1 Peter 2:11-12
Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul;…
There is, I fear, a large body of our fellow creatures by whom those "fleshly lusts" are regarded as affording the only tangible benefits of their existence. Too little touched by the spirit of piety to derive any delight from the abundant sources of religious contemplation; too devoid of those kind affections which constitute the charm of domestic intercourse, to receive any satisfaction from the society of their family and friends; and too narrow and unimproved in mind to find interest in any intellectual pursuit, they are no sooner freed from the confinement imposed upon them by their business than they turn, as to their only relief for the tedium of inactivity, and the only means of enjoyment for which they have any value, to the gross gratification of their animal appetites. But, however general such a course of life may be, it is decidedly unchristian. Even under the most favourable circumstances, though a man should abstain from all gross excesses, and scrupulously respect those limits of external decency, he cannot act upon the principle of habitual self-indulgence, without being guilty of violating one of the most clearly expressed duties of the gospel. His religion demands of him a course of conduct the very reverse of that which he pursues (1 John 2:15, 16; Romans 8:5, etc.; Matthew 16:24). Those precepts of self-denial and mortification which we find inculcated in the gospel, did not originate with the gospel. They made a part of the system of every distinguished moral teacher among the heathen themselves. Even the wise, and the scribe, and the disputer of this world could perceive, that voluptuousness and sensuality were most miserably unworthy the attention of the human soul. The grounds on which I would exhort you to abstain from "fleshly lusts," are those suggested by St. Peter, "they war against the soul."
1. They are hostile to the intellectual faculties of the soul. No man, whose avocations demand of him any great and frequent stretch of mental exertion, is ignorant of this fact: and we find those instructors of youth, who merely treat of worldly arts and sciences, and treat of them in a worldly manner, almost invariably inculcate on their pupils, as one of the indispensable requisites of eminence, the practice of a strict and almost ascetic temperance, for the sake of securing to themselves the possession of the full, free, and active use of the powers of their own minds. Such precepts derive their reasons from the very constitution of the human frame. If the body suffers from excess, the mind becomes proportionately affected. It receives its impressions slowly and indistinctly, from the derangement of the channels through which it holds communion with the external world; and it revolves, compares, and decides upon them doubtfully and inefficiently, from the lassitude and exhaustion of the machinery with which it acts.
2. They are also inimical to the moral qualities of the soul. If the generous affections are not cultivated by exercise, they dwindle away and perish. If the selfish affections are allowed to act without restraint, they acquire a frightful and gigantic development. As we live to ourselves and for ourselves, we become gradually absorbed in our own selfish views and interests. As we pamper our appetites, the objects they delight in acquire consequence in our estimation. As we devote ourselves more and more to our own personal gratifications, we can less and less endure that those gratifications should encounter any opposition; till, at length, we prove blind and insensible to every claim but those of our own overweening will, and only regard our fellow creatures with favour, as they minister to our passions, or with enmity, as they cast impediments in their way. Where are we to look, among the dissolute children of the world, for instances of permanent attachment, of disinterested friendship, of long-cherished gratitude, and of self-sacrificing tenderness? Are such things among the fruits and flowers found to flourish in that tract which they cultivate with so indefatigable a pursuit of the pleasures of this life, and so fatal an oblivion of the treasures of the next? No, that false light of cordiality, which glows so brightly during the convivial hour, becomes extinguished as the vapours of the goblet which enkindled it are dispersed. Let any individual, even the most cherished of their society, suffer a reverse of fortune, and he will put these maxims to the proof. Let him be the deer which is stricken, and he will find himself abandoned by the herd.
3. Such gratifications are not only pernicious to the intellectual faculties and moral qualities of the soul, but they affect its temporal existence. They disorder and destroy the earthly tenement in which it is contained. They wear away, and overstrain, and often suddenly rend asunder those fine fibres, by which it is confined to its present transitory home.
4. Finally, according to the clearly declared principles of the Christian faith, we know that they are most pernicious to the eternal interests of the soul (Romans 8:7; 1 Timothy 5:6; Romans 8:6; Galatians 5:24; Romans 8:13). Indeed, if we look with an unprejudiced eye on the terms and conditions of the gospel covenant, we shall find that no course can be more destructive to the eternal interests of the soul than the course pursued by the voluptuary. This earth is not designed to be a house of feasting; life is not meant to be a holiday festival; we are sent into the world as a place of discipline and preparation, in which our souls may be educated for a more glorious state of being; and the allurements which address us, the difficulties we have to combat with, and the restraints we are bound to lay on our inclinations, constitute the very means by which our souls are so prepared, and disciplined, and educated. But we sometimes hear the sensualist assert that it cannot be very criminal to yield to such temptations, because it is natural to do so. This I utterly deny. They are, on the contrary, diametrically opposed to nature. The excesses of the voluptuary are only natural if we regard him as a being in the lowest possible state of demoralisation, as an anomaly in the creation, as a monster possessing passions without conscience and appetites without reason. But to the man who is complete in all the essentials of humanity, it is anything but natural that he should abandon himself to such a course of life. His reason opposes it; his moral sense opposes it; his regard for his personal health and welfare opposes it: so thoroughly indeed does every higher principle of his nature oppose it, that he must drown reflection; he must close his eyes against all experience; he must, in short, forcibly extinguish those moral and intellectual lights which God, in His mercy, has given him as his guides, before he can pursue such habits without repugnance, without being painfully oppressed by the sense of his own sin and folly, and without spending one-half of the day in mourning over the excesses of the other.
(W. Harness, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul;