The Nature and Process of Spiritual Life
Adapted from a sermon by Samuel Davies
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— Ephesians 2:4-5
The subject of last weeks sermon, the symptoms of spiritual death, leads us to consider its happy counterpart today, the nature and symptoms of spiritual life.
It is to be hoped that some of you, by God’s grace have been made alive to God by the operation of his Holy Spirit; but some, it is to be feared, still continue dead in transgressions and sins; and, while such are around us, I cannot help imagining my situation something like that of the prophet Ezekiel (chapter 37.) 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, "O Lord GOD, you know!” (Ezek 37:3) Lord, I see no signs of life in them, and no tendency towards it. I know that nothing is impossible to you; I firmly believe you can inspire them with life as dry and dead as they are; and what your plans are towards them, whether you intend to exert your life giving power upon them, you only know, and I would not presume to determine.
But this I know, that, if they are left to themselves, they will continue dead to all eternity! For they have often heard the life giving gospel clearly and simply offered but all in vain! They still continue dead towards you, and lie decaying more and more in transgressions and sins! However, at your command, I would attempt the most unpromising undertaking; I would proclaim even to dry bones and dead souls, Oh you dry bones, oh you dead souls “hear the word of the LORD!“ (Ezek 37:4) I would also cry aloud for the life giving breath of the Holy Spirit, “Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live." (v9)
You who are dead in sin, I would make one more attempt 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 encouragement perhaps, that the life giving spirit of Christ may work upon your hearts while I am addressing myself to your ears.
And let us all be praying silently throughout this time. If one of you were to suffer a seizure or heart attack, how would everyone rush to apply first aid to revive you! And consider this! Will so many dead souls lie among us, in every gathering, in every family and will no means be used to help them! Did Martha and Mary apply to Jesus with all earnestness in behalf of their sick and deceased brother; and are there not some of you who have dead relations, dear friends and neighbours, I mean dead in the worst sense, "dead in transgressions and sins"? And will you not apply to Jesus, the Lord of life, and follow him with your earnest cries, until he comes and calls them to life?
Now let parents become intercessors for their children; children for their parents; friend for friend; neighbour for neighbour; yes, enemy for enemy. We have reason to hope that should we do this, we might soon expect to see the valley of dry bones full of living souls, an exceedingly great army! Ezekiel 37:10. In praying for this great and glorious event, you do not pray for something that is impossible. 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 mixed crowd of Jews and Gentiles that had lain dead in sin together, and even Paul among them, who were recovered to life, and are now enjoying an immortal life in paradise! And, blessed be God, this spiritual life is not entirely extinct among us. Among the multitudes of dead souls that we meet everywhere, we find here and there a soul that has very different symptoms. Once indeed it was dead like the rest; but now, while the multitudes are quite senseless of divine things, and have no desires for God, this soul cannot be content with the best this world has to offer; it pants and breathes after God; it feeds upon his Word, it feels an almighty energy in eternal things, and receives life giving encouragement from them! It manifests life and vigour in devotion, and serves the living God with pleasure, though it is also subject to times of dryness, and at times seems just about to die, and to lose all sensation.
And from where does this vast difference come? Why is this soul so different from what it once was and from what thousands around still are? Why can it not, like them, and like itself formerly, lie dead and senseless in sin, without any lively impressions or experiences from God or divine things? The reason is, the happy reason is, this is a living soul: Like the rest, it was by nature a child of wrath. But because of his great love for it, God, who is rich in mercy, made it alive with Christ even when it was dead in transgressions! And so it is alive to him.
I will seek to explain the nature and properties of this divine life by showing you the manner in which it is usually begun in the soul, the steps by which a person is usually saved, or born again.
Here we must observe, that, though spiritual life is instantaneously imparted, yet God prepares the soul for receiving it in many steps. He spent six days in the creation of the world, though he might have spoken it into being in an instant. And so he usually creates the soul anew after a number of gradual steps. In forming the first man, he first created the earth; on the sixth day he formed and organized the dust of the earth into a human body, with all its endless variety of organs, muscles, fibres, veins, and arteries; and then, after this process, he breathed into it a living soul; and what was but a lump of clay, sprung up a perfect man.
In a similar way, God works out the imparting of spiritual life; all his children pass through a time of preparation, though for some it is longer, and for some it is shorter. And as one reason why the great Creator took up so much time in the creation of the world, might be, that he might allow the angels time to survey the astonishing process, so he may advance in the new creation, in this way, gradually, so that we may observe the various steps of the operation, and profitably think of it in the future life.
And so the solemn goal, the object now, is to trace these steps to their grand result, that you may know whether divine grace has ever carried you through this gracious process. Have you been born again to this new life?
And that no one may fall into needless anxious thoughts, it may be good to point out at the start, that there is a great deal of variety in these preparatory steps, and also in the degrees of spiritual life. But the difference is only in the particular circumstances, for the work is mainly the same, and spiritual life is mainly the same in all. But then, in such things as the length of time, the particular external means, the degree of previous terror, and of subsequent joy and vitality, and such things, God exercises a sovereign freedom, and shows that he has a variety of ways by which to accomplish his end; and it does not matter how we obtain it, so long as the result is that we have spiritual life.
We will therefore confine ourselves to the substance of this work, without looking into the particular ways it works itself out in different people; and, when this cannot be avoided, we will try to describe them in a way that they may be easily adapted to the various cases of different Christians. To draw their common outlines, by which they may be singled out from all others who are still dead in sin, is sufficient to our present purpose.
One last thing should be highlighted at the start, and that is: that the way by which divine grace prepares a sinner for spiritual life, is by working on and through his natural abilities and powers of reasoning, and exciting him, getting him, to use them to the utmost to obtain it.
Here it would be good for you to recall what was observed in last week’s sermons, that even a sinner who is dead in transgressions and sins, is alive and capable of action in other respects: he can not only perform the actions and feel the sensations of physical 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 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 about 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 good is this, when he will not turn his mind to such things? Or if he does, he considers them as mere fables, and not as the most vital and important realities.
How few, or how superficial and powerless are a sinner's thoughts of spiritual realities! Heaven and hell are objects that should strike the emotions, and raise the joys and fears of natural man, but in general he is little or not at all impressed with them. He is capable of prayer, hearing, and using the means of grace; but, if you observe the conduct of mankind, you will find they are seldom occupied in these duties, or that they perform them in such a careless manner, that they have no tendency to lead to the intended end, which is eternal life.
In short, the more I know of mankind, says Davies, 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 use it; but alas! all is in vain, and nothing will be done for good, until God stirs them up to exert their natural abilities; and this he performs as a preparation for spiritual life. He brings the sinner to exert all his active powers in seeking it: nature does her utmost, and all outward means are tried, before a supernatural change is brought about.
The Apostle John has given us the history of the resurrection of the dead body of Lazarus after it had been in the grave four days ; and I would now give you the history of a more glorious resurrection, the resurrection of a soul that had lain dead for years, yet is, at last, made alive by the same almighty power to a divine and immortal life!
If we were to look at the conversion of a particular person as an example, we might fix upon this person, and remind you, and inform others, of the process of this work in your souls. And how happy are such of you who could be used as examples in this case! You were 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 has a sense of the pressure of a mountain! You had no appetite for the living bread who came down from heaven; the desire for the things of God had no place in your hearts, but you lay there putrefying, as it were, in sin! Awful lusts preyed upon you like worms on the bodies of the dead! You spread the contagion of sin around you by your conversation and example, like the stench and corruption of a rotting carcass! You were odious and abominable to God, fit to be shut up in the infernal pit of hell, out of his sight! And you were objects of horror and lamentation to all who knew and daily considered your case, your dreadful and deplorable case.
During this time, many attempts were made for you good; you had friends that used all means to bring you to life again; but sadly! all in vain; conscience proved your friend, and pierced and reprove you, to bring you to some feeling but you remained still senseless, or the symptoms of life soon vanished. God did not cast you away as irrecoverably dead, but stirred and agitated you within, and you struggled long with the principles of death to subdue them. And if it was your happy lot to live under a faithful ministry, the Word of God that contains the seeds of the divine life was applied to you with care and seriousness. The terrors of the Lord were thundered in your ears to awaken you. The preaching of a Saviour’s dying love, and the rich grace of the gospel were repeatedly brought to you. Now you were carried within hearing of the heavenly music, and within sight of the glories of Paradise to see if these would charm you. Now you were, as it were, held over the flames of hell that they might by their terrible pains scorch and startle you into life.
Providence also worked with these applications, and tried to recover you by mercies and judgments, sickness and health, losses and possessions, disappointments and successes, threatenings and deliverances. If it was your unhappy lot to be surrounded by dead souls like yourself you had indeed but little help from them, to the contrary, they and Satan were influencing you with their drugs and poisons to confirm the deadly sleep. And consider! How astonishing is it that you should be brought to life in a mortuary, in the mansions of the dead with dead souls lying all around you!
But if it was your happiness to be in the society of the living, they pitied you, they stirred and agitated you with their warnings and persuasions, they, like Martha and Mary on behalf of their deceased brother, went to Jesus with their cries and entreaties, "Lord, my child, my parent, my servant, my neighbour is dead! Please come and restore him to life! Lord, if you had been here, he would not have died; but even now I know it is not too late for you to raise him." Thus, when one is dead in our family, the whole house should be alarmed, and all should be busy in trying to bring him to life again.
But, remember and reflect with shame and sorrow how long all these life giving efforts were in vain and 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, you soon relapsed, and grew as senseless as ever.
And in reality, sadly! Are there not some of you in this condition to this very moment? The horror and sadness of this! May the hour come, and may it be this very hour, in which such dead souls hear the voice of the Son of God and live! (John 5:25)
But as to such of you who might be examples of this history of spiritual resurrection, when your case was deplorable, and seemingly helpless, the wonderful hour, the time of love came, when you must come to life! When all these attempts had been unsuccessful, the life giving Spirit of God had determined to use more of his energy, and work more effectually on 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 accustomed to do; it came with a power you had never felt before, and which you could not resist. This made you thoughtful and reflective, and turned your minds to things that you were accustomed to neglect; this made you stand and pause, and think of the state of your neglected souls. You began to fear that matters were wrong with you; "What will become of me, when I leave this world? Where shall I be forever? Am I prepared for the eternal world? How have I spent my life?"
These, and other questions like these, brought you to a standstill, and you could not pass over them so superficially as you were accustomed to do. Your sins now appeared to you in a new light; you were shocked and surprised at their evil nature, their number, their aggravations, and their dreadful consequences! The great God, whom you were accustomed to neglect, appeared to you as a Being that demanded your attention; you saw that he was indeed a venerable, solemn, 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 you must make religion more your business than you had ever done, and on this account you changed your former course. You broke off from several of your vices, you deserted your worldly friends, and you began to frequent the throne of grace, to study Scripture, and to give serious attention to its teachings; and this you did with some degree of anxiety and earnestness.
But when you were reformed in this way, you began to flatter yourself that you had escaped out of your dangerous condition, and had come into God’s favor. Then you started to view yourselves with secret self-applause as a true Christian; 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 did not have the loving passions and sensations of living souls towards God, but rather, acted entirely from natural, selfish principles. You had no clear heart-affecting views of the intrinsic evil, and repulsive nature of sin, considered in itself; nor of the entire universal corruption of your nature, and the need not only of reforming your external behaviour, but of an inward change of heart by the almighty power of God!
You were not deeply aware of the extent and spiritual nature of God’s law, nor of His infinite purity and inescapable justice. You had no love for true religion and virtue, for their own sakes, but only on account of their happy consequences. Indeed your love of novelty and a regard to your own happiness, might so work upon you, for a time, that you might have very raised and delightful feelings in religious duties; but all your religion at that time was a mere system of selfishness, and you had no generous unselfish delight in holiness for its own excellency, nor did you heartily desire the strictness of a pure, living religion!
You were also under the government of a self-righteous spirit: your own good works were the ground of your hopes, and you had no love 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 Savior, and ascribe all your 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 did not have 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 claim to life; but in the sight of God, and in reality, they are dead! And had you been allowed to rest there, according to your own desires, you would have been dead still. But God, who is rich (how inconceivably rich!) in mercy, for the great love with which he loved you, resolved to carry on his work of salvation 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 perspective of your case; he opened your eyes farther, and then you saw, and then you felt those things of which, until then, you had but little sense or understanding; such as the corruption of your hearts, the awful strictness of the divine law, your utter inability to produce perfect obedience, and the necessity of an inward change of the inclinations and desires of your soul. These, and a great many other things like this, broke into your minds with striking evidence and a kind of almighty energy; and now you saw that you were still "dead in sin," weak, reluctant, averse towards spiritual things; and "dead in law," condemned to everlasting death and misery by its righteous sentence!
Now you set about the duties of religion with more earnestness than ever; now you prayed, you heard, and used the other means of grace as for your life, for you saw that your eternal life was indeed at stake. And now, when you considered the matter thoroughly, you were more aware than ever of your own weakness, and the difficulties in your way. "Who would have thought that my heart had been so depraved that it should thus run away from God, and struggle, and resist returning to him?"
Such was your language then. You found yourselves quite helpless and all your efforts feeble and ineffective! Then you saw yourselves, as really dead in sin, and that you must remain so to all eternity, unless made alive by a power infinitely greater than your own! Not that you relaxed and became inactive at this time; no, to the contrary, never did you exert yourselves so hard in all your life, never did you cry out to God with such earnest insistence, never did you hear and read with such eager attention, or so strongly resist against sin and temptation! All your natural powers were exerted to the highest degree, for now you saw that your case really needed it! But you found that all your most earnest endeavors were insufficient, and you saw that, without the assistance of a greater power, the work of salvation could never be accomplished in you.
Now you were brought very low indeed. While you imagined you could make yourselves safe by a reformation in your own power, you were not much worried about your condition, though you saw it was bad. But now! to feel yourselves dead in sin, and that you cannot help yourselves; to see yourselves in a state of condemnation, liable to execution any moment, and yet to find all your own endeavors utterly insufficient to relieve you; to be obliged, after all you had done, to lie at mercy's gate, 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 until now, when he is condemned by the law, and entirely cut off from all hopes from himself.
And now, finding that you could not save yourselves, you started to look around you, and look out for another to save yourself! Now you more than ever felt the absolute need of Jesus; and you cried and reached after him, and stirred yourselves up to take hold of him. The gospel brought the free offer of him to your ears, and you would gladly have accepted of him; but here new problems arose. You found that you did not think yourselves good enough to receive him, and therefore you took a great deal of fruitless pains to make yourselves better. You also found your hearts strangely open to doubts and opposed to the gospel-way of salvation, and, though a sense of your need made you try to work yourselves up to believing it; yet you could not heartily believe it, and sincerely delight in it.
And now, how sad was your state! You were "held captive under the law;" Galatians 3:23; there was no other possible way of escape, and yet, you could not take this way! Now you were ready to cry, "I am cut off from the Lord and without hope!" But, blessed be God, he did not leave you in this condition. The extreme of man's distress is God's opportunity for relief and salvation! And so you found it. Now all the preparations has come to a result. Now it is time for God to work, for nature has done all that it can, and has been found utterly insufficient! Now it is proper that a divine, supernatural effort should come to bear, for all the efforts of nature have failed, and the proud sinner is forced to admit it, and stand still, and see the salvation of God.
In this situation you wanted nothing but such a work of God to make you living Christians indeed. These steps of preparation were like the taking away the stone from the sepulchre of Lazarus, which was a lead up to that almighty voice which called him from the dead. Now you appear to me like the dry bones in Ezekiel's vision in one stage of the operation. "So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them!” (Ezekiel 37:7,8) This was all that was missing to make them living men.
In a similar way you had, at this time, the external appearance of Christians, but you had no divine supernatural life in you; you were but the fair carcasses of Christians; your religion had a body completely formed, but it had no soul in it; and had the holy Spirit now given up his work, you would have continued dead still!
But now the important crisis-point has come, when he who stood over the grave of Lazarus, and pronounced the life-restoring command, "Lazarus, come out!" (Luke 11:43) When he who breathed into Adam the breath of life made him a living soul; The crisis-point has come, when he will implant the principles of life in your souls. Suddenly you feel the amazing change, and find that you are acting from principles entirely new to you; for now your hearts, which were accustomed to rebel and withdraw from God, rise to him with the strongest desires! Now the way of salvation through Christ, which you could never be attracted to before, appears all wonderful and glorious, and captivates your whole souls! Holiness now has lovely and powerful charms, which captivate you to the most willing obedience, notwithstanding your former disgust to it! And though you once loved sin, and disliked it only because you could not indulge it without bad consequences; it now appears to you a mere mass of corruption and deformity, an abominable thing, which you hate above all other things on earth or in hell!
At this time every faculty of your souls were awakened to new life, and from that moment you felt the instincts, the appetites, the sympathies and aversions of a new life, a divine life; justly called by the apostle “the life of God” (Eph 4:18), the life of God in the soul of man. Your life started to be kindled towards spiritual objects; the vital warmth of divine love spread itself through your whole being. 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 the affection of a son, 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 moving impressions on you; the great realities of religion and eternity now affected you in a totally new way; you likewise found your souls eager with life and earnest in the service of God, and in the duties you owed to mankind. This strange change no doubt filled you with surprise and amazement, something like that of Adam when he found himself springing into life, out of his eternal non-existence. With these new sensations, everything appeared to you in a quite different light, and you could not but wonder that you had never seen them this way before!
In this way, if you now belong to Christ, when you were even dead in sin, God made you alive together with Christ. It is true, the principle of life might be very weak at first, like the life of a new-born infant, or a child just conceived in the womb. It may be but very weak still, and at times may languish, and seem just about to pass away in the agonies of death; but, blessed be the life-giving 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 transgressions and sins."
Should I give you your own history since that time, it would be something like what follows, and you will notice many symptoms of life in it. You have often known what sickness of soul is, as well as of body; and sometimes it has risen to such a height, as to endanger your spiritual life. The seeds of sin, which still lurk in your body, like the principles of death, or a deadly poison circulating through your veins, have often struggled to take over, and cast you into despondency or violent spiritual disorders. At these times the divine life was oppressed, and you could not freely enjoy prayer and godly desires; you lost the appetite for the Word of God, and what you received did not digest well and turn to profitable nourishment; your love for sacred things was faint and irregular, the spiritual life decayed, and you felt a death-like cold creeping upon you and benumbing you.
Sometimes you have been afflicted, perhaps, with outbursts of violent and outrageous passions, with the stroke of insatiable desires after earthly things, with the anaemia of carnal security, or the fever of lust! At other times you have felt an universal disorder through your whole being, and you hardly knew what was wrong with you. Only you were sure that your soul was not well. But perhaps your most common disorder that seizes you, is a kind of consumption, a lowness of spirits, a languor and weakness, the lack of appetite for your spiritual food, or perhaps a nausea and disgust towards it.
You also live in a country very unwholesome to living souls; you dwell among the dead, and catch contagious diseases from the conversation of those around you, and this heightens the disorder! And further, that old serpent the devil, works to infect you with his deadly poison, and increase the stain of sin by his temptations! At such times you can hardly feel any workings of spiritual life in you, and you fear you are entirely dead! But examine closely, and you will discover some evidence of life, even in this bad state of soul; for is not your new nature active to work off the disorder? Are not your spirits agitated, and do you not feel yourselves in terrible pain, or at least greatly uneasy? Give all the world to a sick man, and he despises it all: "Oh, give me my health!" he will say, "or you give me nothing!" So it is with you; nothing can content you while your souls are out of order in this way.
Do you not long for their recovery, that you may go about your business again; I mean that you may engage in the service of God with all the strength of health? And do you not cry out to Christ as your only physician in this condition? And then, what a healing balm is the gospel! What reviving medicine is his love! and with what kindness does his Spirit purge off the corruptions within you, and subdue the principles of sin and death!
Has not experience taught you the meaning of the apostle, when he says, Christ is our life: "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me?" (Galatians 2:20) Do you not perceive that Christ is your living head, and that you revive or languish, just as he communicates or withholds his gracious influence? And have you not been taught in the same way, what is the meaning of that expression so often repeated, "the righteous shall live by his faith?" (Hab. 2:4) Do you not find that faith is, as it were, the main artery by which you derive life from Christ, and by which it is circulated through your whole being; and that when faith languishes, then you weaken, pine away, and perhaps faint, as though you were quite dead?
Are you not careful of the health of your souls? You endeavor to keep them warm with the love of God; you shun those sickly regions as far as you can, where the example and conversation of the wicked spread their deadly infection; and you love to dwell among living souls, and breathe in their wholesome air. Upon the whole, it is evident, notwithstanding your frequent indispositions, you have some life within you; life always manifests itself, even from your disorders. It is a plain symptom of spiritual life, that you have something within you, that makes such a determined resistance against the principles of sin and death, and throws your whole being into disorder, until it has fought off the disease. In short, you have the sensations, the sympathies and aversions, the pleasures and pains, of living souls!
And is it so indeed? Then from this moment, begin to rejoice and bless the Lord, who raised you to spiritual life. Let the hearts he has made alive, beat with his love; let the lips he has opened, when trembling 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 kind of life he has given you. It is a capacity and aptitude for the most exalted and divine services and enjoyments. Now you have a desire for the Supreme Good as your happiness, the only proper food for your immortal souls; and he will not allow you to hunger and thirst in vain, but will satisfy the appetites he has implanted in your nature! You have some spirit and life in his service, and are not like the dead souls around you, who are all alive toward other objects, but absolutely dead towards him! You have also noble and exalted sensations; you are capable of a set of pleasures of a more refined and sublime nature, than what are relished by grovelling sinners!
From your inmost souls you detest and nauseate over whatever is vile, base, and abominable; and you can feast on what is pure, amiable, excellent, and worthy of your love. Your sinful taste for trash and poison, is cured; and you now feed on heavenly bread, on food agreeable to the makeup of your spiritual nature. And from this you may draw the conclusion that your are fit for the heavenly world, that region of perfect spiritual life.
You have a disposition for its enjoyments and services, and this is the grand preparatory work. God will not encumber the heaven of his glory, with dead souls; nor infect the pure healthful air of paradise, with the poison of their corruption! But the everlasting doors are always open for living souls, and not one of them will ever be excluded! More than that, the life of heaven is already within you! The life that reigns with immortal health and strength above, is the very same that lives in you! Only there it has come to maturity and perfection, and here it is in its beginnings and weakness.
Your physical life, which was hardly perceivable in the womb, is the very same now, only now it has come to maturity. In this sense, you are now angels in embryo, the very beginnings of glorified immortals! And when you are born out of the womb of time, into the eternal world, this feeble spark of spiritual life will kindle and blaze, and make you as active and vigorous as angels who now adore God in heaven. Then you will fear no more weakness, no more languor, no more bouts of indisposition! The poison of temptation, and the contagion of bad example cannot reach you there! And the inward seeds of sickness and death will be purged entirely out of your soul! You will be totally removed out of the sickly country, and breathe a pure reviving air, the natural element of your living souls.
There you will find the fountain, yes, whole rivers of the waters of life, of which you will drink in large draughts forever and ever, and which will invigorate you with immortal life and health! How truly happy you are, in this single gift of spiritual life! This is a life that cannot perish, even in the ruins of the world!
An what if you must before long, yield your mortal bodies and physical life to death and rottenness? Your most important life is immortal, and not subject to such death; and therefore be courageous in the name of the Lord, and stand defiant against all the calamities of life, and all the terrors of death; for "your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory!" (Col. 3:3, 4)
It would be wonderful to go on in this strain, and end with a wonderful memory of these delightful truths; but, sadly! We must address another set of people in this 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 that they will not hear, unless God adds to my very feeble voice his almighty power. I would pray over you like Elijah over the dead child, "O Lord my God, let this child's life come into him again!” (1 Kings 17:21)
Are not the living and the dead blended in this assembly? Here is a dead soul, there another, and there another, even in this small hall! And here and there are a living soul scattered among them!
Have you ever experienced steps like the preparatory steps we have just heard described? or if you are not sure about this, as some may be, who are animated with spiritual life, please examine yourselves; do you have the feelings, the appetites and aversions, the pleasing and the painful sensations of living souls? I fear that conscience raises its voice in some of you, whether you will or not, and cries, "Oh no! There is not a spark of life in my being." Well, my poor deceased friends, (for so I may call you,) I hope you will seriously pay attention to what I am going to say to you.
I have no bad intentions for you; but, rather, 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 able, in some measure, to apply divine things. And, as we saw earlier, it is upon these principles of nature, natural reason and feelings, that God is accustomed to work, to prepare the soul for the imparting of a supernatural life. And these I would now work upon, hoping that you are not completely hardened against thinking of things of the greatest importance; I earnestly ask you would lay to heart such things as these:
Can you content yourselves with a only physical life, the life of beasts, when you are endowed with reason, which just makes you a more ingenious and self-tormenting kind of animal; more artful in gratifying your sinful appetites, and yet still uneasy for lack of an unknown something; a care that the brute world, being destitute of reason, are unconcerned with?
Have you no ambition to be endowed with a divine immortal life, the life of God? Can you be contented with a mere temporal life? When your souls must exist forever? That infinite world beyond the grave is filled with nothing but terrors to you if you do not have spiritual life. And can you bear the thought of residing among its grim and ghastly terrors forever? Are you contented to be cut off from God, and to be banished forever from all the joys of his presence? You cannot be admitted to heaven, without spiritual life. Hell is the grave for dead souls, and there you must be sent, if you still continue dead. And will this thought not affect you?
Consider, also: Now is the only time in which you can be restored to life. And will you let it pass by with no benefit? Will all the means that have been used for your revival be in vain? Or the strivings of the Spirit, the alarms of your own consciences, the blessings and chastisements of Providence, the persuasions, tears, and lamentations of your living friends? Will all these be in vain? Can you bear the thought? Surely, not! Therefore, muster all your energy and heave and struggle to burst the chains of death! Cry mightily to God to make you alive. Use all the means offered to revive you, and avoid every deadly and contagious thing!
I know not, dear friends in Christ, how this thought will affect us as we part today, 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, oh 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 might lose a husband or a wife, another a friend or a child or a parent. And have we hearts to mourn, and tears to shed over such an event as this? Have we no compassion for dead souls? Are there none to mourn over them?
Sinners, if you will still continue dead, there are some here today who leave you with this wish, in the words of Jeremiah, "Oh that my head were waters, and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!” (Jer 9:1) And oh, that our mourning may reach the Lord of life, and that you might be made alive from your death in transgressions and sins!
Amen and amen.