THE DIVINE LIFE IN THE SOULS OF MEN CONSIDERED.
Cail. II. 20.—I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ that liveth in me: and the life I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God.
We proceed to inquire, II. WHEN spiritual life is communicated ?—To this the scriptures direct us to answer, That it is communicated in that change which is generally called Regeneration, or Effectual Calling. This is more than intimated by the expressions used to signify the first communication of it. When spiritual life is infused, then it is that God is said to beget us again to a lively liofie, 1 Pet. i. 3. to beget us of his own will, James i. 18. to quicken us who were dead in sin, Eph. ii. 5 to give us a new heart, and put a new sfiirit •within us; to take away the stony heart, and give an heart of flesh, Ezek. xxxvi. 26. and we are said to be created in Christ Jesus unto good works, Eph. ii. 10. born again, John iii. 3. born or begotten of God, John i. 13. 1 John iii. 9. Now it is evident that these metaphorical expressions signify what is commonly called regeneration, and that they express the first implantation of spiritual life. Several of them contain a direct allusion to the first-communication of animal and human life, as regeneration or begetting, regeneration or being begotten again, creation, Sec. And since these, taken literally, signify the first communication of natural life, they must, when used metaphorically and spiritually, signify the first communication of spiritual life. Life before generation, creation, Sec. is an absurdity; and generation, creation, Sec. without the communication of life suitable to the nature of the being generated, created, Sec. is also an absurdity. The other expressions, as quickening us while dead in trespasses and tins, givinga new heart, and the like, even literally signify this. Hence, by way of improvement, we may be instructed to avoid a common mistake ; namely, "That a power of living to God is universally conferred upon mankind in creation: and therefore that there is no need of a new supernatural principle to be infused, but only of the concurrence of common providence, and the
institutes of the gospel, to polish and refine our natural principles. And some say, " That God in creation infuses spiritual life into all, on account of Christ's dying for them; and that if it be given without the merit of the recipient, it may as proper!; be ascribed to divine grace when it is a natural endowment bestowed in creation, as it would be if it were a supernatural gift communicated by an act distinct from and posterior to that of creation.''
In order efFectually to subvert this notion, consider, 1. If spiritual life were communicated in creation, there would be no propriety or significancy in the expressions used to denote the communication.of it. There would be no need of a new, a second birth, if we were spiritually alive by virtue of our first birth. Were we holy by virtue of our first creation, what necessity of being created in Christ Jesus, or of being made new creatures > 2 Cor. v. 17. Gal. vi. 15. There could be no opposition between the old man and the new. Rom. vi. 6. Eph. iv. 22, 24. Col. iii. 9, 10. The dispositions concreated with.us cannot be called a new man.—2. The implantation of spiritual life is not only posterior to creation, but also to corrupt principles, which are innate. We are first dead in sin be/ore we are quickened, Eph. ii. 5. we have a stony heart, which must be taken away before a heart tf flesh is given, Ezek. xxxvi. 26. Such expressions undoubtedly signify and act posterior to, and consequently distinct from creation.—3. The implantation of a principle of spiritual life is eminently an act of special grace, which the concreation of our natural endowments is never said to be. The washing of regeneration^ and the renewing sf the Holy Ghost, is an act of mercy and the effect of the kindness and love of God our Saviour, Tit. iii. 5. God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved at, even when we were dead in this, hath quickened us together ra'M Christ (by grace ye are saved J Eph. ii. 4, 5. It is according to God's abundant mercy, that we are begotten again unto a lively hofie. 1 Pet. i. 3. But what need I multiply instances ? The entire tenor of the gospel directs us to ascribe the regeneration and sanctification of sinners to distinguishing and peculiar grace. But though our natural powers are the free communications of divine goodness, yet we are never said to be " created according to the grace and mercy of God." It is not agreeable to the sacred dialect to call the powers of reason, vision, &c. " the gifts of grace.'' in the same sense that spiritual life is so called: nay, I canno
find that our natural powers arc ascribed to mercy, grace, free grace, at all; and it seems more congruous to ascribe them to other perfections of the Deity, as creative wisdom, power and goodness. To this I may add, that spiritual life is always represented as communicated " through Christ as Mediator, and for his sake ;" but our natural endowments are not said to be given through him. The Holy Ghost is shed on us abundantly through 'Jesus Christ our Saviour Tit. iii. 5, 6. We are sanctified through the offering ufi of the body of Christ once for all. Heb. x. 10. It is in Jesus Christ that ive are blessed with all sfiiritual blessings. Eph. i. 3. He is made sanctification to us, 1 Cor. i. 30. and ofhis fulness we all receive. John i. 16. But we are never said to be created for Christ's sake, or to be made rational creatures on the account of his righteousness. And when we are said to be created by him, it signifies by him as an efficient, not as a meritorious cause. From all which it appears, that spiritual life in a fallen creature is wholly supernatural: it is of a divine extract, and heaven-born in a peculiar sense. The sons of God are born of God, and not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man. If therefore any of us continue in our natural estate, we are dead in sin, however strict formalists or refined-moralists 'we may be—Let us inquire,
III. " Whether spiritual life be instantaneously communicated? Or, whether (as some allege) it be gradually acquired by repeated acts?"
Here let it be observed, that we are not inquiring, how spiritual life is nourished and confirmed? for that is undoubtedly done gradually, by repeated acts, correspondent to the nature of spiritual life, and perfective of it in the progress of sanctification, as the power of reason is improved by a series of suitable exercises; but our inquiry is, how it is first obtained? Whether it be communicated in the instant of regeneration, as the power of understanding is in creation? And to this I answer affirmatively, for the following reasons.
1. " It is a contradiction that it should be originally acquired by acting, or a series of acts; for that supposes that it exists, and does not exist, at the same time: as it acts, it exists; and as it is acquired by acting, it does not exist. It will perhaps be objected, " That it may be acquired by the repeated acts of another kind of life, namely, rational; or the exercises of our rational powers about spiritual objects." But this may be answered from
what was observed under the first head, namely, that a principl: of spiritual life, is something distinct from and superadded to our natural powers. Now the acts of one kind of life, however ofies repeated, will never acquire a life of a quite different kind: e. g. The longest course, and the most frequent repetition of anirm acts, will never acquire a principle of reason. Let a blind man hear ever so well, and ever so frequently, that will not acquire i visive faculty. So let our natural principles be exercised about spiritual objects with ever so much frequency and permanency, that will never acquire spiritual life. They are so depraved. that there remains nothing in them out of which it can be educedwithout the communication of something supcrnauiv.il- B? they ever so strong and active, they can contribute no more to our 'vivification, than the quick sensation of the auditory nerve c„m contribute to the acquisition of sight. Principles of action may be confirmed, and rendered more prompt to act, by frequent exercise; but can never be originally obtained that way.
2. The terms whereby the communication of spiritual life is signified, as begetting, creating, quickening, or raising the dead, fcc. denote an instantaneous communication.
3. Spiritual life is represented as prior to and the source and principle of all acts of evangelical holiness: and consequently it cannot be gradually acquired by such acts, but must be implanted previously to the putting forth of any such acts; as reason is not acquired by reasoning, but is a pre-requisite and principle of all the acts of reason. We are treated in Christ Jesus, to make us capable of good xvorks. Eph. ii. 10. We must have a new heart and a new sfiirit, and the Spirit of God be put within us, that we may .walk in God's statutes, and kerfi his judgments, and do them. Ezek. xxxvi. 26, 27. We must be drawn of the Father, must hear and iearn of him, before we can come to Christ. John iv. 44, 45. God gives his people one heart, and one way, that they may fear Him
forever. He puts his fear in their hearts, before they cease to depart from Him. Jer. xxxii. 39, 40. Now if all acts of holiness be the effects of a vital principle of holiness previously infused, then this principle is not acquired by a course of actions, unJ consequently it is not gradually acquired, but instantaneously infused ; for that which is not acquired by acting, is obtained by immediate communication from another, and therefore it does not take up time to obtain it, as a series of acts does. Again, There must be a first act of holiness ; for if there be not a first, there cannot be a second, Sec. Now since a principle of spiritual life is the spring, and the beginning of all acts of holiness, it must be, in order of nature, prior to the first act of holiness : and consequently it is not gradually acquired by such acts, but precedes them all, and therefore must be instantaneously infused.
Hence we may see the vanity of that religion which is gained in the same manner that a man learns a trade, or an uncultivated mind becomes knowing and learned, namely, by the repeated exercises of our natural powers in use of proper means, and under the aids of common providence. We have seen that a principle of spiritual life is not a good act, nor a series of good acts, nor any thing acquirable by them, but the spring and origin of all good acts. Let us then, my brethren, try whether our religion will stand this test.
Hence also we may learn a considerable difference between what is commonly called Morality and Gospel-Holiness. The one is obtained, as other acquired habits are, by frequent and continued exercises; the other proceeds from a principle divinely implanted.
IV. Our inquiry is, " Who are the subjects of spiritual life? or, In what extent is it communicated?
The answer to this is easy, from what has been already offered; for since it is communicated only in regeneration, then the regenerate only are the subjects of it; and since all men are not regenerate, then all men are not the subjects of it. Again, Since it is something distinct from and superadded to our rational powers, then it cannot be proved that all that are endowed with rationality are the subjects of it. Again, since it is communicated by an act distinct from and posterior to creation, there is no reason to conclude that it is co-extended with creation, or with the bounds of humanity. And since all these things are so, we may safely conclude, negatively, that it is not communicated to mankind universally and positively; that it is communicated to all the regenerate, and to them only. Hence result two corollaries.
1. That there is no such thing as universal grace sufficient to qualify all men to serve God acceptably, without the supernatural communication of distinguishing grace ; for God ia a Sfiirit, and they that worshift him, must worshif i him in sfiirit and in truth. John iv. 24. Those acts which do not proceed from a principle of spiritual life, will no more be accounted by Him vital, spiritual acts, than the chattering of a parrot, or the seemingly rational pranks of an ape, will pass with a man of sense for human actions: and without a principle of spiritual life there can be i» spiritual acts, as there can be no rational acts without a principle of reason. And since, as has been shewn, spiritual life is est universally communicated, then there is no sufficient grace uiaversally communicated; for the latter necessarily implies tie former, and cannot be without it.
2. We may observe further, That the "best actions of the unregenerate are not properly and formally good, and acceptable to God." It is true their performing the duties of religion and virtue in the best manner they are capable of, is less displeasing to God than the wilful neglect of them, or the commission of tat contrary sins, and therefore they should endeavour to perform them ; but yet it cannot be said to be positively pleasing to him. It is*not the act materially, or in itself, that is sinful, but formally, and as done by them, e. g. They do not sin as far as thev pray, but as far as they pray in a sinful manner, witt-out a gracious principle, without faith, and other requisites to acceptable prayer. They ask and receive not, because they ask amiss. James iv. 3. So then they that are in the flesh, cannot filease God. Rom. viii. 8. A tremendous thought to the unregenerate .' Their whole life is an entire series of provocation ; one continued ao of rebellion against the great King of Heaven.
V. Our next inquiry is, "In what sense is spiritual life communicated and supported through Christ.
To explain and illustrate this point, let these three things be considered.
1. That "by the sin of our first parents and representatives, our principle of spiritual life was forfeited, and the forfeiture is continued, and spiritual death brought on us by our personal sin.''
That Adam was constituted the representative of his posterity, and consequently that his sin is imputed to them, I shall take for granted, not having time to prove it. And if this be granted, then we are destitute of spiritual life; for, that disobedience may be punished, consistently with reaaon and justice, by the judicial privation of our power to obey, cannot be denied, if these reasonable postulata be concealed: That it is consistent with the justice and goodness of the Deity to suspend the continuance of the powers of upright moral agency conferred upon his creatures, on the condition of their right improvement of them : That when such powers are abused and misim proved, they may justly be withdrawn: And that, when withdrawn inconsequence of their being forfeited by a criminal misimprovement, God is not obliged in justice to restore them. Now these postulata imply no contradiction, and, therefore, may have been matters of fact ; and they are implied in the scripture representation of the circumstance of Adam and his posterity, as related to him; and therefore were matters of fact, and consequently Adam and his posterity, on the account of his sin, actually are, at least justly might be, deprived of spiritual life.
As to our personal Sin, it contributes two ways to deprive us of spiritual life, morally and physically ; morally, in the same sense that Adam's sin does, as it involves us in guilt, and so infers the judicial privation of the imperfect relics of our Maker's moral image; and physically, as every act, and especially a series of acts, naturally tends to strengthen and encourage the principle from whence they flow; to acquire that facility in acting which is called a habit; and to weaken and extirpate all contrary principles, and so indispose for the exertion of contrary acts.
Hence it follows that in order to the restoration of spiritual life, the moral influence of sin must be removed by making a competent satisfaction to divine justice, to redeem the blessing forfeited ; and its physical influence obstructed by purchasing and communicating divine influences, to weaken and extirpate the principles of sin, and that fatal promptitude and facility of acting which is contracted by the frequent exercise of them; and to infuse an opposite principle of holiness, and mature it into an habit. And this introduces the otiier two things intended ; and therefore,
2. The Lord Jesus, by his sufferings, made a" complete satisfaction to divine justice ;" and thereby redeemed the blessing forfeited; and by the merit of his obedience, purchased divine influence for the extirpation of the principles of spiritual death which lurk in our natures, and the implantation of holiness. Hence the regeneration and sanctiiication, as well as the salvation of his people, are ascribed to his merits and death. We are sanctified through the offering ufi of the body of Christ. Heb. x 10. And thf blood of Christ, ivho through the eternal Spirit offered ufi himself, without spot. to God, purges the conscience from dead works to serve the living God. Heb. Ix. 14. He gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a, fiecuiiar peofite, zealous of good works. Titus ii. 14. Hence our old nun is said to be crucified with him, Rom. vii. 6. and we to be
Vol. ii. 47
quickened together with him. Col. ii. 13. Therefore it is only on the account of his righteousness that spiritual life is first given and afterwards maintained and cherished. God acts in the whole affair, as the God of grace, with a distinct reference to the
- mediation of Christ.
3. Christ, the Purchaser, is appointed also "the Communicator of spiritual life" to his people. The Son quickeneth whom he will. John v. 21. He is exalted as a flrince to give refientanee to Israel. Acts v. 31. He is our life, Col. iii. 3, 4, and the Author and Finisher of our faith, Heb. xii. 2. In i a word, all flower in heaven and on earth is given to him, Matt. xxix. 18. a sovereign empire of grace, founded in his own blood, is devolved upon him, and He is given to be head over all things to his church; Eph. i. 22, a head not only of government, but of quickening influence; for from him all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God. Col. ii. 19. It is therefore by his own hands that all the blessings purchased by his blood are communicated.
Hence for the particular improvement of this head, let believers be taught to look to the Lord Jesus, the great Treasurer of heaven, for the supplies of his grace to support and nourish their spiritual life. Poor things! You are weak in yourselves, but his grace is sufficient for you, and his strength shall be made flerfect in your weakness. "Ye are complete in him," therefore " be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus; strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might! Come up out of the wilderness, leaning upon your beloved. Be of good courage, and he will strengthen your heart." Do not indulge a dastardly temper, nor harbour diffident and desponding fears: For, "have you not known? Have you not heard that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? He giveth power to the faint, and to them that have no might he increaseth strength." If you "compass yourselves with sparks of your own kindling," your devotions will be cold
'and languid, and a deadly dullness will benumb your spirit. Place yourselves, therefore, under the vivifying beams " of the Sun of righteousness, and you shall go forth and grow upas calves of the stall."
And let " the slain of the daughter of my people" apply to him for quickening grace. Behold, sinners! your Physician; cry after him, plead for him; plead for life. See the great treasury of vivifying influence ; stand at the door knocking, begging and weeping, and never depart till you can say, " I return a living soul." Here is a fountain of life opened, and let him that is athirst come ; and whosoever v)ill, let him lake the water of life freely. But I hasten to inquire,
VI. " How faith derives supplies from Christ for the support and nourishment of spiritual life }"
I shall proceed to the solution of this by the following gradation.
1. The communication of grace from Christ to maintain and nourish spiritual life in his people, is a peculiar and distinguishing communication. It is appropriated to them and not promiscuously dispensed to mankind in general. So animal spirits and nervous juices, are communicated from the head to that particular body to which it belongs, and to none other. So a vine conveys nutritive and prolific sap to its own branches, exclusive of all others. It may, indeed, be of service to other things, in other respects, as for shade, the entertainment of the sight, &c. but in this respect it supplies its own branches only. Thus Christ sheds his extensive influence on the whole creation; for by him mil things consist; but that particular kind and degree of influence whereby believers are quickened and kept alive, is peculiarly appropriated to them.
2. It is fit and necessary there should be a peculiar union betwixt Christ and his people, as the foundation of this peculiar influence.
Spiritual life, as to its infusion and preservation, proceeds from the Lord-Mediator, both morally and physically. Morally, from the merit of his obedience and sufferings, whereby it was purchased ; and physically, from his operation, whereby it is effected. And in both these views, it is congruous and necessary that it should suppose a special union with him.
As it results morally from his merit, it is fit there should be a special legal union, as the foundation of it. Christ and his people must be actually " one in law," before they can be actually entitled to or receive and enjoy the blessings purchased by his obedience to the law. So a wife must be made legally one with htr husband, by a conjugal union, in order to entitle her to and give her the possession of his estate. An insolvent debtor must be legally one with his surety, that the surety's discharge of the debt may procure his acquittance.
living head, and will not suffer any of his members to languiii under perpetual mortal decays, or drudge away their lives in srecessless toil, or supinely waste them in sloth and inactivity. He -will fail none that trust in him : but their dependance on him will be like the leaning of the ivy on the oak, or the radication of i tree in a fruitful soil, an assured method to obtain support and nourishment. So far is a dependance on him from leading ts sloth and libertinism, as some slanderously surmise.
2. We infer, that without faith it is impossible to filexue €*£ It has been shewn that without union to Christ, we cannot hts: an actual interest in his righteousness, or be the special objects of that quickening influence, whereby the spiritual life and activity of his people are maintained; and without these, our persons or performances cannot be accepted, unless our own righteousness be sufficient, without an actual interest in his, to procure the pardon of sin, and reinstate us in the divine favour: and unless human nature, labouring under the maladies of its present degeneracy, be capable, without the special aids of divine grace, to yield suitable obedience to the law: neither of which can be asserted, without virtually renouncing the whole gospel. And we have seen, that faith has so important a place in the unition of the soul with Christ, and consequently, in entitling nl to his righteousness, and deriving vital influences from him, that without it we cannot be at all united to him, or share in the happy consequences of this union, no more than there can be . circulation of the blood without veins and arteries.
3. We observe that gospel holiness may be distinguished from all counterfeits, and particularly from what some dignify with the name of morality, by this criterion, that it presupposes a special union with Christ, and is cherished in the heart, and exercised in practice, by virtue of the quickening influences flowing from him, as the head of his church, and received by faith ; whereas mere morality does not necessarily suppose such an union, but may result from our natural powers, under the common influences of divine providence.
I shall conclude with a short general improvement of the whole subject, in the following inferences:
1. That the reason why religion is so burdensome to many is, because they are " destitute of a principle of spiritual life," aod the " quickening communications of divine grace." Constrained by self-love, they drudge aud toil in religious duties, and cry, "What a weariness is it!" Or impatient of -so disagreeable a burden, they neglect them entirely. Religion is not natural to them, for want of a new nature. But to you that believe, Christ is precious; all his ways are pleasantness, and all his fiaths are peace. His yoke is easy, and his burden is light.
2. Let us examine ourselves, whether the evidences of spiritual life, which may be collected from what has been said, give us reason to conclude that we are possessed of it. Let us cast the discourse into a form of interrogation, and propose the following inquiries to our consciences:
Do we feel, or have we felt, a supernatural principle working within? Is our religion heaven-born I or is it natural and selfsprung ? Is the habitual bent of our wills God-ward? Do our hearts propend towards him as their ultimate scope? Do we delight in his law after the inner man, and will that which is good, even when we cannot do it? Do we perceive ourselves at times strengthened with might in the inner man? And that we can dt mil things through Christ strengthening us? Have we ever experienced the important change of regeneration? are old things passed away, and all things become new? Have we put off the old man with his deeds, and fiut on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness?
Is our religion more than a mere acquired habit, originally obtained by our own industry only, and the exercise of our natural powers, excited and assisted by education, custom, the means of grace? Sec. Was it begun in the instantaneous infusion of a gracious principle, immediately by the Holy Spirit?
Do we derive our strength for obedience from Christ by faith? Is he our life? Are we generally crying, Lord, we have no strength; but our eyes are unto thee ? Can we say with the apostle, / live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and what I now Uve in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God?
My dear brethren, let us search ourselves with these and the like inquiries: for many are destructively deceived in this matter. Living religion is wrapt in darkness from the eyes of most: they either place it in that in which it does not consist at all, or take the circumstances and appendages for the substance of it. Great is the mystery of godliness, not only objectively as revealed in the scriptures, but also subjectively, as wrought in the heart of a believer. It ought therefore to engage our most serious and intense thoughts.
S. Let those who are made spiritually alive, " acknowledge a-. admire the distinguishing grace of God, and act as it becomes their character"
You have seen that spiritual life is not promiscuously dispersed to mankind in general, but only to the regenerate, who art comparatively few. And can you restraih your wonder, th»t yoa should be the chosen objects of sovereign grace? or avoid breaking forth into extatic praises at so surprising a dispensation .'
Moreover the design of your vivification, and the natural tendency of the principle of spiritual life is, that you may fire to God; and therefore you are peculiarly obliged to make your whole life a series of obedience to Him. Indulge the propensions and tendencies of the new nature: obey and cherish ail the impulses and motions of the divine principle within you. To offer violence to the new man, to cramp and fetter its powers, to resist its motions, and suffocate its heavenly aspirations, is the most horrid crime. It is to attempt to murder the child of grace in embryo ; and sure, this is the worst of murder. Reckon ye yourselves, then, to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let not sin reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof: neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto tin; but yield your t elves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead; and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God. Aad if ye be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, ivhcrChrist sitteth at the right hand of God. Set your affections vfton (savour and relish) things above, not things on earth. And cftt~. Christ, who is our life shall afipear, then shall ye also afipear vn:h him in glory.
4. I request and importune those that are dead in sin, to "use all proper means for the obtaining of quickening grace.** The exhortation implies no contradiction or impossibility; for though they are spiritually dead, yet their natural principle of reason is still alive, and capable of exercising itself about spiritual objects; and God has enjoined them to make the best use they can of it, as the only way to obtain a better principle. God deals with m according to our nature and circumstances. We are corrupted creatures, and therefore He exerts his exceeding great and mighty power to work principles of holiness in us; but still We are rational creatures, and therefore he uses the powers of moral suasion with us, and justly requires us to exert our rational faculties in all the institutions of the gospel.
Be persuaded then, sinner, no longer to lie still in security; but ante, call upon thy God: if to be that God wilt think ufion thee, that thou Jierish not. Lazarus! come forth. Awake, thou that sleefiest, and ariae from the dead; and Christ shall give thee light. Linger not, lest eternal death overtake thee. Methinks I see him just at thy heels, for thy damnation now of a long time slumbereth not. Arise, come forth at the call of the gospel; otherwise, how wilt thou stand the shocking terror of that final alarm, Awake, ye dead, and come to judgment ? But I must conclude with my hearty wish, That the hour may come, and O! that this may be the hour, in which the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and they that hear shall live.—Which gracious prediction may the God of grace accomplish upon us all, for Jesus' sake. Amen.