There are many differences among men in this world, that, as to outward appearance, are great and wide, and indeed they are so eagerly pursued, and seriously minded by men, as if they were great and momentous. You see what a strife and contention there is among men, how to be extracted out of the dregs of the multitude, and set a little higher in dignity and degree than they. How do men affect to be honourable above the base! How do they seek to be rich, and hate poverty! These differences of poor and rich, high and low, noble and ignoble, learned and unlearned, the thoughts of men are wholly taken up with, but there is one great difference, that is most in God's eye, and is both substantial and eternal, and so infinitely surpasseth all these differences that the minds of men most run out upon; and it is here, the great difference between flesh and spirit, and them that are after the flesh, and them that are after the Spirit. This is of all other most considerable, because widest and durablest. I say, it is the widest of all, for all others put no great difference between men as men, they do reach the peculiar excellency of a man, that is, the true, and proper, good of his spiritual and immortal part, they are such as befall alike to good and bad, and so cannot have either much good or much evil in them. I have seen folly set in great dignity, and princes walking on foot, Eccles. x.6, 7. Then certainly such titles of honour and dignity, such places of eminency erected above the multitude, have little or nothing worth the spirit of a man in them, seeing a fool, a wicked man, is as capable of them, as a wise man, or a man of a princely spirit, and so of all others, they do not elevate a man, as a man, above others. A poor, unlearned, mean man may have more real excellency in him, than a rich, learned, and great person. But this draws a substantial and vast difference indeed, such as is between flesh and spirit, such as is between men and beasts. You know what pre-eminency a man hath over a beast. There is no such wide distance among the sons of men as between the lowest and meanest man and the chiefest beast. "There is a spirit in man," saith Elihu, Job xxxii.8, -- an immortal, eternal substance, of a far higher nature and comprehension. You know what excellency is in the spirit beyond the flesh, such as is in heaven beyond the earth, for the one is breathed from heaven, and the other is taken out of the dust of the earth; the one is corruptible, yea, corruption itself, the other incorruptible. How swift and nimble are the motions of the spirit, from the one end of heaven to the other! How can it compass the earth in a moment! Do but look and see what a huge difference is between a beautiful living body, and the same when it is a dead carcase, rotten and corrupted. It is the spirit dwelling within that makes the odds, that makes it active, beautiful, and comely, but in the removal of the spirit, it becometh a piece of the most defiled and loathsome dust in the world.
Now, I say, such a vast and wide difference there is between a true Christian and a natural man, even taking him in with all his common endowments and excellencies, the one is a man, the other a beast, the one is after the flesh, the other is after the Spirit. It is the ordinary compellation of the Holy Ghost, "Man being in honour, and understanding not, is like the beasts that perish," Psal. xlix.20, and xciv.8, "Understand, ye brutish among the people," &c., and Psal xcii.6, "The brutish man understands not this," and Eccles. iii.18, "that they themselves may know that they are but beasts." Therefore you find the Lord often turning to beasts, to insensible creatures, thereby to reprove the folly and madness of men, Isa. i.2, and Jer. viii.7. Man hath two parts in him, by which he hath affinity to the two most distant natures, he stands in the middle between angels and beasts. In his spirit he riseth up to an angelic dignity, and in his body he falls down to a brutish condition. Now, which of these hath the pre-eminency, that he is. If the spirit be indeed elevated above all sensual and earthly things, to the life of angels, that is, to communion with God, then a man is one after the spirit, an angel incarnate, an angel dwelling in flesh, but if his spirit throw itself down to the service of the flesh, minding and savouring only things sensual and visible, then indeed a man puts off humanity, and hath associated himself to beasts, to be as one of them. And indeed, a man made thus like a beast, is worse than a beast, because he ought to be far better. It is no disparagement to a beast to mind only the flesh, but it is the greatest abasement of a man, that which draws him down from that higher station God hath set him into, to the lowest station, that of beasts; and truly a Nebuchadnezzar among beasts is the greatest beast of all, far more brutish than any beast. Now such is every man by nature, -- "that which is born of the flesh is flesh." Every man as he comes out of the womb, is degenerated and fallen down into this brutish estate, to mind, to savour, to relish nothing but what relates to this fleshly or temporal being. The utmost sphere and comprehension of man, is now of no larger extent than this visible world and this present life, -- "he is blind and seeth not afar off," 2 Pet. i.9. Truly, such is every man by nature, whereas the proper native sphere of the spirit's motion and comprehension, is as large as its endurance, that is, as long as eternity, and as broad as to reach the infiniteness of God, the God of all spirits. Now, through the slavery and bondage of men's spirits to their flesh, it is contracted into as narrow bounds as this poor life in the flesh. He that ought to look beyond time as far as eternity, and hath an immortal spirit given for that end, is now half blind, the eye of the mind is so overclouded with lusts and passions that it cannot see far off, not so far as to the morrow after death, not so far as to the entry of eternity. And truly, if you compare the context, you will find, that whosoever doth not give all diligence to add to faith, virtue, to virtue, knowledge, to knowledge, temperance, to temperance, patience and to patience godliness, &c., he that is not exercised and employed about this study, how to adorn his spirit with these graces, how to have a victory over himself and the world, and in respect of these, accounts all things beside indifferent, -- such a man is blind, and seeth not far off, he hath not gotten a sight of eternity, he hath not taken up that everlasting endurance, else he could not spend his time upon provision for the lusts of the flesh, but be behoved to lay such a good foundation for the time to come as is here mentioned. If he saw afar off, he could not but make acquaintance with those courtiers of heaven, which will minister an entrance into that everlasting kingdom. But truly, while this is not your study, you have no purpose for heaven, you see nothing but what is just before your eye, and almost toucheth it, and so you savour and mind only what you see.
Is not this then a wide difference between the children of this world, and the children of God? Is it not very substantial? All others are circumstantial in respect of this, this only puts a real difference in that which is best in men, viz. their spirits. The excellency of nature is known by their affections and motions, so are these here, the spiritual man savours spiritual things, the carnal man carnal things, everything sympathizes with that which is like itself, and is ready to incorporate into it, things are nourished and preserved by things like themselves. You see the swine embraces the dunghill, that stink is only a savoury smell to them, because it is suitable to their nature. But a man hath a more excellent taste and smell, and he savours finer and sweeter things. Truly it cannot choose but that it must be a nature more swinish or brutish than a swine, that can relish and savour such filthy abominable works of the flesh as abound amongst some of you. "The works of the flesh are manifest," Gal. v.19. And indeed they are manifest upon you, acted in the very day time, out facing the very light of the gospel. You may read them, and see if they be not too manifest in you. Now, what a base nature, what abominable and brutish spirits must possess men, that they apprehend a sweetness and fragrancy in these corrupt and stinking works of the old man! O how base a scent is it, to smell and savour nothing but this present world, and satisfaction to your senses! Truly your scent and smell, your relish and taste, argues your base, and degenerate, and brutish natures, that you are on the worse side of this division, -- "after the flesh." But alas! it is not possible to persuade you that there is no sweetness, no fragrancy, nothing but corruption and rottenness, such as comes out of sepulchres opened, in all these works of the flesh, till once a new spirit be put in you, and your natures changed, no more than you can by eloquence persuade a sick man, whose palate is possessed with a vitiated bitter humour, that such things as are suitable to his vitiated taste, are indeed bitter, or make a swine to believe that the dunghill is stinking and unpleasant. Truly it is as impossible to make the multitude of men to apprehend, to relish or savour any bitterness or loathsomeness in the ways and courses they follow, or any sweetness and fragrancy in the ways of godliness, till once your tastes be rectified, your spirits be transformed and renewed.
And indeed, when once the spirit is renewed, and dispossessed of that malignant humour of corruption, and fleshly affection, that did present all things, contrary to what they are, then it is like a healthful and wholesome palate, that tastes all things as they are, and finds bitter, bitter, and sweet, sweet, or like a sound eye, that beholds things just as they are, both in colour, quantity, and distance, then the soul savours the sweet smell of the fruits of the Spirit, ver 22: "Love, joy, peace, long-suffering, meekness, temperance," &c. These are fragrant and sweet to the soul, and as a sweet perfume, both to the person that hath them, and to others round about him, and to God also. These cast a savour that allures a soul to seek them, and being possessed of them, they cast a sweet smell abroad to all that are round about, and even as high as heaven. A soul that hath these planted in it, and growing out of it, is as a garden enclosed to God. These fruits are both pleasant and sweet to the soul that eats them, and as the pleasantness of the apple allured man to taste it and sin, so the beauty and sweetness of these fruits of the Spirit draw the spirit of a man after them. He hath found the savour, and seen the beauty, and this allures him to taste them, and then he invites the well beloved to come and taste also, to eat of these fruits with him. We might instance this in many things. A Christian relishes more sweetness in temperance, in beating down his body, and bringing it into subjection, in abstaining from fleshly lusts, than a carnal man tastes in the most exquisite pleasures that the world can afford. A Christian savours a sweetness in meekness and long suffering, he hath more delight in forgiving, and forbearing, and praying for them that wrong him, than a natural man hath in the accomplishing of the most greedy desires of revenge. O what beauty hath gentleness, goodness, and patience, in his eye! What sweetness is in the love of God to his taste! How ravishing is the joy of the Holy Ghost! How contenting that peace that passeth understanding! These are things of the Spirit that he minds and savours. Know, Christians, that it is to this ye are called, to mind these things most, and to seek them most. Beware lest the deceitfulness of sin entice you, through the treacherous and deceitful lusts that are yet living in your members. If you indeed mind these things, and, out of the apprehension of the beauty and savour of the sweetness and smell of the fragrancy of them, would be content to quit all your corrupt lusts, for to be possessed of them, then you are on that blessed and happy side of this great and fundamental division of men, you have indeed the privilege(178) of all others who are not renewed. Whatever be your condition in the world, you are of the Spirit, and this is better than to be rich, wise, great, and honourable. God hath not given you such things as the world go mad after, but envy them not, he hath given you better things, more real and substantial things, that make you far better and more excellent.
But then, this difference, as it is the widest, so it is the durablest, as it is substantial here, so it is perpetual hereafter. When all the other differences between men shall be abolished, this alone shall remain, and therefore you have it in the next verse, "To be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace." This division that is begun here, shall grow wider for all eternity. There shall be a greater difference after this life, and a more sensible separation. Death and life, eternal death and eternal life, are the two sides of this difference, as it shall shortly be stated. When all other degrees and distances of men shall be blotted out and buried in eternal oblivion, there shall no vestige or mark remain, of either wisdom, or riches, or honour, or such like, but all mankind shall be, as to these outward things, levelled and equalized, this one unseen and neglected difference in the world shall appear and shine in that day when the Lord maketh up his jewels, "then he will discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that feareth God, and him that feareth him not," Mal. iii.18. The carnal and spiritual man have opposite affections and motions. The spirit of the one is on a journey or walk upward, "after the Spirit," and the spirit of the other is on a walk downward, towards the flesh, and the further they go, the further distant they are. The one shall be taken up to the company of the spirits of just men made perfect, and to the fellowship of angels, the other shall be thrown down into the fellowship and society of devils. And truly it is no wonder it fall so low, for all its motions in the body were downward, to the fulfilling of the lusts of the flesh. Thus you see the difference will grow wider and more sensible than it is yet between the godly and ungodly, in this world it doth not so evidently appear as it will do afterward. As two men, that leave one another, and have their faces on contrary arts,(179) at the beginning the distance and difference is not so great and so sensible, but wait a little, and the further they go, the farther they are distant, and the wider their separation is. Even so, when a Christian begins to break off his way from the common course of the world it doth not appear to be so different from it as to convince himself and others; but if his face be towards Jerusalem above, and his heart thitherward, certainly he will be daily moving further from the world, till the distance be sensible both to himself and others; he will be more and more transformed and renewed, till at length all be changed. No wonder then, that these two cannot meet together in the end of their course, whose course was so opposite. Though wicked men will desire to "die the death of the righteous," yet it is no more possible they can meet in the end, than hell and heaven can reconcile together, because they walk to two contrary points.