"That which is born of the flesh is flesh; And that which is born of the Spirit is spirit -- John 3:6.
We hear much in the present day about what is called "the teaching of Jesus"; and an attempt is made to set it above and against the teaching of Paul, overlooking the fact that both Gospels and Epistles are given by the Inspiration of the same Holy Spirit. Men talk thus, not because they desire to know or to obey the teaching of the Lord Jesus, but because they wish to lower the authority of the teaching of God by Paul, and to get rid of what they call Pauline Theology. Bring them face to face with the actual teaching of the Lord Jesus, and they will have none of it. They will turn back, and walk no more with Him (John 6:66); or they will be "filled with wrath", and seek to do away with Him (Luke 4:28,29). In John 3:6, we have the teaching of the Lord Jesus on a fundamental doctrine. It states an eternal truth. But it is the one truth which the natural man will not have. It declares that, by nature, we are descended from fallen Adam; are begotten in his likeness (Gen. 5:3); and are partakers of his fallen nature. Born of the flesh, we possess the nature of the begetter, and are flesh. This flesh, "the teaching of Jesus" declares, "profiteth nothing" (John 6:63); and in it "dwelleth no good thing" (Rom. 7:18). But, as we have said, this is the teaching which man will not receive. Pulpit, platform, and press, with one voice proclaim the opposite; and declare that there is some good thing in man, and that all we have to do is to discover and improve it.
It is against this lie of the devil, that the axe of Divine truth is laid when the Lord Jesus declares that "That which is born of the flesh is flesh" that "The flesh profiteth nothing"; and that in it dwelleth "No good thing". If any good thing is to be found in man, it must be first put in by God. It must be "born of the Spirit": and, when that "good thing" is thus born and found in a man, then it is seen to partake of the nature of the begetter. It is spirit. It is Divine. Now these two natures are so opposite in their origin, nature, and character, that they each have several names; and each name reveals some fresh trait and some additional truth. Let us first look at the names by which man, by nature, is spoken of.
THE NAMES AND CHARACTERISTICS OF THE OLD NATURE
I. THE FLESH; as we have it in John 3:6. "That which is born of the flesh is flesh." It comes by birth as generated by a fallen begetter. Concerning this Flesh, we are told: it "cannot please God." (Rom. 8:8);it "profiteth nothing:" (John 6:63); there is in it "no good thing:" (Rom. 7:18).
Now this is a vital and fundamental truth. The question is: Do we believe it? Do we believe God or man? If we believe God, we shall see that the great bulk of what goes by the name of "public worship" is vanity. True worship must be wholly that of the spirit, or the new nature. We must be able to say with Mary: "My soul doth magnify the Lord, my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour."
It is only as saved ones that we can truly worship. If the flesh of itself "profiteth nothing", then it is clear that we cannot worship God with any of the senses (which all pertain to the flesh). We cannot worship with our eyes by gazing at a sacrament. We cannot worship with our noses by the smelling of incense. We cannot worship with our ears by listening to music; no, nor can we worship with our throats by singing. All that comes from the flesh "profiteth nothing". God has "no respect to it", and it is labour in vain. Protestant Christians will agree with us in what we say about gazing on sacraments, or the smelling of incense; but what about the other senses of the flesh? What about the ears and the throats? The churches all seem to be "music mad"; and, what with choirs "1,000 strong", and "string bands", "solos", and "choruses", and "anthems", and the new "Gospel of Song", we have come upon a time when the "flesh" seems to hold universal sway in what still retains the name of worship. But alas for it all, it "profiteth nothing". This flood is advancing side by side with another, of which the cry is "Be filled with the Spirit." But the "Word of truth" is wrongly divided. For a full stop is put after the word Spirit: and thus it is not noticed that, if we are filled by the Spirit, it will be seen in the effect: viz., "Speaking to yourselves in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your hearts (not in your throats merely: and this, not to any audience or congregation, but) to the Lord." It is not an "ear for music" that is wanted, but a heart for music. From this title of the old nature we learn that "the flesh profiteth nothing". This solemn truth is fundamental to Christianity: while the opposite is fundamental to religion. Religion has to do with the flesh: Christianity has to do with Christ and the new nature (which is pneuma-Christou or Christ-spirit). But we shall have more to say on this later.
This old nature is further called;
2. "THE NATURAL MAN." And we are told that "the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he get to know them because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Cor. 2:14).
In the structure of this portion of 1 Corinthians, verse 14 stands in correspondence with verse 8; which tells us that "none of the princes of this world knew the wisdom of God", i.e., the great Secret--the Mystery--for it was "hidden" in God (Eph. 3:9), and no eye had ever seen it, or ear heard it. And even when now it is "revealed" (1 Cor. 2:10), the natural man cannot get to know it, because it is only discerned by the spirit, or the new nature within us, created and enlightened by the Holy Ghost. This is conclusive as to the character, power, inclination and condition of "the natural man"; which means man by nature, as he is born into the world. Then further, he is called;
3. "THE OLD MAN." And what about him? He, we are told "is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts" (Eph. 4:22). The old man is full of desires or lusts. These lusts are deceitful and deceiving. They are in all things contrary to God, contrary to His Spirit, and His Word; and to the new nature, the spirit, when it is once implanted within us. In this connection, it is called;
4. "THE OUTWARD MAN"; as being that which is seen, and that which actually perishes (2 Cor. 4:16), and this is "day by day". This tells us that as long as we are in the flesh, we must suffer this "burden": and that no ordinance connected with that which perishes, can be of any avail in that domain where all is, and must be spiritual; i.e., of the Spirit.
5. "THE HEART", i.e., the natural heart, which is "deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked" (Jer. 17:9), so deceitful that it constantly deceives and betrays us: so deceitful that none but God can really know it. The Lord Jesus has some "teaching about the heart" of the natural man in Matthew 15:19. "Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies."
The churches may talk about "a change of heart"; but, it is never changed. A "new heart" must be given. They may talk about improving man's heart (or nature): but the old heart cannot be improved; and the new heart needs no improvement. Spiritists and Theosophists may talk about "the divine in man"; and show how this "old thought of the East, the cradle of all philosophy, is permeating the religions of the West". This is too true, as a fact: but it is Satan's lie, against which opposes God's truth. Even man at times is compelled to confess it; and to own that all his efforts to improve "the heart" of man end in failure.
Another name given to the old nature in the Word of God is;
6. "THE CARNAL MIND." This aspect of the old nature is even more serious than the others. They relate rather to acts, and conditions, and character; but this relates to thoughts; to the mental activities, and reasonings and imaginations of the natural man (Rom. 8:7). That these are the opposite of God's thoughts was manifested of old. "Every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually" (Gen. 6:5). And God has declared, even of this mind of the flesh, that "My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways" (Isa. 4:8). "The carnal mind" means, as is shown in the margin of Romans 8:7, "the mind of the flesh" (phronema sarkos), as it is called in the ninth Article of the Church of England, which declares that "Original sin standeth not in the following of Adam (as the Pelagians do vainly talk); but it is the fault and corruption of the nature of every man that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam; whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and is of his own nature inclined to evil, so that the flesh lusteth always contrary to the spirit; and therefore in every person born into this world, it deserveth God's wrath and damnation. And this infection of nature doth remain, yea, in them that are regenerated; whereby the lust of the flesh, called in the Greek phronema sarkos which some do expound the wisdom, some sensuality, some the affection, some the desire, of the flesh, is not subject to the Law of God . . ." The Article thus agrees with the categorical declarations of the Word of God, which declares (Rom. 8:7,8) that this "mind of the flesh" is "Enmity against God." "Not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be." And "cannot please God."
The "mind" is the source of the thoughts: and thoughts are the source of actions. "The mind of the flesh", therefore, is that part of the flesh which thinks -- and its thoughts are always contrary to God, and have, as the concluding words of the Article (quoted above) declare, "the nature of sin".
7. This brings us to the last of the names given to the old nature in Scripture,
"SIN". We must distinguish between "sin", and "sins". "Sin" is the root, "sins" are the fruit. In Romans, from 1:16 to chapter 5:11, it is "sins", considered as the outcome of the old nature, which are dealt with; and we are shown how they are put away, and how God can be just, and yet be Justifier of the sinner who is saved on faith-principle instead of law-principle. From Romans 5:12 to 8:39, it is "Sin" that is dealt with: the old nature. For, though the sinner is justified in Christ, he still feels the working of the old nature, and experiences the conflict between that and the new nature. The object of this section is to teach us that though we still see the fruits, we are to regard the old tree as though it had died, and to reckon that we died in Christ's death. No change has taken place. The root still remains. The change is in our standing before God. We now stand on a different plane: "we walk by faith"; and by faith we reckon that, though the flesh is in us, we are "not in the flesh"; and, in spite of the fruits which we see from time to time, we believe God when He tells us that the tree, in His sight, is condemned. A new graft has been put in, which can only produce "fruit unto God"; while all that is produced from the old stock (below the graft) is worthless, and is cut away as such by the great Gardener's hand. We are His "husbandry". He grafts in us the new nature; and we believe Him when He tells us of all the wonders of the work which He hath wrought.