HAVING considered the various names given to the old nature in Scripture, we come now to see what is said about the nature itself, and its end.
The first thing we learn is: 1. It cannot be changed. "That which is born (or, begotten) of the flesh is flesh", and remains flesh. No known power can turn it into spirit. Men talk about a change of nature; but it is only talk. It does not alter the fact. Men are never weary in their efforts to improve it; but they are constantly receiving bitter disappointments: they are continually exhibiting the fact that neither education nor religion can alter the old nature, or impart a new one. The flesh can be highly cultivated. There are the refined "desires of the mind", as well as the coarse "lusts of the flesh" (Eph. 2:3): but they are equally "far off" (Eph. 5:13) from God; and alike under His "wrath" (Eph. 5:3). The flesh can be made very religious. Indeed, these two go well together: for religion consists of ordinances, rites, and ceremonies. It stands in meats and drinks. It thrives on vows, and pledges, and badges. All these are outward, and are for the flesh. All these are within the powers of the flesh. It can observe days, and feasts, and fasts (Col. 2:16,20,21; Rom. 14:5,6). It revels in "Rules for daily living". It delights in "ordinances". All these minister to the flesh: and; religious flesh "takes to" these, just as irreligious flesh "takes to" vice. Hence the danger of any so-called religious service in which there is anything that ministers to the flesh, or where provision is made for it. Ravishing music, heart-breaking anecdotes, fervent appeals, all these can make what may be called "converts": but cannot keep them when made. This is why such deep concern is manifested as to how many of such "converts" may "stand" They may stand for weeks, or months, or years; but they will never stand for eternity.
All these outward things "perish with the using" (Col. 2:22). They are born of the flesh. Only "that which is born (or, begotten) of the Spirit is spirit" (John 3:6). "Whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever"
(Ecc. 3:14); and: "Every plant which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up" (Matt. 15:13). These words were spoken by the Lord to those whose religion was of the flesh, and consisted in washings and making long prayers; to those who honoured God with their lips, and supposed that man was defiled by "that which goeth into the mouth" (5:11). They were spoken concerning the "Scribes and Pharisees, which were of Jerusalem", the place of religious observances (5:1): and they are spoken to-day to all who "teach for doctrines the commandments of men" (5:9): who make men religious by working on the feelings of the flesh: and seek to make them holy by saying "Touch not, taste not, handle not" (Col. 2:21): and who make of more account "that which goeth into the mouth" (Matt. 15:11), than "that which cometh out of the heart"; as though the one possessed a supernatural power which could influence the other. No! the nature of the old man cannot be changed. "It is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be." This forever settles the matter, for all who are subject to the Word of God in Romans 8:7.
When once this fact is realized, it becomes impossible for us to pray "Make clean our hearts within us"; for, the question naturally arises, which "heart"? The old one, or the new one? If the old, it cannot be cleansed. If the new, it needs no cleansing. David could say, "Create in me a clean heart, 0 God": but that is a very different thing. A newly created heart is the very opposite of making the old heart clean. This simple fact and truth of God's Word is an axe laid at the root of all the modern "clean heart" teaching of those who, though justified by grace, are seeking to be sanctified by works. All such come under the reproof of Galatians 3:3, "Are ye so senseless (i.e., unintelligent)? having begun in spirit (or the new nature), are ye being made perfect (or, perfecting yourselves) in [the] flesh?" It is the great doctrine of the two natures in the child of God which corrects all this teaching of the present day, which leads so many into soul-trouble. Instead of seeing, in the conflict they mourn over, the very ground of all assurance, they are seeking to get rid of it altogether by attempting to accomplish that which is absolutely impossible, by cleansing and improving the old nature. Over all such teaching, and all such efforts, the death knell tolls out the solemn sentence" NEITHER INDEED CAN BE."
The second thing we learn is that it has only one end:
2. Its end is death! The flesh, and all that pertains to it, its religion and its ungodliness, its virtue and its vice, all end in death. All is for time, and not for eternity. "In Adam all die" (1
Cor. 15:22). "The mind of the flesh is death" (Rom. 8:6). Being connected with the body, it is called" this body of (or appointed for) death" (Rom. 7:24). Nothing but death can be the end of all that is of the flesh. It is born of the flesh. The "first Adam" was made of the dust of the earth, and to dust all his descendants "return" (Gen. 3:19).
The third fact flows from the second:
3. "He that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption" (Gal. 6:8). All efforts to improve the flesh, all provision made for the flesh, all ordinances connected with the flesh, all end in corruption and death: all "perish with the using" (Co1. 2:22). But our subject has a happier and more blessed side. There is such a thing as the new nature, as we shall see in our next chapter.