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Carnal and Spiritual

- Andrew Murray, 1828-1917

"And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ" (1 Corinthians 3:1, AV).

In our text, the apostle commences the chapter by telling these Corinthians that there are two stages of Christian experience. Some Christians are carnal, some are spiritual. By the discernment that God's Spirit gave the apostle, he saw that the Corinthians were carnal, and he wanted to tell them so. You will find the word carnal four times in these four verses [1-4].

The apostle felt that all his preaching would do no good if he talked about spiritual things to men who were unspiritual. They were Christians, real Christians, babes in Christ; but there was one deadly fault--they were carnal. So the apostle seems to say: I cannot teach you spiritual truth about the spiritual life, you cannot take it in. But that was not because they were stupid. They were very clever and full of knowledge, but unable to understand spiritual teaching.

That teaches us this simple lesson--that all the trouble in the Church of Christ among Christians who sometimes get a blessing and lose it again is just because they are carnal. All that we need, if we want to keep the blessing, is that we become spiritual. We must choose what style of Christian life we would like to live--the carnal life or the spiritual. Choose the spiritual, and God will be delighted to give it to you.

Now, if we are to understand this teaching we must begin by trying thoroughly to know what this carnal state is. I think I shall be able to point to you four very marked characteristics of the carnal state.

The first thing is that the carnal state is a state of protracted infancy. It is a long time ago since you were converted, and you ought to have been a young man by this time, but you are still a babe in Christ. "I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it." You know what a babe is and what a beautiful thing babyhood is. You cannot have a more attractive little thing than a child six months old, with its ruddy cheeks, its laughing and smiling face, the kicking of its little feet, and the movement of its little fingers. What a beautiful object!

But suppose I saw such a child and came back after six months and the child was not a bit bigger, the parents would begin to say, "We are afraid there is something the matter; the child doesn't grow." And if after three years I came back and saw there the baby no bigger yet, I should find the parents sad. They would tell me, "The doctor says there is some terrible disease about the child; it cannot grow. He says it is a wonder it is alive, and yet it does live." I come back after 10 years, and there is that helpless infant, and still there is no growth.

You see, babyhood at the proper time is the most beautiful thing in the world, but babyhood continued too long is a burden and a sorrow, a sign of disease. And that was the state of many of those Corinthian Christians. They continued babes.
Now, what are the marks of a babe? There are specially two marks--a babe cannot help itself, and a babe cannot help others.

A babe cannot help itself, and that is the life of many Christians. They make their ministers spiritual nurses of babes. It is a solemn thing that those spiritual babes keep their ministers occupied all the time in nursing them and feeding them, and they never help themselves. They do not know how to feed on Christ's Word, and the minister must feed them. They do not know what contact with God is, and the minister must pray for them. They do not know what it is to live as those who have God to help them; they always want to be nursed.

Do take care that it does not become the reason why you come to the convention--to get your nurses to give you spiritual meat. God be praised for the preaching of the gospel and for the fellowship of the convention. But, oh, you know what baby does--baby always requires full-time attention. Very often mother cannot go out because there is baby, or the servant must be there to keep baby, or the nurse must be there. Baby always occupies somebody. You cannot leave him alone.

So there are many spiritual infants to whom ministers are always going, and who are always wanting some help. Instead of allowing themselves to be trained up to know their God and be strong, alas! It is a protracted infancy. They cannot help themselves, and can therefore not help others. Is not that just what we read in the Epistle to the Hebrews? There was the very same condition. We read that those who had been so long converted, and who ought to have been teachers, needed themselves to be taught the very rudiments of Christianity. And there are, as I have said, people who are always wanting to be helped instead of being a help to others.

For a little child, a spiritual babe three months old, to be carnal and not to know altogether what sin is, and not yet to have got victory, it is, as Paul said, a thing not to be wondered at. But when a man continues, year after year, in the same state of always being conquered by sin, there is something radically wrong. Nothing can keep a child in protracted infancy but disease of some sort. And if we have to say continually, "I am not spiritual," then do let us say, "O God, I am carnal; I am in a diseased state, and want to be helped out of it."

The second mark of a carnal state is that sin and failure prove master. Sin has the upper hand. What proof does Paul give that those people were carnal? He first charges them, and then he asks a question, "Among you there are envyings, and strifes, and divisions; are ye not carnal?" And then again, one says, "I am of Paul," and another, "I am of Apollos," and another, "I am of Cephas." Are you not carnal? asks Paul in effect. Is that not evident? You act just like other men; you are not acting like heavenly, renewed men, who live in the power and love of the Holy Ghost. You know that God who loves us dwells in light. God's love is the great commandment; the Cross of Christ is nothing but the evidence of God's love, and that the firstfruit of the Holy Spirit is love.

The whole of John's Gospel means love. But all of the following attitudes and actions are fruit of the carnal spirit. When men give way to their tempers and pride and envying and divisions; when you hear people saying sharp things about others; when a man cannot open out his whole heart to a brother who has done him wrong, and forgive him; when a woman can speak about her neighbor with contempt as "that wretched thing," or say to another, "Oh, how I dislike that woman!" Every touch of unlovingness is nothing but the flesh. The word carnal is a form of the Latin word for flesh, and all unlovingness is nothing but the fruit or work of the flesh. The flesh is selfish and proud and unloving; therefore every sin against love is nothing but a proof that the man is carnal.

You say, "I have tried to conquer it, but I cannot." That is what I want to impress upon you. Do not try, while you are in the carnal state, to bear spiritual fruit. You must have the Holy Spirit in order to love, then the carnal will be conquered. He will give you the spirit to walk in love.

And there are many other signs of carnality. Take worldliness, which somebody says has "honeycombed the church"; take the love of money; take the pursuit of business, making people sacrifice everything to the increase of riches; take so much of our life, the seeking after luxury and pleasure and position. What is all that but the flesh? It gratifies the flesh; it is exactly what the world thinks desirable and delights in. If you live like the world, it is a proof that the spirit of the world that is in the flesh is in you. The carnal state is proved by the power of sin.

Someone asked me recently, "How about the want of love of prayer?" He wanted to know how the art of loving fellowship with God could be attained. I said, "My brother, that cannot be attained in any way until you discover that it must come outside of the carnal state. The flesh cannot delight in God; that is your difficulty. You must not say or write down a resolution in your journal that 'I will pray more.' You cannot force it. But let the axe come to the root of the tree; cut down the carnal mind.

"How can you cut it down? You cannot, but let the Holy Spirit of God come with the condemnation of sin and the Cross of Christ, and give over the flesh to the death, and the Spirit of God will come in. And then you will learn to love prayer and love God and love your neighbor and you will be possessed of humility and spiritual-mindedness and heavenly-mindedness." The carnal state is the root of every sin.

I come to the next point. If we want to know this carnal state thoroughly, we must take very special notice that the carnal state can coexist with great spiritual gifts. Remember, there is a great difference between spiritual gifts and spiritual graces, and that is what many people do not understand. Among the Corinthians, for instance, there were very wonderful spiritual gifts. In the first chapter, Paul says, "I thank my God . . . that you are enriched in all utterance and in all knowledge." That was something wonderful to praise God for. And in the Second Epistle he says in effect, "You do not come behind in any gift; see that you have the gift of liberality also." And in the 12th chapter, he speaks about the gifts of prophecy, and of faith that could remove mountains, and of knowledge as things that they were ardently seeking for. But he tells them these will not profit them unless they have love. They delighted in the gifts and did not care for the graces. But Paul shows them a more excellent way--to learn to love and to be humble. Love is the greatest thing of all, for love is Godlike above everything.

It is a very solemn thing for us to remember that a man may be gifted with prophecy, or he may be a faithful and successful worker . . . among the poor and needy. Yet by the sharpness of his judgment and his pride . . . he may give proof that spiritual graces are too often absent. Oh, take care that Satan does not deceive one of us with the thought "I am Spirit-filled because I work for God, and God blesses me, and others look up to me, and I am the means of helping others."

Beloved fellow Christians, that a carnal person may have spiritual gifts is an unspeakably solemn thought. This truth must bring the most earnest and successful man to his knees before God. Let him there ask, "Am I, after all that God's Spirit works in me as a matter of gift, possibly giving way to the flesh, in a lack of humility, or love, or purity, or holiness?" God search us and try us, for His name's sake.

[Finney's fourth mark of the carnal state can be found on page 188 of Great Holiness Classics, volume 4. Finney continues to distinguish between carnal and spiritual, finally giving three steps that must be taken to move from carnal to spiritual. One, "a man must have some sight of the spiritual life and some faith in it." Two, "a person should be really convicted of carnality." Three, "believe that we can pass from the carnal to the spiritual condition in one moment of time."]

I would like tonight to draw a line straight through the center of this hall and ask all of you who believe and confess that God has given you His Holy Spirit . . . to take your place at the righthand side. Then I would ask all of you who have felt tonight that you are still carnal to come to the left side. I want you to pray, "O God, I must confess that my Christian life is for the most part carnal, under the power of the flesh." Then I would plead with you and tell you that you cannot save yourselves from the flesh or get rid of it. But that if you come and accept the Father's promised gift of the Holy Spirit tonight, Christ can lift you over into the new life.

You belong to Christ, and He belongs to you, but what you need is just to cast yourselves upon Him, and He will reveal the power of His crucifixion in you. He will give you victory over the flesh. Cast yourselves, with the confession of sin and with utter helplessness, at the feet of the Lamb of God. He can give you deliverance.
That brings me to my last thought. The first was a man must see the spiritual life. The second is a man must be convicted of and confess his carnal state. The third is a man must see that it is but one step from the carnal life to the Spirit-filled life. Lastly, he must take the decisive step in the faith that Christ is able to keep him.

Yes, it is not a mere view. It is more than a consecration in any sense of its being in our power. It is not a surrender by the strength of our will. No. These are elements that may be present, but the great thing is that we must look to Christ to keep us tomorrow, and next day, and always. We must get the life of God within us. We want a life that will stand against any temptation, a life that will last not only till another Keswick convention, but till death. We want, by the grace of God, to experience all that the almighty indwelling and saving power of Christ can do.

Oh, God is waiting, Christ is waiting, the Holy Spirit is waiting. Do you not see what has been wrong, and why it is you have been wandering in the wilderness? Do you not see the good land, the land of promise, in which God is going to keep and bless you? Oh, remember the story of Caleb and Joshua and the spies. Ten men said in effect: We never can conquer those people. Two said: We are able, for God has promised. Step out tonight upon the promises of God. Listen to God's Word: "The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death" (Romans 8:2 [cf. AV]). Take a word like that and claim that God shall do for you through His Holy Spirit what He has offered you.

Come tonight, and never mind though there be no new experience, and no feeling, and no excitement, and no light, but only apparent darkness. Come and stand upon the Word of God, the everlasting God. God promises, as Father, His Holy Spirit to every hungering child. Will He then not give Him to you? How shall He not give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him? How could He not do it? Brethren, as truly as Christ was given for you on Calvary, and you have believed in the blood, so truly the Holy Spirit has been given for you and me. Open your hearts and be "filled with the Spirit." Come and trust the blood of Christ for the cleansing. Confess the carnality of every sin, and cast it into the fountain of the blood. Then believe in the living Christ to bless you with the blessing of His Spirit.

Excerpted from The 19th-Century Holiness Movement, ed. Melvin Dieter, volume 4 in Great Holiness Classics (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 1998), 183-94.

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