When men and women turn round upon the old life of self-will, and assay to walk the pathway of obedience to the Divine Law, it is at first extremely difficult for them to distinguish between the promptings of the flesh and those of the Spirit; so much so that the impulses and desires of the lower nature are frequently mistaken for the admonitions of the higher. This is because the Spirit is as yet weak and knowledge imperfect. The Spirit can only be strengthened and knowledge increased by patient practice in self-control and self-examination.
The life of the Spirit is the antithesis of the life of the flesh, and the following distinctions will serve to help those who are still laboring in the valleys of doubt and indecision, especially if applied categorically to individual experience.
When you wake in the early morning, and you know you ought to rise and commence your daily task, it is the flesh that prompts you to lie a little longer; it is the Spirit that urges you to shake off indulgence and to rise at once. The spiritual man commences by overcoming this, the first temptation to indulgence upon waking, and so begins the day with the strength of discipline. The man of flesh yields to it, and commences his day with the weakness of indulgence.
When you sit down to meals, it is the flesh that prompts you to consider nothing else than gustatory pleasure; it is the Spirit that moves you to question yourself thus:—"Will this that I am eating make my body pure and strong, and fortify it against disease and foul desire?" "At what cost of suffering and degradation to others am I eating this, or drinking that?" "Am I master of my appetite, or is my appetite master of me?"
When clothing yourself, it is the flesh that causes you to consider only how others will admire you, and to array yourself in dress that is unnatural, unhealthy, and immodest, without giving a thought for those who labored to produce them; it is the Spirit that urges you to modesty and thoughtfulness in your attire, and causes you to consider the material well-being of those who labored to produce them.
When speaking of an absent one, it is the flesh that tempts you to conceal his virtues, and to reveal his vices; it is the Spirit that admonishes you to speak of his virtues, and to conceal his vices.
It is the flesh that governs you when you sit smilingly at the table of a friend, and treat him with contempt behind his back. It is the Spirit that leads you when you reprove your friend to his face, and aid him by kind words behind his back.
When conscience is at stake, the flesh says, "Do this little thing; see what you will gain by it, and if you don't do it, somebody else will." The Spirit says, "Act truly, and let the gain perish."
lt is the voice of the flesh that says to you, "Get money first, and then think of somebody else." It is the voice of the Spirit that says, "Think of others first, and let money follow if it will."
lt is the flesh that prompts you to shower gifts on those who already have too much, and who are likely to give you in return, and to withhold your hand from those who are deprived of the bare necessities of life, and who "cannot possibly give you anything in return; it is the Spirit that moves you to be generous to the needy, who can give you nothing back, as well as to be kind to those who reward you.
When night comes, and you flatter yourself for all the good you have said and done during the day, and do not try to see where you have failed and sinned, you are in bondage to the flesh; if you search your heart earnestly, and find out and confess where you have fallen short, and think of what greater good you might have done, you are the servant of the Spirit. The man of flesh ends his day with sinful self-complacency, and retires to rest confirmed in his spiritual blindness. The man of Spirit ends his day with holy self-accusation, and retires to rest more vividly alive to spiritual things.
The flesh flatters; the Spirit reproves.
The flesh blindly gratifies; the Spirit wisely disciplines.
The flesh loves secrecy; the Spirit is open and clear.
The flesh remembers the injury of a friend; the Spirit forgives the bitterest enemy.
The flesh is noisy and rude; the Spirit is silent and gracious.
The flesh is subject to moods; the Spirit is always calm.
The flesh incites to impatience and anger; the Spirit controls with patience and serenity.
The flesh is thoughtless; the Spirit is thoughtful.
The flesh loves to be drunken with pleasure; the Spirit loves the tranquility of virtue.
The flesh seeks popularity; the Spirit seeks to remain unknown.
The flesh clings tenaciously to opinion; the Spirit relinquishes opinion.
The man of flesh dwells constantly upon the faults of others; the man of Spirit dwells constantly upon his own faults.
The man of flesh, not having converted himself to a perfectly pure life, is anxious to convert others to his opinions; the man of Spirit, having converted himself to a perfectly pure life, has no opinions left to which to convert men.
The man of flesh thinks that his duty is the duty of all; the man of Spirit knows that the duty of one is not the duty of another.
Love, meekness, gentleness, self-accusation, forgiveness, patience, compassion, reproof, these are the works of the Spirit; hatred, pride, harshness, accusing others, revenge, anger, cruelty and flattery, these are the works of the flesh.
In every individual there is a mixture of the flesh and the Spirit, and all may know to which master they give the greater service if they will take the trouble to searchingly examine themselves.
More from James Allen
James Allen was a little-known philosophical writer and poet. He is best recognized for his book, As a Man Thinketh. Allen wrote about complex subjects such as faith, destiny, love, patience, and religion but had the unique ability of explaining these subjects clearly and in a way that is easy to understand. He often wrote about cause and effect, sowing and reaping, as well as overcoming sadness, sorrow, and grief. For more information on the life of James Allen, click here.