6th November 2020
“The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Matthew 26:41
Why is flesh so weak? Because it is fallen, because it is sinful, because it has an alliance with the temptation which is presented to it. It is weak against temptation for the same reason that a man who loves strong drink is weak against the offered dram. If we had no inward lusting after evil, no pride, no rebelliousness, no fallen nature, no carnal mind, no vile affections, nothing in us earthly, sensual, or devilish, need we fear temptation? No; for then we should be proof against it; it would be like dipping a match in water. Here our weakness lies. If we could always resist we should conquer, but resist we cannot, except by the special power of God. This is a lesson we all need to learn. The weakness of the flesh manifests itself continually in compliance, in nonresistance, in giving way, in yielding, often almost without a struggle, nay, sometimes in acting a worse and more wicked part still. How striking are the words of Hart!
“That mariner’s mad part I played
Who sees, yet strikes the shelf.”
Is there any one that knows and fears God who can say he has never played that mad part; never seen the rock ahead, and yet run upon it; never mourned, sighed, cried, groaned and repented, and yet been again overcome; never seen the evil of the snare, never felt the wire round his neck, and yet been entangled, I was going to say strangled? It is through these things that we learn the weakness of the flesh; weak to believe, weak to hope, weak to love, weak to fight, weak to resist, weak to overcome, weak to watch, weak to pray, weak to stand, weak to everything good; strong to everything evil. The flesh indeed is weak. What are all resolutions, all promises, all desires, all endeavours, all strugglings, all strivings, except the soul is held up by the mighty power of God?
And yet “the spirit is willing.” Here the child of God is distinguished from those who are given up as a prey to temptation. He has a willing spirit, which they have not. But how is the spirit willing? It is made “willing in the day of God’s power.” It is a new spirit, a free spirit, a holy spirit, a gracious spirit, and therefore a willing spirit. But what is it willing to do? Willing to obey, to watch, to pray, to be conformed to the will of God, to crucify the lusts and affections, to put off the old man and to put on the new. And how does it shew its willingness? By the very struggles it maintains against the flesh; flesh and spirit pulling contrary ways; the spirit all willingness, the flesh all weakness; flesh twining around spirit, spirit struggling under the firm and strong embrace of flesh. Hence the conflict; the spirit willing to read God’s word, to pray and seek God’s face, and pour out the heart before him; the flesh weak, and finding prayer a burden. The spirit willing to make sacrifices, endure persecutions, bear afflictions, carry the cross, suffer with Jesus, resist even unto blood striving against sin; the flesh weak, dragging the spirit down with it, unable to stand a single moment, complying with every suggestion to evil, listening to every insinuation of Satan breathed into the ear, hearkening to the tempter, and almost as bad as he. This then, the willingness of the spirit and the weakness of the flesh, is the reason why there should be watchfulness and prayer. If there were no willing spirit, there would be no need of watchfulness; it would be useless; nor of prayer, for it would not ascend with acceptance into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. If there were nothing but flesh, the believer would be all weakness; possessing spirit, there is in him some willingness, and this God looks at.
J. C. Philpot 1802-1869