape condemnation; whereas if they would listen to conscience, they would assuredly find that not a single sin have they ever committed which they could truthfully say their nature forced them to. It inclined, no doubt, but they should, and might, have controlled the inclination. The essence of their guilt is, that they do not.
In the day of judgment, therefore, the award will be given, not according to the nature, (in which they are alike,) but to their works, in which they are not alike. God "will render to every man acccording to his deeds" (Rom. ii. 6). And this, and this alone, will be the exact measure of guilt and responsibility.
It may be objected to all this, "How, then, can the man in the seventh of Romans, who is converted, and has a will for good, find, on the other hand, the flesh in such opposition, that what he desires, he is quite unable to perform? How can there be still no ability, when the will is right?"
But the answer is plain, that the good he desires would not be good really, if done in other than the sense of dependence upon God, which is the only right condition of the creature. The power of sin from which he has to be delivered lies in the self-complacent self-seeking which assumes the shape of holiness to a converted man. For a holiness that makes him something, he has to accept a Christ who shall draw him out of himself. The "good" (in one sense that,) which he is seeking, is really a phantom shape which God has to destroy, to give him instead the true and only good. Thus only crippled Jacob can become Israel.
"Power belongeth only unto God." True - ever true: but were we right with Him, could it be lacking to us? Assuredly it could not. Still, then, it remains true that no one is shut up powerlessly in bondage to evil. The key of his prison-house is in his own hand.
It is the man, then, who sins, and is the sinner; it is the man who has to be forgiven and justified; it is the man who is responsible to walk, not in the flesh, but in the Spirit. It is the same person - the same individual all through.
Yet, in another way, we may surely say as to the Christian, that the man that was and the man that is are total opposites. I was a sinner in my sins, freely following the evil that I loved: I am a child of God, with a new nature,, new affections, and a new object. Between these two persons there is a wide interval indeed. The first is what Scripture calls "the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts" (Eph. iv. 22); the second is styled "the new man, which after God is - created in righteousness and true holiness" (v. 24), and "renewed in knowledge, after the image of Him who created him, where Christ is all and in all" (Col. iii. io, ii). The first it speaks of as being "crucified with Christ," as it does of our "having put off the old man with his deeds" (Rom. ii. 6; Col. iii. 9.) The second, similarly, it speaks of our "having put on." What we were we are not, and never can be again. But while this is happily true of us, it is also true that the "flesh" - the old nature - we have in us still, and shall have, till the body of humiliation is either dropped, or changed into the glorified likeness of the Lord’s own body. The old man is gone forever, but the flesh abides: in those who are possessors of the Spirit, still "the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh;" and the exhortation is, not to destroy the flesh, as if that were possible, but "walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lusts of the flesh" (Gal. v. i6, ii). A poor conclusion this, to many in our day! but to those who know themselves, how great a relief to find thus an explanation of what experience testifies to! It may be, and is, a mystery how we can have at the same time in us two natures, total opposites of each other, - how Christ can dwell in us, and yet sin dwell too; but Scripture affirms it, and experience also. If it is God’s mind to allow us to know thus for a while what evil is, not by yielding to it surely, but as realizing its opposition, can He not make this experience even both to serve us and glorify Him?
The flesh remains, and remains unchanged: "I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing" must always be said by one who identifies himself with the flesh. "The mind of the flesh is death; . . . because the mind of the flesh is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be" (Rom. vii. 18; viii. 6, 7). Thus the Word speaks of the incurable evil of the old nature, which, attaching itself, as we have seen it does, to the things of time and sense amid which we are, God’s remedy for it is Christ as an object for our hearts in heaven, and His cross as that by which we are crucified to a world which the flesh lusts after, and which in its moral elements consists of "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life." We are not in the flesh; we are in Christ before God; our life is hid with Christ in God. The knowledge of our portion in Him, as given us by the Spirit, divorces our hearts, and turns our eyes away from that which ministers to the evil in us. "As strangers and pilgrims," journeying on to a point which faith, not sight, beholds, we learn to abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul"(i Pet. ii. ii), and, as a consequence, to "mortify the deeds of the body" (Rom. viii. 13). Our true power is in absent-mindedness, - a heart set upon that which stirs no lust, for it is our own forever, and we are invited to enjoy it.
This satisfies, and this alone. By "the exceeding great and precious promises" we "become partakers of (or rather, "in communion with,") the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust" (2 Pet. i. 4). The new life within us is strengthened and developed, and this alone can divine things work upon. Christ seen and enjoyed by faith, we grow up unto Him in all things, from the babe to the young man and to the father, when we have but to sit down, as it were, and endlessly enjoy our infinite blessing.
Before closing this brief sketch of an important subject, let us look closer at this question of growth, as the apostle puts it before us here. Growth (mental, not physical,) the growth of a babe into a man, is a matter of education; not merely what professes to be such, but the influence upon it of surrounding circumstances which call forth the hidden energies of the mind and heart, and of examples which stimulate and encourage to imitation. God has thus, on the one hand, for us His discipline of trial; on the other, His perfect example of what He would have us grow up to. In general, men reach about the level of what is thus before them. God puts before us Christ, that we may grow up into Christ. Our occupation will tell upon us. What we give ourselves to will make its necessary mark upon us. The exhortation to us is, "Set your mind on things above, where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God."
The admonition, therefore, of the apostle to the babes and young men - to the fathers he has none - is to let nothing take away their eyes from Christ, The babes he warns as to Antichrist, not that he may perfect them in prophetical knowledge, but because in their little acquaintance as yet with the truth of what Christ is, they might be led away into some deceit of the enemy. Satan’s first snare for souls is some distorting error, which shall in fact deform to us the face in which alone all the glory of God shines, or substitute for His face some witchery for the natural eye, in which the heart may be unawares entangled, supposing it to be the true and divine object before it. This is Antichrist, - not yet the full denial of the Father and the Son, of course, - and antichrists there are many.
Oh that Christians did more realize the immense value of truth ! - the terrible and disastrous effect of error! What presents to me, when seen aright, the blessed face of God Himse!f, may through Satan’s artifice darken, obscure, distort this, or present to me a treacherous and destructive lure instead.
The apostle therefore warns the babes as to false Christs doctrinally. The young men are not in the same danger as to this. They are strong, and the word of God abides in them, and they have overcome the wicked one. Their danger now lies from the allurements of a world into which their very energy is carrying them. The word to these is, "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world." For the eye affects the heart; and it is one thing to have seen by the Word that the world is under judgment, and another thing to have gone through it in detail, looking it in the face, and counting it all loss for Christ. This the fathers have, however, done: therefore he says to them (and it is all he needs to say), "Ye have known Him that is from the beginning." It is all we gain by looking through the world; yet it is a great gain to be able to say of it all through, "How unlike Christ it is!" And what when we have reached this? Has the "father" nothing more to learn? Oh, yes, he is but at the beginning. He has but now his lesson-book before him, for undistracted learning. But he needs not caution in the same way not to mix anything with Christ, and not to take anything else for Christ. How much toil to reach, how slow we are in reaching, so simple a conclusion! But then the joy of eternity begins. Oh, to have Him ever before us, unfolding His glories, as He does to one whose eyes and whose heart are all for Him! The knowledge of the new man is, "Christ is all!" To the martyr, in the fire which consumed him, this knowledge broke out in the words which told of a joy beyond the torment - " NONE BUT CHRIST!"