Wherein in time past you walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air…
Rom. viii. 1. -- "Who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit."
It is no wonder that we cannot speak any thing to purpose of this subject, and that you do not bear with fruit, because it is indeed a mystery to our judgments, and a great stranger to our practice. There is so little of the Spirit, both in teachers and those that come to be taught, that we can but speak of it as an unknown thing, and cannot make you to conceive it, in the living notion of it as it is. Only we may say in general, -- it is certainly a divine thing, and another thing than our common or religious walk is. It is little experienced, so we can know the less of it; but this much we should know, -- it is another thing than we have attained. It is above us, and yet such a thing as we are called to aspire unto. How should it stir up in our spirits a holy fire of ambition to be at such a thing, when we hear it is a thing attainable: nay, when Christ calls us unto himself, that we may thus walk with him! I would have Christians men of great and big projects and resolutions; of high and unlimited desires, not satisfied with their attainments, but still aspiring unto more of God, more conformity to his will, more walking after the Spirit, more separation from the course of the world. And this is indeed to be of a divine spirit. The divine nature is here, as it were, in a state of violence, out of its own element. Now, it is known by this, if it be still moving upwards, taking no rest in this place, and these measures and degrees, but upon a continual motion towards the proper centre of it, -- God, his holiness, and Spirit.
We desire to speak a word of these three. First, The nature of the spiritual walking. Next, Its connection and union with that blessed state of non-condemnation. And then of the order of this, how it flows from a man's being implanted in Christ Jesus; -- which three are considerable(167) in the words.
This spiritual walking is according to a spiritual rule, from spiritual principles, for spiritual ends. These three being established aright, the walk is even the motion of a Christian within the compass of these. It is according to the word, as the holy rule; it is from the faith and love of Jesus Christ, as the predominant principles. Nay, from the Spirit of Jesus, living in the heart by faith, and dwelling in it by love, as the first wheel of this motion, the primum mobile. And as it begins in the spirit, so it ends there, in the glory of Jesus Christ, and our heavenly Father. Consider this then -- it is not a lawless walking and irregular walk, it is according to the rule, and the rule is perfect, and it is a motion to perfection, not a rest in what is now attained to. The course of this world is the way and rule of the children of disobedience; Eph. ii.2. There is a spirit indeed that works in them, and a rule it works by. The spirit is that evil spirit, contrary to the Holy Spirit of God, and you may know what spirit it is that works, by the way it leads men unto -- a broad way, pathed and trodden in by many travellers. It is the kings high street, the common way that most part walk into according as their neighbours do, as the most do. But that king is the prince of this world, Satan, who blinds the eyes of many, that they may not see that pit of misery before them, which their way leads them to. A Christian must have a kind of singularity, not in opinion but in practice rather, to be more holy, and walk more abstracted from the dregs of the worlds pollution. This were a divine singularity. Indeed men may suspect themselves, that separate from the godly in opinion. They have reason to be more jealous of themselves when they offend against the generation of the just. But if this were the intention and design of men, or be very unlike the multitude of men, nay, to be very unlike the multitude of professors, in the affection and practice of holiness humility, and spiritual walking, I think this were an allowed way, though a singular way. Men may aspire to as great a difference as may be, from the conversations and practice of others, if there be a tending to more conformity to the word, the rule of all practice. The law is spiritual and "holy," saith Paul "but I am carnal." Thus, therefore, were spiritual walking, -- to see its excellent spiritual rule before our eyes that we who are carnal may be transformed and changed into more likeness to that holy and spiritual law. If a man had not an imperfect rule of his own fancy and imagination before his eyes, he could not be satisfied with his attainments, but, with Paul, would forget them, -- in a manner, not know them, but reach forward still to what is before. Because so much length would be before us, as would swallow up all our progress, -- this would keep the motion on foot and make it constant. A man should never say, "Master, let us make tabernacles, it is good to be here." No, indeed, the dwelling place and resting would be seen to be above. As long as a man had so much of his journey to accomplish, he would not sit down in his advancement, he would not compare with others, and exalt himself above others. Why? Because there is still a far greater distance between him and his rule, than between the slowest walker and him. This made Paul more sensible of a body of death, (Rom. vii.) than readily lower Christians are. Reflections on our attainments and comparisons with others, which are so often the work of our spirit, are a retrograde motion, it makes no way but spends the time, -- is a returning as we go, whereas we ought to go straight forward. I beseech you, Christians, consider what you are doing, if you would prove yourselves so indeed. I know not how you can evidence it better than by honouring and esteeming his word and commandments, -- exceeding large and precious, no end of their perfection. The word is much undervalued in the opinions of many, but it is as little cared for in the practice of most. There is certainly little of God there where this is not magnified and honoured. There must be darkness in that way, where this candle, which was a lamp to David's feet, shines not. Some promise to us liberty, but they themselves are the servants of corruption, it is no liberty to be above all law and rule. It was innocent Adam's liberty to be conformed to a holy and just command, nay, this was his beauty. This Spirit indeed gives liberty where he is, but this liberty is from our sins and corruptions, not to them. It looses the chains of a man's own corrupt lusts off him, to walk at freedom in the way of his commandments. The Spirit enlargeth the prisoner's heart, and then he runs, but not at random, but the way of his commands, Psalm cxix.32. It was our bondage to be as wild asses, traversing our ways, -- to be gadding abroad, to change our way. Now, here is the Spirit's liberty to bring us into the way and that way is one. Let us then learn this one principle, -- the word must be the rule of your walking both common and religious. Alas! it is not spiritual walking to confine religion to some solemn duties. Remember, it is a walk, a continued thing, without interruption, therefore your whole conversation ought to be as so many steps progressive to hearer. Your motion should not be to begin only when you come to pray, or read, or hear, as many men do. They are in a quite different way and element when they step out of their civil callings into religious ordinances. But Christians, your motion should be continued in your eating and drinking, and sleeping, and acting in your callings, that when you come to pray or read, you may be but stepping forward in the way, out of one darker, obscurer path, into a more beaten way. Remember, this word can make us perfect to salvation. It is a principle in the hearts of folks, which is vented now by many, that the word doth not reach their particular carriages and conversations in civil matters. These are apprehended to be without the sphere and compass of the word, while it is commonly cast up to ministers -- meddle with the word and spiritual things and not with our matters.(168) Truly I think, if we separate these from the word, we may quickly separate all religion from such actions, and if such actings and businesses be without the court of the word, they are also without the court of conscience, conscience, religion, and the word being commensurable. Therefore I beseech every one of you, take the word for the ruling of your callings and conversations among men. Extend it to all your actions, that in all these you may act as Christians as well as men. It is certainly the licentiousness of the spirits of men, that cannot endure the application of the word unto their particular actions and conversation.
Now this spiritual walk proceeds from spiritual principles. It is certain, the Spirit of Jesus Christ is he "in whom we live, and move, and have our being" spiritually. Without him we can do nothing. And therefore Christians ought to walk with such a subordination to, and dependence on him, as if they were mere instruments, and patients under his hand. Though I think in regard of endeavoured activity they should bestir themselves and give all diligence, as if they acted independently of the Spirit, yet in regard of denial of himself, and dependence on the Spirit, each one ought to act as if he did not act at all but the Spirit only acted in him. This is the divinity of Paul, -- "I laboured more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but grace in me. I live, yet not I, but Christ in me." O how difficult a thing is it to reconcile these two in the practice of Christians which yet cannot really be, except they be together! It is certainly one of the great mysteries of Christianity, to draw our strength and activity from another, to look upon ourselves and our actings, as these that can do nothing -- as empty vines, and that notwithstanding of all infused and acquired principles. Whatever we ought to do in judging and discerning of our condition, yet sure I am, Christians, in the exercise and practice of godliness, should look upon themselves void of any principle in themselves either to do or think. Not that we are sufficient of ourselves. The proficient and growing Christian should look no more on his own inclinations and habits than if he had none. He should consider himself an ungodly man, that no fruit can grow upon, one that cannot pray, as he is in himself. But, alas we come to duties in the confidence of qualifications for duties, act more confidently in them because accustomed to them, and so make grace and religion a kind of art and discipline, that use and experience make expert unto. Learn now this one thing, which would be instead of many rules and doctrine to us, -- to shut out of your eyes the consideration of what you are by gifts, or grace, or experience. Do not consider that, but rather fix your eyes on the grace of Jesus Christ, and upon the power and virtue of the Holy Spirit, which is given by promise, that when the way is all the easier to you, both by delight and custom, yet you may find it to your natural principles as insuperable as at the beginning, and may still cry out, "Draw me, and I will run after thee, lead me, and I will walk with thee." Do not measure the call into duties by the strength thou findest in thyself, but look unto him who strengtheneth us with all might. Now, the Spirit worketh in us by subordinate spiritual principles, as believing in Christ and loving of him, as our Lord and Saviour, and these two acts drive on a soul sweetly in the way of obedience. Fear, where not mixed in its actings with faith and love, is a spirit of bondage, but the Christian ought to walk according to the spirit of adoption which cries "Abba, Father." Yet how many Christians are rather in a servile and slavish manner driven on by terrors and chastisements to their duty than by love! There is a piece of liberty in Christian walking, when there is not a restraint upon the spirit, by this slavish fear. This, I say, is not beseeming those that are in Christ Jesus. You ought to have the Spirit of your Father for your leader and guide. O how sweet, and how certain and necessary also, would this walking be! The love of Christ would be an inward principle of motion, and would make our spiritual actings as easy and pleasant as natural motions are. Fear is but a violent principle, that is like the impulse of a stone thrown upward, as long as that external impression remains, it moves, but still slower and slower, and at length evanisheth. But if you believed in him, and your hearts were engaged to love him, O how would it be a pleasant and native thing to walk in his way, as a stone goeth downward! Consider your principles, that act you to matters and duties of religion. Many men there be, in whom there appears no difference of their work to beholders; but O how wide a difference doth God discern in them! Engines and artifice may make dead and lifeless things move and walk as orderly as things that have life. But the principle of this motion makes a huge difference: -- the one is moved from without, the other from itself. The most part of us act as irrational and brute beasts in religion: nay, we walk as inanimate and senseless creatures. It is some one or other consideration without us moves us, -- custom, censure, education, and such like. Ah! these are the principles of our religion. How many would have no religion, no form of it, if they were not among such company! And therefore we see many change it according to companies, as the fish doth its skin, according to the colour of that which is nearest it. How many would do many things they dare not for punishment and censure, and for that same dare not leave other things undone! In a word, the most part of us are such as would walk in no path of godliness, if it were not the custom of the time and fear of men that constrained us. But, my brethren, let it not be so among you, you who are in Christ Jesus. Let this be predominant in your hearts to constrain you not to live to yourselves, but unto God, even this, -- that you believe Christ hath died for sinners, that they might live from sin. And from this let your hearts be inflamed with his love, that it may carry you on in a sweet and blessed necessity to walk in all well-pleasing. Let the consideration of his love lay on a constraint, but a constraint of willingness, to live to him who hath thus loved you. But as the principle is spiritual, so must the end be; and I think these two complete the mystery of the practice of Christianity, -- to act from another principle unto another end; even as these two make up the mystery of iniquity in our hearts, -- to act from ourselves unto ourselves. Every man naturally makes a god of himself, is his own Alpha and Omega, the beginning of his actions, and the end of them, which is proper to God. As the fall hath cut off the subordination of the soul to God in its actions, that it cannot now derive all from that blessed Fountain of all-being and well-being, so is this channel of reference of all our actions to God stopped, that they do not tend unto him, as they are not derived from him; and thus they return unto a man's self again. There is one point of self, and making it our aim and design, which possibly many do not take heed unto. It is ordinary for us to act and walk in Christian duties, for our salvation, -- for obtaining of life eternal, as our chief and only end, which is but an inferior end; because we ought not to walk mainly for life, but to life. We should not walk after the command only for heaven, but in the way of it unto heaven. Our spiritual walking can never purchase us a right unto the least of his mercies. When we have done all, this should be our soul's language, -- We are unprofitable servants, our righteousness extends not to thee. What gain is it to the Almighty that thou art righteous? Yet for the most part, we make our walking as a hire for the reward. The covenant of works, -- doing for life, is some way naturally imprinted in our hearts, and we cannot do, but we would live in doing; we cannot walk unto all well-pleasing, but we would also walk unto pacifying of God. Self-righteousness is men's great idol, which, when all other baser and grosser idols are down, they do still seek to establish. But, Christians, observe this evil in yourselves and suffer this mystery of godliness to be wrought in you, -- the abasing of yourselves, the denial of yourselves. I would have you, in respect of diligence and earnestness, doing, walking, and running, as if ye were to be saved by it only. But again, you must deny all that, and no more consider it, or lean upon it, than if ye ought to do nothing, or did nothing. But your ends should be more divine and high, as your nature is, -- to glorify God in your mortal bodies, since ye are his, and bought with a price. O how ought ye not to be your own! The great purpose of your obedience should be, a declaration of your sense of his love, and of your obligation to him. Ye ought to walk in his way, because ye are escaped condemnation, and saved by him, and not that ye may be saved only. It is the glory of our heavenly Father, and the honour of the Redeemer, for Christians to walk, even as he walked, and follow his footsteps. It commends the grace of Jesus Christ exceedingly. Therefore this cannot but be the choice and delight of a believing soul, -- to walk unto all well-pleasing, to have the glory of him as their great design to aim at: who for our salvation laid aside his glory, and embraced shame and reproach. We use to walk in obedience to God, that we may pacify God for our disobedience. But let a Christian abhor such a thought. Christ's blood must pacify, but the walking of his child pleaseth him in his well-beloved Son. When he is once pacified for sin, when he once accepts your persons, your performances are his delight. Now this should be the great scope of a soul, that all its powers should be fixed on, -- to please him, and live to him.
Now these three being established, we must conceive that the chief agent and party in this walking must be spiritual; therefore men's bodies are not capable of this walk after the Spirit principally. Outward ordinances are but the shell wherein the kernel must be enclosed. All our walking that is visible to men, is but like a painted or engraven image and statue, that hath no breath nor life in it, unless the Spirit actuate and quicken the same. I say not only the Spirit of God, but the spirit and soul in man; for the Spirit's immediate and divine operations are upon such a suitable subject as the immortal soul. Verily, there is a spirit in man, and the inspiration of the Almighty gives him understanding. We must not abolish the outward form, because it hath some divinity in it, even the stamp of God's authority; and therefore, those who are swelled above ordinances, I fear they be monstrous Christians. A man is composed of a spirit and a body, acted and quickened by that Spirit. Without either of these he is not a complete man. So I say, he is not a Christian that doth not worship God in the spirit and in truth both; and it is not religion that excludes either the inward soul-communion with God, or the outward ordinance and appointment of God. But, alas! this may be our complaint, -- we come and worship God, and draw nigh with our bodies, but our hearts are far removed. Here is the death of many's worship, -- the soul is separated from the body of it. These are but pictures and images of Christians. We have mouths and faces of saints: but O how little of divine affection or of soul-desires, breathes in us! We are deniers of the power of godliness, by resting in a form, and this is the great sin of this generation. The essentials, the vital spirits of Christianity are exhausted, and some dry bones, like an anatomy of a Christian, remain behind. I beseech you, gather your spirits to this spiritual walking: they only can follow the Spirit. Your bodies are earthly and lumpish, and the way is all upward to the holy hill. Look inwardly and measure yourselves so. Outward appearance is no just measure. Retire within your souls, and engage them in this exercise, and enter them to this motion, and your spirits will sweetly and surely act your bodies and externals, in all matters of godliness.
Parallel VersesKJV: Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: