The Flesh
By D. W. Whittle

Daniel Webster Whittle (1840 - 1901) was a Major in the Northern Army during the Civil War. Following "The War Between the States", Whittle entered the full-time ministry through the influence of Dwight Moody. He was an evangelist who traveled with the famous hymn writer and gospel singer P.P. Bliss and later James McGranahan. He wrote (mostly under pseudonym, El Nathan) the words for about two hundred hymns, including "Moment by Moment," "I Know Whom I Have Believed," and "Banner of the Cross." Click here for more biographical information.

"For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing" (Romans 7:18).

"Have no confidence in the flesh" (Philippians 3:3).

These passages are both applied to a believing, regenerated man. None but a regenerated man could know, or would admit the statement of the first passage; and none but a regenerated man could obey the exhortation of the second. The truth implied in the passages is very important, for it establishes the fact that there is inside the Christian man the existence of an enemy; and an enemy inside the citadel is far more dangerous than an enemy outside. And if that enemy can disguise himself, or hide his real character so as to be treated as a friend - like Hushai with Absalom - the more dangerous does he become. Happy is that man who has learned of the evil of his own heart enough to be afraid of and distrust himself. The wisest words Mr. Moody ever uttered were, "The worst man that ever crossed my path is D. L. Moody, the old man. I have had more trouble with him than with all the world beside." Every child of God knows what this means - or will know before his life is over - and can heartily say the same of himself or herself.

The flesh is the most dangerous enemy the new man has to contend with - always has been, and always will be. Bunyan's "Holy War" describes his insidious approaches and his entrance through "eye gate" and "ear gate" into the citadel of the soul, and the havoc there wrought by his entrance. How important that the young Christian should be able to recognize and identify this enemy, and be warned from making any truce or coming to any terms with him. Like the warfare of the children of Israel with Amalek that was never to cease, but to continue unto the latest generation; so the Christian must war continually against the flesh. If he spare it, as Saul the king did Agag, permitting him to walk delicately, and say, "Surely the bitterness of death is past" (I Samuel 15:32) - then he may be sure that the flesh will rob him of his crown, even as an Amalekite robbed Saul upon the field of Gilboa (II Samuel 1:8-10).

That the believer may identify and know the nature of this enemy, and be on his guard against him, it is simply necessary to follow the teaching of the Word of God, and see him as there described from Genesis to Revelation, called in various places, "The first man," "The first Adam," "The old man," "The natural man," "Evil generation," "Corruption," "The flesh," "Me," "I," all meaning the corrupt human nature we possess.

Let the reader carefully read the following passages and see himself in his corrupted humanity, inherited from a fallen progenitor (in whose fall the fountain of man's being was poisoned), through a long line of sinful ancestors, whose individual lives have swollen the stream of wickedness that now flows through his own veins. Genesis 5:1-3; 6:5 and 13; Psalms 53:13; Isaiah 1:4 - 6; 64:6; Jeremiah 17:9; Matthew 15:18,19; 23:33; Romans 1:21-32; 3:9 -18; I Corinthians 2:14; Galatians 5:19-21; Ephesians 2:1-3.

Let not the reader be deceived upon this subject. His own natural heart of conceit, and pride, and vanity, will be at enmity with this description. The flesh does not like to be photographed by God's Word in its true characteristics. Like the unknown murderer in Berlin, who at each effort of the officers to photograph him so worked and distorted his features that the resemblance was a very imperfect one; so the flesh tries to disguise its evil propensities and cover up its real properties by culture, or by forms of religion affecting simply the outward appearance, and not touching or changing the inward man, whose identity ever remains, for "that which is born of the flesh is flesh."

Nicodemus, to whom the words, "that which is born of the flesh is flesh," were spoken, had to recognize his photograph there in the "Rogues' Gallery," with all the rest of us of the family of Adam. And it was only by admitting that it was he himself, that he could have part in the salvation sent by God for sinners - and for none else.

"I see the doctrine. It certainly is in the Bible," said D'Aubigne, when a student at Geneva, to Robert Haldane, as the latter opened up to him the subject of man's corruption by nature, from the Epistle to the Romans.

"Yes," said the faithful man of God, "you see it in God's Word; but do you now see it in your own heart?"

The arrow of conviction went home with this question; and the young student was led to Christ. In contrast with these passages, describing the family of the first Adam, of which all who are born into this world are members, we would place for future reference and careful study the following passages describing the family of the second Adam, of which none are members until Jesus Christ is received into the heart as Lord and Saviour. "As we (Christians) have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly. The first man is of the earth, earthy; the second man is the Lord from heaven" (I Corinthians 15:47-50). See also John 3:3,5; John 1:12,14,16; James 1:18; I Peter 1:3, 23-25; Galatians 4:4-7.

Now, from these passages, we believe that the Word of God teaches that the work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration is not to change the nature of the flesh at all; but to implant a new nature Christ formed within by the Holy Spirit, in the power of which the believer does indeed deny the flesh, and is no longer living as minding the flesh. But the flesh is still there, unchangeably evil in its nature, with no improvement to be looked for in it, and the safety of the believer consisting in keeping it in the place of death. "Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof" (Romans 13:14).

The failure to see this, must, in the nature of the case, place the child of God in distress and spiritual difficulty. He will either be resting in the idea that at conversion his flesh was instantaneously changed, and all of its evil desires and bad propensities for ever eradicated; or, he will believe that a change was commenced in the nature of the flesh, which is to go on until all sin is eradicated and the flesh is made perfectly holy by the gradual work of sanctification.

Under the first theory, that I am practically and for ever delivered from the flesh - by its nature being changed in my regeneration, and that no sin is left it me - I shall not expect any warfare with it, and shall not regard it longer as an enemy. The danger of the position is obvious. The enmity of the flesh, the nature heart, will manifest itself, as the newborn soul is led by the Spirit to deny ungodliness, and worldly lusts: and to live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world (Titus 2:12). And when it manifest itself, and lustings toward evil are discovered in the heart, darkness of soul follows: and the tempted, or overcome one, seeing sin is still within, will either give up his hope altogether and abandon himself to the rule of sin, or will seek a second regeneration, as if the first had not been real; and with solemn vows never to sir again, will make a new start.

Holding the same theory, in this second start, that a genuine conversion changes the nature of the flesh he is very soon again made painfully aware that sin is still in his members, and evil lustings in his heart; and he is again in despair. So he will go on in this way, if a real child of God, holding on to Christ, falling and getting (as he thinks), born again at regular intervals, but having much unhappy spiritual experience, and being made a stumbling block to others by his repeated backslidings and denials of Christ.

This is the experience of one who is disposed to be I real and honest with his own soul, and who takes God's view of what sin is. Unhappily, with the real love of sin that clings to our deceitful hearts, we are all always in danger of lowering the standard as to sin, and condoning its evil. So the young convert, who has been led to believe that there is no longer any sin in him, in the sense that all the thoughts of his mind, and the desires of his heart, are perfectly pleasing to God, is in terrible danger - when lustings to evil do arise in his heart - of not regarding them as sinful. He judges them by his own consciousness and feeling, instead of God's Word. He argues "God has taken away all evil and wrong desires from me, and given me a perfectly clean heart; and I have no sin. So this, that I so strongly want to do, cannot be sin. I am wholly led by the Spirit; and the Spirit must be leading me to do this." And the temptation is yielded to, and a life of self - deception and hypocrisy is entered upon; sin allowed, and sin indulged; and yet the profession kept up of being without sin.

So Satan has led deluded souls on to the commission of the foulest and blackest sins, of uncleanness and adultery, dishonesty and deceit, while still maintaining the Christian name. Most of those who have thus fallen, and who live in sin, are undoubtedly children of the devil, and were never anything else - "sows who quickly returned to their wallowing in the mire"; for they were never anything but sows. "Dogs turned again to their own vomit," for they were never anything but dogs. Like Simon Magus, who professed belief and was baptized, they have "neither part nor lot with Christ - their heart is not right in the sight of God."

But, mixed up with them, drawn away among them, are undoubtedly those who have been truly brought to Christ, and have been left to be overcome by sin, as was David, that, like him, they may correct their view, as to the flesh; and, with him, agree fully with God's estimate of it, and learn, with Paul, to have no confidence in it.

Oh, dear young convert, how important it is that you should know the evil of your own heart, and be kept from false views as to perfection in the flesh or s profession of being without sin! Surely those who make such profession must have some other standard before them than the infinite requirements of God's holy law, both in what they should do and what they should not do, as illustrated in the life on earth of the only perfectly sinless One. He could truly say, with each day's setting sun, "I have lived a perfect life today. It could not under any circumstances have been better. I have left nothing undone. I have done perfectly what I have done."

But for erring, fallible man to say this! how great the blindness! how awful the sin! how dreadful the pride of heart it must culminate in! The humble and the lowly draw near to God: and, "Thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones" (Isaiah 57:15).

The best day that the best man or woman on earth ever lived, would be closed - if the soul was in communion with God - with such a consciousness of much that might have been done to make it better, and much in motive or in manner of doing what was done that was imperfect, that there would be far more occasion for humbling confession and for seeking forgiveness through the great High Priest, than for boastful elation. And, how plain it is that, if the latter spirit be yielded to, the service of the day is marred, and there is no glory of the setting sun reflected along its horizon; for the flesh, exalted, has hidden Christ from view.

God has forgiveness and healing for those who confess their sins. But it is very difficult for the ordinary reader of the Word of God to find any place this side of heaven for those who have no sins to confess. And when one sees the delusions and darkness that come from their unscriptural teaching, the wish must often arise that they were speedily taken there; even as Paul, in his love for his dear converts who were being led away from the ground of acceptance as being wholly and only in Christ, and not in works of the flesh, was led to say, "I would they were even cut off which trouble you" (Galatians 5:12).

There is the second view of the gradual change of the flesh that we would briefly consider. It is not denied but that there may be, and is, the work of progressive sanctification in the experience of the believer, consisting, as we believe the Scriptures teach, in the increasing knowledge of the Lord Jesus as a personal living Saviour, and an increasing faith in Him to keep us from the evil of the flesh. But the important discrimination should be made, that this is not the changing of the evil nature of the flesh. The man in India with a pet tiger, seemingly very tame, and much of its native wildness subdued by discouraging influences, found, to his sorrow, that its nature was still unchanged, as, with a taste of human blood, it again sought human life.

A venerable Christian man, for years an honored teacher of theology in a leading college, where he had defended the view that progressive sanctification was the gradual taking out of the nature of the flesh, its evil attributes and characteristics, until it, the flesh, was holy and without sin, was in much spiritual darkness before his death, and said, "Either one of two things is true. First, the view that I have always held that, at regeneration, a progressive work of sanctification is commenced, which is to go on by the power of the Holy Spirit until all the evil in the nature of the flesh is taken away in this life is wrong. Or, second, I have never been regenerated. The evil characteristics of the flesh are still with me, still burdening me, still humbling me." Ultimately he believed he had been wrong in his view; and that the work of the Holy Spirit in sanctification did not change the nature of the flesh, any more than it did in regeneration.

Now it is of the utmost importance to a believing man to see this. If the Word of God teaches that "in me in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing;' and teaches it in connection with other passages, that makes it clear that no good thing ever will dwell in it, or come from it; but that, when allowed to act, it will act out its nature, which is unchangeably evil - then it must be that those who for years have prayed, and toiled, and fasted, and denied the flesh, with the expectation of changing its nature, must of necessity be thrown into darkness of soul, as they sadly find that the result they expected to attain - namely, annihilation of all evil in the flesh, and a consciousness of perfect sinlessness and perfect purity - has not been reached.

In view of these, and other difficulties that might be presented, it will be seen that a Christian should have right and clear views of his relations, as a believer, to the flesh. Indeed, it would seem impossible for him to be kept in peace and to grow in faith unless he is on right and scriptural lines in this matter. It is vain to tell a convert as a poorly - taught Christian once did, "Oh, you just let the old man alone; do not bother yourself about him." He received the apt reply: "Ah, but there is just the trouble; he won't let me alone!" The clamouring of the flesh, its selfishness, vanity, pride, jealousy, love of ease, cowardice, and conceit, come into painful prominence in his consciousness as the Spirit of God shows him what he is; and the harder he struggles, the more prominent they seem. He is in despair unless he finds an explanation of this conflict that will not destroy his hope, and a deliverance that is based upon truthfulness. Such an explanation the Word of God gives, and such a deliverance it presents.

Jesus Christ is the Saviour of His people, and does save them from their sins - real sins, not make - believe ones; vile sins (for all sin is vile - it is vile to sin in any way against a holy God); hell - deserving, soul - defiling sins. Blessed be His name! He is the Saviour from them all. The remedy in all things for a believer, is to know Christ.


Child of Jesus, oft depressed,
Yielding to thy doubts and fear,
In thy trials sore distressed,
Fainting for some word of cheer;
Come, thy need is all supplied,
Take by faith what God doth give;
Believe that you in Christ have died,
Believe that you in Him now live.

Often weary, often weak,
Foes without and fears within;
Knowing not what path to take,
To escape from self and sin;
In thy risen Saviour hide,
From Him risen life receive;
Believe that you in Christ have died,
Believe that you in Him now live.

Sorrowing oft, and often sad,
As thy failures thou dost scan;
Selfish aims those failures made,
Now let Jesus lead and plan.
Let the Spirit ever guide,
Let the flesh no more deceive;
Believe that you in Christ have died,
Believe that you in Him now live.

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