I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me.…
I. THERE ARE IN ALL BELIEVERS TWO PRINCIPLES.
1. The first in order of time is the old Adam nature. It is born of and with the flesh. Some fancy that it is to be improved, gradually tamed down and sanctified; but it is enmity against God, and is not reconciled to God; neither, indeed, can be.
(1) This old nature lives in our members; its nest is the body, and it works through the body. There are certain appetites of ours which are perfectly allowable, nay, even necessary; but they can be very easily pushed to sinful extremes.
(2) The sin which lurks in the flesh will grow weaker in proportion as the holy principle grows stronger; and it is at no time to be tolerated or excused, but we are to fight against it, and conquer it.
2. When we are born again there is dropped into our soul the living and incorruptible seed of the Word of God. It is akin to the Divine nature, and cannot sin, because it is born of God. It is at deadly enmity with the old nature, which it will in the end destroy; but it has its work to do, which will not be accomplished all at once.
II. THE EXISTENCE OF THESE TWO PRINCIPLES NECESSITATES A CONFLICT. The lion will not lie down with the lamb. Fire will not be on good terms with water. Death will not parley with life, nor Christ with Belial. The dual life provokes a daily duel.
1. The conflict is not felt by all young Christians at the first. Christian life may be divided into three stages.
(1) That of comfort, in which the young Christian rejoices in the Lord.
(2) That of conflict. The more of this the better. Instead of being children at home we have grown into men, and therefore we must go to war. Under the old law, when a man was married, or built a house, he was excused from fighting for a season, but when that was over, he must take his place in the ranks; and so is it with the child of God.
(3) That of contemplation; in which the believer sits down to reflect upon the goodness of the Lord towards him, and upon all the good things in store for him. This is the land Beulah, which Bunyan describes as lying on the edge of the river, and so near to the Celestial City that you can hear the music and smell the perfumes from the gardens of the blessed. That is a stage which we must not expect to reach just now.
2. The reason of the fight is this; the new nature comes into our heart, to rule over it, but the carnal mind is not willing to surrender. A new throne is set up, and the old monarch, outlawed, and made to lurk in holes and corners, says to himself, "I will not have this. I will get the throne back again." (Read the "Holy War.") And let me warn you that the flesh may be doing us most mischief when it seems to be doing none. During war the sappers and miners will work underneath a city, and those inside say, "The enemy are very quiet; what can they be at?" They know their business well enough, and are laying their mines for unexpected strokes. Hence an old divine used to say that he was never so much afraid of any devil as he was of no devil. To be let alone tends to breed a dry rot in the soul.
III. THIS WARFARE SOMETIMES LEADS US INTO CAPTIVITY. This sometimes consists in —
1. The very rising of the old nature. The old nature suggests to you some sin: you hate the sin, and you despise yourself for lying open to be tempted in such a way. The very fact that such a thought has crossed your mind is bondage to your pure spirit. You do not fall into the sin; you shake off the serpent, but you feel its slime upon your soul. What a difference. A spot of ink on my coat nobody perceives; but a drop on a white handkerchief everybody at once detects, The very passing of temptation across a renewed soul brings it into captivity. I saw in Rome a very large and well executed photograph of a street and an ancient temple; but I noticed that right across the middle was the trace of a mule and a cart. The artist had done his best to prevent it, but there was the ghost of that cart and mule. An observer unskilled in art might not notice the mark, but a careful artist, with a high ideal, is vexed to see his work thus marred; and so with moral stains, that which the common man thinks a trifle is a great sorrow to the pure-hearted son of God, and he is brought into captivity by it.
2. The loss of joy through the uprising of the flesh. You want to sing the praises of God, but the temptation comes, and you have to battle with it, and the song gives place to the battle shout. It is time for prayer, but somehow you cannot control your thoughts. In holy contemplation you try to concentrate your thoughts, but somebody knocks at the door, or a child begins to cry, or a man begins to grind an organ under your window, and how can you meditate? All things seem to be against you. Little outside matters which are trifling to others will often prove terrible disturbers of your spirit.
3. Actual sin. We do, in moments of forgetfulness, that which we would willingly undo, and say that which we would willingly unsay. The spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak; and then the consequence is, to a child of God, that he feels himself a captive. He has yielded to treacherous banishments, and now, like Samson, his locks are shorn. He goes out to shake himself as he did aforetime, but the Philistines are upon him, and it will be a happy thing for him if he does not lose his eyes, and come to grind at the mill like a slave.
IV. THIS WARFARE, AND THIS OCCASIONAL TRIUMPH OF THE FLESH, MAKE US LOOK TO CHRIST FOR VICTORY. Whenever there is a question between me and the devil my constant way is to tell the accuser, "Well, if I am not a saint I am a sinner, and Jesus came into the world to save sinners, therefore I will go to Christ, and look to Him again." That is the way to conquer sin, as well as to overcome despair; for, when faith in Jesus comes back to your soul, you will be strong to fight, and you will win the victory.
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
Parallel VersesKJV: I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me.