How do we think? We become conscious of the existence of our mental faculties only by observing their activities. We cannot see our thinking apparatus, or feel it with our hands. Yet we have no doubt that the power to think exists within us, because we can make our own plans within ourselves, we can remember the past, and we can imagine the future.
In a similar manner, the follower of Christ learns to recognise the inward workings of his own heart, particularly in regard to spiritual matters. Thus, Simon Peter, expressing what he and others felt, said to the Lord Jesus, "We believe and are sure that Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God" (John 6:69). And when some time afterwards the Lord said to the same disciple, "Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me?" Peter looked within himself before he replied, "Yea, Lord; Thou knowest that I love Thee" (John 21:16).
This heart-searching exercise under the direct questioning of our Lord was a useful lesson for the apostle; but it is frequently the case that the experiences of a sincere and earnest believer who examines himself are of a confusing and distressing character and plunge him into depths of doubt and despair. This unhappy state is usually the result of imperfectly heeding or consulting the teaching of scripture on the subject. God understands our thoughts afar off (Ps. 139:2), and He has revealed in scripture all that it is necessary for us to know with regard to the operation of our inner being.
For instance, the believer is alarmed to find a considerable inconsistency between his desires and his practice. What he wishes to do, he fails to accomplish. When the Lord says, Seek My face, his heart says to Him, Thy face, O Lord, will I seek (Ps. 27:8); but, alas, he forgets "to prepare his heart to seek after God" as Jehoshaphat did (2 Chron. 22:9), and in consequence he falls into slackness and disobedience.
Again, it may be that the young believer resolves to pray regularly and fervently, but his prayers are either hurried or even omitted altogether. He plans to read the Bible systematically, but sometimes even a week may pass without so much as a verse. For these lapses he is genuinely grieved and penitent, and repeatedly determines to reform himself, but without success.
How is this strange antagonism between purpose and accomplishment to be explained? Why is he not more successful in his struggles after what is good? The believer is often in this matter as puzzled about himself as blind Isaac was when he felt the hairy hands of Esau but heard the voice of Jacob. The patriarch did not wait to discover the cause of the disagreement, but hastily gave the blessing of the first-born to his younger son. The believer need not remain ignorant of the reason why, when his voice says, "I go, sir," his feet should remain stationary or proceed in another direction (Matt. 21:28-30). Scripture affords a plain explanation of the anomaly.
Isaac was misled as to the identity of his two sons, totally different from one another though they were; and the believer is often confused because he does not distinguish between the two opposite natures he possesses. The two sons of Isaac were contrasts to each other, and we read that God loved Jacob but hated Esau (Mal. 1:2, 3). So also it is clear that the two natures of the believer are opposed to each other. The old loves sin and self and resists the will of God; while the new is of God and loves Him and His will. Hence we read, on the one hand, "the carnal mind is enmity against God; it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be" (Rom. 8:7), and on the other hand, "whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him; and he cannot sin because he is born of God" (1 John 3:9).
We find therefore that there are two distinct elements in the believer; there is in him what is of God, and also what is of himself. The Lord Jesus taught this truth to Nicodemus. He said to him, "That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit" (John 3:6.) Without being born anew, no one can enter the kingdom of God, for the flesh, the old nature, is opposed to it, and cannot produce the things acceptable to God.
Even in the natural world, men do not gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles. Trees and herbs bring forth their fruit after their own kind, as they were created to do (Gen. 1:11, 12). Recognizing this law, the Lord said, "Every tree is known by its fruit," and again, "A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit" (Matt. 7:18; Matt. 12:33). In like manner, the natural heart is corrupt and cannot bring forth good fruit, but only evil thoughts which lead to evil deeds (Mark 7:21). But God gives to the believer a new disposition entirely, which loves Him and the things which please Him.
A believer therefore has within him a double nature — one, the old, and another, the new; one of self, and the other of God. In the seventh chapter of Romans, we may read the experience of a person who possesses these two natures, but who discovers to his dismay and discomfiture that he is under the power of the evil nature. Towards the close of the chapter, he sums up his discoveries in these words: "I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members" (Rom. 7:23).
Here we have in the words of the apostle an accurate description of the unhappy state of many a believer, to which allusion was made in the earlier part of this letter. In the verse immediately following, the miserable state of such persons is vividly expressed, "O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from this body of death?"
If you will please read carefully the whole chapter, you will observe that the wretchedness and despondency arose because he was not doing what he wished to do, but on the contrary was doing what he hated; he was distressed that he did not do the good he wanted to do, but did the evil that he did not wish to do.
Is there for the believer no deliverance from this terrible bondage? The apostle says, "I thank God, through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Rom. 7:25). In self there is no power to overcome self. The power to do so comes from the Lord Jesus who bestows it upon those who look to Him in faith.
Our space is exhausted, but not the subject. On another occasion (D.V.), it may be resumed.