John Fletcher


An answer to the arguments by which St. Paul's supposed carnality is generally defended.
IF the sense which our opponents give to Rom. vii, 14, be true, the doctrine of Christian perfection is a dream, and our utmost attainment on earth is St. Paul's apostolic carnality, and involuntary servitude to the law of sin; with a hopeful prospect of deliverance in a death purgatory. It is therefore of the utmost importance to establish our exposition of that verse, by answering the arguments which are supposed to favour the Antinomian meaning rashly fixed upon that portion of Scripture.

ARG. I. "If St. Paul was not carnal and sold under sin when he wrote to the Romans, why does he say, 'I am carnal?' Could he not have said, I was carnal once, but now the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death? Can you give a good reason why, in Rom. vii, 14, the phrase, I am carnal, must mean, I was carnal? Is it right thus to substitute the past time for the present?"

ANSWER. We have already shown that this figurative way of speaking is not uncommon in the Scriptures. We grant, however, that we ought not to depart from the literal sense of any phrase, without good reasons. Several such, I trust, have already been produced, to show the necessity of taking St. Paul's words, "I am carnal," in the sense stated in the preceding section. I shall offer one more remark upon this head, which, if I mistake not, might alone convince the unprejudiced.

The states of all souls may in general be reduced to three: (1.) That of unawakened sinners, who quietly sleep in the chains of their sins, and dream of self righteousness and heaven. (2.) That of awakened, uneasy, reluctant sinners, who try in vain to break the galling chains of their sins. And, (3.) That of delivered sinners, or victorious believers, who enjoy the liberty of God's children. This last state is described in Rom. vii, 4, 6. The rest of that chapter is judiciously brought in, to show how the unawakened sinner is roused out of his carnal state, and how the awakened sinner is driven to Christ for liberty by the lashing and binding commandment. The apostle shows this by observing, ver. 7, &c, how the law makes a sinner (or if you please made him) pass from the unawakened to the awakened state: "I had not known sin," says he, "but by the law," &c. When he had described his unawakened state without the law, and began to describe his awakened state under the law, nothing was more natural than to change the time or tense. But having already used the past tense in the description of the first or the unawakened state; and having said, "Without the law sin was dead: I was alive without the law once: sin revived and I died," &c, he could no more use that tense, when he began to describe the second, or the awakened state; I mean the state in which he found himself when the commandment had roused his sleepy conscience, and slain his Pharisaic hopes. He was therefore obliged to use another tense; and none, in that case, was fitter than the present; just as if he had said, "When the commandment slew the conceited Pharisee in me; when I died to my self-righteous hopes; I did not die without a groan. Nor did I pass into the life of God without severe pangs: no; I straggled with earnestness, I complained with bitterness, and the language of my oppressed heart was, I am carnal, sold under sin," &c, to the end of the chapter. 9 It is, therefore, with the utmost rhetorical propriety that the apostle says, I am, and not, I was carnal, &c. But rhetorical propriety is not theological exactness. David may say as a poet, "God was wroth: there went up a smoke out of his nostrils, and fire out of his mouth devoured: coals were kindled by it." But it would be ridiculous to take these expressions in a literal sense. Nor is it much less absurd to assert that St. Paul's words, "I am carnal, sold under sin," are to be understood of Christian and apostolic liberty.

ARG. II. "St. Paul says to the Corinthians, 'I write not to you as to spiritual men, but as to carnal, even to babes in Christ.' Now if the Corinthians could be at once holy and yet carnal; why could not St. Paul be at the same time an eminent, apostolic saint, and a carnal, wretched man, sold under sin?"

ANSWER. (1.) The Corinthians were by no means established believers in general, for the apostle concludes his last epistle to them by bidding them "examine themselves whether they were in the faith." (2.) If St. Paul proved carnal still, and was to continue so till death, with all the body of Christian believers, why did he upbraid the Corinthians with their unavoidable carnality? Why did he wonder at it, and say, "Ye are yet carnal, for whereas there is among you envyings and strife, &c, are ye not carnal?" Might not these carnal Corinthians have justly replied, Carnal physician, heal thyself? (3.) In the language of the apostle, to be carnal, to be carnally minded, to walk after the flesh, not to walk after the Spirit, and to be in the flesh, are phrases of the same import. This is evident from Rom. vii, 14; viii, 1-9; and he says, directly or indirectly, that to those who are in that state, "there is condemnation; that they cannot please God; and that they are in a state of death; because, to be carnal, or carnally minded, is death," Rom. viii, 1, 6, 8. Now if he was carnal himself, does it not follow that he "could not please God," and that he was in a state of "condemnation and death?" But how does this agree with the profession which he immediately makes of being "led by the Spirit, of walking in the Spirit, and of being made free from the law of sin and death, by the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus?" (4.) We do not deny that the remains of the carnal mind still cleave to imperfect Christians; and that, when the expression carnal is softened and qualified, it may, in a low sense, be applied to such professors as those Corinthians were, to whom St. Paul said, "I could not speak to you as to spiritual." But could not the apostle be yet spoken to as a spiritual man? And does he not allow that, even in the corrupted Churches of Corinth and Galatia, there were some truly spiritual mensome adult, perfect Christians? See 1 Cor. xiv, 37, and Gal. vi, 1. (5.) When the apostle calls the divided Corinthians carnal, he immediately softens the expression by adding, "babes in Christ." If therefore the word carnal is applied to St. Paul in this sense, it must follow that the apostle was but "a babe in Christ;" and if he was but a babe, is it not as absurd to judge of the growth of adult Christians by his growth, as to measure the stature of a man by that of an infant? (6.) And, lastly: the man described in Rom. vii, 14, is not only called carnal without any softening, qualifying phrase; but the word carnal is immediately heightened by an uncommon expression, "sold under sin;" which is descriptive of the strongest "bondage of corruption." Thus reason, Scripture, and criticism agree to set this argument aside.

ARG. III. "The carnal man, whose cause we plead, says, Rom. vii, 20, 'If I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin which dwelleth in me,' that is, in my unrenewed part: and therefore he might be an eminent, apostolic saint in his renewed part; and a carnal, wretched man, sold under sin, in his unrenewed part."

ANSWER. 1. The apostle, speaking there as a carnal, and yet awakened man, who has light enough to see his sinful habits, but not faith and resolution enough to overcome them; his meaning is evidently this:If I, as a carnal man, do what I, as an awakened man, would not; it is no more I that do it, that is, I do not do it according to my awakened conscience, for my conscience rises against my conduct: but it is sin that dwelleth in me; it is the tyrant sin, that has full possession of me, and minds the dictates of my conscience no more than an inexorable task master minds the cries of an oppressed slave.

2. If the pure love of God was shed abroad in St. Paul's heart and constrained him, he dwelt, in love, and of consequence in God. For St. John says, "He that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God, and God in him. He that is in you, is greater than he that is in the world." Now if God dwelt in Paul by his loving Spirit, it becomes our objectors to show that an indwelling God and indwelling sin are one and the same thing; or that the apostle had strangely altered his doctrine when he asked, with indignation, "What concord has Christ with Belial?" For if indwelling sin, the Belial within, was necessary to nestle with Christ in St. Paul's heart, and in the hearts of all believers, should not the apostle have rather cried out with admiration, "See how great is the concord between Christ and Belial! They are inseparable! They always live in the same heart together: and nothing ever parted them, but what parts man and wife, that is, death."

3. If a reluctance to serve the law of sin be a proof that we are holy as Paul was holy, is there not joy in heaven over the apostolic holiness of most robbers and murderers in the kingdom? Can they not sooner or later say, "With my mind, or conscience, I serve the law of God; but with my flesh the law of sin. How to perform what is good, I find not. I would be honest and loving if I could be so without denying myself; but I find a law, that when I would do good, evil is present with me?"

For can any thing be stronger upon this head than the words of the inhuman princess, who, being at the point of committing murder, cried out, "My mind, [that is, my reason or conscience,] leads me to one thing, but my new, impetuous passion carries me to another, against my will. I see, I approve what is right, but I do what is criminal." 10

ARG. IV. "The man whose experience is described in Rom. vii, is said 'to delight in the law of God after the inward man, and to serve the law of God with the mind;' therefore he was partaker of apostolic holiness."

ANSWER. Does he not also say, "With the flesh I serve the law of sin?" And did not Medea say as much in her way before she imbrued her hands in innocent blood? What else could She mean when she cried out, "I see and approve with my mind what is right, though I do what is criminal?" Did not the Pharisees for a time "rejoice in the burning and shining light" of John the Baptist? And does not an evangelist inform us that Herod himself heard that man of God (hoewV) "with delight," and "did many things" too? Mark vi, 20. But is this a proof that either Medea, the Pharisees, or Herod had attained apostolic holiness?

ARG. V. "The person who describes his unavailing struggles under the power of sin, cries out at last, Who shall deliver me, &c, and immediately expresses a hope of future deliverance, thanking God for it, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Rom. vii, 24, 25. Does not this show that the carnal man sold under sin was a Christian believer, and, of consequence, Paul himself?"

ANSWER. This shows only that the man sold under sin, and groaning for evangelical liberty, is supported under his unhappy circumstances by a hope of deliverance; and that when the law, like a severe school master, has almost brought him to Jesus Christ; when he is come to the borders of Canaan, and "is not far from the kingdom of God and the city of refuge," he begins to look and long earnestly for Christ; and has at times comfortable hopes of deliverance through him. He has a faith that desires liberty, but not a faith that obtains it. He has a degree of the "faith to be healed," which is mentioned Acts xix, 9; but he has not yet the actually healing, prevailing faith, which St. John calls the victory, and which is accompanied with an internal witness that "Christ is formed in our hearts." It is absurd to confound the carnal man who struggles into Christ and liberty, saying, "Who shall deliver me," &c, with the spiritual man who is come to Christ, stands in his redeeming power, and witnesses that "the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made him free from the law of sin and death." The one may say, in his hopeful moments, "I thank God, I shall have the victory, through Jesus Christ:" but the other can say, "I have it now. Thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory though Jesus Christ our Lord," 1 Cor. xv, 67. The one wishes for, and the other enjoys liberty: the one has ineffectual desires, and the other has victorious habits. Such is the contrast between the carnal penitent described in Rom. vii, 14, and the obedient believer described in Rom. viii. "There is a great difference," says the Rev. Mr. Whitefield, "between good desires and good habits.

Many have the one who never attain the other." Many come up to the experience of a carnal penitent, who never attain the experience of an obedient believer. "Many have good desires to subdue sin, and yet, resting in those good desires, sin has always had the dominion over them;" with the flesh they have always served the law of sin. "A person sick of a fever may desire to be in health, but that desire is not health itself." (Whitefield's Works, vol. iv, page 7.) If the Calvinists would do justice to this important distinction, they would soon drop the argument which I answer, and the yoke of carnality which they try to fix upon St. Paul's neck.

ARG. VI. "You plead hard for the apostle's spirituality; but his own plain confession shows that he was really carnal, and sold under sin. Does he not say to the Corinthians, that 'there was given him a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet him, lest he should be exalted above measure, by the abundance of the revelations which had been vouchsafed him?' 2 Cor. xii, 7. Now what could this 'thorn in the flesh' be, but a sinful lust? And what 'this messenger of Satan,' but pride or immoderate anger? Thrice he besought the Lord that these plagues might depart from him; but God would not hear him. Indwelling sin was to keep him humble; and if St. Paul stood in need of that remedy, how much more we?"

ANSWER. 1. Indwelling anger keeps us angry and not meek: indwelling pride keeps us proud, and not humble. The streams answer to the fountain. It is absurd to suppose that a salt spring will send forth fresh water.

2. You entirely mistake the apostle's meaning. While you try to make him a modest imperfectionist, you inadvertently represent him as an impudent Antinomian: for, speaking of his "thorn in the flesh," and of the "buffeting of Satan's messenger," he calls them his infirmities, and says, "Most gladly therefore will I glory in my infirmities." Now, if his infirmities were pride, a wrathful disposition, and a filthy lust, did he not act the part of a filthy Antinomian, when he said that "he gloried in them?" Would not even Paul's carnal man have blushed to speak thus! Far from glorying in his pride, wrath, or indwelling lust, did he not groan, "O wretched man that I am?"

3. The apostle, still speaking of his thorn in the flesh, and of Satan buffeting him by proxy, and still calling these trials his infirmities, explains himself farther in these words:"Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in persecutions, &c, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then am I strong. Christ's strength is made perfect in my weakness." Those infirmities, that thorn in the flesh, that buffeting of Satan, cannot, then, be indwelling sin, or any outbreaking of it; for the devil himself could do no more than to take pleasure in his wickedness: and in Rom. vii, the carnal penitent himself delights "in the law of God after the inward man," instead of taking pleasure in his indwelling sin.

4. The infirmities in which St. Paul glories and takes pleasure were such as had been given him to keep him humble after his revelations. "There was given to me a thorn in the flesh," &c, 2 Cor. xii, 7. Those infirmities and that thorn were not then indwelling sin, for indwelling sin was not given him after his visions, seeing it stuck fast in him long before he went to Damascus. It is absurd therefore to suppose that God gave him the thorn of indwelling sin afterward, or indeed that he gave it him at all.

5. If Mr. Hill wants to know what we understand by St. Paul's thorn in the flesh, and by the messenger of Satan that buffeted him; we reply, that we understand his bodily infirmitiesthe great weakness, and the violent headache with which Tertullian and St. Chrysostom inform us the apostle was afflicted. The same God, who said to Satan concerning Job, "Behold he is in thine hand to touch his bone and his flesh, but save his life;" the same God, who permitted that adversary to "bind a daughter of Abraham with a spirit of bodily infirmity for eighteen years;" the same gracious God, I say, permitted Satan to afflict St. Paul's body with uncommon pains; and, at times, it seems, with preternatural weakness, which made his appearance and delivery contemptible in the eyes of his adversaries. That this is not a conjecture, grounded upon uncertain tradition, is evident from the apostle's own words two pages before. "His letters, say they, [that buffeted me in the name of Satan] are weighty and powerful; but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible," 2 Cor. x, 10. And soon after, describing these emissaries of the devil, he says, "Such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ, [to oppose me, and to prejudice you against my ministry:] and no marvel; for Satan himself [who sets them on] is transformed into an angel of light," 2 Cor. xi, 13. But if the thorn in the flesh be all one with the buffering messenger of Satan, St. Paul's meaning is evidently this:"God, who suffered the Canaanites to be scourges in the sides of the Israelites, and thorns in their eyes, Josh. xxiii, 13, has suffered Satan to bruise my heel, while I bruise his head: and that, adversary afflicts me thus, by his thorns and pricking briers, that is, by false apostles, who buffet me through malicious misrepresentations which render me vile in your sight." This sense is strongly countenanced by these words of Ezekiel:"They shall know that I am the Lord, and there shall be no more a pricking brier to the house of Israel, nor any grieving thorn of all that are round about them that despised them," Ezek. xxviii, 24.

Both these senses agree with reason and godliness, with the text and the context. Satan immediately pierced the apostle's body with preternatural pain; and, by the malice of false brethren, the opposition of false apostles within the Church, and the fierceness of cruel persecutors without, he immediately endeavoured to cast down or destroy the zealous apostle. But Paul walked in the perfect way, and we may well say of him, what was said of Job on a similar occasion, "In all this, Paul sinned not," as appears from his own words in this very epistle: "I am exceedingly joyful in all our tribulation. Our flesh had no rest, but we were troubled on every side: without the Church were fightings, within were fears:" we had furious opposition from the heathens without; and within, we feared lest our brethren should be discouraged by the number and violence of our adversaries: "nevertheless God, who comforteth those that are cast down, comforted us. We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus. For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish" through the thorns in our flesh, and the buffetings of Satan, "yet the inward man is renewed day by day;" it grows stronger and stronger in the Lord. When I see St. Paul bear up with such undaunted fortitude, under the bruising hand of Satan's messengers, and the pungent operation of the "thorns in his flesh," methinks I see the general of the Christians waiving the standard of Christian perfection, and crying, "Be ye followers of me." Be wholly spiritual. "Take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand," and to witness with me, that "in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us."

ARG. VII. "You extol the apostle too much. He certainly was a carnal man still; for St. Luke informs us, that the contention [paroxusmoV] was so sharp between Barnabas and him, that they departed asunder one from the other, Acts xv, 39. Now charity [ou paroxunetai] is not provoked, or does not contend. Strife or contention is one of the fruits of the flesh, and if St. Paul bore that fruit, I do not see why you should scruple to call him a carnal, wretched man, sold under sin."

ANSWER. 1. Every contention is not sinful. The apostle says himself, "Contend for the faith. Be angry and sin not. It is good to be zealously affected always in a good thing." Jesus Christ did not break the law of love, when he looked round with anger upon the Pharisees, "being grieved for the hardness of their hearts." Nor does Moses charge sin upon God, where he says, "The Lord rooted them out of their land in anger, and in wrath, and in great indignation." If St. Paul had contended in an uncharitable manner, I would directly grant that in that hour he fell from Christian perfection; for we assert, that as a carnal professor may occasionally cross Jordan, take a turn into the good land, and come back into the wilderness, as the spies did in the days, of Joshua; so a spiritual man, who lives in Canaan, may occasionally draw back, and take a turn in the wilderness, especially before he is "strengthened, established, and settled" under his heavenly vine, in the good land that flows with spiritual milk and honey. But this was not the apostle's case. There is not the least intimation given of his sinning in the affair. Barnabas, says the historian, determined to take with them his own nephew, John Mark; but Paul thought not good to do it, because, when they had tried him before, he went not with them to the work, but departed from them from Pamphylia, Acts xv, 38. Now by every rule of reason and Scripture, Paul was in the right: for we are to try the spirits, and lovingly to beware of men, especially of such men as have already made us smart by their cowardly fickleness, as John Mark had done, when he had left the itinerant apostles in the midst of their dangers.

With respect to the word (paroxusm...) contention or provoking, it is used in a good, as well as in a bad sense. Thus, Heb. x, 24, we read of (paroxunetai agaphV) a contention or a provoking unto love and good works. And therefore, granting that a grain of partiality to his nephew made Barnabas stretch too much that fine saying, "Charity hopeth all things;" yet, from the circumstances of Barnabas' parting with St. Paul, we have not the least proof that St. Paul stained at all his Christian perfection in the affair.

If the reader will properly weigh these answers to the arguments, by which our opponents try to stain the character of St. Paul as a spiritual man, he will see, I hope, that the apostle is as much misrepresented by Mr. Hill's doctrine, as Christian perfection is by his fictitious creed.

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