Sermon 49

Sermon 49.


GAL. It. 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.

THE principal design of St. Paul in this epistle, is to assert his divine mission,-in opposition to the insinuations of the judaizing seducers that had intruded into the Galatian church; and to prove the justification of a sinner to be only through the merit of Christ's righteousness, and the instrumentality of faith. To eonfirm the latter he argues, Gal. ii. 15, 16, from the case of the apostles and Jewish christians in general: We who are Jews by liature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law. And Gal. ii. 19, he explicitly declares his own case in particular, as agreeing with theirs. /, through the law, am dead to the law, that I might live unto God; that is, by the knowledge of the perfection of the law, as to its extent and spirituality; I am utterly unhinged and thrown off from all dependence on the works of the law for justification, and from expecting strength to yield obedience to be conveyed, according to the covenant of works ;—and God's design in bringing me off from this dependence, and mine in relinquishing* it, is not that I may turn libertine, and cast off all obligations to obedience, but that I may, by strength derived from Christ, devote myself wholly to him, and make my life a series of obedience to his will.

He goes on relating his own case in the text; in which you may observe these truths:

First, "That believers are endowed with spiritual activity; or, that they are enabled to serve God, and perform good works." This is intimated by two expressions, I am crucified, and,/Ave; which, though they seem contradictory, do really mean the same thing. lam crucified, signifies the mortification of indwelling sin, the subduction and extirpation of corrupt principles and inclinations; and he calls the mortification of these the crucifixion of himself, {I am crucified) because of their intimate inhesion with his very nature; they were a sort of self to him. We have a like expression used, and explained by himself in Rom. vi. 6. Our old man is crucified with him, that the body of tin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. Now the mortification of sin is a part of the service of God, at least a necessary pre-requisite. So the apostle reasons in Rom. vi. 2, 6, 11. How shall we that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Reckon yourselves to be dead indeed unto siti, but alive jutto God. The other expression, / live, signifies spiritual activity; a vigorous, persevering serving of God ; a living unto God, (as it is explained ver. 19. and Rom. vi. 11.) Life, as ascribed to a rational being, imports not only a continuance in existence, in which sense inanimate things may be said to live, but especially a power of rational operation frequently exercised ;—and when attributed to a morally upright being, as such, it imports more than some kind of power of operation, namely, a vital principle of spiritual and holy operation, and the frequent, persevering exercise of it. Such a principle or power is very significantly called life, to denote its intimacy in the soul, its vivacity, and permanency.

Secondly, We may observe, that " the vital principle of holiness in believers, whereby they are enabled to serve God, is communicated to them through Christ only as a Mediator." This is intimated by that expression, lam crucified with Christ; that is, sin is crucified in me by virtue of the crucifixion of Christ; from the merits of his death my strength to subdue sin results: and the mortification of it is the certain consequent of his sufferings, because thereby divine grace was purchased and insured for his chosen, to be communicated at the time appointed. To the same purpose he speaks in Gal. vi. 14. Far be it from me that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom £or by which] the world is crucified to me, and I unto the world. This is also asserted in the emphatical epanorthosis, / live : yet not I, but Christ tiveth in me: that is, spiritual life is formally in me, but it is not self-originated ; it does not result from my natural principles, (which are so essential to me, that I may represent them under the personal pronoun I) but was first implanted, and is still supported and cherished by the power and grace of God through Christ; and it is in every respect so dependent upon him, and his influence is so intimately diffused through my soul, that I may say, Christ tiveth in me. A like expression is used in Col. iii. 3, 4. Christ is our life.

Thirdly, We may take notice," that believers receive supplies from Christ for the maintenance and nourishment of their spiritual life." The UJ'e which I now live (or, as it might be rendered more significantly, what I now live) in thefiesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God.

So that the substance of the text is exhausted in these three doctrines, '' That all true believers are endowed with an ability to serve God: That this ability was first communicated, and is still maintained through Christ only: and, That it is by faith they derive supplies from him, for the support and nourishment thereof."

You may observe I here reason from a particular to an universal, and infer, that because these doctrines are true with respect to St. Paul, therefore they are true with respect to believers in general ; and the scope of the text warrants this method of reasoning in this instance, which is confessedly fallacious in other cases; for St. Paul here introduces his own case with a design to represent and illustrate the case of believers in common ; which he could not reasonably have done, had not theirs been substantially the same with his in these respects. Besides, he declares these things of himself, not upon the account of any circumstances peculiar to himself, which might appropriate them to him ; and therefore, though so eminent a saint might have peculiar degrees VOL. II. 45

of them, yet as to their reality and kind, they equally belong t« all true christians.

Nothing can be more profitable, nothing more necessary, than right notions about spiritual life. It is the main business of those that have it not, to seek it, and of those that have it to cherish it; but how can they do either, if they know not what it is? Without it our religion is vain ; we cannot serve the living God here, nor enjoy him hereafter; we are exposed to the eternal agonies of the second death, and our souls are pining under a spiritual decay, that will at length consume our viuls. How necessary then is spiritual life! And the necessity of the thing infers the necessity of the knowledge of it. The profession of it is the source of all vital religion; it is the health of the spirit; the ornament and perfection of the human naiure ; the grand pre-requisite to everlasting happiness; the dawn of celestial glory; is it not then incomparably profitable? And must not the right knowledge of it be so too? Yet some are entirely ignorant of it; others, who say they see, are widely mistaken about its nature, the time and mariner of its communication, its subjects, the author and meritorious cause of it, and the way in which it is supported and cherished: and therefore, for the instruction of the ignorant, the rectification of wrong sentiments, and the confirmation of our minds in the truth, it may be expedient briefly to attempt the solution of the following inquiries.

I. Wherein spiritual life consists?

II. When it is communicated?

III. Whether it be instantaneously communicated, or gradually acquired by repeated acts?

IV. Who are the subjects of it? or, in what extent is it communicated?

V. In what sense is it communicated and supported through Christ?

VI. How faith derives supplies from him for its support and nourishment?

I. ■" Wherein does spiritual life consist V This inquiry, though necessary both to inform your minds and to repel the charge of unintelligibleness, so frequently alleged against this doctrine, yet is exceeding difficult, both because of the mysteriousness of the. thing in itself, and because of the blindness of the minds of those that are not endowed with it. It is mysterious in itself, as every kind of life is. The effects and many ot the propcrties of animal life are plain, but what animal life is in itself is an inquiry loo sublime for the most philosophic and soaring mind. Now spiritual life still approaches nearer to the life of the divine Being, that boundless ocean of incomprehensible mysteries, and consequently exceeds our capacity more than any other. But besides, such is the blindness of unregenerate souls, that they cannot receive or know the things of the Spirit of God, 1 Cor. ii. 14, and therefore what is knowable by enlightened minds concerning spiritual life, cannot be apprehended with suitable clearness by them. The power of understanding it seems to be the effect of the thing understood, and cannot exist separately from it. So it is in other kinds oi life. Nothing but reason can inform what is a rational life. Let the faculties of the most sagacious animal be ever so much polished, it can receive no ideas of it. So he that believeth, hath the witness in himself, 1 John v. 10. and none but himself can hear its testimony .* But suppose we could form clear ideas, we should still be at a loss for clear expressions. I have a clear idea of many of the appetites, passions, and motions of animal life; but words may fail me to express them intelligibly to another, especially if he has no experience of them himself. It need not, therefore, afford you any surprise, if after all that shall be said to illustrate this point, it still remains obscure. To design any more than to give you some faint glimmerings, some half formed, inadequate conceptions of it, would be a piece of arrogant vanity.

Now spiritual life supposes a living spiritual principle, and it implies a disposition and a power to serve God, or of holy operation.

1. It supposes a living spiritual principle. There can be no life, no vital actions, without a vital principle, from whence they flow: c. g. there can be no animal life, no animal sensations and motions, without a principle of animal life. By a vital principle I mean that from which life and its actions and passions immediately proceed: e. g. in the formation of our souls a principle of reason is concreated with them, which is the source, the immediate cause of their life and rational operations. I call this a princi

• I do not mean that the unregenerate have the same degree of incapacity in the one case as beasts have in the other, but only that the one is as really incapable as the other. Reason in the unreijfiierate approaches nearer to spiritual life than the powers of animal life do to reason, and yet conies entirely short of it.

pie, because it is the beginning of life. Now spiritual life suppose a principle of holiness. A principle of life of any kmi will not suffice; it must be particularly and formally a holjr prisciple; for life and all its operations will be of the same kind win the principle from which they proceed. Now a holy principle something distinct from and superadded to the mere natural principle of reason. By virtue of this a man can think and will; but experience assures us, that thinking and willing, abstracted}* considered, or under sundry modifications which they are capable of, are very different from thinking and willing in a holy manner or with those peculiar modifications which spiritual operation bear. I can will an indifferent or evil object, if it appears to at as good ; but my willing that which is morally good as such, B: very different act; and the principle from which the former act With its modification proceeds, may not be capable of producn; the latter so modified. This may be illustrated by the case w the devils and their associates of the human race. They still retain the principle of reason, and are capable of thinking and will' ing; otherwise they would be incapable of torment, fbr without consciousness there could be no sense of misery, and consciousness implies thinking: and without willing there can be no desire of happiness, or abhorrence of penal evil; but yet they are utterly incapable of thinking and willing in a manner morally good, and therefore a principle of holiness must be something distinct from a mere rational principle.

It may be urged, "That all the acts of spiritual life may be resolved into the acts of reason, namely, thinking and willing in • holy manner; and therefore the principle of the former is tbc same with that of the latter." In answer to this, I grant that tbe principle of reason, when it implies a power of putting forth such acts, and about such objects, as holiness includes; when it implies a power of knowing and choosing those things which the divine law requires us to know and choose, that then it it the same with a principle of spiritual life; and this is the case c: such reasonable beings as still continue in their original uprightness: but the principle of reason may be so maimed as to \on this power, and yet not lose its nature; that is, it may become incapable of that manner of operation which spiritual life produces, and yet continue a principle of reason still. This is endent from the case of infernal spirits, formerly mentioned- Now the principle of spiritual life supplies this moral defect; it adds l* reason a capacity of exercising itself suitably about spiritual things. Such a capacity is a separable adjunct of reason, and by the corruption of our natures it is actually separated from it: and consequently, till it be superadded to our rational powers, we are incapable of spiritual operation; I mean such a manner of spiritual operation as is morally good and acceptable to God. Our rational powers indeed can still exercise themselves about divine things, but then it is not in a fit manner: and therefore when a sinner is quickened by efficacious grace, a power of acting in a fit manner with respect to these things is superadded to his rational powers; and before this there is nothing in him out of which such a power may be educed.

To illustrate this matter, let us suppose a man deprived of the faculty of memory, and yet to continue rational, (as he might in a low degree) according to this supposition, he will be always incapable of an act of memory, however strong his powers of perception, volition, 8tc. may be, till the power of exercising his reason in that particular way which is called remembering, be conferred upon hint. So let a sinner's mere natural powers be ever so much refined and polished, yet, if there be no principle of spiritual life distinct from them infused, he will be everlastingly incapable of living religion. This gracious principle is called the seed of God, 1 John ili. 9, to intimate, that as the seed of vegetables is the first principle of the plant, and of its vegetative life, so is this of spiritual life, and all its vital acts.

2. Spiritual life implies a disposition to a holy operation, an inward propensity, a spontaneous inclination towards holiness; a loilling that which is good. Rom. vii. 18. Every kind of life has some peculiar innate tendencies, sympathies, and antipathies: so animal life implies a natural inclination to food, to move at proper seasons, Sec. There is a savour, a relish for divine things, as essential to spiritual life as our natural gusts and relishes are to natural life. Hence gracious desires are often signified in scripture under the metaphors of hungering and thirsting; and to this St. Peter expressly alludes; as new born babet desire the tineere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby. I Pet. ii. 2. By virtue of this disposition, believers set their affections on things above, Col. iii. 2. they relish, they savour, they affect things above. This is the spiritual-mindedness, the savour of the spirit, which is spiritual life; and stands in opposition to the relish and propensions of mere nature. Rom. viii. d. By virtue of this the strongest bent of their souls is God-ward; they tend, they gravitate towards him as their proper centre. Their desire is unto him and to the remembrance of his name. Isa. xxvi. 8. Their soul follows hard after him. Psalm lxiii. 8. By virtue of this they incline to keep all God's commandments; they have an inward tendency to obedience; they love God's law; they delight in it after the inner man, Psalm, cxix. 97. Rom. vii. 22, and their love and delight will habitually sway them to observe it: religion is their element, their choice. It is not in them forced and unnatural, as all those operations are which do not proceed from an intrinsic principle; and that reluctancy and indisposedness which they sometimes unhappily feel in themselves to religious duties, is preternatural with respect to this spiritual disposition; as the loathing of healthful food is to the human body: it proceeds from a disorder, a weakness in their spiritual life, occasioned by the strugglings and transient prevalency of contrary principles: it is owing to the lustings of the flesh against the spirit. Again, Their obedience is not servile and mercenary, resulting merely from the apprehension of the misery which will ensue upon disobedience; but it is generous and filial, proceeding from a convictive view of the intrinsic reasonableness, congruity, and amiableness of the duties of holiness; from the pleasure and satisfaction which the performance of them, under this view, naturally produces; (so a man is excited to eat, not merely by his apprehension of the necessity of it for the support of his body, but also by the pleasure he finds in the very action) and from a sense of the divine authority enjoining those duties. By this the genuine acts of spiritual life are infallibly distinguished from that low and ignoble devotion which flows from custom, education, horrors of conscience, and all the principles of mere nature.

It is true indeed, some persons by nature, and consequently without this supernatural disposition, may incline to and delight in sundry things that, as lo the matter of them, are religious duties. So {e. g.) some are naturally averse to intemperance ; and sobriety is inwrought in their very constitutions. Yet still this gracious disposition is distinguished from such a natural inclination by these two marks: The first implies a distinct reference to and a sense of the authority of the divine Lawgiver as enjoining those duties, and prompts a person to observe them formally as duties, as acts of obedience; but the latter prompts to the observance of them, considering them as things agreeable to the person's natural temper, without any distinct reference to God; and so they are rather acts of self-gratification than of obedience to the divine authority; and the person would incline■ to them, if they were not commanded at all. They are duties materially in themselves, but not formally, as performed by him: a regard to the authority of God, which is the constitutive form of obedience, is left out. A generous temper may incline to give alms ; for the Lord's sake, is omitted. (2.) Spiritual life disposes to all duties of religion and acts of holiness universally. It delights in holiness as such, and regards the authority of the law for itself; and consequently, whatever has the nature of holiness, whatever has the sanction of divine authority, it cannot but affect and relish, even though it should be very contrary to a man's natural inclinations and temporal advantage. But a natural propension is always partial and limited, and inclines to some duties only, neglecting others of equal or greater importance, which thwart the man's corrupt propensions. In a word, such a one's religion proceeds from the very same disposition that his sins proceed from, namely, a disposition to please himself. Hence it is always a maimed, imperfect, half-formed thing; it has not that amiable symmetry and uniformity, that congruous proportion and connection of parts, which are the ornament and distinguishing characteristic of that religion which flows from a heart universally disposed to holiness.

3. Spiritual life implies a power of holy operation. A heavenly vigour, a divine activity animates the whole soul. It implies more than an inefficacious disposition, a dull, lazy velleity, productive of nothing but languid wishes. So every kind of life implies a power of operation suitable to its nature. Animal life (<?. g.) has not only an innate propensity, but also a natural power to move, to receive and digest food, &c. They that wait on the Lord thall renew their strength, Isa. xl. 31. that is, they have strength given them; renewed and increased by repeated acts, in the progress of sanctification. They are strengthened with might, by the Sfiirit in the inner man. Eph. iii. 16. I do not mean that spiritual life is always sensible and equally vigorous; alas! it is subject to many languishments and indispositions: but I mean there is habitually in a spiritual man a power, an ability for serving God, which, when all pre-requisites concur, and hindcrances are removed, is capable of putting forth acts of holiness, and which does actually exert itself frequently. So animal life is subject to many disorders, which weaken its powers of operation, but yet still it retains those powers ; and they are in some measure active, even under the greatest indisposition, at least in resisting the disorder, though perhaps with faint struggles. Again, I do not mean an independent power, which is so self-active as to need no quickening energy from the divine Spirit to bring it into act, but a power capable of acting under the animating influences of grace, which, as to their reality, are common to all believers, though they are communicated in different degrees to different persons. There is no need of the infusion of a new power, which the Spirit might actuate; but they have a power already, which needs nothing but the suitable concurrence of other causes to educe it into act. So the power of reason is not independent, so as to be capable of operation without the concurrence of divine providence, common to mankind, to quicken it into act: yet it is a power of reason still, because it is capable of rational acts, under common providential influence. But should we suppose a beast the object of that influence, it would still continue incapable of rational acts, till a rational power be implanted in it. The illustration itself directs us to the application of it.

Thus I have briefly shewn you wherein spiritual life consists; but I am afraid it may be still wrapt in obscurity from the eyes of some. And indeed it would require longer time, larger extent, and greater abilities to reflect sufficient light on so mysterious a point. Before we lose sight of this head, let us improve it to these purposes:

Let us improve it as a caution against this common mistake, viz. that our mere natural powers, under the common aids of divine grace, polished and refined by the institutions of the gospel, are a sufficient principle of holiness, without the addition of any new principle. You see a principle of spiritual life is supernatural ; it is a divine, heaven-born thing; it is the seed of God; a plant planted by our heavenly Father- But alas! how many content themselves with a self-begotten holiness 1 Tbey have formed to themselves a system of natural self-sprung religion, (I mean that it is natural, originally, and subjectively, though it be pretended to be divine objectively, because its patrons acknowledge objective revelation) in this they acquiesce as sufficient, as though they knew not that that which is born of the flesh isJUth. The cogitativeness of matter appears to me a notion very like this; for I think it might be demonstrated as clearly, that our mere natural powers, in our present lapsed state, without the infusion of any divine, supernatural principle, are incapable of living, evangelical holiness; as it can, that mere matter, without the superaddition of a principle entirely distinct from it, is capable of thinking, however much it be polished, or however differently it be modified.

Let us also improve what has been said, to remove another equally common and pernicious error, namely, That gospel-holiness consists merely in a series of acts materially good. Some imagine that all the actions they do, which are materially lawful and a part of religion, have just so much of holiness in them : and as they multiply such actions, their sanctification increases in their imagination. But alas ! do they not know, that a principle, a disposition, a power of holy acting must precede, and be the source of all holy acts ! That a new heart must be given us, and a new spirit put within us, before we can walk in Gad's statulet and keefi his judgments, and do them! Ezek. xxxvi. 26, 27. That we must be created in Jesus Christ unto good works, Eph. ii. 10. before we can walk in them! That the love of God must be shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, Rom. v. 5,~ before we can love Him! I do not say, that they that are void of spiritual life should not attempt to perform religious duties in the best manner they can, by virtue of their natural powers; for this is undoubtedly their duty, both because their sin is less when only the manner of their actions is sinful, than when the matter and manner too are sinful; and because God, who has a right to appoint what methods he pleases- for the collation of his own favours, has constituted this as the way for them to obtain spiritual life. But I say religious and moral duties, however frequently and perseveringly performed, are not evangelical holiness, when they are not done from a gracious supernatural principle: they are but spurious fruits growing from the wild root of depraved nature; and we had best not please ourselves with the view of them, as though they were the fruits of holiness, lest we be consumed at last as fruitless and noxious briars and thorns.

Further, Let us improve our account of spiritual life, to inform us of a very considerable difference betwixt a mere moral and a spiritual life ; or evangelical holiness and morality. Spiritual life is ofa divine original; evangelical holiness flows from a supernatural principle ; but mere morality is natural; it is but VOL. II. 46

the refinement of our natural principles, under the aids of common grace, in the use of proper means ., and consequently it is obtainable by unregenerate men. Hence the same act may be differently denominated, according to the principles from which it proceeds ; that may be a piece of mere morality in one, who acts from natural principles only, which is an act of holiness in another, who acts from a principle of spiritual life. So an alms, when given from a gracious principle, and for Christ's sake, is a gracious act; but when given from a principle of natural generosity only, it deserves no higher name than that of mere morality.—A mistake in this is a rock we may tremble to look at, and ought anxiously to avoid! for alas! how many have been dashed to pieces upon it!

Again, We may improve what has been said, to convince us, that a life of formality, listlessness, and inactivity, is far from being a spiritual life. Where these things are habitual and predominant, they are infallible symptoms of spiritual death. It is true (as has been already observed) believers are subject to many sickly qualms and frequent indispositions; yea, at times, their languishments are such, that the operations of the vital principle within them are hardly discernible to themselves or others ; and the vigour of their devotion, in their most sprightly hours, is checked and borne down by the body of death under which they groan. Yet still, there is an inextinguishable spark of life within, which scatters a glimmering light in the thickest darkness, and sometimes shines with illustrious brightness. The pulse of the spirit, tuough weak and irregular, still beats. There is an active power that reluctates and struggles against the counterstrivings of the flesh : that under the greatest languor, puts forth some weak efforts, some faint essays, and under the actuating influence of the divine Spirit, invigorates the soul to mount ufi with winga like an eagle, to run without wearying, and walk without Jointing. And O! the joy, the pleasure of such heavenly activity! We therefore may write Tekel on the dull, inoperative religion of many ; it serves for no end, but to prove them dead in trespasses and sins. The design of the whole dispensation of God's grace towards fallen sinners, is their vivification to holiness, that they may bring forth fruit unto God, Rom. vii. 4 ; and sure, where that design is not obtained, there can be no true religion. Let us therefore beware lest we should have a name to live, while we are dead.