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This is a great resort for holiness opposers. They summer and winter at this place. The harbor is full of them. They never get beyond Paul. O no! If he had to contend with the carnal mind, then they may not hope to be freed from the same in this life. Rather discouraging outlook, if this text means depravity in the heart.
We raise the question, What does Paul mean by keeping under his body and bringing it into subjection? Perhaps the Revised Version would throw a little light upon the subject. “But I buffet my body, and bring it into bondage.” Does he have reference to the “old man,” or simply the physical man? He certainly alludes to one or the other. One way, and a very good way, to find out the thought of a text is, to compare Scripture with Scripture. Let us try the plan here. Whatever Paul had reference to, he kept it under. Paul was on top. It seems that it required some attention, some effort to accomplish this, but he succeeded all right, and was an overcomer in the affair.
Strange that he should be putting forth an effort to keep under something that was already crucified and destroyed. If the “old man” was crucified (death follows crucifixion), hence, dead, why should he need to “buffet” it, as the Revised Version has it? The idea of buffeting a poor corpse that could not lift its little finger to strike! Paul putting forth an effort to keep on top of such a thing, crucified and put off, lest it should get him under! The idea is preposterous.
Again he says he brings it into subjection. It would appear from this that it minded him; that he was master in the affair. Is this the way the “carnal mind” acts? hear Paul on that: “The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.” Romans 8:7.
This evil principle within is not something that is subjugated. If it would not mind the law of God, I reckon it would not mind the law of Paul. You can buffet it, sit on it, stand on it, and tell it to behave itself, and it will not mind. When you think you have it suppressed, it will suddenly arise and claim authority over the possessions. You may order it to leave the premises, but it claims to have been on hand as early as anybody, and “possession is nine points of the law.” You may think sometimes that you have made it quiet, but it is only “playing possum” on you, and will poke up its head when you are sufficiently off guard. It can stand a good deal of mistreatment if it is only allowed to remain in the house. It is very fond of some things, such as flattery, and style, and worldly amusements. It likes the cold. Dead, cold formality is its delight. It is much afraid of fire. All sorts of ways and means have been used to manage it. It has been repressed, suppressed, depressed, compressed, but the only sure way is to express it.
As long as it is in the house there will be trouble. We are told to “make not provision for the flesh.” The best Christian life does not come from the subjugation of this element of the soul. God has provided something better than keeping it under. The atonement of Christ is sufficient not only to neutralize it, but utterly to exterminate it. (Let me say right here, by way of explanation, that this sin element is not a substance, but a condition.) There is a great deal of so-called holiness these days, which allows the “old man” to remain in the home. The Holy Spirit is emphasized a great deal, and the Christ life beautifully portrayed, but carnality is not properly dealt with.
Now, as long as this “old man” is allowed to remain, he will put up with a good deal of inconvenience; but when the fire of the Holy Ghost is turned on he has to get out. We may talk about the Spirit-filled life and the Comforter abiding within, but the fact is, He will not come to occupy a temple wherein He cannot have supreme rule. Our bodies are to be the temples of the Holy Ghost, and if this experience is ever enjoyed, then will the recipient have to submit to the process of sin-eradication. We should give God credit for wisdom in His dealings. In this case He would act somewhat like a dentist. I go to a dentist, and tell him I have a tooth for which I am concerned. There is a decayed spot in it, and I am afraid that I shall lose the tooth. I ask the doctor if he can fill the tooth with gold, and thus preserve it. Upon examination he assures me that there is no reason why I should lose the tooth; that he can fill it, and thus it will be preserved.
I submit to the process of filling. The dentist begins to apply his drill, and in a little while it reaches the quick, and I throw up my hands, crying, “O dentist, I didn’t ask you to take my head off! I only asked you to fill my tooth!” He smiles and says, “This is the way I do it. I am preparing the tooth for the filling. If I should place the gold on top of that decayed part it would not remain there nor preserve the tooth.” “But it hurts so!” “Yes, I know it hurts, but it will pay you to endure the pain for a little while, for the benefit you will receive in the filling.”
So it is in the filling with the Holy Spirit. It is no child’s play to get the Holy Ghost. We need Him to fill our souls and preserve our Christian experience. He assures us that He will do this for us if we will submit to the process. It means something more than just to sit down and quietly say, “Fill me now.” Before the Holy Spirit will come to occupy a heart, He must have it in a state of entire abandonment to Himself; a full consecration to Him; crucified indeed unto the world. This is suffering the loss of all things; the dying out to everything but God. The nails are driven, and it hurts. Many come down from the cross and save themselves from the crucifixion, only to suffer the greater agony of a guilty conscience and failure of full salvation. It hurts for awhile in the crucifixion, the preparation for the reception of the Holy Ghost, but it pays to endure the suffering for a little season in making the entire consecration, for the joy of being filled with the Spirit. This entire abandonment to God is absolutely necessary as a requisite to holiness. Is the question asked, Why does God so require? For several reasons. First , He wants people whom He can trust. He knows that when one has gone through the crucifixion which precedes the gift of the Holy Ghost, and has “suffered the loss of all things,” He can trust that soul. Second , He wants people who will appreciate the gift. Something received without any effort put forth is not appreciated as that is which costs some thing. The young man that falls heir to a large inheritance is quite likely to underestimate its worth, and if not careful will easily let it slip from him.
But that person who has toiled for the fortune he has accumulated will recognize its value, and will be frugal in its use. So, if the Holy Spirit could be received without any consecration or effort on our part, He would not be properly appreciated, and would probably be found wanting in the soul under extreme pressure. We would not magnify Self-effort, or be understood to say that this blessing comes by works, or that the Holy Spirit would not come by asking Him to do so; but we do mean that it becomes absolutely necessary to make such a complete consecration, in order to get into a place where one can believe for the baptism with the Holy Ghost.
Consecration clears away the rubbish, so faith can have a chance to make connection. Third , when one has gone through the ordeal of this crucifixion in order to receive Him, he will be more apt to retain the experience, feeling that he would not like to go through that suffering again. Fourth , the spiritual law of impenetrability obtains here: no two bodies can occupy the same space at one and the same time. The Holy Spirit will not occupy the heart in which the “old man” lives. He must be crucified and cast out. The full and complete abandonment of the soul puts one where this can be done, and the Holy Spirit will have no rival in the heart.
We come back to the thought of Paul keeping his body under. What did he mean? He meant just what he said — he kept his body under. It was not the body of sin, for that was destroyed ( Romans 6:6); but the corporeal body, with its natural passions, desires and members. Man is a trinity in himself — tripartite. He has a spirit, soul and body. Paul uses the expression, “And I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” ( 1 Thessalonians 5:23.)
Notice that this follows that remarkable sentence, “And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly.” From this we see plainly that we are first to be sanctified wholly, and then have our spirit, soul and body preserved blameless. This blamelessness is to follow the experience of entire sanctification. Three things are to be preserved blameless: spirit, soul and body. We further see that one may not be blameless in his spirit, or his soul, or his body. Outside the saving grace of God, one’s spirit nature, his soul nature, and his physical nature are defiled. Paul made that plain in his letter to the Corinthians: “Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved (not sinners), let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” ( 2 Corinthians 7:1.)
There are certain attributes which belong to the spirit, others to the soul, and yet others to the body; attributes which are not wrong, but pure and good, so long as kept in their proper place; so long as they simply perform what they were created to perform. When they are allowed to step outside their bounds they become corrupted. Paul, in saying that he kept under his body, had no reference to either his spirit or psychic nature (which, of course, were in their proper sphere), but simply to the physical. The physical nature, with all its attributes, he was holding the mastery over. If he did not they would soon be over the banks, and he would be subject to his own passions. He would be under, and his physical appetites would have the mastery over him. As it is said, the body makes a good servant, but a hard master.
They are in every normal body. There is something physically wrong where any one of these is wanting. They are God-given, and so long as they are kept in their places and perform only that which God intended them to, then may one say with Paul, “I keep under my body.” Suppose Paul did not watch his eating. He feels a desire to eat something, which he knows would be injurious to him, or perhaps superfluous. This would be allowing his appetite for food to get the mastery over him. There would be no sin in the appetite, only in its wrong indulgence. So with drink. We are persuaded there are many Christians who are not keeping under their body in this respect. They eat those things which they are conscious hurts them, and drink that which is an injury to their health. Suppose Paul allowed himself to take more time for sleeping than he should. This can grow on one till it will become abnormal. One will become sluggish and lazy. Then he could no longer say, “I am master over my body,” but his body in this respect would be his master. Sexual desire is pure and right. In the degeneration of humanity it is abnormal with many, and every one should look to God for deliverance from its perversity wherever it is discovered. But God placed within man that desire, and when only used with the approbation of God it is holy and right. But O, the mastery that this desire gets over men! How the strong have been slain! How the graves have been filled with its victims!
Not only does keeping the body under have reference to the above named desires and attributes, but every member of the body should be so guarded that it is made to fill the place that our Creator intended it to fill. Each member should serve, and not be master. Paul tells us in Romans 6:13: “Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin; but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God.”
The only proper way to keep these members in their allotted place is to yield them entirely unto God, and trust Him to enable you to be the master over them. Paul had them under him. He had feet, but he did not allow his feet to carry him into any place where he would have to leave Jesus outside. He had hands, but with them he served the Lord, and did not use them in selfish interests, or in any way in which he could not glorify Christ. With his tongue he might have engaged in foolish talking, in evil speaking, in murmuring and complaining, in lying, swearing and tale-bearing; in fact, in a multitude of ways; but he had One in him Who gave him grace and power over this member, so that he could say he kept that portion of the body in subjection. With his eyes he could behold things which would not be pleasing to God for him to see; yet in keeping his body under it would involve the power over the eyes so that they would not look upon anything or person in any way that would be displeasing to Christ. He could hear with his ears, but he watched that part of his body, and would not yield to bearing anything that would mar his Christian character. The fact is, that Paul kept his body, with all that pertained to it, in its proper place. What a testimony! Would to God that all Christians could give such a testimony! It matters not what heredity may do for us; what weakness may have been transmitted; what abnormal appetites one is cursed with; the power of the atonement in the baptism with the Holy Ghost is sufficient to enable any one to “keep under” his body. How good God is to provide such a great salvation! In the work of sanctification a mighty destruction takes place, yet there is nothing taken away that is God-given and that He has any use for.
If in our human frailty we discover any part of this nature endeavoring to get out of its proper place, like Paul, referring to the wrestlers and boxers, we simply are to lay it out and hold it down. To keep on top, so to speak, in all the workings of our body is a state which all Christians should covet.
This is not only our glorious, blood-bought privilege, but also our bounden duty. Thus keeping our whole nature in its normal and Christ-approved sphere, we may hope to succeed in our Christian life, and after we have preached to others, not be castaway. ourselves.