The Nature and Process of Spiritual Life



" But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ." —Ephes. ii. 4, 6.

It is not my usual method to weary your attention by a long confinement to one subject; and our religion furnishes us with such a boundless variety of important topics, that a minister who makes them his study will find no temptation to cloy you with repetitions, but rather finds it difficult to speak so concisely on one subject as to leave room for others of equal importance; however, the subject of my last discourse was so copious and interesting, that I cannot dismiss it without a supplement. I there showed you some of the symptoms of spiritual death; but I would not leave you dead as I found you; and, therefore, I intend now to consider the counterpart of that subject, and show you the nature and symptoms of spiritual life.

I doubt not but a number of you have been made alive to God by his quickening spirit; but many, I fear, still continue dead in trespasses and sins; and, while such are around me, I cannot help imagining my situation something like that of the prophet in the midst of the valley full of dry bones, spread far and wide around him; and should I be asked. Can these dry bones, can these dead souls, live ? I must answer with him,—0 Lord God, thou knowest. "Lord, I see no symptoms of returning life in them, no tendency towards it. I know nothing is impossible to thee; I firmly believe that thou canst inspire them with life, dry and dead as they are; if they are left to themselves they will continue dead to all eternity; for, O Lord, the experiment has been repeatedly tried; thy servant has over and over made those quickening applications to them, which thy word prescribes; but all iryrain: they still continue dead towards thee, and lie putrefying more and more in trespasses and sins; however, at thy command, I would attempt the most unpromising undertaking; I would proclaim even unto dry bones and dead souls, 0 ye dry bones, O ye dead souls, hear the word of tlie Lord. I would also cry aloud for the animating breath of the Holy Spirit, Come from the four winds and breathe, breathe upon tliese shin that they may live.

Ye dead sinners, I would make one attempt more, in the name of the Lord to bring you to life; and if I have the least hope of success, it is entirely owing to the encouraging peradventure that the quickening spirit of Christ may work upon your hearts while I am addressing myself to your ears. And, O sirs, let us all keep our souls in a praying posture, throughout this discourse. If one of you should fall into a swoon or an apoplexy, how would all about you bestir themselves to bring you to life again! And, alas! shall dead souls lie so thick among us, in every assembly, in every family, and shall no means be used for their recovery ? Did Martha and Mary apply to Jesus with all the arts of importunity in behalf of their sick and deceased brother, and are there not some of you that have dead relations, dead friends and neighbors, I mean dead in the worst sense, dead in trespasses and sins ? and will you not apply to Jesus, the Lord of life, and follow him with your importunate cries till he come and call them to life ? Now let parents turn intercessors for their children, children for their parents, friend for friend, neighbor for neighbor, yea, enemy for enemy. Oh! should we all take this method, we might soon expect to see the valley of dry bones full of living souls, an exceeding great army.

In praying for this great and glorious event, you do not pray for an impossibility. Thousands, as dead as they, have obtained a joyful resurrection by the power of God. Here in my text you have an instance of a crowd of Jews and Gentiles that had lain dead in sin together, and even St. Paul among them, who were recovered to life, and are now enjoying an immortal life in the heavenly regions; and, blessed be God, this spiritual life is not entirely extinct among us. Among the multitudes of dead souls that we everywhere meet with, we find here and there a soul that has very different symptoms: once, indeed, it was like the rest; but now, while they are quite senseless of divine things, and have no vital aspirations after God, this soul cannot be content with the richest affluence of created enjoyments; it pants and breathes after God; it feeds upon his word; it feels an almighty energy in eternal things, and receives vital sensations from them. It discovers life and vigor in devotion, and serves the living God with pleasure, though it is also subject to fits of languishment, and at times seems just expiring, and to lose all sensation. And whence is this vast difference ? Why is this soul so different from what it once was, and what thousands around still are ? "Why can it not, like them, and like itself formerly, lie dead and senseless in sin, without any vital impressions or experiences from God or divine things ? The reason is, the happy reason, my brethren, is, this is a living soul: " God, out of the great love wherewith he loved it, hath quickened it together with Christ," and hence it is alive to him. My present design is to explain the nature and properties of this divine life, and to show you the manner in which it is usually begun in the soul: I shall open with the consideration of the last particular.

Here you must observe, that, though spiritual life is instantaneously infused, yet God prepares the soul for its reception by a course of previous operations. He spent six days in the creation of the world, though he might have spoken it into being in an instant. Thus he usually creates the soul anew after a gradual process of preparatory actions. My present design is to trace these steps to their grand result, that we may know whether ever divine grace has carried you through this gracious process.

The way by which divine grace prepares a sinner for spiritual life, is by working upon all the principles of the rational life, and exciting him to exert them to the utmost to obtain it. Here it is proper for you to recollect what I observed in my last discourse, that even a sinner, dead in trespasses and sins is alive, and capable of action in other respects: he can not only perform the actions, and feel the sensations of animal life, but he can also exercise his intellectual powers about intellectual objects, and even about divine things: he is capable of thinking of these, and of receiving some impressions from them: he is also capable of attending upon the ordinances of the gospel, and performing the external duties of religion. These things a sinner may do, and yet be dead in sin. Indeed, he will not exercise his natural powers above these things while left to himself: he has the power, but then he has no disposition to employ it: he is indeed capable of meditating upon spiritual things, but what does this avail when he will not turn his mind to such objects? or if he does, he considers them as mere speculations, and not as the most interesting and important realities. How few, or how superficial and unaffecting are a sinner's thoughts of them! Heaven and hell are objects that may strike the passions, and raise the joys and fears of a natural man, but in general he is little or nothing impressed with them. The more I know of mankind, I have the lower opinion of what they will do in religion when left to themselves. They have a natural power, and we have seen all possible means used with them to excite them to put it forth; but, alas! all is vain, and nothing will be done to the purpose tillGod stir them up to exert their natural abilities; and this he performs as a pre

Earative for spiritual life. He brings the sinner to exert all is active powers in seeking this divine principle; nature does her utmost, and all outward means are tried before a supernatural principle is implanted.

The evangelist John has given us the history of the resurrection of the dead body of Lazarus after it had been four days in the grave; and I would now give you the history of a more glorious resurrection, the resurrection of a soul that had lain dead for months and years, and yet is at last quickened by the same almighty power with a divine and immortal life.

Should I exemplify it by a particular instance, I might fix upon this or that person in this assembly, and remind you, and inform others, of the process of this work in your souls. And-O! how happy are such of you, that you may be produced as instances in this case!

You lay for ten, twenty, thirty years, or more, dead in trespasses and sins: you did not breathe and pant like a living soul after God and holiness; you had little more sense of the burden of sin than a corpse of the pressure of a mountain; you had no appetite for the living bread that came down from heaven; you spread the contagion of sin around you by your conversation and example, like the stench and corrupt effluvia of a rotten carcass; God did not cast you away as irrecoverably dead, but stirred and agitated you within, and struggled long with the principles of death to subdue them: and if it was your happy lot to live under a faithful ministry, the living oracles that contained the seeds of the divine life were applied to you with care and solicitude. The terrors of the Lord were thundered in your ears to awaken you. The experiment of a Saviour's dying love, and the rich grace of the gospel, were repeatedly tried upon you: now you were carried within hearing of the heavenly music, and within sight of the glories of paradise, to try if these would charm you; now you were, as it were, held over the flames of hell, that they might, by their pungent pains, scorch and startle you into life. Providence also concurred with these applications, and tried to recover you by mercies and judgments, sickness and health, losses and possessions, disappointments and successes, threatenings and deliverances. But, O! reflect with shame and sorrow how long all these quickening applications were in vain; you still lay in a dead sleep, or, if at times you seemed to move, and gave us hopes you were coming to life again, ypu soon relapsed, and grew as senseless as ever. And alas! are there not some of you in this condition to this very moment ? O deplorable sight ! May the hour come, and O that this may be the hour, in which such dead souls shall hear the voice of the Son of God and live. John, v. 25.

But as to such of you in whom I would exemplify this history of a spiritual resurrection when your case was thus deplorable, and seemingly helpless, the happy hour, the time of love came when you must live. When all these applications had been unsuccessful, the all-quickening spirit of God determined to exert more of his energy, and work more effectually upon you. Perhaps a verse in your Bible, a sentence in a sermon, an alarming Providence, the conversation of a pious friend, or something that unexpectedly occurred to your own thoughts, first struck your minds with unusual force; you found you could not harden yourselves against it as you were wont to do; it was attended with a power you never before had felt, and which you could not resist: this made you thoughtful and pensive, and turned your minds to objects that you were wont to neglect; this made you stand and pause, and think of the state of your neglected souls; you began to fear matters were wrong with you; "What will become of me when I leave this world.? Where shall I reside for ever? Am I prepared for the eternal world ? How have I spent my life ?" The great God, whom you were wont to neglect, appeared to you as a Being that demanded your regard; you saw that he was indeed a venerable, awful, majestic Being, with whom you had the most important concern: in short, you saw that such a life as you had led would never bring you to heaven: you saw that you must make religion more your business than you had ever done, and thereupon you altered your former course: you broke off from several of your vices, you deserted your extravagant company, and you began to frequent the throne of grace, to study religion, and to attend upon its institutions; and this you did with some degree of earnestness and solicitude.

When you were thus reformed, you began to flatter yourselves that you had escaped out of your dangerous condition, and secured the divine favor: now you began to view yourselves with secret self-applause as true Christians; but all this time the reformation was only outward, and there was no new principle of a divine supernatural life implanted in your hearts: you had no clear heart-affecting views of the intrinsic evil, and odious nature of sin, considered in itself, nor of the entire universal corruption of your nature, and the necessity, not only of adorning your outer man by an external reformation, but an inward change of heart by the almighty power of God: you were under the government of a self-righteous spirit; your own good works were the ground of your hopes, and you had no relish for the mortifying doctrine of salvation through the mere mercy of God, and the righteousness of Jesus Christ: though your education taught you to acknowledge Christ as the only Saviour, and ascribe all hopes to his death, yet in reality he was of very little importance in your religion ; he had but little place in your heart and affections, even when you urged his name as your only plea at the throne of grace: in short, you had not the spirit of the gospel, nor any spiritual life within you. And this is all the religion with which multitudes are contented: with this they obtain a name that they live: but in the sight of God, and in reality, they are dead; and had you been suffered to rest here, according to your own desire, you would have been dead still. But God, who is rich (O how inconceivably rich!) in mercy, for the great love wherewith he loved you, resolved to carry on his work in you; and therefore, while you were flattering yourselves, and elated with a proud conceit of a happy change in your condition, he surprised you with a very different view of your own case; he opened your eyes farther, and then you saw, you felt those things of Avhicn till then you had but little sense or apprehension—such as the corruption of your hearts, the awful strictness of the divine law, your utter inability to yield perfect obedience, and the necessity of an inward change of the inclinations and relishes of your soul. Alas! you found yourselves quite helpless, and all your efforts feeble and ineffectual; then you perceived yourselves really dead in sin, and that you must continue so to all eternity, unless quickened by a power infinitely superior to your own; not that you lay slothful and inactive at this time; no, never did you exert yourselves so vigorously in all your life, never did you besiege the throne of grace with such eager attention, or make such a vigorous resistance against sin and temptation; all your natural powers were exerted to the highest pitch, for now you saw your case required it: but you found all your most vigorous endeavors insuflicient, and you were sensible that, without the assistance of a superior power, the work of religion could never be effected. Now you were reduced very low indeed. While you imagined you could render yourselves safe by a reformation in your own power, you were not much alarmed at your condition, though you saw it bad. But O! to feel yourselves dead in sin, and that you cannot help yourselves; to see yourselves in a state of condemnation, liable to execution every moment, and yet to find all your endeavors utterly insufficient to relieve you; to be obliged, after all you had done, to lie at mercy and confess that you were as deserving of everlasting punishment as ever the most notorious criminal was of the stroke of public justice; this was a state of extreme dejection, terror, and anxiety indeed. The proud, self-confident creature was never thoroughly mortified and humbled till now, when he is slain by the law, and entirely cut off from all hopes from himself. Now you were ready to cry, " I am cut off: my strength and my -hope are perished from the Lord;" but, blessed be God, he did not leave you in this condition. These preparations were like the taking away the stone from the sepulchre of Lazarus, which was a prelude to that almighty voice which called him from the dead. Now you appear to me like dry bones in Ezekiel's vision, in one stage of the operation. After there had been a noise, and shaking among them, and the bones had come together, bone to his bone, / beheld, says he, and lo, the sinews and the flesh came up upon them, and the shin covered them above; but there was no breath in them. But now the important crisis is come, when he who stood over the grave of Lazarus, and pronounced the liferestoring mandate, Lazarus, come forth; when he who breathed into Adam the breath of life, and made him a living soul; I say, now the crisis is come, when he will implant the principles of life in your souls; suddenly you feel the amazing change, and find you are acting from principles entirely new to you; for now your hearts that were wont to reluctate, and start back from God, rise to him with the strongest aspirations; now the way of salvation through Christ, which you could never relish before, appears all amiable and glorious, and captivates your whole souls. Holiness has lovely and powerful charms, which captivate you to the most willing obedience, notwithstanding your former disgust to it; and, though once you were enamored with sin, or disliked it only because you could not indulge it with impunity, it now appears to you a mass of corruption and deformity, an abominable thing, which you hate above all other things on earth or in hell. • At this juncture you are animated with a new life in every faculty of your souls, and hereupon you felt the instincts, the appetites, the sympathies and antipathies of a new life, a divine life, justly styled by the apostle the life of God—the life of God in the soul of man. The pulse of sacred passions began to beat towards spiritual objects; the vital warmth of love spread itself through your whole frame; you breathed out your desires and prayers before God; like a new-born infant you began to cry after him, and at times you have learned to lisp his name with filial endearment, and cry Abba, Father ; you hungered and thirsted after righteousness, and as every kind of life must have its proper nourishment, so your spiritual life fed upon Christ, the living bread, and the sincere milk of his word. You also felt a new set of sensations; divine things now made deep and tender impressions upon you; the great realities of religion and.eternity now affected you in a manner unknown before ; you likewise found your souls actuated with life and vigor m the service of God, and in the duties you owed to mankind. This strange alteration, no doubt, filled you with surprise and amazement, something like that of Adam when he found himself start into life out of his eternal non-existence. With these new sensations every thing appeared to you in a quite different light, and you could not but wonder that you had never perceived them in that manner before.

Thus, my dear brethren, when you were even dead in sin, God quickened you together with Christ. It is true, the principle of life might be weak at first; nay, it may be weak still, and at times may languish, and seem just expiring in the agonies of death, but, blessed be the quickening spirit of Christ, since the happy hour of your resurrection you have never been, and you never will be to all eternity, what you once were, dead in trespasses and sins.

And is it so indeed ? Then from this moment begin to rejoice and bless the Lord, who raised you to spiritual life. O let the hearts he has quickened beat with his love; let the lips he has opened, when quivering in death, speak his praise, and devote that life to him which he has given you, and which he still supports! Consider what a divine and noble life he has given you. It is a capacity and aptitude for the most exalted and divine services and enjoyments. Now you have a relish for the supreme good as your happiness, the only proper food for your immortal souls, and he will not suffer you to hunger and thirst in vain, but will satisfy the appetites he has implanted in your nature. O how happy are you in this single gift of spiritual life! this is a life that cannot perish, even in the rums of the world. What though you must ere long yield your mortal bodies and animal life to death and rottenness? Your most important life is immortal, and subject to no such dissolution; and therefore be courageous in the name of the Lord, and bid defiance to all the calamities of life, and all the terrors of death; for your life is hid with Christ in God: and when Christ, who is your life, shall appear, then shall you also appear with him in glory. Col. iii. 3, 4.

I would willingly go on in this strain, and leave the pulpit with a relish of these delightful truths upon my spirit; but, alas! I must turn my address to another set of persons in the assembly; -but " where is the Lord God of Elijah?" who restored the Shunamite's son to life by means of that prophet ? I am going to call to the dead, and I know they will not hear, unless he attend my feeble voice with his almighty power. I would pray over you like Elijah over the dead child, 0 Lord God, let this sinner's life come into him again. Are not the living and the dead promiscuously blended in this assembly ? Here is a dead soul, there another, and there another, all over the house; and here and there a few living souls thinly scattered among them. Have you ever been carried through such a preparatory process as I have described? or if you are uncertain about this, as some may be who are animated with spiritual life, inquire, have you the feelings, the appetites and aversions, the pleasing and the painful sensations of living souls ? Methinks conscience breaks its silence in some of you, whether you will or not, and cries, "0 no; there is not a spark of life in this breast." Well, my poor deceased friends, (for so I may call you,) I hope you will seriously attend to what I am going seriously to say to you. I have no bad design upon you, but only to restore you to life. And though your case is really discouraging, yet I hope it is not quite desperate. The principles of nature, reason, self-love, joy, and fear are still alive in you, and you are capable of some application to divine things. And, as I told you, it is upon the principles of nature that God is wont to work, to prepare the soul for the infusion of a supernatural life. And these I would now work upon, in hopes you are not proof against considerations of the greatest weight and energy, I earnestly beg you would lay to heart such things as these.

Can you content yourselves with an animal life, the life of beasts, with that superfluity, reason, just to render you a more ingenious and self-tormenting kind of brutes; more artful in gratifying your sordid appetites, and yet still uneasy for want of an unknown something; a care that the brutal world, being destitute of reason, are unmolested with ? O! have you no ambition to be animated with a divine immortal life, the life of God?

Can you be contented with a mere temporal life, when your souls must exist for ever ? That infinite world beyond the grave is replenished with nothing but the terrors of death to you, if you are destitute of spiritual life. And O! can you bear the thought of residing among its grim and ghastly terrors for ever?

Are you contented to be cut off from God, as a mortified member of the body, and to be banished for ever from all the joys of his presence? You cannot be admitted to heaven without spiritual life. Hell is the sepulchre for dead souls, and thither you must be sent, if you still continue dead. And does not this thought affect you ? Consider also, now is the only time in which you can be restored to life. And O! will you let it pass by without improvement?

Shall all the means that have been used for your revival be in vain ? Or the stirrings of the spirit, the alarms of your own consciences, the blessings and chastisements of Providence, the persuasions, tears, and lamentations of your living friends, O! shall all these be in vain ? Can you bear the thought? Surely no. Therefore, O heave and struggle to burst the chains of death. Cry mightily to God to quicken you. Use all the means of vivification, and avoid every deadly and contagious thing. I know not, my brethren, how this thought will affect us at parting to-day, that we have left behind us many a dead soul. But suppose we should leave as many bodies here behind us as there are dead souls among us; suppose every sinner destitute of spiritual life should now be struck dead before us, O how would this floor be overlaid with dead corpses! How few of us would escape! What bitter lamentations and tears would be among us! One would lose a husband or a wife, another a friend or a neighbor. And have we hearts to mourn, and tears to shed over such an event as this, and have we no compassion for dead souls ? Is there none to mourn over them ? Sinners, if you will continue dead, there are some here to-day who part with you with this wish, 0 that my head were waters, and mine eyes fountains of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughtei- of my people. And O that our mourning may

reach the ears of the Lord of life, and that you might be quickened from your death in trespasses and sins! Amen and Amen.