It is common in Paul's writings--in none more so than in
this Epistle to the Romans, for one subject to suggest what follows. As with
the musical Composer one note suggests another--as with the skilled and
practiced Orator one topic or idea suggests another--so it is here. The last
strain of our inspired Harmonist was--"Who walk not after the flesh, but
after the Spirit." The theme is now amplified--the note is prolonged.
Retaining our song-metaphor, the identical terms of the couplet "flesh and
Spirit" are over and over antithetically intoned.
"Those who live according to the sinful nature have their
minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with
the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of
sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and
peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law,
nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.
You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if
the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of
Christ, he does not belong to Christ. Therefore, brothers, we have an
obligation--but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. For
if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the
Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live" Romans
I shall not attempt expounding, clause by clause, in
consecutive order, but rather group these together, combining and
interchanging; the better thus to grasp what is the scope and meaning of the
Taking it generally, the entire passage is a plea for the
higher spiritual life, as contrasted with the lower. It is a step in advance
of our Apostle's thesis already adverted to in ch. 7. To use a familiar
figure, the latter may be likened to the swing of the pendulum; while the
present may rather be compared to the magnetic needle, which despite of
tremulous vibrations is pointing true to its pole. The animal nature--"the
flesh with its affections and lusts" (the disturbing cause)--is deflecting
from God and holiness. But its normal condition is, notwithstanding,
strictly under the influence of diviner principles, renewed motives and
The two first, and we may regard them as leading clauses
in these couplet verses, are rendered in the margin--"Minding of the flesh"
and "Minding of the Spirit" (v. 5). The former opens up not an inviting
subject. But for the sake of the contrasted theme we must for a few moments
dwell upon it. It is the picture of mankind in their natural unregenerate
state--the 'Harp with its thousand strings' out of tune, the song with its
marred and discordant melodies; the soul "alienated from the life of
God;"--under vassalage to sin. The desires, inclinations, tastes--have not
only a downward tendency; but, as we know too well, there is a dynamic force
in the carnal nature corresponding to the momentum of the material law. That
moral momentum is ever on the increase. Indulged and permitted evil--the
despot rule of the flesh–leads to an ever sadder bondage, and deadens the
sense of right and wrong. In the simile of our Lord's Gospel Parable, the
house "swept and garnished," yet unsurrendered to the Spirit, becomes more
and more devil-haunted; so that "the last state of that man is worse than
the first." Hear another Apostle's description of the terrible progression
or decadence in this "minding of the flesh;"--"Earthly, sensual,
DEVILISH" (James 3;15). The sirens in league with the fallen and corrupt
nature, lure with the charm of their voluptuous song, only to surer
And the saddest feature in the delineation--the saddest
taint in this fleshly nature is here specially noted. The head and front of
its offending is--"The carnal mind is enmity against God" (v. 7).
God--the God of unspotted holiness, purity, and righteousness is distasteful
and abhorrent to the "mind of the flesh." "It is not subject to the law
of God, neither indeed can be." This, in the truest sense, is "Atheism."
"The fool" (that is, the impersonation of the carnal mind) "has said
in his heart, 'No God for me'" (Ps. 14;1); for such is the energy and
emphasis of the original. There are undoubtedly times when the most callous
and indifferent--those of the earth earthy, cannot--dare not, thus utter the
scoffer's creed, "No God!" All nature in its majestic sequences, its
exquisite mechanisms, its intricate yet simple laws, repudiates the
disavowal. It has its own "Song of Songs" chanted day and night in endless
chorus, sublime refrain--"The Lord reigns." Yes, and this is still more
emphatically and solemnly countersigned by conscience within, the
authoritative viceregent--conscience asserting its own cadences, despite of
all inner discord that would attempt to mar divine, godlike harmonies.
Yet alas! the recognition of God--the God of the Gospel
and of Revelation is incompatible with the "desires of the flesh and of the
mind." Hence the altar is erected, not with the old Athenian inscription "To
the Unknown God," but "No God FOR ME." The votary of the flesh can without
scruple give his adhesion to the creed of Pantheist or Materialist. But a
great moral Lawgiver and Governor to whom he is responsible, and to whose
Will his whole principles and actions are antagonistic, he cannot tolerate.
His state may be summed up in the one expressive word--"Ungodliness."
And what a picture is this, of those who are unrenewed in
the spirit of their minds! "The natural man (the flesh) receives not the
things of the Spirit of God." "For when we were in the flesh, the sinful
passions, which were through the law, wrought in our members to bring forth
fruit unto death" (Rom. 7;5).
"Unto death." In the verses we are now considering
the same sad climax is reached. "To be carnally minded is death" (v.
6). "If you live after the flesh you shall die" (v. 13). The original
meaning is here, too, emphatic. It is not that this fleshly tendency leads
to death; but it is death. Death, gloomy-visaged, spiritual death
sways its iron scepter over the moribund soul. It is dead to the only true
life--the life of God--"Without God and without hope in the world!"
Turn now for a little to the opposite pole--from muffled
peals to spiritual life-chords. Listen to Paul's series of counterpart
(V. 10) "If Christ be in you, the body is dead because
of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness." (V. 12)
"Therefore, brethren, we are debtors." "If you through the Spirit do mortify
the deeds of the body, you shall live." (V. 6) "To be spiritually
minded is life and peace."
"We are debtors." The key-note of the song considered
at the beginning of these meditations (v. 1) interprets this assertion for
us. Once in "condemnation;" bankrupt, nothing to pay--sin-condemned and
law-condemned. But Christ the Law fulfiller has paid all and remitted all,
granting to the insolvent a full discharge; "Therefore, brethren, we
are debtors;" debtors to Him who has Himself furnished the
ransom--opened the prison doors and set us free. Hence the infinite
obligation under which we are laid to Redeeming love. Hence the supreme
incentive to sanctification of heart and life. As He died for sin, so
must we die to sin.
At this point of the Apostle's argument, a new divine
Influence or Factor is revealed; a new slumbering chord of the Song
is made to vibrate. God has made gracious provision to secure, on the part
of His ransomed people, a holy walk and obedience; and that, not through
their own strength, but through the strength and power of His indwelling
Spirit. By that Spirit we are not only renewed, but "led" (v.
14)--sweetly constrained to walk in harmony with the divine will, and the
impulses of our regenerated natures. We have here what Chalmers happily
calls "the expulsive power of a new affection." It is a plant which
our Heavenly Father plants. Not indigenous to the natural soil of the human
heart; it is of supernatural growth.
Christ Himself in His interview with Nicodemus expressly
speaks of a "new birth"--a being "born of the Spirit"--"born from above.
ABOVE; "translated into the Kingdom of His dear Son." ABOVE--we breathe a
purer atmosphere. Away from the mists and clouds of the nether valley, faith
takes us to its own rocky heights; and bathed in its own bright paradise,
puts one of its new songs into our lips--"He shall dwell on high; his place
of defense shall be the munitions of rocks." The life originally forfeited
in the first Adam is more than restored. "I came," says the great federal
Head of the New Covenant, "that they might have life, and that they might
have it more abundantly" (John 10;10).
In all this, however, let us specially note, at the risk
of repetition, the divine Agent and Agency. For while the expression
"the Spirit," may be more than once descriptive of the new moral condition
of the soul, in contradistinction to "the flesh;" it undoubtedly has a
preponderating reference to the Holy Spirit--the Third Person in the
adorable Trinity--the Author, Inspirer, Energizer of divine life; in
accordance with Christ's own valedictory promise to His Church--"For He
dwells with you and shall be in you" (John 14;17). "But you are not in
the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you"
If we have seen that the state of those "minding the
things of the flesh" may be expressed by one word--ungodliness; this
new, heaven-born life may similarly be described by the one word
"spiritual mindedness." This spiritual mindedness--the Holy Spirit's
work in the heart--like all the processes in God's material and moral
government, is step by step and progressive. The power of sin becomes slowly
weaker and weaker. The power of grace, slowly--it may be imperceptibly,
becomes stronger and stronger. Paul's own word (v. 13) implies not a sudden
and instantaneous, but a gradual transformation; "If you through the
Spirit, do MORTIFY the deeds of the body, you shall live." It is in
accordance with a similar and equally expressive simile of our Apostle
elsewhere--"Those who are Christ's have crucified the flesh with its
affections and lusts." Crucified--it is a slow, lingering death--a
"striving against sin" (Heb. 12;4); though the strife and conflict are not
dubious, but lead ultimately to assured victory.
Reader, have you and I, in any feeble measure, been able
to realize the presence and power of this "Indwelling Spirit"? conscious of
the surrender of heart and life to Christ? implying the gradual conquest of
sin; the expulsion of whatever is base and impure, corrupt and selfish,
grasping and covetous, unloving and unholy--our wills blending in greater
harmony with the divine? Is this our happy history; can we endorse this
testimony as our own experience--"The grace of God that brings salvation has
appeared to all men; teaching us, that denying ungodliness and worldly
lusts, we should live soberly, righteously and godly in this present world?"
(Titus 2;11, 12). Not, moreover, as a hard rule of compulsion--a reluctant
concession to stern duty and obligation, but saying with a cheerful feeling
of self-surrender--"I delight in the law of God after the inward
There is no description truer than that asserted in one
of the antithetical clauses already quoted--"to be spiritually minded is
life and peace." PEACE! that holy tranquility--that "fruit of the
Spirit," specially noted in Gal. 5;22. Like God's own metaphor of it, the
river may not be always untroubled. The stream may at times flow amid rough
boulders and environing rocks, fretted and broken into foam by the cataract.
But gradually it resumes its customary calm, reflecting the serene heavens,
and at last sleeping with waveless tranquility in the bosom of the lake
where it has sped its way.
Nor let this phrase, "the Indwelling Spirit," be taken by
us as a mere theological expression. No; it is a deeply solemn reality.
"Don't you know that you are the Temple of God, and that the Spirit of God
dwells in you?" (1 Cor. 3;16). O, what a constant preservative against
sin--what an ever-present incentive to holiness were this conviction more
habitually present with us--"My soul is a shrine tenanted and consecrated by
the Holy Spirit!" How the thought evokes the blush of conscious shortcoming
and unworthiness, in recalling the past! How it demands self scrutiny for
the present and watchfulness for the future! How crowded becomes the memory
with the remembrance of impure imaginations, unamiable tempers, vain
aspirations, "winged ambitions,"--selfish ways, passionate words, unloving
deeds! Humbled, softened, saddened at the retrospect, be this our
prayer--the prayer of one who, far more than Paul, realized the terrible
combat between flesh and spirit--one who fell sorely wounded in the
battle--but yet as God's accredited and honored soldier rose from his
fall--though carrying the scar of ignoble defeat and failure to the
last--"Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within
me. Take not Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joys of Your
salvation, and uphold me with Your free Spirit " (Ps. 51;10, 11, 12).
Let me listen, daily, hourly, to the divine
admonition--"Walk in the Spirit and you shall not fulfill the lusts of the
flesh." How many venture to walk--but it is to walk dangerously near the
precipice straying on doubtful or forbidden ground; with a faltering will;
holding parley with sin; tampering with the sensitiveness of conscience and
with the treacherous allurements and base compliances of the world; thus
"grieving the Holy Spirit of God, whereby we are sealed unto the day of
Lord, bring me to live more and more constantly under the
sovereignty of that lofty motive to walk and act so as to please You; to
exercise a jealous scrutiny over my truant, treacherous, deceitful heart.
Specially in my daily business and daily duties and daily temptations and
daily perplexities, may I seek to be led by Your Spirit. Let me keep free of
whatever influences would deflect the needle from its pole, and prevent the
love of God from being shed abroad in my heart by the Holy Spirit given unto
me. Beholding, as in a glass, the glory of the Lord, may I be changed into
the same image from glory to glory, by the Lord the Spirit (2 Cor.
3;18). Free from the bondage of the law--the law of sin and death, let me
become a willing slave to the new bondage of Christ's service. Recognizing
the ultimate end of Redemption to be Sanctification, may I yield myself and
my members servants to righteousness unto holiness (Rom. 6;19).
Here is our Apostle's main incentive to the leading of
this higher spiritual life and this diviner spiritual walk--"For Christ's
love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and
therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no
longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised
again (2 Cor. 5;14, 15). "Since you have been raised to new life with
Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits at
God's right hand in the place of honor and power. Let heaven fill your
thoughts. Do not think only about things down here on earth. For you died
when Christ died, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God" (Col.
3;1-3). "To be spiritually minded is life and peace" may be taken as
the summary of this passage and chapter. As a responsive and appropriate
chord to Paul's Song of the renewed mind, let us close with an old prophetic
strain, celebrating the City of Salvation with the Gates of righteousness
and peace we have just been surveying–"In that day, everyone in the land of
Judah will sing this song: Our city is now strong! We are surrounded by the
walls of God's salvation. Open the gates to all who are righteous; allow the
faithful to enter. You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you,
whose thoughts are fixed on you!" Isaiah 26:1-3