Therefore, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh.
The word "flesh" may be taken in its physical consideration. There is a debt which every man in a sense does owe unto it. We may be said to be debtors to the flesh, that is, to our bodies, in sundry regards: as to feed them, clothe, and to nourish them. No man ever yet hated his own flesh (Ephesians 5:29). And there are some kind of people in the world which are scandalously debtors to it: as, for example, your misers and muck-worms, which pinch and straighten themselves even where God has enlarged them; live poor, that they may die rich. And so likewise not only your covetous, but your superstitious persons, which needlessly, and out of a conceit of merit, macerate their flesh, and put a piece of religion in abstaining from such kind of meats, which God had created to be received with thanksgiving of them that believe and know the truth, as it is in 1 Timothy 4:3. The denial of the flesh, in this sense, is the withholding of a debt from it which is due unto it. Indeed, as to the pampering and inordinate setting out of our bodies, so we are not debtors unto them. A Christian owes his flesh no such special or extraordinary service as this is. And the reasons hereof is taken from the nature and conditions of the body, considered in itself, which, as it is styled in the verse before, is corruptible and mortal. And then, besides, the great impediments which it does cause and contract to the soul, from the inordinate serving of it, whereby it is made so much the more unfit for the duties and exercises of religion, taken in its physical consideration, so far forth as it does denote the body, or outward man. The second is by taking it in the moral. The flesh, that is sin and corruption: and so it seems principally to be understood here in this place. Christians, they are by no means debtors to the fulfilling of their lusts. First, we are not debtors to the flesh, nor have any cause to do service to that, because we have received no answerable benefit from it. A debt it is upon consideration, and does usually and for the most part imply some benefit received. We never got a farthing by sin, any of us, in all our lives. All that we get by sin is nothing but shame and loss. Therefore it is not we that are debtors to it, but it is it, indeed, rather that is a debtor to us, in all those fair promises which it hath some time made unto us, whilst it has performed none. Secondly, as we are not debtors by receipt, so neither are we debtors by promise. That is another way sometimes of coming into debt. Though a man have nothing which he hath received from another, yet if he hath promised him, and bound himself to him, he becomes a debtor to him notwithstanding. There is no man that is a true believer, and that has given up his name to Christ, who has made any promise to sin for the gratifying of it in any particular. Thirdly, there are too many of us who are, as I may say, aforehand with the flesh, in the days of vanity and un-conversion, therefore not debtors to it. If ever they owed anything to it, they have paid it over and over again, and more than enough (1 Peter 4:3). Fourthly, we are not debtors to the flesh, because the flesh and we are at absolute enmity and opposition one to another. We have killed and crucified the flesh, as many of us as belong to Christ, therefore we are no longer debtors to it. "They that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts" (Galatians 5:24). Now, therefore, we are not to conceive as if we owed anything to it. Why, thus it is now with us in regard of the flesh. It concerns us all we can to spoil it, and to divest it of that which it has, therefore we are not to think that we should owe anything to it. Fifthly, we are absolutely freed and discharged from the exactions of it. It has no part or share in us, nor anything at all to do with us, therefore we are not debtors to it (Romans 6:28). Those who are regenerate and born again they are made free from sin, and so nothing engaged to the services of it. Sixthly and lastly, we are not debtors to the flesh, because the flesh is not a warrantable creditor for any to be indebted unto. Where there is nothing due, there is no man can be said to be a debtor. Now for the flesh, it is a cheater, and an usurper, and an oppressor. The consideration of this point serves to this purpose: First, to discover to us the sad and miserable condition of all such persons as are out of Christ. There is no man so deeply engaged as that man who is in thraldom to his lusts; and he has all the properties of a sad debtor upon him. First, he is a servant to it; this is the property of a debtor; the borrower is a servant to the lender, as Solomon speaks. He that committeth sin is the servant of sin, so says our Saviour. Why, thus now is every carnal and unregenerate person to his lusts; he is a slave and servant to them, and they lead him whither they please. He that is a debtor to one lust, he shall be a slave to many more with it, which will engage him occasionally from it. Thus he who is a debtor to ambition and pride and vain glory in the world, he is a debtor occasionally to flattery and falsehood and sinful correspondences, for the promoting of such ends to himself. He that is a debtor to covetousness, he is a debtor consequently to cozenage and fraud and oppression, and such causes as these for the satisfying of that humour in him. And he that is a debtor to wantonness and lasciviousness and drunkenness and intemperance, and the like, he is a debtor also to other sins which have an affinity and agreement thereunto. Thus lust is not a single debt, but involves many others besides together with itself, which is a special misery considerable in it. Secondly, another misery in a debtor is that he labours all for another many times and not for himself. He is not only a servant but a drudge. Those that are addicted and given up to such affections as these are, they can have time and leisure for little else but the following of them, whereas in the meantime their inward man it lies waste, and those means which God has appointed for the advancing thereof are neglected accordingly. Thirdly, another inconvenience of debtors is restraint and want of freedom. Lastly, he that is a debtor to sin, he is the worst kind of debtor of all, because the more that he pays to it the more he still comes in debt to a greater Creditor, and runs in arrears with Him, who will be sure at last to call him to a most strict account about it. And so now I have done with the first general part of the text, which is the negative in that which is expressed, "We are not debtors to the flesh, to live after the flesh." The second is the affirmative, as that which is implied. But we are debtors to the Spirit, to live after the Spirit. First, for the Creditor: the Spirit. Every Christian is a debtor that is bound and engaged to do this. And first of all, as it denotes the third person in the Trinity, which was spoken of in the verse immediately preceding. Every Christian is a debtor to the Holy Spirit, and that in these respects. First, as the beginner and worker of all grace in him. Secondly, we are engaged to the Spirit, not only as the first beginner, but also as the further increaser of those graces in us which are begun. Thirdly, as our Comforter in afflictions: we are debtors to the Spirit thus. Lastly, as the continual suggester of good thoughts unto us, and restrainer of us from evil. But, secondly, we may take it as denoting the regenerate part in us, in reference to a spiritual life. And thus in this sense are we debtors to the Spirit also. First, we are debtors to the spirit, that is, to the spiritual part in us, in regard of what we have not paid already. There is no man, whoever he be, but he is behind hand, as I may say, to the spirit in this respect. He has not bestowed that time, and pains and endeavour upon his heart, and soul, and spirit as he should, and as it hath become him to do. Secondly, we are debtors to the spirit, in regard of what we ought and are bound to pay unto it, It is a debt which lies upon us to lead a godly and holy life: and that in sundry respects. Thirdly, we are debtors to the Spirit, from the great benefit which does accrue and come to us herefrom, and which we have already had experience of. Let us consider how far we have discharged this debt which we are so much engaged in. Let us cast up our reckonings and see what we have expended answerable to what we have received. Set creditor on one hand and set debtor on the other, as we use to do in other matters. We are debtors to the Spirit, and He will not be put off with such payments as belong rather to the flesh. Were it not a strange thing for a debtor to mistake his true creditor — to run and carry that to one man which belonged rather to another? Why thus it is with many people in regard of their debts for their souls. They are debtors to the Spirit, of their health, of their strength, of their time, of their parts, of their estates, and of all they have. And they offer the payment hereof all to the flesh, What an incongruous thing is this? Therefore I say still, let us be careful to discharge our proper duty in that particular. And to set this so much the more upon us, let us consider these things with ourselves. First, the power of the Creditor. And if we neglect or refuse to pay Him, He knows how to help Himself. No securing or saving themselves from Him who is able to meet with them. Secondly, the strictness of the Creditor. That is another thing considerable likewise. He is one that is exact in His demands, which should make us in our returns to be so likewise. Thirdly, let us further consider to this purpose the great advantage of paying, and the special benefit which comes to us by it, while being debtors to the Spirit we are careful to be payers too. We have a threefold accommodation from it. First, a further entrusting and committing of more unto us. Such debtors as are not careful to pay, there is nobody will trust them with any more. Secondly, further enablement. The more we are careful to pay the more we shall be able to pay. Every new performance is a preparation and disposition to another. To him that thus hath shall be given. Thirdly, peace of conscience and satisfaction and tranquility of mind. Debts they are commonly troublesome, and do much disquiet the minds of those who are entangled with them.
(Thomas Horton, D.D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh.