ROM. viii, 9.
But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you: now, if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.
Nothing, my beloved friends, can be of greater importance to each of us, than a diligent enquiry into the real state of our souls. I suppose it is almost universally admitted, by those who attend statedly on the preaching of the word in this place, that mankind is by nature in a fallen, degenerate state, and that it is absolutely necessary that every one should be regenerated, or renewed in the spirit of his mind, who would see the kingdom of God. These humbling, but important truths, are clearly taught in the divine word, and evidently taught in the text and context. Herein it is repeatedly mentioned as the peculiar character of the saved, that they walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. Yet it is strongly implied, they were once otherwise minded; and that all are still so, except those who are truly renewed. While it is asserted, that to be carnally minded is death. It renders the soul spiritually dead, dead to God, and liable to eternal death most justly; for it is enmity against God, and cannot bear subjection to his law; so that, those who are in the flesh cannot please God, for he cannot be pleased with that which is enmity against his nature and government. With. respect to the words of the text, I would endeavor,
FIRST, To elucidate them by a few explanatory observations.
By the flesh, is to be understood, that sinful, corrupt state of mind, of which men are the subjects, as they come into this world, and which is prevalent in all mankind till they are born of the Spirit. John iii. 6. All unrenewed men are in the flesh, whether they live in grosser indulgences or not. So, hatred, variance, wrath, envy, heresies, are styled works of the flesh, as well as adultery, drunkenness, &c. It is common, indeed, for the external objects, which strike our senses, and for corporeal appetites to have a very undue influence on unregenerate persons; but the other reason seems to be the chief, why they are said to be in the flesh - because they have no higher principles of action, than what fallen men bring into the world with them, which are wholly selfish and corrupt.
By the Spirit, is to be understood the Holy Spirit, the third person in the ever blessed Trinity; to whom, in the economy of redemption, the application of salvation is allotted; and who alone is the author of all that is truly holy, right, and good, in the disposition of a saved sinner. He is here styled, both the Spirit of God, and the Spirit of Christ: (a strong evidence of the divinity of Christ, that God’s Spirit should be called his Spirit too.) The latter title seems given, not only on account of his intimate relation to both the Father and the Son, as one with them in essence and glory; but also, because it is through Christ’s mediation that the blessed Spirit is communicated to lost sinners; and because he invariably leads all those who are taught by him, to Christ.
The blessed Spirit is here said to dwell in all real Christians, who are therefore said to be not in the flesh, but in the Spirit. They are not, indeed, exempt from all the workings of the flesh, but they are not under its dominion as heretofore. They mind, saver, or relish the things of the Spirit, in preference to the things of the flesh. The flesh has not the ascendancy as formerly; but through the Spirit they mortify the deeds of the body. Whoever are made partakers of the special influences of the Holy Spirit, he dwells in them, he abides in them, he is in them as a well-spring of living water. He does not merely act upon them occasionally, as in his extraordinary influences. As the Spirit of prophecy, he came occasionally on some that never were possessed of true holiness: as Balaam, &c. But as the Spirit of grace, he resides in the soul: though it may be more strongly influenced by him at one time than another, yet it is never wholly left by him. If the Spirit of God dwell in us, we are his children. But if we have not the Spirit of Christ, we are none of his. No name, form, profession, creed, ordinances, or connexion with others, can avail us. This leads, therefore,
SECONDLY, To attend to the main inquiry I have in view viz. How may we know that we have the Spirit of Christ ?
Neither a plausible exterior conduct, on the one hand, nor a mere confident persuasion of our own safety, on the other, will sufficiently prove that we have the Spirit of Christ. An evangelical profession, and an ornamental deportment united, will lay a proper foundation for Christian charity towards one another. But God only can search the heart, and we may be mistaken in others, or deceive ourselves. Each, however, may have better opportunity of knowing his own state, than of deciding upon others. But it becomes us to be more rigorous in our application of scripture rules to ourselves, than to anyone else.
Some formal professors deny that there is any special operation of the Holy Spirit, or at least that it can be known. While deluded enthusiasts boast of having the Spirit, though they make nearly the whole of his work to consist in a secret suggestion of their safety; which fills them with pride, conceit, and bitter zeal, while destitute of the fruits of righteousness.
But the scriptures teach that a Christian maybe fully assured that he is a partaker of the Holy Spirit. 1 John iv. 13. And doubtless, grace may be raised to so high an exercise, as that a believer may enjoy assurance at times; without any long previous deduction of particulars: still, however, if it be indeed well founded, it will bear strict examination, The best evidences that we have the Spirit of Christ, which I can mention, are such as follow:
A spiritual and endearing discovery of Christ to the soul. producing an abiding sense of his excellence and glory, so that the way of salvation by him appears divinely excellent and worthy of all acceptation, A spiritual conviction of the reality and certainty of the divine testimony concerning Christ and the gospel. John vi. 69. 1 John i. 1-3.
A union of heart with the Redeemer, acquiescing in the glorious ends of his mediation; entering into his views of the controversy between God and man, resting satisfied with his decision; glad that God is justified, his law magnified, justice secured, and grace delightfully displayed. An habitual regard to Christ in our daily walk with God; not only acknowledging our need of his mediation at our
first return to God, but from day to day looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, unto eternal life; loving to draw nigh unto God by him, through the assistance of the Spirit of grace.
A true conformity of temper and disposition to our blessed Lord, and to the genuine tendency of his gospel. How Iovely was the whole of his temper and conduct! How impossible it is, we should discern its beauty, and not be concerned to imbibe and imitate it.
A spirit of love, ardent zeal, genuine philanthropy, activity for God, and resignation to God, meekness, gentleness, self-denial, and love to enemies. He could not, indeed, set us an example of repentance. But his gospel tends to inspire and increase it, all through life, and to promote tenderness of conscience.
It is a strong evidence that we have the Spirit of Christ, when we have a proportionate regard to the different branches of evangelical religion, both towards God and man: having respect to all his commandments, and not being partial in his law. Christ’s was an obedient spirit.
The continual tendency of all discoveries from the Holy Spirit will be to strengthen us in holy practice and to excite an irreconcilable hatred of all sin, and an insatiable thirst after perfect conformity to the Saviour.