Volume 26 New Series July 1965 Number 3
To begin with, the fact ought to be made fully plain that when the Christian inaccurately speaks of "the Fall" he means, or should mean, what the Apostle Paul is referring to in Rom.5:12. It is equally necessary to point out that this is nowhere so described in Scripture.
The verb piptO, fall, occurs seldom in the Epistles; in fact, only in Rom.11:11, 22; 14:4; 1.Cor.10:8, 12; 14:25; Heb.3:17; 4:11; 11:30; James 5:12. The noun ptOsis, fall is found only in Matt.7:27; Luke 2:34. There is no room in any of these for the ordinary doctrine of the churches about “the Fall." The other words rendered fall in the A.V. ought not to be; and they are not relevant to that doctrine anyhow. We must therefore dismiss the term as unscriptural. What is apparently meant by it will be discussed presently.
Confusion about this and related matters is widespread and far-reaching. For instance, the Editor of "Things to Come" in reply to a question (Vol. 3, 1897, p. 45) replied; "The Faith and Love of a child of God cannot be the product of the old nature, i.e. of the flesh, because it is 'enmity against God.'" I make no apology for going back so many years, for the idea here set out is the germ of much present-day teaching which needs to be dealt with. Here are two distinct errors: nowhere in Scripture is the flesh called "the old nature"—a term which, like "the Fall," is nowhere to be found in it; and what Rom. 8:7 actually says is, literally, "the disposition of the flesh (is) enmity into God" (see our Vol. 23, p. 182). The word disposition, phronEma, means action according to one's inclination. So it is not the flesh itself, but action according to the inclination of the flesh, that is "enmity into God," that is, enmity that pervades our attitude towards God. All this belongs to the present state of things, while flesh is opposed to spirit. It will have no place, for instance, in the New Covenant. Moreover, it has little place outside Paul's Epistles; for the only coincidences of flesh and spirit outside them are Matt. 26:41 with its parallels Mark 14:38, Luke 24:39; John 3:6; 6:63; Acts 2:17; Heb.9:13,14;12:9; 1.Peter 3:18; 4:6; 1.John4:2, 3, none of which are anything like what Paul writes in Rom. 2:28, 29; 7:5, 6; 8:1-13; 1.Cor. 6:16, 17; 2. Cor. 7:1; Gal. 3:3; 4:29; 5:13-25; 6:8; Phil.3:3; Col.2:5. The fundamental principle laid down by the Lord Jesus in John 3:6 is certainly the foundation of Paul's later teaching; but it is Paul who develops it. So also John 6:63. 1. Peter 4:6 is not incompatible with Paul's teaching, but throws no light on it. How different is the New Covenant, in which the antagonism between flesh and spirit is conspicuously absent. The reference to the house of Israel and the house of Judah, and to their comprehension and their hearts, implies Israel according to flesh; what follows in Heb.8:10-12 imples what is wholly spiritual. To force Rom. 8:1-13 into this would be to make nonsense of both. These things taken together should help us to appreciate all the better the special and distinctive character of Paul's Evangel; and (what we tend to overlook) that of the New Covenant also The assertion of the Lord Jesus in John 3:6 is made by this system to suggest that what is of spirit is what is called "the new nature," opposite in its origin to the "old nature." But why introduce such a complication? Is not what Scripture says about flesh and spirit sufficient in and by itself? Why try to "improve," what is perfect in itself by coining novel terms of this sort?
The assertion of the Lord Jesus in John 3:6 is made by this system to suggest that what is called "the new nature," opposite in its origin to the "old nature." But why introduce such a complication? Is not what Scripture says about flesh and spirit sufficient in and by itself? Why try to "improve" what is perfect in itself by coining novel terms of this sort?
In "Things to Come," Vol. 11 (1905) Dr. Bullinger began a series of papers entitled "The Two Natures in the Child God." This may seem a long way to go back, but in dealing with error we should always try to go back to the roots. He first lists seven terms which, he asserted, are "the names given to the old nature in Scripture." These, he declared, are the Flesh, the Natural Man, the Old Man, the Outward Man, the Heart, the Carnal Mind and Sin. To be fair, much of what he wrote under those headings, taken by itself, was sound and good; but the mixing of these different ideas, the disregard of distinctions carefully registered in Scripture itself, and the trading on traditional mistranslations of Scripture, were unsound and dangerous. This danger is not so much in what Dr. Bullinger himself wrote as in what is implied (though avoided by him) and made explicit by other writers. He, a godly man, avoided such pitfalls; but others were neither so cautious nor so scrupulous.
Even so, he starts his consideration of "the Flesh" with a garbled reference to Romans 8:8: "Concerning this Flesh, we are told. It 'cannot please God.'" Yet what Paul says is quite different: "Yet those who are in flesh are not able to please God. Yet you are not in flesh but in spirit, if so be that God’s spirit is homing in you." Those to whom Paul wrote were flesh. and blood people, just as we are; but they were not IN flesh, but in spirit; that is to say, they were not controlled by what is connected with flesh, but through the fact that God's Spirit was making a home in them. His Spirit controlled them.
Then Dr. Bullinger says of "this Flesh" that it "profiteth nothing" (John 6:63). Yet the Lord's actual statement was "The spirit is that which is vivifying. The flesh is benefiting nothing. The declarations which I have talked to you, spirit and life is." The Greek has each of these in the singular, as I have indicated, to emphasize the fact that "the declarations" are one unit, not a set of different things. The words "is benefiting nothing" must be understood in its context. Nothing is said here about whether the flesh is benefiting in other matters, but in vivifying, in life.
Lastly, he says of "the Flesh": "There is in it 'no good thing' (Rom.7:18)". Yet what Paul says is: "For I have perceived that good is not homing in me (that is, in the flesh of me)."
God's Word is powerful enough to give out some light in spite of the extinguishing effect of such perversions as these and Dr. Bullinger did have some light beyond that of those around him; and he gave out what he had in terms that ought to be highly praised. He saw plainly, and said so, that the great bulk of what goes by the name of "public worship" is vanity. "True worship must be wholly that of the spirit." "It is only as saved ones that we can truly worship." "Religion has to do with the flesh. Christianity has to do with Christ." And there is no need to drag into these truths the concepts of "the old nature" or "the new nature." They merely cloud the issues.
I hope I may be pardoned if I bring in here a personal matter which is very much to the point. The evening before the foregoing was drafted, I was reading a review of the authorized biography, then just published, of the great composer Ralph Vaughan Williams. Being by nature musical, I have always admired the beauty and what appeared to me the truly Christian atmosphere of many of his compositions. Imagine my horror on reading that all this was only an appearance of faith. In the words of the reviewer: "Like many sons of the mid-Victorian rectory, Vaughan Williams inherited the high and strenuous ethical ideals of his family, but not their religious faith. . . Indeed members of another generation or national tradition may well have difficulty in understanding the extraordinary fascination exercised over him by such things as carols, the language of the Authorised Version of the Bible and the whole paraphernalia of Christian imagery—the shadows, in fact, of the substance which he had rejected."
To me, this was a salutary shock, bringing home as it did, what I had long known but never appreciated so vividly, that those who are in flesh cannot please God.
Though his statements quoted above were faulty in their inaccuracy, Dr. Bullinger had firmly grasped a great truth, and we ought to honour him on that account. All of us are in danger of being led astray by the idea that things of the soul such as music, the activities of the mind and feelings, can in themselves be spiritual in character. They are not. Only the Holy Spirit of God can bring life and light to our spirits. They come to us through our senses to our minds: but they appeal not to them, but through them to our spirits.
Not till 1932 was any real advance made in clearing up these faults, so far as I am aware. Then, in a paper entitled "Human Nature" (Unsearchable Riches, Vol. 23, p. 243), Mr. A. E. Knoch put the whole matter on to a sound basis at last. He began with some remarks which are so important as to call for transcription here:
"In God's Word human nature is good. In evangelical theology it is bad, very bad. This is one of those terms which even greatly enlightened teachers of the Bible have altered utterly from its scriptural significance, so that 'natural' has become a synonym for sinful. Subtly and subconsciously this seriously affects their expositions of the Bible and has a very strong tendency to turn the path of the saints into the direction of asceticism. The extreme result in some of the most earnest souls is an unnatural life, rather than a supernatural one."
In fact, the whole paper is so important that it deserves to be set out in full. Far greater credit is due to Mr. Knoch than he has ever received for it.
He points out that there is widespread confusion between two Greek words: psuchikos, soulish, and phusikos, natural. The former gives us our word psychology, the latter, physical and physics. The former occurs in 1. Cor.2:14; 15:44-46; James 3:15; Jude 19; and Mr. Knoch rightly says: "In the first two passages the reader beholds four of the particularly unfortunate mistranslations in the Authorized Version. It is difficult to conceive of the confusion they have created and still cause among humble and hungry hearts, desirous of pleasing God. They are a snare in their path, a stone of stumbling to their feet. Here natural is set against spiritual, and, as a consequence, the spirituality of many is unnatural, strained and artificial. . . . There is no reference whatever to human nature in these texts. . . . We are distinctly told that sensuality is beside nature (Rom. 1:26)." Even in the last two passages, the A.V. renders psuchikos by sensual, indicating an awareness that something is wrong in the rendering natural.
The true word for natural, phusikos, occurs only in Rom 1:26, 27; 2. Peter 2:12, and phusikOs, naturally, in Jude 10 The other word, phusis, nature, is found fourteen times, in Rom 1:26; 2:14, 27; 11:21, 24; 1. Cor. 2:14; Gal. 2:15: 4:8; Eph. 2:3; James 3:7; 2. Peter 1:4. No unprejudiced person can study these carefully and deduce from them that human nature is evil or that what is natural is sinful. What is natural is ideal; it is abandoning the natural that is bad. Natural is in line with law and with conscience. In 1. Cor. 2:14 " Paul actually appeals to the teaching of nature to support divine revelation."
A. E. Knoch's excellent paper has been quoted in the fore-going because I know no way to improve on it, as in this field it appears to be the last word. For, as he points out, every passage from the Greek Scriptures adduced to teach the badness of human nature depends in some way on misunderstanding of what the Greek says. He has exploded, once and for all, the heresy that Adam's nature fell and that "we are partakers of his fallen nature."
Someone, at this point, is bound to ask, "But what about Rom. 5:12?"
If people were content to read Scripture and not read into it things that the writers of Scripture chose to leave out, such questions, most errors and even most of the false translations that feed them, would disappear. This verse is perfectly clear, and it is full of meaning; but it says nothing about anybody's fall or nature. Literally translated, it reads: "Therefore, even as through one man the sin entered into the world, and through the sin the death, and thus the death came through into all mankind, on which all sinned."
Owing to English idiom the essential fact is concealed from the ordinary reader that Paul is not here discussing sin and death as abstract ideas, but the sin and the death; that is, some particular sin and some particular death. With the aid of a concordance, a search backwards through Romans soon clears the matter up. In Rom. 4:8 there is no article, nevertheless the quotation is too general to help us; but Rom.3:9 and 20 do—the sin is the kind of sin of which full knowledge is through law and under which Paul previously charges Jews as well as Greeks to be, that is, the terrible depths of sin described in Rom.1:18 to 3:20. That is the sin that entered the world through one man, and through that sin, the death. Again, what death? Once before, in Rom.1:32, do we find death without the article the. Here, those who commit the same terrible depths of sin are said to be worthy of death. It is the death that follows on human sin. The next reference to the death throws a wonderful gleam of heavenly light on the dark recital of human sin: "being enemies, we were conciliated to God through the death of His Son." The death which came through the sin of one man also reached as far as the death of God's Son.
Incidental to our case here, but highly important and significant in itself, is the revelation now apparent in this verse that human death is what is being talked about. Geological research shows that death was on this earth long before there were any human beings to die. So now, careful attention to Paul's exact wording does away with one of the stock cavils of the unbelievers.
Returning now to our main subject, we have got down to the root fact that it is not the flesh, the "old nature," "the natural man," or any of the entities listed by Dr. Bullinger, let alone "the Fall," that is the cause of our troubles, our sins and our fallings aside; but the sin of one man which brought death on all mankind, in consequence of which mortality all sinned. Death for us causes sin. Sin causes death for us. That mortality which eventuates in death for all mankind causes all mankind to sin. It is a vicious circle, from which the only escape is the death of God's Son and all that His death means and does for each one of us. This discovery is so great, so far-reaching, that it is not too much to say that it marked a turning point in our understanding of the Scriptures; and so far as I can discover the credit for it belongs to Mr. Knoch alone.
Dr. Bullinger tells us: "Now these two natures are so opposite in their origin, nature and character, that they each have several names; and each name reveals some fresh trait and some additional truth." But why not accept each idea as a thing in itself and keep it separate from the others, as Paul did? We are told that "the flesh" is "the old nature" and that "the spirit" is "the new nature"; but it is impossible to discuss this rationally, because Scripture tells us nothing at all about either "nature." This is like leaving a motor car in neutral with the engine running: no progress is made and nothing is generated except heat in the engine and noxious fumes and gases in the exhaust. However, one might perhaps fairly ask what happens to one's flesh when the "old nature" is changed to the "new nature"? Such a question is not to be commended for it is only playing with words, and all it can do is underline the harmfulness of injecting unscriptural expressions into our studies of Scripture.
Dr. Bullinger's second name is "the natural man"; against which he sets theia phusis (2. Peter 1:4); "through these You may be becoming participants of divine nature." This looks very neat and convincing—until one realizes, as explained above, that natural here is a grave mistranslation of soulish. Then the apparent parallel vanishes.
Third comes "the old man" (Eph. 4:22) and "the new man" (Eph. 4:24; Col.3:10). The C.V. rendering humanity instead of man is better. We are "to be putting off. . . the old humanity." If, according to Dr. Bullinger, "the old man" is “the old nature," another name of which is "the flesh," why does Paul speak of putting it off? Does he mean that we are required to get rid of our flesh and become disembodied spirits? If so, how comes it that in His resurrection the Lord Jesus retained flesh and bones (Luke 24:39)? Plainly, in this identification Dr. Bullinger was postulating an impossibility and indulging in uncharacteristically shallow thinking.
His fourth pair is "the outward man" (2. Cor. 4:16) and "the inward man" (Rom. 7:22; 2.Cor. 4:16; Eph. 3:16). In this trio, the inner human is gratified as to the law of God; and Paul prays that the Ephesians may be made staunch right into the inner human, so that Christ may dwell in their hearts through the faith which he has taught them. That is how the inner human may experience renewal day by day. The law of God, on the one hand, and the indwelling of the Christ in our hearts through the faith making us staunch, on the other—these eventuate in the experience of renewal of the inner human. The verbs in 2. Cor. 4:16 are both in the Middle Voice, so they convey the idea of something possessed and experienced. Thus we find here the great truth of the paramount importance of both faith and knowledge; and not merely some sort of general acquaintance with the Scriptures, but understanding of them as the law of God. We do not find here any opposition of "two natures." Why should we?
Fifth comes the "heart" and the "mind," in Greek kardia and nous respectively. Although Dr. Bullinger implies a contrast between them and says that "the mind" denotes "the new nature" and uses Matt. 15:19 to show the wickedness of what he calls "the natural heart"; he does not do more than suggest a contrast. Perhaps if he had not been striving to work out seven pairs of contrasts, he might have avoided this erroneous suggestion altogether. For, as a matter of fact, the two words come together only twice, in Eph. 4:17, 18 and Phil. 4:7, and in both are associated rather than contrasted.
His sixth pair is "the carnal mind " and "Christ's spirit," the references given being Rom. 8:7 and Rom. 8:9. The first is erroneous in both expressions; for the Greek reads to phronEma tEs sarkos, the disposition of the flesh. The word sarkikos, fleshly or carnal, is never used in this way. Similarly, he makes out that Christ's spirit means the so-called "new nature." No proof is offered.
The seventh supposed pair consists of "sin" and pneuma theou, God's spirit, again identified with the "old nature" and the “new nature."
The tragedy of this is that much of what Dr. Bullinger wrote about all this is good and sound; and it is most regrettable that he should have gone so far to spoil it all by trying to force it into the mould of his quite unscriptural theories about "the old nature" and."the new nature." Blame is, however, out of place; for a study of the earlier issues of "Things to Come" shows that he was not deliberately mishandling God's Word but was simply the victim of traditional false doctrine. He quotes the ninth Article of the Anglican Church, some 300 years old, which is full of unsound expressions plainly derived from even older errors of man and perversions of Scripture. The greatest evil of the whole business is that so much of the intention of these men was good and even sound. The fault lies with what was mixed into it, so that God's Word was almost smothered by man's words. In consequence, many fine things are spoilt. Instead of receiving quietly the life-giving Word the reader has to be constantly on the watch for error, lest he absorb both food and poison at the same time.
Some years before, Dr. Bullinger had taken great exception to some statements in a book by the Rev. Andrew Murray. Here is one: "The word flesh points to human nature in the weakness which is the mark of its fallen state," the reference being to Heb.5:7, "in the days of His flesh." Now, in the face of what Dr. Bullinger himself wrote, as referred to above, it can hardly be argued that he was entitled to pillory anyone else in this matter, though, as we have seen, the statement was very faulty. Yet one can readily understand what Murray meant, namely, the word "flesh" points to the weakness which is the mark of its state of mortality. There can be no doubt that when the Word became flesh He became liable to death, otherwise He could not have died on the cross.
Again, Murray wrote: "In temptation, Jesus Himself was exercised to discern between good and evil. In the wilderness and in the garden He had to watch and pray lest the lawful desire of His human nature might lead to sin. Thus He was perfected, and this is Christian perfection." Yet, how could "the lawful desire of His human nature" lead to sin, if it were indeed lawful? If for "human nature" we read "mortal flesh," there is nothing else in this inconsistent with Heb. 5:7-9. Murray's inaccuracy of thought laid him open to censure.
The third question, about the Lord Jesus, is a worse matter: "He was in danger just as we are of using the body for His own service and pleasure, a means of gratifying self; but He never did this." The words "in danger" are most objectionable. Why not have written, simply, "tempted"? To suggest that He was ever in danger of succoming to temptation is to go far beyond what is written. This was the kind of suggestion to which Bullinger was so right in objecting. The next is questionable in the same way as the first two were: "He showed us that there is. . . no way of deliverance from fallen nature but by dying to it."
Again: "In His life of self-denial and humility of obedience and death, He showed us that there is no way to God but that of sacrifice, resisting the world and self unto death; and no way of deliverance from fallen nature but by dying to it." But, according to Paul, some will not die. So they will be changed, yet undelivered from their supposed "fallen nature"? That sort of problem is the sort of thing that arises when people insist on their own unscriptural phraseology. As already explained, our trouble is mortality, not a fallen nature. The way of deliverance from mortality is vivification; not death, which is the end product of mortality. The quotation appears to teach, also, that Christ's sacrifice was the only way to God for Him. Yet, surely, Heb. 9: 26; 10:12 indicate that His sacrifice was for sin and sins. Why abandon this truth?
Next, we are told: "As nothing but the Eternal Spirit could have come and redeemed fallen nature as Christ took it upon Him. ." But did Christ take a "fallen nature" upon Him?
Where does Scripture say this? Elsewhere Murray says:
“Friends, it is a solemn thing to be a Christian. You know that we talk in our prayers about drawing nigh to God. But do you know, the Lord Jesus could not really draw nigh to God in heaven without dying and going through Calvary and the grave? And do you expect easily and comfortably to draw nigh to God? It is a delusion—an impossibility." Bullinger objected in these words: "The Good Shepherd gave His life for the sheep and had He not died for them, no union with Him was possible, nor could anyone of them have ever been with Him in His Father's Home. But to say that He Himself—the Beloved Son of God—could not really 'draw nigh to God' in Heaven without dying, is teaching nowhere found in Scripture." This is undoubtedly sound; but it does not go far enough, for the second quotation declares beyond dispute that each one of us has himself to do what the Lord Jesus did. Here is the old "religion of works" in a new dress!
As always, salvation by works, in any form whatever, demands acceptance of ideas utterly foreign to Scripture. Where does Scripture speak of the Spirit overcoming fallen nature or, for that matter, overcoming nature at all; or redeeming it? Here Murray appears to be seeking to distinguish between what Christ did Himself and what "the Eternal Spirit" (another unscriptural expression!) did in Him. Another mystical speculation set out in substitution for the words of Scripture accepted in their plainest sense is his insistence that "everything in nature is under the curse."
Perhaps the worst in practise of all, because it goes deepest, is this last quotation: "In the Incarnation the union between divine and the human nature was only begun: it had to be perfected by Christ, in His human will, yielding Himself to God’s will even unto the death." Would that everyone who ever feels tempted to indulge in theological speculations would copy out in large letters and place it on his desk as an awful warning against such folly! It is well-nigh impossible to imagine anything further from the truth! How Murray sought to prove this thesis, if he ever did, is veiled from me, as I have been unable to procure the book, " The Holiest of All," from which Bullinger made the extracts. He asked: "How can Mr. Murray tell that Christ's nature was 'sinless' (inherently), and yet teach that it had to be 'denied'? How could Christ surrender 'accursed,' that which was inherently sinless? How can Christ be said to 'resist self. . . unto death,' if that self were holy? Where did the resistance come in ?" Of the nature of the Lord Jesus, Murray had written: "He denied it, He died to it." Paul's teaching, however, was somewhat different; according to him Christ died for the sake of the irreverent (Rom. 5:6), for our sakes (5:8), as to the sin (6:10), for the sake of your brother (14:15) and because of him (1. Cor. 8:11), for sins (15:3), for the sake of all (2. Cor. 5:14, 15), for us (1.Thess. 5:10) and (Rom. 14:9) died and lives that of both dead and living He should be Lord.
Apparently Murray was seeking to bring Christians "higher holiness"; but I do not see how this term can have any meaning. A person hallowed to God is holy. How can he become more hallowed, or his hallowing "higher"? Certainly Jude 20 speaks of the most holy faith, thus giving the faith superlative standing; but this is unique. Others speak of "deepening spiritual life"; but, again, it is questionable whether this form of words has any relation to experience. Certainly it has none to Scripture. By making the life more spiritual? But, surely, what is spiritual is, simply, spiritual; "more" adds nothing. It were far better and more practical if Murray had urged keener interest in the things of God, deeper study of His Word, greater desire to cut out of our lives the traditions of men, more earnest love for Him, higher dedication to truth, a sincere spirit of enquiry instead of easy acceptance of whatever seems convenient. These are the rock-bottom requirements for growth to maturity—the actual facts of spiritual life. These are objective, whereas preoccupation with one's own holiness, one's own life, are subjective and essentially introspective. To think more of God and less of self—that is the way, the only way, to spiritual progress; to look outwards to Him and His, not inwards to "me" and "my." Feelings are of the soul; and everything that tends to lead us to dwell on them is soulish, not spiritual. Talking of "deepening the spiritual life" or "higher holiness" is putting the cart before the horse, "getting our priorities wrong." Deeper understanding of God's Word will do for us all the other deepening.
R. B. W.