THE NATURE AND UNIVERSALITY OF SPIRITUAL DEATH.
" Who were dead in trespasses and sins,... even when we were dead in sins." Ephes. ii. 1, 6.
There is a kind of death which we all expect to feel, that carries terror in the sound, and all its circumstances are shocking to nature. The ghastly countenance, the convulsive agonies, the expiring groan, the coffin, the grave, the devouring worm, the stupor, the insensibility, the universal inactivity, these strike a damp to the spirit, and we turn pale at the thought. With such objects as these in view, courage fails, levity looks serious, presumption is dashed, the cheerful passions sink, and all is solemn, all is melancholy. The most stupid and hardy sinner cannot but be moved to see these things exemplified in others; and when he cannot avoid the prospect, he is shocked to think that he himself must feel them.
But there is another kind of death, little regarded indeed, little feared, little lamented, which is infinitely more terrible —the death, not of the body, but of the soul: a death which does not stupefy the limbs, but the faculties of the mind: a death which does not separate the soul and body, and consign the latter to the grave, but that separates the soul from God, excludes it from the joys of his presence, and delivers it over to everlasting misery: a tremendous death indeed! " A death unto death." And this is the death meant in my text, dead in trespasses and sins.
To explain the context and show you the connection I shall make two short remarks.
The one is, That the apostle had observed in the nineteenth and twentieth verses of the foregoing chapter, that the same Almighty power of God, that raised Christ from the dead, is exerted to enable a sinner to believe. We believe, says he, according to the working, or energy, of his Almighty power which he wrought in, Christ, when he raised him from the dead. The one as well as the other is an exploit of Omnipotence. The exceeding greatness of his mighty power is exerted towards us who believe, as well as it was upon the dead body of Christ to restore it to life, after it had been torn and mangled upon the cross, and lain three days and three nights in the grave. What strong language is this! what a forcible illustration! Methinks this passage alone is sufficient to confound all the vanity and self-sufficiency of mortals, and entirely destroy the proud fiction of a selfsprung faith produced by the efforts of degenerate nature. In my text the apostle assigns the reason of this: the same exertion of the same power is necessary in the one case and the other; because as the body of Christ was dead, and had no principle of life in it, so, says he, ye were dead in trespasses and sins, and therefore could no more quicken yourselves than a dead body can restore itself to life. But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us ; that God, who raised the entombed Redeemer to life again, that same Almighty God, by a like exertion of the same power, hath quickened us, even when we were dead in sins—dead, senseless, inactive, and incapable of animating ourselves.
The other remark is, that the apostle, having pronounced the Ephesians dead in sin, while unconverted, in the first verse, passes the same sentence upon himself, and the whole body of the Jews, notwithstanding their high privileges, in the fifth verse. The sense and connection may be discovered in the following paraphrase: " You Ephesians were very lately heathens, and, while you were in that state, you were spiritually dead, and all your actions were dead works. In time past ye walked in trespasses and sins; nor were you singular in your course; though it be infinitely pernicious, yet it is the common course of this world, and it is also agreeable to the temper and instigation of that gloomy prince who has a peculiar power in the region of the air, that malignant spirit who works with dreadful efficacy in the numerous children of disobedience; but this was not the case of you heathens alone: we also, who are Jews, notwithstanding our many religious advantages, and even I myself, notwithstanding my high privileges and unblemishable life as a Pharisee, we also, I say, tad our conversation in times past among the children of disobedience; we all, as well as they, walked in the lusts of the flesh, fulfilling the desires and inclinations of our sensual flesh, and of our depraved minds; for these were tainted with spiritual wickedness, independent of our animal passions and appetites; but when we were all dead in sins, when Jews and Gentiles were equally dead to God, then, even then, God who is rich in mercy, had pity upon us; he quickened us ; he inspired us with a new and spiritual life by his own Almighty power, which raised the dead body of Christ from the grave. He quickened us together with uhrist: we received our life by virtue of our union with him as our vital head, who was raised to an immortal life, that he might quicken dead souls by those influences of his Spirit, which he purchased by his death; and therefore by grace are ye saved. It is the purest, richest, freest grace that ever such dead souls as we were made alive to God, and not suffered to remain dead for ever."
This is the obvious meaning and connection of these verses; and we now proceed to consider the text, dead in trespasses and sins. A dismal, mortifying character! " This one place," says Beza, " like a thunderbolt, dashes all mankind down to the dust, great and proud as they are; for it pronounces their nature not only hurt but dead by sin, and therefore liable to wrath."
Death is a state of insensibility and inactivity, and a dead man is incapable of restoring himself to life; therefore the condition of an unconverted sinner must have some resemblance to such a state, in order to support the bold metaphor Here used by the apostle. The metaphor, however, must be understood with several limitations or exceptions; for it is certain there is a wide difference between the spiritual death of the soul, and the natural death of the body, particularly in this respect, that death puts an entire end to all the powers, actions, and sensations of our animal nature universally, with regard to all objects of every kind; but a soul dead m sin is only partially dead, that is, it is dead only with regard to a certain kind of sensations and exercises, but in the mean time it may be all life and activity about other things. It is alive, sensible, and vigorous about earthly objects and pursuits; these raise its passions and engage its thoughts. It has also a dreadful power and faculty of sinning. It can likewise exercise its intellectual powers, and make considerable improvements in science. A sinner dead in trespasses and sins may be a living treasury of knowledge, a universal scholar, a profound philosopher, and even a great divine, as far as mere speculative knowledge can render him such.; nay, he is capable of many sensations and impressions from religious objects, and of performing all the external duties of religion. He is able to read, to hear, to meditate upon divine things; nay, he may be an instructor of others, and preach perhaps with extensive popularity; he may have a form of godliness, and obtain a name to live among men; he is in some measure able, and it is his duty to attend upon the means God has instituted for quickening him with spiritual life, and God deals with him as with a rational creature, by laws, sanctions, promises, expostulations, and invitations. But, notwithstanding all these concessions, it is a melancholy truth that an unregenerate sinner is dead. Though he can commit sin with greediness, though he is capable of animal actions and secular pursuits, nay, though he can employ his mind even about intellectual and spiritual things, and is capable of performing the external duties of religion, yet there is something in religion with regard to which he is entirely dead: there is a kind of spiritual life of which he is entirely destitute: he is habitually insensible with regard to things divine and eternal: he has no activity, no vigor in the pure, spiritual, and vital exercises of religion: he is destitute of those sacred affections, that joy, that love, that desire, that hope, that fear, that sorrow, which are, as it were, the innate passions of the man. In short, he is so inactive, so listless1 so insensible in these respects, that death, which puts an end to all action and sensation, is a proper emblem of his state: and this is the meaning of the apostle in my text. He is also utterly unable to quicken himself. He may, indeed, use means of some sort; but to implant a vital principle in his soul, to give himself vivid sensations of divine things, and make himself alive towards God; this is entirely beyond his utmost ability; this is as peculiarly the work of Almighty power as the resurrection of the dead body from the grave.
As to this death, it is brought upon him by, and consists in, trespasses and sins. The innate depravity and corruption of the heart, and the habits of sin contracted and confirmed by repeated indulgences of inbred corruption, these are the poisonous, deadly things that have slain the soul; these have entirely indisposed and disabled it for living religion. Trespasses and sins are the grave, the corrupt effluvia, the malignant damps, the rottenness of a dead soul: it lies dead, senseless, inactive, buried in trespasses and sins.
I have no scruple at all to pronounce, not only from the authority of an apostle, but from the evidence of the thing, that I, and all around me, yea, and all the sons of men, have been dead; in the spiritual sense, utterly dead. Multitudes among us, yea, the generality, are dead still; hence the stupor, the carelessness, about eternal things, the thoughtless neglect of God, the insensibility under his providential dispensations, the impenitence, the presumption that so much prevail.
If you would know my design in choosing this subject, it is partly for the conviction of sinners, that they may be alarmed with their deplorable condition, which is the first step towards their being quickened; partly to rouse the children of grace to seek more life from their vital head; and partly to display the rich grace of God in quickening such dead sinners, and bestowing upon them a spiritual and immortal life; if I may but answer these ends, it will be an unspeakable blessing to us all. And oh, that divine grace may honor this humble attempt of a poor creature, at best but half alive, with success! I hope, my brethren, you will hear seriously, for it is really a most serious subject. You have seen that the metaphorical expression in my text is intended to represent the stupidity, inactivity, and impotence of unregenerate sinners about divine things. This truth I might confirm by argument and Scripture authority; but I think it may be a better method for popular conviction to prove and illustrate it from plain instances of the temper and conduct of sinners about the concerns of religion. And,
I. Consider the excellency of the divine Being, the sum total, the great original of all perfections. How infinitely worthy is he of the adoration of all his creatures! how deserving of their most intense thoughts and most ardent affections! if happiness has charms that draw all the world after it, here is an unbounded ocean of happiness; here is the only complete portion for an immortal, mind. Men are affected with created excellencies. Whence is it, then, that they are so stupidly unaffected with the supreme original excellencies of Jehovah ? Here, turn your eyes inward upon yourselves, and inquire, are you not conscious that, though you have passions for other objects, and are easily moved by them, yet, with regard to the perfections of the supreme and best of beings, your hearts are habitually senseless and unaffected? In other cases you can love what appears amiable, you revere what is great and majestic, you eagerly desire and pursue what is valuable, and tends to your happiness; and all this you do freely, spontaneously, vigorously, by the innate inclination and tendency of your nature, without reluctance, without com
Eulsion, nay, without persuasion; but, as to God and all is perfections, you are strangely insensible, backward, and averse. Where is there one being that has any confessed excellency in the compass of human knowledge, that does not engage more of the thoughts and affections of mankind than the glorious and ever-blessed God ? The sun, moon, and stars have had more worshipers than the uncreated fountain of light from which they derive their lustre. Kings and ministers of state have more punctual homage and frequent applications made to them than the King of kings, and Lord of lords. Search all the world over and you will find but very little motions of heart towards God; little love, little desire, little searching after him. You will often, indeed, see him honored with the compliment of a bended knee, and a few heartless words, under the name of a prayer; but where is the heart, where are the thoughts, where the affections ? These run wild through the world, and are scattered among a thousand other objects. "Lord! what is this that has seized the souls of thine own offspring, that are thus utterly disordered towards thee !" The reason is, they are dead, dead in trespasses and sins. Yes, sinners, this is the melancholy reason why you are so thoughtless, so unconcerned, so senseless about the God that made you; you are dead. The carelessness and indisposition of the soul towards the supreme Excellence will appear yet more evident and astonishing, if we consider,
II. The august and endearing relations the great and blessed God sustains to us, and the many ways he has taken to make_ dutiful and grateful impressions upon our hearts. What tender endearments are there contained in the relation of a Father! It is but a little while since we came from his creating hand, and yet we have forgotten him. It seems unnatural for his own offspring to inquire, " Where is God my maker ?" They show no fondness for him, no affectionate veneration, and no humble confidence; their hearts are dead towards him, as though there were no such being, or no such near relation subsisting between them. In childhood a rattle, or a straw, or any trifle, is more thought of than their heavenly Father: in riper years their vain pleasures and secular pursuits command more of their affections than their divine original and only happiness.
But this relation of a Father is not the only relation our God sustains to you; he is your supreme king, to whom you owe allegiance; your lawgiver, whose will is the rule of your conduct; and your judge, who will call you to an account, and reward or punish you according to your works: but how unnatural is it to men to revere the most high God under these august characters ! Where is there a king upon earth, however weak or tyrannical, but is more regarded by his subjects than the King of heaven by the generality of men ? Were ever such excellent laws contemned and violated ? Did ever criminals treat their judge with so much neglect and contempt? And are these souls alive to God who thus treat him f No. Alas ! " they are dead in trespasses and sins."
God is also our guardian and deliverer; and from how many dangers has he preserved us! from how many calamities has he delivered us! Dangers, distresses, and deaths crowd upon us, and surround us in every age and every place: the air, the earth, the sea, and every element, are pregnant with numberless principles of pain and death, ready to seize and destroy us; sickness and death swarm around us; nay, they lie in ambush in our own constitutions and are perpetually undermining our lives, and yet our divine guardian preserves us for months and years unhurt, untouched; or, if he suffers the calamity to fall, or death to threaten, he flies to our deliverance: how many salvations of this kind has he wrought for us! salvations from accidents, from sickness, from pain, from sorrow, from death; salvations in infancy, in youth, and in mature years! These things we cannot deny without the most stupid ignorance and atheistical disbelief of divine Providence. But though God be infinitely superior to us, and it is nothing to him what becomes of us, though we have rebelled against him, and deserve his vengeance, yet ten thousand deliverances from his hands have little or no effect upon the hearts of men: all these cannot bring them to think of him, or love him as much as they do a friend, or a common benefactor of their own species. And does such stupid ingratitude discover any spiritual life in them ? No: they are dead in this respect, though they are all alive to those passions that terminate upon created objects. Further, God is the benefactor of mankind, not only in delivering them from dangers and calamities, but in bestowing unnumbered positive blessings upon them. Sinful and miserable as this world is, it is a treasury rich in blessings, a storehouse full of provisions, a dwelling well furnished for the accommodation of mortals, and all by the care, and at the expense of that gracious God who first made and still preserves it what it is. " Lord, whence is it then that the inhabitants forget and neglect thee, as though they were not at all obliged to thee ? Oh ! whence is it that they love thy gifts, and yet disregard the giver ? that they think less of thee than an earthly father or friend, or a human benefactor?" Surely, if they had any life, any sensation in this respect, they would not be capable of such conduct; but they are dead, dead to all the generous sensations of gratitude to God: and as a dead corpse feels no gratitude to those that perform the last friendly office, and cover it with earth, so a dead soul stands unmoved under all the profusion of blessings which Heaven pours upon it. The blessings I have mentioned, which are confined to the present state, are great, and deserve our wonder and thanksgiving; but what are these in comparison of God's gift of his Son, and the blessings he has preached! You can no more find love equal to this among creatures, than you can find among them the infinite power that formed the universe out of nothing. This will stand upon record to all eternity, as the unprecedented, unparalleled, inimitable love of God. And it appears the more illustrious when we consider that this unspeakable gift was given to sinners, to rebels, to enemies, that were so far from deserving it, that, on the other hand, it is a miracle of mercy that they are not all groaning for ever under the tremendous weight of his justice. Oh! that I could say something becoming this love; something that might do honor to it! but, alas! the language of mortals was formed for lower subjects. This love passes all description and all knowledge.
Consider also, what rich blessings Christ has purchased for us; purchased, not with such corruptible things as silver and gold, but with his own most precious blood: the price recommends and endears the blessings, though they are so great in themselves as to need no recommendation. What can be greater or more suitable blessings to persons in our circumstances, than pardon for the guilty, redemption for slaves, righteousness and justification for the condemned, sanctification for the unholy, rest for the weary, comfort for the mourners, everlasting happiness for the heirs of hell, and, to sum up all, grace and glory, and every good thing, and all the unsearchable riches of Christ for the wretched and miserable, the poor, the blind and naked! These are blessings indeed, and, in comparison of them, the riches of the world are impoverished, and vanish to nothing; and all these blessings are published, offered freely, indefinitely offered to you, to me, to the greatest sinner on earth, in the gospel; and we are allowed—allowed did I say ? we are invited with the utmost importunity, entreated with the most compassionate tenderness and condescension, and commanded by the highest authority, upon pain of eternal damnation, to accept the blessings presented to us! And what reception does all this love meet with in our world? I tremble to think of it. It is plain these things are proposed to a world dead in sin; for they are all still, all unmoved, all senseless under such a revelation of infinite grace; mankind know not what it is to be moved, melted, transported with the love of a crucified Saviour, till divine grace visits their hearts, and forms them into new creatures. They feel no eager solicitude, nay, not so much as a willingness to receive these blessings, till they become willing by Almighty power; and judge ye, my brethren, whether they are not dead souls that are proof even against the love of God in Christ, that are not moved and melted by the agonies of his cross, that are careless about such inestimable blessings as these ? Has that soul any spiritual life in it that can sit senseless under the cross of Jesus, that can forget him, neglect him, dishonor him, after all his love and all his sufferings; that loves him less than an earthly friend, and seeks him with less eagerness than gold and silver ? Oh, look round the world, and what do you see but a general neglect of the blessed Jesus, and all the blessings of his gospel? How cold, how untoward, how reluctant, how averse are the hearts of men towards him ? how hard to persuade them to think of him and love him ? Astonishing, and most lamentable, that ever such perverseness and stupidity should seize the soul of man! Methinks I could here take up a lamentation over human nature, and fall on my knees with this prayer for my fellow-men, " Father of spirits and Lord of life, quicken, oh, quicken these dead souls!" Oh, sirs, while we see death all around us, and feel it benumbing our own souls, who can help the most bitter wailing and lamentation! who can restrain himself from crying to the great Author of life for a happy resurrection! While the valley of dry bones lies before me, while the carnage, the charnel-house of immortal souls strikes my sight all around me, far and wide, how can I forbear crying, Come from thefour winds, oh, breathe, breathe upon these shin, that they may live !
I have materials sufficient for a discourse of some hours; but at present I must abruptly drop the subject: however, I cannot dismiss you without making a few reflections. And—I. What a strange affecting view does this subject give us of this assembly! I doubt not but I may accommodate the text to some of you with this agreeable addition, " You hath he quickened, you who were once dead in trespasses and sins. Though the vital pulse beats faint and irregular, and your spiritual life is but very low, yet, blessed be God, you are not entirely dead: you have some living sensations, some lively and vigorous exercises in religion. On the other hand, I doubt not that some of you not only were, but still are, dead in trespasses and sins. It is not to be expected in our world, at least not before the millennium, that we shall see such a mixed company together, and all living souls. Here, then, is the difference between you; some of you are spiritually alive, and some of you are spiritually dead: here the living and the dead are blended together in the same assembly, on the same seat, and united in the nearest relations: here sits a dead soul, there another, and there another, and a few living souls are scattered here and there among them: here is a dead parent and a living child, or a dead child and a living parent: here life and death are united in the bonds of conjugal love, and dwell under the same roof Should I trace the distinction beyond this assembly into the world, we shall find a family here and there that have a little life;
Eerhaps one, perhaps two, discover some vital symptoms; ut, oh, what crowds of dead families! all dead together, and no endeavors used to bring one another to life; a death-like silence about eternal things; a deadly stupor and insensibility reign among them; they breathe out no desires and prayers after God, nor does the vital pulse of love beat in their hearts towards him; but, on the contrary, their souls are putrefying in sin, which is very emphatically called corruption by the sacred writers; they are overrun and devoured by their lusts, as worms insult and destroy the dead body. Call to them, they will not awake; thunder the terrors of the Lord in their ears, they will not hear; offer them all the blessings of the gospel, they will not stretch out the hand of faith to receive them; lay the word of God, the bread of life before them, they have no appetite for it. In short, the plain symptoms of death are upon them: the animal is alive, but, alas! the spirit is dead towards God. And what an affecting, melancholy view does this give of this assembly, and of the world in general ! 0 that my head were waters, and mine eyes fountains of tears, that I might weep day and night, for the slain of the daughter of my people ! Weep not for the afflicted, weep not over ghastly corpses dissolving into their original dust, but, oh ! weep for dead souls. Should God now strike all those persons dead in this assembly, whose souls are dead in trespasses and sins, should he lay them all in pale corpses before us, like Ananias and Sapphira at the apostle's feet, what numbers of you would never return from this house more, and what lamentations would there be among the surviving few! One would lose a husband or a wife, another a son or a daughter, another a father or a mother; alas! would not some whole families be swept off together, all blended in one promiscuous death! Such a sight as this would strike terror into the hardest heart among you. But what is this to a company of rational spirits slain and dead in trespasses and sins? How deplorable and inexpressibly melancholy a sight this! Therefore,
II. Awake thou that steepest, and arise from the dead, that Christ may give thee light. This call is directed to you, dead sinners, which is a sufficient warrant for me to exhort and persuade you. The principle of reason is still alive in you; you are also sensible of your own interest, and feel the workings of self-love. It is God alone that can quicken you, but he effects this by a power that does not exclude, but attends rational instructions and persuasions to your understanding. Therefore, though I am sure you will continue dead still if left to yourselves, yet with some trembling hopes that his power may accompany my feeble words and impregnate them with life, I call upon, I entreat, I charge you sinners to rouse yourselves out of your dead sleep, and seek to obtain spiritual life. Now, while my voice sounds in your ears, now, this moment, waft up this prayer, " Lord, pity a dead soul, a soul that has been dead for ten, twenty, thirty, forty years, or more, and lain corrupting in sin, and say unto me, ' Live:' from this moment let me live unto thee." Let this prayer be still upon your hearts; keep your souls always in a supplicating posture, and who knows but that He who raised Lazarus from the grave may give you a spiritual resurrection to a more important life ? But if you willfully continue your security, expect in a little time to suffer the second death; the mortification will become incurable; and then, though you will be still dead to God, yet you will be " tremblingly alive all over" to the sensations of pain and torture. Oh, that I could gain but this one request of you, which your own interest so strongly enforces! but, alas! it has been so often refused, that to expect to prevail is to hope against hope.
III. Let the children of God be sensible of their great happiness in being made spiritually alive. Lifens a principle, a capacity necessary for enjoyments of any kind. Without animal life you would be as incapable of animal pleasures as a stone or a clod; and without spiritual life you can no more enjoy the happiness of heaven than a beast or a devil. This, therefore, is a preparative, a previous qualification, and a sure pledge and earnest of everlasting life. How highly then are you distinguished, and what cause have you for gratitude and praise!
IV. Let us all be sensible of this important truth, that it is entirely by grace we are saved. This is the inference the apostle expressly makes from this doctrine: and he is
so full of it, that he throws it into a parenthesis, (verse 5th,) though it breaks the connection pf his discourse; and as soon as he has room he assumes it again, (verse 8th,) and repeats it over and over, in various forms, in the compass of a few verses. By grace ye are saved—By grace ye are saved through faith—it is the gift of God ;—not of yourselves —not of works, (verse 9th.) This, you see, is an inference that seemed of great importance to the apostle; and what can more naturally follow from the premises? If we were once dead jn sin, certainly it is owing to the freest grace that we have been quickened; therefore, when we survey the change, let us cry, " Grace, grace unto it."