I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.
A great poet speaks of 'Happiness, our being's end and aim;' and he has been reproved for so doing. Men have said, and wisely, the end and aim of our being is not happiness, but goodness. If goodness comes first, then happiness may come after. But if not, something better than happiness may come, even blessedness.
This it is, I believe, which our Lord may have meant when He said, 'He that saveth his life, or soul' (for the two words in Scripture mean exactly the same thing), 'shall lose it. And he that loseth his life, shall save it. For what is a man profited if he gain the whole world, and lose his own life?'
How is this? It is a hard saying. Difficult to believe, on account of the natural selfishness which lies deep in all of us. Difficult even to understand in these days, when religion itself is selfish, and men learn more and more to think that the end and aim of religion is not to make them good while they live, but merely to save their souls after they die.
But whether it be hard to understand or not, we must understand it, if we would be good men. And how to understand it, the Epistle for this day will teach us.
'Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.' The Spirit, which is the Spirit of God within our hearts and conscience, says -- Be good. The flesh, the animal, savage nature, which we all have in common with the dumb animals, says -- Be happy. Please yourself. Do what you like. Eat and drink, for to-morrow you die.
But, happily for us, the Spirit lusts against the flesh. It draws us the opposite way. It lifts us up, instead of dragging us down. It has nobler aims, higher longings. It, as St. Paul puts it, will not let us do the things that we would. It will not let us do just what we like, and please ourselves. It often makes us unhappy just when we try to be happy. It shames us, and cries in our hearts -- You were not meant merely to please yourselves, and be as the beasts which perish.
But how few listen to that voice of God's Spirit within their hearts, though it be just the noblest thing of which they will ever be aware on earth!
How few listen to it, till the lusts of the flesh are worn out, and have worn them out likewise, and made them reap the fruit which they have sowed -- sowing to the selfish flesh, and of the selfish flesh reaping corruption.
The young man says -- I will be happy and do what I like; and runs after what he calls pleasure. The middle-aged man, grown more prudent, says -- I will be happy yet, and runs after money, comfort, fame and power. But what do they gain? 'The works of the flesh,' the fruit of this selfish lusting after mere earthly happiness, 'are manifest, which are these:' -- not merely that open vice and immorality into which the young man falls when he craves after mere animal pleasure, but 'hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies' -- i.e., factions in Church or State -- 'envyings, murders, and such like.'
Thus men put themselves under the law. Not under Moses' law, of course, but under some law or other.
For why has law been invented? Why is it needed, with all its expense? Law is meant to prevent, if possible, men harming each other by their own selfishness, by those lusts of the flesh which tempt every man to seek his own happiness, careless of his neighbour's happiness, interest, morals; by all the passions which make men their own tormentors, and which make the history of every nation too often a history of crime, and folly, and faction, and war, sad and shameful to read; all those passions of which St. Paul says once and for ever, that those who do such things 'shall not inherit the kingdom of God.'
These are the sad consequences of giving way to the flesh, the selfish animal nature within us: and most miserable would man be if that were all he had to look to. Miserable, were there not a kingdom of God, into which he could enter all day long, and be at peace; and a Spirit of God, who would raise him up to the spiritual life of love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance; and a Son of God, the King of that kingdom, the Giver of that Spirit, who cries for ever to every one of us -- 'Come unto Me, ye that are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke on you, and learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly of heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls.'
Love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance; these are the fruits of the Spirit: the spirit of unselfishness; the spirit of charity; the spirit of justice; the spirit of purity; the Spirit of God. Against them there is no law. He who is guided by this Spirit, and he only, may do what he would; for he will wish to do nought but what is right. He is not under the law, but under grace; and full of grace will he be in all his words and works. He has entered into the kingdom of God, and is living therein as God's subject, obeying the royal law of liberty -- 'Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.'
'The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh, so that ye cannot do the things that ye would,' says St. Paul.
My friends, this is the battle of life.
In every one of us, more or less, this battle is going on; a battle between the flesh and the Spirit, between the animal nature and the divine grace. In every one of us, I say, who is not like the heathen, dead in trespasses and sins; in every one of us who has a conscience, excusing or else accusing us. There are those -- a very few, I hope -- who are sunk below that state; who have lost their sense of right and wrong; who only care to fulfil the lusts of the flesh in pleasure, ease, and vanity. There are those in whom the voice of conscience is lead for a while, silenced by self-conceit; who say in their prosperity, like the foolish Laodiceans, 'I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing,' and know not that in fact and reality, and in the sight of God, they are 'wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.'
Happy, happy for any and all of us, -- if ever we fall into that dream of pride and false security, -- to be awakened again, however painful the awakening may be! Happy for every man that the battle between the Spirit and the flesh should begin in him again and again, as long as his flesh is not subdued to his spirit. If he be wrong, the greatest blessing which can happen to him is, that he should find himself in the wrong. If he have been deceiving himself, the greatest blessing is, that God should anoint his eyes that he may see -- see himself as he is; see his own inbred corruption; see the sin which doth so easily beset him, whatever it may be. Whatever anguish of mind it may cost him, it is a light price to pay for the inestimable treasure which true repentance and amendment brings; the fine gold of solid self-knowledge, tried in the fire of bitter experience; the white raiment of a pure and simple heart; the eye- salve of honest self-condemnation and noble shame. If he have but these -- and these God will give him, in answer to prayer, the prayer of a broken and a contrite heart -- then he will be able to carry on the battle against the corrupt flesh, with its affections and lusts, in hope. In the assured hope of final victory. 'For greater is He that is with us, than he that is against us? He that is against us is our self, our selfish self; our animal nature; and He that is with us is God; God and none other: and who can pluck us out of His hand?
My friends, the bread and the wine on that table are God's own sign to us that He will not leave us to be, like the savage, the slaves of our own animal natures; that He will feed not merely our bodies with animal, but our souls with spiritual food; giving us strength to rise above our selfish selves; and so subdue the flesh to the Spirit, that at last, however long and weary the fight, however sore wounded and often worsted we may be, we shall conquer in the battle of life.