All men fall into one of the two broad classifications “in the flesh” or “in the Spirit.”  When the Spirit reigns inwardly, there is a corresponding change of the standards and habits of outward conduct.  Paul lashes out against the vices of heathendom that were threatening the infant churches.  Such vices were not possible for those who had discarded the old man and were being renewed in the power of the Holy Spirit.  “To live by the Spirit, to walk by the Spirit, this was the one safeguard against relapsing into the lusts of the flesh” [Henry Swete].  From and through the indwelling Spirit the spiritual virtues fully ripen…

The biblical virtues should not be identified superficially with the virtues of other systems of cultural endeavor.  T. T. Brumbaugh suggested that the principles of Bushido, a system of Spartan-like virtues that Japanese warrior nobles observed in vocation and daily life, are the equivalent of the Pauline fruit of the Spirit.  Bushido was born in Buddhism, Shintoism, and Confucianism.  From Buddhism came submission to fate and disdain of life and death.  From Shintoism, loyalty to the sovereign, ancestral reverence, and filial piety.  From Confucianism, the ties of personal and neighbor relations.  This morality eventually summed up “the Volksgeist of the Island Realm” [Inazo Nitobe].  It stressed justice or rectitude but had no conception of justification; right reason, without dependence on revelation; courage, wholly that of the brave heart of the natural man; benevolence, yet short of agape; politeness, a respect for the feelings and social positions of others that evidenced mastery of the unregenerate spirit over the flesh; truthfulness, yet stranger to the Truth; honor, emphasizing the dignity of man and discounting his sinfulness; patience, meekness, loyalty, self-control, all the result of stringent discipline but no new birth by the Spirit of God.

The new life in the Spirit is the basic presupposition of virtue for the Christian.  Bushido leaves no room for God.  Its virtues rise out of bent men.  Conformity to the Bushido code begets pride.  Failure to conform results in shame.  Christian ethics recognizes that conformity to the will of God is a lifelong process.  Failure leads the Christian to ask for cleansing and to call upon divine help for growth.  Moreover, love becomes the moving principle of the whole.  It always stands at the head of the virtues.  The others are seen in their true light only when they are seen in love.  Bushido grants loyalty to superiors the upper place.  Love is no respecter of persons and knows no inferior or superior.

The Christian virtues all cohere in a harmonious whole.  One is not lifted up at the expense of another.  They do not work against each other.  It is the Holy Spirit who fits each in place in the good life.

From: Christian Personal Ethics by Carl F. H. Henry (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1957), pp. 473, 474.

Carl F. H. Henry (1913-2003) was a member of the founding faculty of Fuller Theological Seminary (1947) and the founding editor of Christianity Today (1956).  He was also a prolific author: his magnum opus, God, Revelation, and Authority was published in six volumes from 1976 to 1983.


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