"For they that are after the Flesh do Mind the Things of the Flesh,",
Rom. viii. 5. -- "For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh,", &c.

Though sin hath taken up the principal and inmost cabinet of the heart of man -- though it hath fixed its imperial throne in the spirit of man, and makes use of all the powers and faculties in the soul to accomplish its accursed desires and fulfil its boundless lusts, yet it is not without good reason expressed in scripture, ordinarily under the name of "flesh," and a "body of death," and men dead in sins, are said to be yet in the flesh. The reason is, partly because this was the rise of man's first ruin, or the chiefest ingredient in his first sin, -- his hearkening to the suggestions of his flesh against the clear light and knowledge of his spirit. The apple was beautiful to look on and sweet to the taste, and this engaged man. Thus the voluntary debasement and subjection of the spirit -- which was breathed in of God -- unto the service of that dust which God had appointed to serve it hath turned into a necessary slavery, so that the flesh being put in the throne cannot be cast out. And this is the righteous judgment of God upon man, that he that would not serve so good and so high a Lord, should be made a drudge and slave to the very dregs of the creation. Partly again, because the flesh hath in it the seeds of the most part of these evil fruits, which abound in the world. The most part of our corruptions have either their rise or their increase from the flesh, the most part of the evils of men are either conceived in the flesh or brought forth by it, by the ministry and help of our degenerate spirits. And truly this is it that makes our returning to God so hard and difficult a work, because we are in the flesh, which is like stubble, disposed to conceive flame upon any sparkle of a temptation, there are so many dispositions and inclinations in the body since our fall, that are as powerful to carry us to excess and inordinateness in affection or conversation, as the natural instincts of beasts do drive them on to their own proper operations. You know the flesh is oftentimes the greatest impediment that the spirit hath, because of its lumpishness and earthly quality. How willing would the spirit be, how nimble and active in the ways of obedience, if it were not retarded, dulled, and clogged with the heavy lump of our flesh! "The spirit indeed is willing but the flesh is weak," saith Christ, Matt. xxvi.41. Truly I think the great remissness, negligence, weakness, fainting of Christians, in their race of Christianity, arise ordinarily from this weight that is carried about with them, that it must be some extraordinary impulse of a higher Spirit to drive us on without wearying. And because of this indisposition of the flesh, we are not able to bear much of God's presence in this life, (it would certainly confound mortality, if so much were let out of it as is in heaven) no more than a weak eye can endure to behold the sun in its brightness. And then the flesh, as it is the greatest retardment in good, it is the greatest incitement to evil, it is a bosom enemy, that betrays us to Satan, it is near us and connatural to us. And this is the great advantage Satan hath of a Christian, he hath a friend within every Christian, that betrays him often. You know the most part of temptations from without could have no such force or strength against us if there were not some predisposition in the flesh, some seeds of that evil within, if they were not presented to some suitableness to our senses, and they being once engaged on Satan's side, they easily draw the whole man with them, under a false colour and pretence of friendship, therefore they are said to "war against the soul," 1 Pet. ii.11, and they are said "easily" to "beset us," Heb. xii.1. Truly it is no wonder that the enemy storm our city, when the outworks yea, the very ports of the city, are possessed by traitors. No wonder Satan approach near the walls with his temptations, when our senses, our fleshly part, are so apt to receive him, and ready to entertain all objects without difference, that are suitable to affect them.

You see then how much power the flesh hath in man so that it is no wonder that every natural man hath this denomination, one "after the flesh," one carnal from the predominating part, though the worst part. Every man by nature till a higher birth come may be called all flesh, all fashioned and composed of the flesh, and after the flesh, even his spirit and mind being fleshly and earthly, sunk into the flesh, and transformed into a brutish quality or nature. Now the great purpose of the gospel is, to bring along a deliverer unto your spirits, for the releasing and unfettering of them from the chains of fleshly lusts. This is the very work of Christianity, to give liberty to the captive souls of men "and the opening of the prison to them that are bound," Isa. lxi.1. The souls of men are chained with their own fleshly lusts, and if at any time they can break these grosser chains, as some finer spirits have escaped out of the vilest dungeon of the flesh, and cast off these heavier chains that bind the most part of men, yet wholly escape they cannot. There be higher and lower rooms of this prison, there are some more gross, some more subtile cords and bands of the flesh, and whatsoever it be that holds a man bound or in whatsoever house he be imprisoned, it is not much matter, since really he is bound, and his liberty restrained. If a chain of gold bind as fast as a chain of iron, there is no real difference, except that mockery is added unto it, when a man is detained in a golden prison with golden chains. Though some men, I say, escape the grosser pollutions of the flesh, yet they are fettered within some narrow, scant, and but imaginary good things, they cannot go without the compass of those. Every man is confined by nature within the circle of his own narrow bosom or if he expatiate into the field of the world, yet how narrow, how limited are all created objects, for the infinite desires of the soul, whether it tend to the enjoyment of other creatures, or to the possession of some imaginary excellency in a man's self. How straitened are they! How imprisoned in all that compass! There is no true liberty can be found there. Though some may be disengaged from baser lusts and the common vain employments of men, yet far they cannot go, they do but engage more with themselves the love and estimation of themselves. Without that compass they cannot possibly go, whether from another principle, or to another end. And, O how little bounds is within any created breast for the immortal spirit, that is so vast and expatiating in its desires to dwell in!

But here is the perfect redemption that is in Jesus Christ. When he comes into the soul, he unfetters and releases it, not only of the grosser lusts of the flesh, but even of those subtile invisible bands of self love, self seeking, of all scant, narrow, and particular objects, and sets it at liberty to expatiate in that universal good, the infinite fulness of God, and grace which is in Christ Jesus, and hence a Christian is called one "after the Spirit" that is, whose spirit is rid and delivered from that natural bondage and slavery to the creatures, and is espoused, at least in affection and endeavour, to the all-sufficient and self sufficient God.

We told you that this new nature of a Christian shows itself in affection and motion, in minding and walking, both are signs of life, and the proper actions of it. As the natural man is easily known by what he minds and savours, and what way he walks, so is the spiritual man. Minding or savouring comprehends, no doubt, all the inward acts of the soul, all the imaginations, cogitations, thoughts, affections, desires and purposes of the soul. To express it shortly, there is a concurrence of these two, cogitation and affection, the understanding and the will, in this business. The natural man knoweth not the things of the Spirit, so he cannot taste or relish them, since he doth not know them, 1 Cor. ii.14. How can they believe on him whom they have not heard? But far more, how can men love and desire that which they do not know? Though it be hard to convince some that they know not God, nor the things of the Spirit, because they have some form of knowledge, and seem to understand, and can discourse on religion, yet I wonder that the most part of men, whose ignorance is written in their foreheads with such palpable characters, should have so much difficulty to take with this challenge. I am sure, many that persuade themselves of heaven, are yet shut up in that dungeon of natural blindness and darkness of mind, and that so gross and thick darkness that it is not possible to make them conceive any notion of spiritual things, the common twilight of nature is almost extinguished, and little or nothing increased by their education in the visible church. How can you prize and esteem Jesus Christ, of whom you know nothing but the bare name? How can you savour heaven, when you have never admitted one serious thought of the life to come? O that you could be persuaded, that the grace of God is inconsistent with such gross ignorance, as is in the generality light of you! Truly grace is a light shining in the soul, that opens the eyes to see that that surrounds us in the gospel. But will you consider, beloved, how ready you are to receive other things of no moment how your memories can retain them, and your understandings receive other purposes very perplexed and laborious, but for the knowledge of your sin and misery, or of that blessed remedy showed in the gospel we cannot make you capable of a few questions about them, and if you learn the words by heart, (as you use to speak,) yet, alas! the matter and thing itself is not in the heart or mind, you have nothing but words, as appears. If we ask about the same matter in other words and terms, it is as dark and new to you, as if you had never heard it. I beseech you consider, if you do not then mind the things of the flesh most when you are not only most capable to know these things that concern this life, but most ready to entertain such thoughts. You have no difficulty to mind the world whole weeks and years, but you can never find leisure or time to mind the life to come, and yet vainly you say, you mind it always. I beseech you, how do you mind God, and the things of God, when, if you will but recollect your thoughts, and gather the sum of them, you will not find one serious advised thought of him or his matters in a whole week! I profess I wonder how so many can enforce upon themselves a persuasion that God is always in their heart. I think it is the height of delusion! I am sure he is not in one of ten thousand thoughts, that travel, walk, lodge, and dwell in the souls of men, and yet they will needs bear upon themselves that they always mind him. I am sure most of you cannot say, that ever you shut the doors of your hearts upon other vain objects, that you might retire to secret meditation on God, or conference with him, and I am as sure, that many men have God oftener in their mouths, by oaths and blasphemies, and irreverent speaking, and taking his holy name in vain, than in their minds, prayers or praises, or any holy meditations of him. Are you not as unwilling to fix your minds upon any sad solemn thoughts of God's justice, of hell, of heaven, of sin or misery, of death, as boys, whose heads are full of play, are loath to go to their books? Doth not your practice in this speak with these wicked men, who say, (Job xxi.14.) "Depart from us, we desire not the knowledge of thy ways?" How constrained are all your thoughts of religion! They are entertained as those whom you would not desire to come again. But how unconstrained, how free are all other thoughts! Our minds can rove whole days about vanity, about fancies, dreams, nothings; but you neither like to admit nor retain the knowledge of God in your mind, Rom. i.28. Do you not entertain any serious weighty thoughts of religion, that by occasion may enter as fire-brands, as hot coals in your bosom? How glad are you to get any diversion to other things! How willing to shun them, or cast them out! But if it be any temporal thing, any thing relating to this flesh, your thoughts come freely off, are steady and fixed as long as you please, your minds can travel through all the ends of the earth, to bring in some fancy of gain or advantage, or to steal by precious time, and that without wearying. Now all these things considered, my beloved, are you not carnal? I speak to the most of you, are you not those who are born of the flesh, since you mind nothing seriously, resolutely, constantly and willingly, but the things of the flesh, and the things of this life? O it is no light matter to be born of the flesh; if you continue so, you are ordained for corruption, for death; "to be carnally minded is death," ver.6, of this chapter.

But I am persuaded better things of some of you, that the true light of God hath shined into your hearts, and revealed more excellent things unto you than these perishing fleshly things, viz. heavenly, substantial, and eternal things in the gospel, which you account only worthy of the fixed and continued meditation of your spirits. I am sure you perceive another beauty and excellency in these things than the world doth, because the Spirit hath revealed them unto you. It is true that your minds are yet much darkened in their apprehension of spiritual things, they are not so willing to receive them, nor so ready to retain them as you desire, they are very unsettled and unsteady in the meditations of spiritual things, and there are innumerable thoughts of other things that pass through your hearts like common inns, uncontrolled at their pleasure; all this is true, but I am sure it is the grief of your souls that your hearts are not so fixed and established as the excellency of these spiritual things require. I know it will be the aim and real endeavour of any spiritual heart, to be shutting up all the entries and doors of the mind, that vain thoughts enter not; yet enter they will, there are so many porches to enter in at, and our narrow spirits cannot watch at all. Every sense will let in objects, and imagination itself will be active in framing them, and presenting them: but yet the endeavour of a Christian will be, not to let them lodge long within (Jer. iv.14.). If they come in unawares, he will labour to make a diversion to a better purpose, and so still it holds good, that the current and course of a Christian's thoughts and cogitations are upon the "things of the Spirit," -- how to get his own heart washed and cleansed, -- how to be more holy and conformed to Christ, -- how to be at peace with God, and keep that peace unbroken, -- how to walk in obedience to God, and in duty towards men, -- how to forsake himself, and withal to deny himself in all these; I say, his most serious and solemn thoughts are about these things, his resolved and advised thoughts run most on this strain, though it be true that, whether he will or not, other vain and impertinent, or not so concerning thoughts, will pass more lightly, and too frequently through his heart.

The other thing in which this spiritual life doth appear, is the current of the affections, or that relish and taste of the sweetness of the things of the Spirit, flowing from the apprehension of them in the mind. When the light is discovered indeed, (and O it is a pleasant thing for the eye to behold it, as Solomon speaks,) then the Spirit hath found an object suitable to its nature, and so it relisheth and delighteth in it: therefore the word is not simple minding, or thinking, but savouring, thinking with affection upon them, tasting and feeding upon the knowledge of them, it is a minding of them with care and delight, with earnestness ({GREEK SMALL LETTER PHI}{GREEK SMALL LETTER RHO}{GREEK SMALL LETTER OMICRON}{GREEK SMALL LETTER NU}{GREEK SMALL LETTER EPSILON}{GREEK SMALL LETTER IOTA}{GREEK SMALL LETTER NU}) "O taste and see how good the Lord is," Psal. xxxiv.8. Some things indeed cannot be known but by some sense. You cannot make a blind man apprehend what light is, till he see it. A deaf man cannot form a notion of sounds in his mind, except he once heard them; neither can a man understand the sweetness of honey, but by tasting it. Truly spiritual things are of that nature, there is some hidden virtue and excellency in them, which is not obvious to every man that hath the bare knowledge of the letter, there is a spirit and life in them, that cannot be transmitted into your ears with the sound of words, or infused into ink and paper; it is only the inspiration of the Almighty can inspire this sensible perception, and real taste of spiritual things. Some powders do not smell till they are beaten, truly till these truths be well powdered and beaten small by meditation, they cannot smell so fragrantly to the spirit. As meats do not nourish till they be chewed and digested, so spiritual things do not relish to a soul, nor can they truly feed the soul, till they be chewed and digested into the heart by serious and earnest consideration. This is that which makes these same truths to be someway not the same; these very principles of religion received and confessed by all, to be lively in one, and dead in another. It is the living consideration of living truth, the application of truth to the heart, that makes it lively in one, whereas others keep it only beside them in a corner of their minds, or in a book, in the corner of the house. The same meat is laid to you all, the most part look on it, others contemplate it, and exercise only their understandings about it, but there are some who taste it, and find sweetness in it, who digest it by meditation and solemn avocation of their hearts from the things of the world, and therefore some are fed, some are starved.

Need we to enlarge much upon this subject? Is it not too palpable that many who fill up our churches are in the flesh, because they do mind and savour only the things of the flesh, and not of the Spirit? Will you seriously search your hearts, ask what relishes most with them? Can you say, that it is the kingdom of God or the righteousness thereof? Or is it not rather those other things of food and raiment, and such like, that have no extent beyond this narrow span of time? I am persuaded the hearts of many taste no sweetness in religion, else they would fix more upon it, and pursue it more earnestly. Are not the things of another world, the great things of the gospel, counted all strange things, (Hos. viii.12,) as things that you have not much to do with? Do you not let the officers of Jesus Christ, all the sweet invitations of the gospel, pass by as strangers, and as if ye were unconcerned in them? What taste have they more than the white of an egg? How unsavoury a discourse or thought to a carnal heart is it, to speak of subduing the lusts of the flesh, of dying to the world, of the world to come? Who find their hearts inwardly stirred upon the proposal of Jesus Christ? But if any matter of petty gain were proffered, O how would men listen with both their ears! How beautiful in the eyes of the covetous mind is any gain and advantage! The sound of money is sweeter to him than this blessed sound of peace and salvation. How sweet is pleasure to the voluptuous! What suitableness and conveniency is apprehended in these perishing things! But how little moment or weight is conceived and believed to be in things eternal? O how substantial do things visible seem to men, and how trifling do other things invisible appear! But for you whose eyes are opened, to you Christ is precious; to you the things of the Spirit are beautiful, and all your grief is, that you cannot affect them according to their worth, or love them according to their beauty. I say, some there are who do see a substance and subsistence only in things not seen (Heb. xi.1), and for things that are seen and visible in this world, they do account them shadows only in comparison of things invisible. The world apprehends no realities, but in what they see, but a Christian apprehends no solid reality in that he sees, but only in that he sees not, and therefore, as in his judgment he looks upon the one as a shadow, the other as a substance, so he labours to proportion and conform his affection to a suitable entertainment of them, to give a shadow of show of affection to the things of this life, but the marrow and substance of his heart to the things invisible of another life. Thus the apostle, 1 Cor. vii.29: "Rejoicing, as if we rejoiced not, enjoying, as if we possessed not, using, as if we used not," half acts for half objects. If we give our whole spirits, the strength of our souls and minds to them, we are as foolish as he that strikes with all his strength at the air, or a feather. There is no solidity or reality in these things, able to bottom much estimation or affection, only mind them and use them as in the by, as in passing through towards your country.

sermon xvi who walk not
Top of Page
Top of Page