Nov 14, 2010

The Two Natures in a Believer By J. C. Philpot

The Two Natures in a Believer
By J. C. Philpot

Among those branches of divine truth which, without special teaching, we
cannot enter into, is, that of the two natures in a believer. And yet, though
every child of God must in all ages have been experimentally acquainted with
the inward conflict between flesh and spirit, nature and grace; and though
authors innumerable have written on such subjects as sanctification, the trial
of faith, the strength of grace, the power of sin, the deceitfulness of the heart,
the commencement and progress, decline and restoration, of the life of God in
the soul, yet how few even of these really spiritual and experimental writers
have laid out the truth of the case as made known in the Scriptures, and felt in
the experience of the saints! How blind have many gracious writers, as, for
instance, Dr. Owen, and most of the Puritan authors, been to the distinctness
of flesh and spirit! In fact, as it seems to us, many good men have been afraid
of the real, actual truth. Our Puritan ancestors especially, living in a day when
profanity and ungodliness ran down the streets like water, and holiness,
therefore, of heart and life was powerfully urged as the distinctive feature of
the children of God, intuitively shrank from anything that seemed in its
faintest coloring opposed to their view of gospel sanctification. They feared to
believe, and dreaded to proclaim, that "the carnal mind is enmity against
God; that it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed could be." They
seemed to think, if they once admitted that the flesh, the carnal mind,
underwent no spiritual change; in other words, could not be sanctified; it was
opening a wide and open door to the worst Antinomianism.

There is a distinction between "the flesh" and "the carnal mind." The flesh is
the corrupt principle itself: the carnal mind is the breathing, moving, and
acting of the corrupt principle. The flesh is, as it were, the body, the carnal
mind the soul of sin; the flesh is the still atmosphere, pregnant with disease
and death; the carnal mind is the same air in motion, carrying with it the
noisome pestilence; the flesh is a giant, but lying down or asleep; the carnal
mind is the giant awake and hurling his weapons of defiance against heaven
and earth.

On no one point, it may be remarked, are the minds of men professing some
measure of truth so sensitive as upon that of the believer's personal
sanctification. You may be three parts an Arminian, and four-fifths of a
Pharisee, and men will speak well of you and of your religion; no, many even
of God's children will think favorably of you. But be in their eyes one-tenth of
an Antinomian, and they will unchristianise you in a moment, if you had the
experience of Hart, the gifts of Huntington, the godly life of Romaine, and the
blessed death of Toplady. Now, nothing so much exposes a man to the
suspicion of secret Antinomianism as his denying the sanctification of the
flesh. The cry is at once raised, "You are an enemy to holiness; you turn the
grace of God into licentiousness; you allow people to live as they list; you
encourage men under a profession of religion to continue in sin."
Who does not know the charges which they ring on this peal of bells against
all who assert that the flesh is incurably corrupt, and cannot be molded
afresh, or new modeled, or sanctified, or conformed to the image of Christ,
but remains to the last what it was at the first, "the old man which is corrupt
according to the deceitful lusts?" We may oppose to these clamorous
reproaches a godly life, a gospel walk, a spiritual mindedness, a heavenly
conversation, a filial fear, a tender conscience, a separation from evil, a
liberality to the poor and needy, and a deadness to the world of which our
opponents profess little and manifest less; but all in vain. The very suspicion
that we deny the holiness of the flesh, present or possible, makes us viewed by
most of the "very religious" people of our day much as the Protestant heretic
is looked upon by the staunch Papist—a kind of horrid being, who may,
perhaps, by a death-bed conversion to their views, and a full recantation of his
own, escape hell, but who, at present, is in a very awful and dangerous

But leaving these poor ignorant creatures who speak evil of things that they
know not, and who are actuated by much the same principle and spirit as
those of old who said of the Lord himself, "He has a devil, and is mad; why
hear you him?" let us look for a few moments at a very different class of
people to whom the mystery of the two natures is but little known. These are
the honest and sincere, the tender in conscience and broken in heart of the
children of God, who, for want of divine light on this point, are often deeply
tried and perplexed, and sometimes almost at their wit's end from what they
feel of the inward workings and strength of sin. They are told, and their
naturally religious mind, their traditionary creed, and their unenlightened
understanding, all fully fall in with what they hear enforced on their
conscience, that the sanctification of the soul, without which there is no
salvation, is a gradual progress from one degree of holiness to another, until,
with the exception of a few insignificant "remains" of sin, which, from some
unknown cause, obstinately resist the sanctifying process, the believer
becomes thoroughly holy, in body, soul, and spirit. Sin, they are told, may
occasionally stir up a bad thought or two, or now and then a carnal desire
may most unaccountably start up; but its power is destroyed, the rebellious
movement is immediately subdued, the hasty spark, which straight is cool
again, is put out at once without further damage, and the process of
sanctification keeps going on as harmoniously and uninterruptedly as before,
until the soul is almost as fit for heaven as if it were already there.
Beautiful theory! but as deceptive and as unsubstantial as the mirage of the
desert, or the summer evening cloud bathed in the golden glow of the sinking
sun. And so those sincere, honest-hearted children of God find and feel when
"the motions of sin which are by the law," stirred and roused from their
torpid inactivity by its application, work in their members to bring forth fruit
unto death.

The doctrine of progressive sanctification, implying, as it does, in the mouth of
its strenuous advocates, the gradual extirpation of sin and the molding of the
carnal mind into the image of Christ, is to the honest and tender conscience a
torturing doctrine, pregnant with guilt, bondage, and despair. To a man who
merely plays with religion, all doctrines are pretty much alike. None cause
him trouble, and none cause him joy. The holiness of God, the spirituality and
curse of the law, the evil of sin, the helplessness of the creature, the sinfulness
of the flesh, the deceitfulness and desperate wickedness of the heart, as long as
they are mere doctrines, have no more effect upon the conscience than a
narrative of the battle of Alma or an account of the fight at Inkermann. To a
professor of religion dead in his unregeneracy, the fall of man is nothing like
so stirring as the fall of Sebastopol; and the recovery by Christ does not give
him half so much pleasure as the recovery from a bad cold. These are the men
to preach progressive sanctification; and none urge it so continually, and
press it so forcibly, except, perhaps, those that are living in sin, who are
usually the greatest advocates for holiness, either as a mask of their practice,
or on the principle of a set off, that, having none of their own, they may get as
much as they can of other people's. "In for a penny, in for a pound," is the
maxim of a man who runs into debt without meaning to pay.

And so, if a man means to pay God nothing of the obedience and holiness
which he urges upon others, he thinks he cannot do better than get into debt
as deep as he can. None set the ladder so high as the master who stops at the
foot, and urges his man on to the topmost round. None lay such heavy
burdens on men's shoulders as those who themselves never touch them with
one of their fingers; and none wield so unmercifully the whip as those who
have never felt the end of the lash. To all such miserable taskmasters the tried
and distressed in soul may well say, "What is play to you is death to us; you
are in jest, but we are in earnest; you are at your ease, we are laboring to
attain unto what you only talk about. The holiness that you are preaching we
are striving to practice. Your flashes of exhortation are but summer lightning,
and your denunciations but stage thunder; while we are at the foot of the
mount that burned with fire, and where there was blackness and darkness
and tempest.

The sanctification of the flesh that you urge may do for you who have learned
your lesson at the academy, and preach what you neither know, nor
understand, nor feel—blind leaders of the blind, as you and your tutors are.
Such a doctrine lies with no more weight on your conscience than the
preacher's gown upon your back, or the gold ring upon your little finger; but
it is not so with us, who are daily and hourly groaning beneath a body of sin
and death. It is the load of sin that so deeply tries us, and our utter inability to
bring forth the holiness that you urge upon our sore and bleeding consciences.
It is our base backslidings, our sins against love and blood, our barrenness
and deadness; the dreadful depravity of our hearts; our getting every day
worse instead of getting every day better, that so deeply tries us: and your
doctrine rubs salt into our bleeding, gaping wounds."

To such tried and distressed souls as these, who have been harassed almost to
death by the doctrine of progressive sanctification, how reviving and
encouraging it is when the mystery of the two natures is opened up to their
spiritual understanding, and sealed upon their conscience by the Blessed

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