"The Unregenerate and the Regenerate Contrasted"

"For those who are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but those who are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit." Romans viii. 5.
"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." Romans 8:5

Two different classes are here presented to our view, in striking and solemn contrast. With regard to the first, a more accurate, and at the same time a more awful, portrait of the carnal state of man exists not in any language than this. He is described as living after the flesh. And lest it should be supposed, as by some it is, that a corrupt tree can bring forth good fruit, or, in other words, that holiness is the natural product of our unrenewed nature, it is added, who "mind the things of the flesh." But before we go more fully into the unfolding of this subject, we should remark, that the term "flesh" has various significations in God's word, often decidedly opposite to that which it bears in the passage before us. For example, it is sometimes used to denote a softened disposition of mind: "I will give you a heart of flesh." Again, it sets forth the tender and close union subsisting between Christ and his Church: "No man ever yet hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, even as the Lord the Church." A yet deeper and more sublime signification it assumes when used to describe the mysterious incarnation of the Son of God: "The Word was made flesh." But the sense in which the word is employed in the text under consideration, is totally different to any we have quoted. It designates the fallen and carnal state of the unrenewed man. He is after the flesh, and his whole life is in accordance with the dictates of the flesh. Our Lord thus describes it- "That which is born of the flesh is flesh." That is, it is nothing more than carnal and corrupt. It is originally corrupt, and corrupt it remains until it perishes. "When we were in the flesh, the motions of sin, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death." We are thus taken to the very root of all the depravity and crime which afflicts and degrades our common nature. It is not so much the outbreak of sin- the wretchedness and woe which, working upwards, floats upon the surface of society; that presents to a spiritual eye the most afflicting view of man's fallen condition, as the fact, that the root of all iniquity dwells in his nature; and that, when he hates God, and opposes his government, and violates his laws, and injures his fellow-creatures, it is not an accident of his nature, nor the effect of a surprisal into sin, like that of our first parents, as it is the working out of an original and natural principle; it is the development of an innate and deep corruption, coursing its way upward, as we have said, from the concealed depths of his nature to the surface of his life. And thus, though the ethics of a man be sound, and his life be in harmony with the morality of his creed, yet in the absence of the Spirit's regeneration, he is still emphatically "after the flesh:" he bears about with him an original principle of evil, whose existence links him to the flesh, the full development of which is only suppressed by the laws of society, a consciousness of right and wrong, a natural regard for his own well-being, and the overruling power of God.
But we shall, perhaps, form a more accurate idea of this affecting state, in the further consideration of its workings, upon the same principle by which we judge the species of a plant by its flower, or of a tree by its fruit. It is said, that "they who are of the flesh, do mind the things of the flesh." The idea is, that all the objects of attraction, the desires and pursuits of the carnal mind, are corrupt and worldly. The phrase, "do mind the things of the flesh," may express two ideas. First, and primarily, the exercise of the intellect; second, and by implication, the exercise of the affections. "Set your affection upon things above:" literally, set your mind. But what an awful charge thus alleged against unrenewed men! Nor is this charge unsustained by adequate proof. It is impossible, in the nature of things, that a corrupt mind could give its consideration to things opposed to itself. No nature can transcend its own powers. Each act must be in harmony with the character of the principle from where it emanates. A beast cannot act as a man, without participating in the human. A human being cannot act with the power of an angel, without partaking the nature of the angelic. How, then, can that which is after the flesh, act as that which is after the Spirit? In other words, how can a carnal mind put forth the actions of a holy mind, unless it first become holy? How can a man believe without possessing the principle of faith? or love, without the principle of love? "Israel is an empty vine, he brings forth fruit unto himself." (Hebrew, "equal to himself") that is, a fruit partaking of his own nature. Our Lord embodies the same idea in his peculiarly graphic language: "A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit." And then follows the solemn result: "Every tree that brings not forth good fruit, is hewn down and cast into the fire." We have thus most distinctly placed before us this solemn truth- that a fleshly or corrupt mind must act agreeably with its own nature; and so acting, must be supremely engrossed with the things of the flesh. This, too, must be the character of its religion. All its conceptions and ideas must be in harmony with its unrenewed nature. "The natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." The product of a fallen nature, the natural and spontaneous growth of a corrupt soil, the fruit must correspond with the character of the seed sown. The religious perceptions of such a mind must be crude and obscure, for they are the perceptions of a darkened understanding. The proffered homage of such a heart must be vain and dissembled, since it is the homage of a heart alienated from God. Such, too, must be the worship offered to that Being who is a Spirit, and who requires of those who worship him, that they worship him in spirit and in truth. Its ritual may be sound, its rites may be scriptural, its forms may be solemn, its offerings may be costly, it is still the sacrifice of the dead offered to a living God! It is the worship of those who are "walking according to the flesh." And with all the apparent thirstings of a carnal mind after a knowledge of God- and in some cases we know how deep that thirst may be- there is a starting off from, no more, there is a deadly opposition to, God the moment he approaches wearing the character revealed in his Word. Just as Adam, who ate the fruit in the vain conceit of increasing his knowledge, yet when God, the Object and the Fountain of knowledge, drew near in the pleasant Eden, at evening's cool, calm twilight, he fled the Divine presence, and hid himself amid it's bowers. Such only "know Christ after the flesh." They know him intellectually, historically, speculatively, notionally, and this is the extent of
their knowledge of God. They may designate him "our Savior," and profess no other way to heaven but by him; and yet, sad to affirm, all their conceptions of his glory, and all their views of his works, and all their protestations of attachment to his person, are those of one who, living in the flesh, "knows Christ only after the flesh."

"Do mind the things of the flesh." What expressive words! All their pursuits are fleshly. Those pursuits may be, in the world's view, noble, daring, refined- they may have a tendency to develop great mental powers, to call into exercise mighty energies, to elevate the taste, to soften and refine the feelings, and even, to a certain extent, advance the present well-being of society- yet is it but a "minding of the things of the flesh." Contemplate the enjoyments and pursuits of the carnal mind in what light you may- the most intellectual and elevated- they yet spring from the flesh, are bounded by the flesh, and with the flesh they perish. This is your character, if not born again of the Spirit. It is not necessary that you mind all the things of the flesh in order to constitute you a carnal man. It is enough to fasten this character upon you, that you have given yourself over to the indulgence or the pursuit even so far as one of these things. A sinner may not be a debauchee, and neither the one nor the other may be an aspiring politician. But whatever the reigning passion may be, if it has the effect of attaching you to some one object that is in the world, and which with the world will terminate and perish- then still your mind is in subjection to an idol, and the death of the carnally minded is your inheritance and your doom. Do not be deceived then, you men, who, engrossed with the cares, and observant of all the sobrieties of business, are not addicted to the influences of dissipation; nor you, who, heedless of wealth's accumulations, can mix an occasional generosity with the squanderings of intemperance and riot; nor you, who, alike exempted from sordid avarice or debasing sensuality, have yet, in pursuit of an ascendancy over the mind and the measures of your fellow men, made 'power' the reigning felicity of your existence; nor yet even you, who, without any settled aim after one or the other of these gratifications, fluctuate in giddy unconcern from one of the world's frivolities to another. None of you mind all the things of the flesh; yet each of you mind one or the other of these things, and that to the entire practical exclusion of the things of the Spirit from the preference of your habitual regards. We do not charge you with a devotion of heart to all these things in the world which are opposite to the love of the Father, any more than we charge you with idolatrously falling in obeisance to all the deities of a heathen polytheism. But still, if only one of these divinities be your God, this would be enough to constitute you an idolater, and to convict you of a sacrilegious disavowal of the King who is eternal and immutable. And so, your one earthly appetite, though free from the tyranny of all the others; your habit of ungodliness- though it be the only one that breaks out into visible expression in the history of your life- of itself renders you a carnal man; of itself drives you from the spiritual territory; of itself proves that you are still one of the children of this world; and that you have not passed from death unto life.

"But those who are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit." They who are after the Spirit undoubtedly are those who are the subjects of the Spirit's renewing grace. "That which is born of the Spirit is Spirit." Under his teaching and oh, who teaches like him?- they have renounced their own works of righteousness as dead works; feeling, to use the figurative language of the prophet, "the bed is shorter than a man can stretch himself in it, and the covering narrower than that he can wrap himself in it." They have broken their covenant with death, and have disannulled their agreement with hell, and fleeing out of all their "refuges of lies," they have betaken themselves to the Lord Jesus Christ, and have experienced him to be their "It wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption."
What a marvellous revolution is this, effecting a total moral change in the whole spiritual and intellectual man, yet without impairing a single mental faculty or power! The mind not unbalanced, is rather strengthened and regulated by the change. The affections, not alienated and contracted, are expanded and fixed upon their lawful object. The will has not lost a particle of its liberty, but is more free than ever, since, drawn by the Spirit, it now blends harmoniously with the Divine will. The whole man is identically the same individual- yet how transformed! The prodigal alien has become a penitent child; the slave, a freeman; the man dwelling among the tombs now sits at the Savior's feet, clothed, and in his right mind. Who but the Eternal Spirit could effect this wondrous revolution?
But more than this. Having dethroned the enemy, the Spirit now enthrones himself. Having swept and garnished the abode, he enters, and makes it his unchangeable dwelling. Thus living and reigning in the soul, believers are brought under the government of the Spirit. It may emphatically be said of them, that they "mind the things of the Spirit." The new and Divine nature within is exercised upon things congenial with itself. Confronted by the powerful phalanx of the flesh, with which he holds a severe and ceaseless warfare, the Christian is yet at times enabled to concentrate his attention upon the things of the Spirit. He walks with God in his temporal calling; he holds communion with heaven while yet the present life fetters him to earth; he has spiritual desires, and holy breathings, and successful contests, in the hottest battle with the law of his members. The one bent of his inclinations, the single aim of his mind, is to the "things of the Spirit." His nature being spiritual, so are his religious enjoyments. Does he sing?- it is with "spiritual songs." Does he pray?- he "prays in the Spirit." Does he call Jesus Lord?- it is "by the Spirit." Is he Christ's?- he "has the Spirit of Christ." Thus believers walk in the Spirit; they follow the dictates of the Spirit; they yield themselves to the teaching of the Spirit; and they bring forth in their due season "the fruits of the Spirit."
By this truth let us test the reality of our religious profession. In this light let us closely examine our Christian character and walk. What, reader, is the habitual and supreme bent of your mind? Is it that which is spiritual, or that which is carnal? Judge of your preparation for death, in the near view of its approaching solemnities. Decide upon your state for eternity, in the rapid progress of its deepening shadows. Ascertain the real state of your case for the judgment, in the certain arrival of its dread scrutiny. You have your mind either set upon the things of the flesh, or upon the things of the Spirit. You are either born again from above, or are groveling in things below. You are either sanctified, or you are unholy. You are for the Lord, or you are against him. You are either Satan's slave, or Christ's
freeman. Which? You inquire, "How may I know that I am of the Spirit?" We answer, by your producing the fruits of the Spirit. A broken heart for sin- a felt conviction of the hidden plague- a humble and a contrite spirit- an utter rejection of a human righteousness- a simple, believing reception of the Lord Jesus- and a breathing after Divine conformity, are evidences of a renewed and sanctified state. If these are yours in any degree, then you are of the Spirit.
But rest not here. Be exhorted to walk in the Spirit. Do not be satisfied with having the question decided in your favor- with just barely knowing that you have crossed the line that separates the regenerate from the unregenerate- death from life. Remain not where you are: go forward. Do not be content with a low standard. Compare not your Church with other Churches, nor yourself with other Christians; nor measure yourself by yourself. But fix your eye upon Christ; copy his example, imbibe his mind, and place yourself under the government of his Spirit. Strive to go forward! Endeavor to be always sowing to the Spirit. Be satisfied with the Lord's disposal of you. Study the divine art of contentment. Be convinced that what the Lord ordains is best. Covet but little of earthly good; and, as an old divine exhorts, "sail with a low gale." Lie low. The great secret of a holy and of a happy life is contained in a small compass- walking humbly with God. In all failures in duty, in all shortcomings in practice, in all transactions with God, and in all dealings with man- remembering the innumerable traces of imperfection and sin found upon all you do- deal frequently, closely, with the atoning blood. "Wash and be clean."