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MAN DESTRUCTIVE OF HIS HAPPINESS
HERE AND HEREAFTER.
REV. DR. CHALMERS,
ON SUNDAY MORNING, JULY 23, 1837.
Text." For that he that soweth to his flesh, shall of the flesh reap corruption.”—GALATIANS, vi., and the 1st clause of the 8th verse. The term flesh has obtained a wider signification than it primarily had; and corresponding to that phrase in our text, “ the desires of the flesh” have obtained a proportionably wider range of application. Those desires, in fact, embrace one and all of the enjoyments which are competent to the natural man while he is in the body, Had our species remained perfect, there would have been nothing, either in its desires, or enjoyments, that would either have thwarted the will of God, or carried along with it any forgetfulness, or disinclination towards God. But as the matter actually stands, it is far otherwise. With the desires which we have for what is agreeable, there mingles no desire for, and no wending towards God. With the enjoyments we have, there mingle no remembrance of, and no pleasure in, God. The thing is desired only for itself. In itself the heart rests, and terminates in full complacency; and the enjoyment is, in every way, as much detached from the thought of God as if God had no place in its creed, or, as if God himself had no place in creation.
Now, this is not merely true of the grosser appetites of our nature, but it is true of every appetite which has for its object something separate from God,--of every appetite which prefers any one thing that the world has to offer, while God is not recognised by us as the giver of it, or as baving that superior claim upon our affections which the giver has over the gift of every appetite, in the prosecu(No. 3.]
tion of which, and in the indulgence of which the man may
be all the while away from the consideration of God. Now this applies not merely to the desires of the epicure, or of the voluptuary, but it belongs as essentially to all the other desires of unrenewed nature. There may be as little of God, for example, in the delights of literature, as there is in the delights of sensuality. If it be true, that it is he alone who doeth the will of God that endureth for ever, the one may be as little connected with the life everlasting of the text as the other; both may be equally fleeting in their duration, and both may pass away
with the vapour of our present life,--when it passeth away, they may end when the body ends. Thus it is, that many generous, as well as many grovelling desires--all the propensities of the heart to glory, or power, or the objects of a lofty ambition, may, as well as the basest propensities of our animal nature, may come under the brief, but comprehensive description of the “ desires of the flesh."
Let it be recollected, then, that in this extended sense we employ the term flesh throughout the whole of our discourse. All the desires which it is competent for a man to feel, who has no care, and takes no interest about the things of God, or of another world, are the “ desires of the flesh. All the enjoyments of which man is capable, apart, from the duties, or the delights of religion, are the enjoyments of the flesh. They may, or they may not, be the desires of gross licentiousness; they may, or may not, be the enjoyments of a shameless and abandoned profligacy. The line of demarcation between flesh and spirit is not that by which the dissipations of life are separated from its decencies, but that by which all the desires that we have towards the enjoyments of our present life, in sense and in the creature, but apart from God, is separated from the desire we have towards the enjoyments of the spiritual life with God in heaven. A man may be wholly occupied with the former desire, and not at all with the latter; in which case he is of the flesh and not of the spirit; or, to make use still more of the phraseology of Scripture, he is “ carnal,” and not “ spiritual;" or be walks " by sight," and not “ by faith ;" or he is one of " the children of this world," and not one of the “ children of light;" or finally, he " minds earthly things," and neither his heart nor his conversation is in heaven.
Now, to answer this description of character, it is not necessary that he should be immersed in fleshly vice or voluptuousness. He may recoil from these, and yet the world in some other of its varieties, of its more elegant and refined varieties, may have the entire mastery of his affections, and be the theatre of his hopes, his interests, and his wishes. What the “ earthly things" are which engross him alone we may not be able to specify, and yet it may be very true that earthly things are all that he minds, and that to the pleasure and pursuit of these he is wholly given over. In the judgment of an earth-born morality he may not be at all grovelling or culpable, and yet, in his tastes and tendencies, and in his practical habits, he may be what the Scriptures call altogether "carnal."
Now, the next thing that requires to be understood is, what is meant “ by sowing to the flesh ?"
Let it be observed, then, that the act of indulging in the desires of the flesh is one thing, and that the act of
providing for the indulgence of them is another. When a man, on the impulse of a sudden provocation, wreaks his resentful feelings on the neighbour who has offended him, he is not at that time preparing for the indulgence of a carnal feeling, but he is actually indulging in it; he is not at that time sowing, but actually reaping, such as it is, the harvest of gratification. But when, instead of tasting the sweets of revenge, he is employed in devising measures of revenge, and taking counsel with a view of putting some scheme of revenge into operation, he is, no doubt, stimulated throughout this process by the desire of retaliation, but it is not till the process has reached its accomplishment that the desire is satisfied. It is thus, that the sowing and the reaping may be distinguished from each other. We are busied with the one, when busied with preparatory steps towards some consummation! and we obtain the other in the act of consummation.
This distinction will serve to assist our judgment in estimating the ungodliness of various characters. The rambling voluptuary, who is carried along by every impulse, and all whose powers of mental discipline are so enfeebled, that he has become the slave of every propensity, lives in the perpetual harvest of criminal gratification. If with him the voice of conscience be ever heard amidst the uproar of those passions, which “ war against the soul,” it only serves to darken the intervals of vice; while, on the assault of the next temptation, or on the coming round of the next opportunity, it is again deafened and overwhelmed as before, amid the mirth and the riot and the recklessness of profligate companionship. It is not, however, to such a man as that we must look as our best exemplar of one who “ sows unto the flesh,” we should rather look to another who is equally immersed in vice, but with more steadfastness in crime, and self-command in the prosecution of it; who can bring intelligence and cold deliberation to bear on his object; who can patiently take his stand, and calculate what are his advantages; and, after the disguise and preparation of many months, can obtain the gratification of a horrid triumph over some victim of his snares.
In the eye of the world the general decency of his regular habits may make him appear to be a more seemly and honourable character than the open debauché. But if to disobey conscience when scarcely heard amid the raging of a tempest be a humbler attainment in the school of impiety than to stifle conscience in the hour of still deliberation and circumspection, if it be not so hardy a resistance to the voice of wisdom when she calls unheeded along the crowd of boisterous opponents, as when, with the cool and collected energies of the mind at leisure, she is firmly bidden to the door, then, though both these wretched aliens from God are surely hastening to the place of condemnation, if there be degrees of punishment in hell, even as there are degrees of glory and of enjoyment in heaven, we will leave the question with yourselves--whether he who has been, in the present instance, most occupied in sowing, or he who has been most occupied in reaping, shall be made to inherit the deeper curse or have the heavier vengeance heaped upon him.
But it is more useful still to contemplate this distinction in the walks of reputable life; and for this purpose, we may notice a very frequent exhibition of it among the members of a prosperous family: a daughter, whose sole delight is in her rapid transition from one scene of amusement, who sustains the delirium of her spirits amid the visits and excursions, and parties of gaiety, which fashion has invented for the entertainment of its unthinking votaries, who dissipates every care, and fills up every hour with the raptures of hope or enjoyment, among the frivolities and fascinations of her volatile society, she leads a life, than which nothing can be imagined to be more opposed to a life of preparation for coming judgment and eternity; yet she reaps rather than sows. It lies with another to gather the money which purchases all these things, and with her to taste the fruits of the purchase. It is the father who sows, it is the father who sits in busy and brooding anxiety over his manifold speculations. Wrinkled, perhaps, with care, and sobered by years, into an utter distaste for the splendours, and the insignificancies of fashionable life, he provides the aliment for all this expenditure, but yet in the expenditure itself he may have no enjoyment whatever. On all his habits there may
be imprinted one unvaried character of regularity, punctual in hours, temperate in his enjoyments, and exemplary in all the mercantile virtues, and with no rambling desire whatever beyond the threshold of his counting-house, nor engrossed with any thing so much as with the snug prosperity of its operations. In the business of gain there is often the ruffling of an occasional breeze, and he who is so employed, to make use of a Bible phrase, is “ sowing the wind;" but in the business of expenditure there is often the fiery agitation of a tempest, and the other who is so employed, to make use of another Bible expression, is
reaping the whirlwind.” The habit of both is alike the habit of ungodliness-giddy and unthinking in the latter, but certainly not more hopeless than the settled ungodliness of the former—where the systematic perseverance and the deliberate application of the whole heart and understanding are given to the interests of the world—where every thought of seriousness about the soul, instead of being lost for a time in the whirl of intoxicating variety, is calmly and resolutely dispossessed by thoughts of equal