The Passions
1 Peter 2:11-12
Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul;…


1. An intelligent being ought to love everything that can elevate, perpetuate, and make him happy, and to avoid whatever can degrade, confine, and render him miserable. This, far from being a human depravity, is a perfection of nature. By "fleshly lusts" St. Peter doth not mean such desires of the heart as put as on aspiring after real happiness and true glory.

2. An intelligent being united to a body, and lodged, if I may speak so, in a portion of matter under this law, that according to the divers motions of this matter he shall receive sensations of pleasure or pain, must naturally love to excite within himself sensations of pleasure, and to avoid painful feelings. This is agreeable to the institution of the Creator. This observation affords us a second clue to the meaning of the apostle: at least it gives us a second precaution to avoid an error. By fleshly lusts he doth not mean a natural inclination to preserve the body and the ease of life; he allows love, hatred, and anger to a certain degree, and as far as the exercise of them doth not prejudice a greater interest.

3. A being composed of two substances, one of which is more excellent than the other; a being placed between two interests, one of which is greater than the other, ought, when these two interests clash, to prefer the more noble before the less noble, the greater interest before the less. This third principle is a third clue to what St. Peter calls "lusts," or passions. What is the meaning of this word? The Scripture generally uses the word in two senses. Sometimes it is literally and properly put for flesh, and sometimes it signifies sin. St. Peter calls the passions "fleshly" in both these senses; in the first because some come from the body as voluptuousness, anger, drunkenness, and in the second because they spring from our depravity.


1. The passions produce in the mind a strong attention to whatever can justify and gratify them. The most odious objects may be so placed as to appear agreeable, and the most lovely objects so as to appear odious. Certainly one of the noblest advantages of man is to reason, to examine proofs and weigh motives, to consider an object on every side, in order on these grounds to regulate our ideas and opinions, our hatred and our love. The passionate man renounces this advantage, and never reasons, in a passion his mind is limited, his soul is in chains, his fleshly passions war against his soul.

2. Having examined the passions in the mind, let us consider them in the senses. To comprehend this, recollect that the passions owe their origin to the Creator, who instituted them for the purpose of preserving us. When an object would injure health or life, it is necessary to our safety that there should be an emotion in our senses to effect a quick escape from the danger; fear does this. A man struck with the idea of sudden danger hath a rapidity which he could not have in a tranquil state, or during a cool trial of his power. It is necessary, when an enemy approaches to destroy us, that our senses should so move as to animate us with a power of resistance. Anger doth this, for it is a collection of spirits. Such are the movements excited by the passions in the senses, and all these to a certain degree are necessary for the preservation of our bodies, and are the institutions of our Creator; but three things are necessary to preserve order in these emotions. First, they must never be excited in the body without the direction of the will and the reason. Secondly, they must always be proportional. I mean, the emotion of fear, for example, must never be except in sight of objects capable of hurting us; the emotion of anger must never be except in sight of an enemy, who actually hath both the will and the power of injuring our well-being. And thirdly, they must always stop when and where we will they should. When the passions subvert this order they violate three wise institutes of our Creator. The motions excited by the passions m our senses are not free. An angry man is carried beyond himself in spite of himself. A voluptuous man receives a sensible impression from an exterior object, and in spite of all the dictates of reason throws himself into a flaming fire that consumes him. The emotions excited by the passions in our senses are not proportional; I mean that a timorous man, for example, turns as pale at the sight of a fanciful as of a real danger; he sometimes fears a phantom and a substance alike. A man, whose God is his belly, feels his appetite as much excited by a dish fatal to his health as by one necessary to support his strength and to keep him alive. The emotions excited by the passions in the senses do not obey the orders of our will. The movement is an overflow of spirits, which no reflections can restrain. This is what the passions do in the senses, and do you not conceive that in this second respect they war against the soul? They war against the soul by the disorders they introduce into that body which they ought to preserve. They dissipate the spirits, weaken the memory, wear out the brain. They war against the soul by disconcerting the whole economy of man, and by making him consider such sensations of pleasure as Providence gave him only for the sake of engaging him to preserve his body as a sort of supreme good, worthy of all his care and attention for its own sake. They war against the soul because they reduce it to a state of slavery to the body, over which it ought to rule.

3. If the senses were excited to act only by the presence of objects, if the soul were agitated only by the action of the senses, one single mean would suffice to guard us from irregular passions; that would be to flee from the object that excites them. But the passions produce other disorders, they leave deep impressions on the imagination. When we give ourselves up to the senses, we feel pleasure, this pleasure strikes the imagination, and the imagination thus struck with the pleasure it hath found recollects it, and solicits the passionate man to return to objects that made him so happy.

4. Let us consider, in fine, the passions in the heart and the disorders they cause there. What can fill the heart of man? A prophet hath answered this question, and hath included all morality in one point, "My chief good is to draw near to God" (Psalm 73:28); but as God doth not commune with us immediately while we are in this world, but imparts felicity by means of creatures, He hath given these creatures two characters, which, being well examined by a reasonable man, conduct him to the Creator, but which turn the passionate man aside. On the one hand, creatures render us happy to a certain degree — this is their first character: on the other, they leave a void in the soul which they are incapable of filling — this is their second character. This is the design of God, and this design the passions oppose. They remove us from God, and by removing us from Him deprive us of all the good that proceeds from a union with the supreme good, and thus make war with every part of ourselves, and with every moment of our duration. War against our reason, for instead of deriving, by virtue of a union with God, assistance necessary to the practice of what reason approves, and what grace only renders practicable, we are given up to our evil dispositions, and compelled by our passions to do what our own reason abhors. War against the regulation of life, for instead of putting on by virtue of union to God the easy yoke, and taking up the light burden which religion imposes, we become slaves of envy, vengeance, and ambition; we are weighed down with a yoke of iron, which we have no power to get rid of, even though we groan under its intolerable weightiness. War against conscience, for instead of being justified by virtue of a union with God, and having "peace with Him through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:1), and feeling that heaven begun, "joy unspeakable and full of glory" (chap. 1 Peter 1:8), by following our passions we become a prey to distracting fears, troubles without end, cutting remorse, and awful earnests of eternal misery. War on a dying bed, for whereas by being united to God our death bed would have become a field of triumph, where the Prince of life, the conqueror of death, would have made us share His victory, by abandoning ourselves to our passions we see nothing in a dying hour but an awful futurity, a frowning governor, the bare idea of which alarms, terrifies, and drives us to despair.


1. In order to prevent and correct the disorders which the passions produce in the mind, we must observe the following rules —

(1) We must avoid precipitance and suspend our judgment.

(2) A man must reform even his education. In every family the minds of children are turned to a certain point. Every family hath its prejudice, I had almost said its absurdity; and hence it comes to pass that people despise the profession they do not exercise. To correct ourselves on this article we must go to the source, examine how our minds were directed in our childhood; in a word, we must review and reform even our education.

(3) In fine, we must, as well as we can, choose a friend wise enough to know truth, and generous enough to impart it to others; a man who will show us an object on every side when we are inclined to consider it only on one.

2. Let us now lay down a few rules for the government of the senses. Before we proceed, we cannot help deploring the misery of a man who is impelled by the disorders of his senses and the heat of his constitution to criminal passions. Such a man often deserves pity more than indignation. However, though the irregularity of the senses diminishes the atrociousness of the crime, yet it cannot excuse those who do not make continual efforts to correct it. To acknowledge that we are constitutionally inclined to violate the laws of God, and to live quietly in practices of constitutional heat, is to have the interior tainted. Certainly the best advice that can be given to a man whose constitution inclines him to sin, is, that he avoid opportunities, and flee from such objects as affect and disconcert him. Three remedies are necessary to our success in this painful undertaking: to suspend acts, to flee idleness, to mortify sense.

3. The disorders produced by the passions in the imagination, and against which also we ought to furnish you with some remedies, are like those complicated disorders which require opposite remedies, because they are the effect of opposite causes, so that the means employed to diminish one part not unfrequently increase another. It should seem at first that the best remedy which can be applied to disorders introduced by the passions into the imagination, is well to consider the nature of the objects of the passions, and thoroughly to know the world; and yet, on the other hand, it may truly be said that the must certain way of succeeding would be to know nothing at all about the world. We hazard a fall by approaching too near, and such very often is the ascendancy of the world over us that we cannot detach ourselves from it though we are disgusted with it. Let us endeavour, then, to preserve our imagination pure; let us abstain from pleasures to preclude the possibility of remembering them; let retirement, and, if it be practicable, perpetual privacy, from the moment we enter into the world to the day we quit it, save us from all bad impressions, so that we may never know the defects which worldly objects would produce on our passions. This method, sure and effectual, is useless and impracticable in regard to such as have received bad impressions on their imagination. People of this character ought to pursue the second method we mentioned, that is, to profit by their losses, and derive wisdom from their errors. When you recollect sin, remember the folly and pain of it.

4. To heal the disorders which the passions produce in the heart, two things must be done. First, the vanity of all the creatures must be observed, and this will free us from the desire of possessing and collecting the whole in order to fill up the void which single enjoyments leave. Secondly, we must ascend from creatures to the Creator, in order to get rid of the folly of attributing to the world the perfection and sufficiency of God.

(J. Saurin.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul;

WEB: Beloved, I beg you as foreigners and pilgrims, to abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul;

The Ministry of Good Works
Top of Page
Top of Page