Quotables: Warfield On The Joke of The Unmodified Carnal Nature


Every now and then I like posting something incisive that was written in the past because it speaks so well into the present. The sweet thing about this is that these guys, who are often waved away today, have dealt with a lot of the same issues while remaining simultaneously (by the modern mind) ignored. This one comes from the Warfield.

If we wish to observe to what lengths the notion may be carried, that the “old man” in us is unaffected by the intruding Spirit, we have only to turn to Mark Robert C. McQuilkin’s somewhat incoherent tract on “God’s Way of Victory over Sin.”

This tract has for its professed object the inculcation of what it expresses in its subordinate title in the words: “If it isn’t easy, it isn’t good.” That is to say, its primary purpose is to show that it is easy, not hard, to be “good,” and that it is therefore wrong to say that “it’s awful hard to be good.” It is easy to be good because it is not we who have to be good but the Holy Spirit is ready to be good for us, and all we have to do is just to let Him.

We have called the tract incoherent because, with this as its primary concern, it yet tells us, as it draws near its close, that “the Spirit-led life is not an easy life,” that, on the contrary, “it is the hardest life in all this sin-cursed world.”

Are we not to apply to the Spirit-led life, then, the maxim, “If it isn’t easy, it isn’t good”? The specialty of this tract, however — and the reason we advert to it here — is the crudity with which, after a fashion more familiar to us among “the Brethren,” it divides the Christian man into two ineradicably antagonistic “natures,” the “fallen nature” and the “new nature.”

It is not only hard for a fallen man to be good, we are told, but impossible. This is not altered by his “new birth.” The “new birth” does not change his “fallen nature.” It only puts into him, by its side, a “new nature.” Henceforth he has two natures in him, one of which can only sin, and the other of which cannot sin. The man himself — whatever the man himself, apart from his two natures, may be; he is apparently conceived as bare will — sits up between these two natures and turns over the lever as he lists, to give the one nature or the other momentary control.

The two natures, we are told, have absolutely no effect on one another. “The carnal nature in the Christian is utterly evil, and is never mixed with any good.” “The new nature has no effect whatever upon the carnal nature. It is utterly distinct from it and cannot mingle with it, any more than God can have sin in His nature.” It does not “change the character of the evil that the carnal nature is capable of.”

Apparently the carnal nature of man is never in any way changed or modified; from all that appears it remains in him forever and forever just badness and unalloyed badness. At least nothing is said to relieve that situation. Salvation does not consist in its eradication. It consists in the dominance in the life of “the new nature” existing by its side.

This “new nature” is identified, now, with the indwelling Spirit. It is sometimes spoken of, no doubt, as “the God-begotten nature”; but it is more frequently and properly treated as just the indwelling Spirit Himself, and it is because it is the indwelling Spirit Himself that it cannot sin. “It is impossible for the Spirit of God to be anything but good and well-pleasing to God.” “The sinless and invincible Spirit of God has taken up His dwelling in us,” we read further, “and has made it possible for us to permit Him to win the victories over the temptations that assail.”

It is disappointing to learn from this statement that when “the invincible Spirit of God” takes up His dwelling in us, all that He does is “to make it possible for us to permit Him” (an odd clause that!) to win victories for us. He is not “in full control” of us, it seems. It would indeed be truer to say, that He is only at our disposal. Everything is after all in our own control. “A Christian possessed of the indwelling Spirit of God,” we read with sad eyes, “may choose to walk after the flesh.” That is no doubt because he is possessed of rather than by the Spirit of God.

At any rate it belongs ineradicably to “the Christian” to turn on the old carnal nature, or the new Spiritual nature, as he may choose, and let it act for him. Who this “Christian” is who possesses this power it is a little puzzling to make out. He cannot be the old carnal nature, for that old carnal nature cannot do anything good- and presumably, therefore, would never turn on the Spirit in control. He cannot be the new Spiritual nature, for this new Spiritual nature cannot do anything evil — and this “Christian” “may choose to walk after the flesh.”

Is he possibly some third nature? We hope not, because two absolutely antagonistic and noncommunicating natures seem enough to be in one man.

Benjamin B. Warfield. PERFECTIONISM VOLUME 2 (Volume VIII).

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