« PoprzedniaDalej »
No. 11. VOL. 10.]
EPHESIANS ii. 1.
[WHOLE NO. 119.
BY JAMES MILNOR, D.D. NEW-YORK.
THE ONE THING NEEDFUL.
You hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins.
WHEN we address dying men on the subject of that dissolution, which is the inevitable lot of all, they fully comprehend our meaning. The destruction of natural life is every day before their eyes; and however insensible they may be to their own constant liability to the stroke of the destroyer, and their consequent endless happiness or misery, yet arguments are needless to convince them that what has happened to the generations that have passed away, will happen in turn to them. Sooner or later, the inevitable doom involved in the sentence, "Dust thou art and unto dust thou must return," they know will be theirs. But the case is far different when we speak to them of that spiritual death which alienates the soul from God, precludes his favor, and if not risen from in the present state of existence, must assuredly banish them forever from his presence. Beings so bustling and active, so full of enterprise and energy, so alive to all that concerns their temporal interests, are very unwilling to believe that they may be dead while they live; and that if they be not quickened into spiritual life, their end will be what the Apostle terms, "Death unto death."
In our text he declares the Ephesians, to whom he wrote, to have experienced both these states. Once they 66 were dead in trespasses and sins." Now Christ had quickened them into spiritual life. Of two similar classes does this whole world consist. The larger number are dead in trespasses and sins. Like these Ephesians before their conversion, as described by St. Paul in the verses following the text, they are "walking according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, who worketh in the children of disobedience;" "having their conversation in the lusts of the flesh;" and " fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind." The Apostle guards against the supposition, that this was a character peculiar to the Ephesians merely because engulfed in the darkness of heathenism, by attributing the same properties to himself and his associates in their uncon. verted state. He confesses they were, by nature, children of wrath, even 43
VOL. X. No. 11.
as others." But, with humble gratitude he avers, that their situation was now very different: "God, says he, who is rich in mercy, for the great love wherewith he loved us, hath quickened us together with Christ."
The text may lead us to consider,
I. The state and character of the natural man as here described.
I. The state and character of the natural man. He is "dead in trespasses and sins." His condition has no fitter emblem than that of death. Similitudes, however, must never be strained so far as to lead into absurdities and contradictions. It would be carrying this allegation too far to make the natural death of the body, and the spiritual death of the soul identical. The body deprived of life is utterly incapable of action, just as if it had never been the tabernacle of that thinking principle we call the soul. But a soul dead in trespasses and sins is not exactly in that state. So far as regards the powers, sensations, and actions of our intellectual nature, it is perfectly alive. Its thoughts are exercised, and its sensibilities engaged, in earthly things with activity and energy. It can soar aloft into the regions of speculative knowledge. It can even avoid, in the exercise of its natural powers, much of moral evil, and practise much of seeming good. All that is exterior even in the offices and duties of religion, comes within its grasp. Nay, its faculties may be employed in the use of those means of grace which are designed to be the instruments of the soul's resurrection from the death of sin to the life of righteousness. It would be a perversion of a Scripture doctrine, not to regard man, at every period of his existence, as a rational creature, or to question his free will. For so God unquestionably regards him. He is at all times under the obligation of the duties prescribed to him by his Maker. He is subject to the law of God, with all its sanctions; and to him are addressed the promises, expostulations, and invitations of the Gospel. These concessions are necessary to set aside those excuses which human reluctance and indolence are continually presenting for the neglect of the soul's salvation, and to maintain the universal accountability of all men for the talents committed to their trust. And yet, in perfect consistency with these admissions, it is, neverthless, true, that all unregenerate men are considered in God's word, as "dead in trespasses and sins." "Sin hath entered into the world, and death by sin, and so death, (spiritual as well as natural,) hath passed upon all men in that all have sinned.” survey of the world be taken with that purified vision which the sacred Scriptures and the Holy Spirit supply, and its fallen inhabitants present the aspect of such a valley of dry bones as was spread before the
yes of the prophet of the Lord. The scene presented is one wide carnival of death, over every region of the habitable globe, in every place of man's dwelling, from the cheerless hovel of poverty to the splendid mansion of luxury and wealth, and over every intellectual variety of our species, from him who scarcely seems raised in mental endowments above the beasts that perish, to him whose understanding has mastered all the heights of human science. One spiritual condition is the heritage of our race. There is none that
doeth good, no not one." Every soul has been arraigned at the bar of divine justice; the charge of universal guilt has been established; and sentence of death passed upon every descendant of him who first violated the command of his Maker. By nature all are alienated from the love of God, and averse to holy principles of action; and, therefore, in the sense intended by our Apostle, they are spiritually dead. For the purposes of self-gratification; for the active pursuit of present enjoyment; for the inordinate love of the things of time and sense, man has principles and faculties of action abundantly sufficient. Ingenuity in the contrivance of his plans, activity in their pursuit, perseverance in their accomplishment, all who are observant of the course of human action will admit to belong naturally to man. It is this very devotion to earthly things, associated with dislike to spiritual, that the terms of our text were intended to designate. When we speak of a man's being "dead in trespasses and sins, and so incapable of doing what is spiritually good, it is not physical nor intellectual, but moral incompetency we intend. It is like our speaking of a miser being incapable of a generous action. The evil lies in the perverted state of the will, or heart, which is the seat of guilt. It does not imply that the man could not do what is right, if he really had a desire for it. But he has no inclination for spiritual things. On the contrary, he has a deliberate and allowed aversion to what is agreeable to the will of God. He is dead to holy duties-has no relish for them. This is sinful, and brings him in guilty before God. And, surely, it does not diminish, far less take away his guilt, that such is its extent, that nothing less than divine power will ever overcome it. Unrenewed men are utterly opposed to the holy requirements of God's law; and they willingly, and without constraint, reject the Gospel. The first is sufficient to seal their condemnation. second raises their criminality into a still higher grade of atrocity. Having incurred an awful penalty, they ungratefully reject the declared and only means of its remission. They manifest no desire after an interest in the salvation which God has mercifully revealed. They have willingly brought upon themselves the guilt of transgression, and they are most criminally indifferent to the promises which divine mercy proposes for its removal. not this statement supported by Scripture authority and daily observation? Surely an unbiassed judgment must acknowledge its accordance with both. Men are called upon to love God with all their heart, and soul, and mind, and strength. They are conjured to abandon their pride, and self-indulgence, their love of the world, their reliance on their own righteousness, their opposition to the grace of the Gospel. There are set before them the love of God, as the legitimate and grand incentive to duty; his law as the supreme rule of conduct, his glory as its proper end, and his mercy in Christ Jesus as the only hope of escaping the consequences of transgression. But alas, how ineffectually are these things pressed upon their attention! All that promp
titude and vigor of action, which are so readily called forth in the inferior concerns of life, are here wanting. Call we to such ever so loudly; they answer not. Proclaim we the terrors of the Lord; they still slumber and sleep amid the billows of divine wrath. Address we to them the affecting appeals
of God's mercy and compassion; they have ears, but they hear not. Reiterate we the free forgiveness of the Gospel, and all the countless blessings God is ready, for Christ's sake, to bestow upon repentant sinners; they refuse to stretch out the hand of faith to receive them. O how many have lived estemed, and died lamented, and have had eulogies eloquent, perhaps just, pronounced upon their social virtues, whose minds have been strangers to the spirituality and holiness of God's law, whose conduct has not been subordinated to his commands, and whose hearts have never felt the quickenings of his grace, and so risen into that spiritual life which alone prepares for life eternal! Never do they seem to realize the solemn truth, that the period of probation is wasted and the soul destroyed by any course that is pursued without reference to God and the salvation of his Son, and with no heart-felt reliance on that Almighty Spirit, who alone quickeneth the spiritually dead. And this appropriately introduces our
II. Second topic: namely, the agency by which alone, souls, dead in trespasses and sins, are rescued from that state. "You hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins."
It is Christ, through the eternal Spirit, who is the agent in this great work. The converted Ephesians had heard the voice of the Son of God, and lived and that same Son of God has still a voice upon earth. He addresses men in his Gospel, which, under the influences of the Spirit, that gracious Comforter, whom, agreeably to his promise, he hath sent from the Father, is made the power of God unto their salvation. This is the appointed agency for calling man from darkness to light, from sin to holiness, from Satan to God, from spiritual death to spiritual life and peace. The doctrine of an incarnate Savior, honored not merely as a preacher of righteousness, but as an atoning sacrifice, applied by the Spirit in demonstration and power, is, indeed, to its believing recipient, as life from the dead. The sight, by faith, of Jesus Christ, consenting to die, as a vicarious offering for sin, in our flesh, and in our behalf, with the incalculable weight of all our offences on his guiltless head; and then rising from the dead, still bearing our nature in triumph from the grave, and elevating it to the throne of God in glory, where he ever lives as our prevailing intercessor, imparts, as it were, a new existence to the soul. In the cordial persuasion and acceptance of these wondrous truths, it revives from its dreadful torpor, and is animated with principles of spiritual life before unknown. No otherwise can any experience a resurrection from the death of sin, and a new birth to righteousness, or look forward with well grounded hope for the salvation of God. That blessed Gospel which proclaims these saving truths also shows man his depravity and helplessness. It indicates with unclouded clearness that he needs salvation from the dominion, as well as the penalty of sin; but that, in neither respect, can he be a Savior to himself; that he must place his entire dependence upon "the Lamb of God," to whom has been committed the work of redemption, and "who alone taketh away the sin of the world:" and it sets forth this divinely constituted Redeemer in all the freeness, extent, and fulness of his great salvation. It exhibits him as declaring, in these unmeasured terms, the ample sufficiency
of the means of its attainment, and as pledging his sacred word for its bestowment on every believer;" I am the resurrection and the life he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die." And, as an incitement, at once to embrace the proffered blessing, it sounds in the ear of each slumbering mortal the stirring call," Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light." Nor is this all. But, aware of man's desperate insensibility, and that, if left to himself, he would remain unprofited by all the invitations of the Gospel, the same Jesus sends a heavenly influence to awaken and impress the heart. Without this, the privileges, duties, and delights of spiritual life would still be unheeded and unknown. But Christ fulfils his promise, made before his ascension to the Father, in sending the Holy Spirit to "convince of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment." This sacred Agent accompanies the preaching of the word with his energetic inward operations. He removes the natural dulness of the ear, and softens the stony hardness of the heart. We remember the seer of old in the valley of vision. He saw at first only dry bones. But presently there was a noise and a shaking, and the bones came together, bone to his bone, and the sinews and the flesh came upon them, and the skin covered them from above. Yet there was no life in them. The spark of vitality remained to be enkindled. But, when the word was given, "Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live," immediately the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood upon their feet, an exceeding great army." In like man. ner the Gospel is a dead letter, or it produces but a semblance of life, until the Holy Spirit visits, with his enlightening and animating beams, the souls to whom it is addressed. It is He who commends it to the awakened understanding and the anxious heart of the sinner in all its sufficiency for his salvation, and in all its fitness to his spiritual wants. After convincing him of sin, the Spirit takes of the things of Christ and shows them to him. He quickens the discernment, so as to enable the subject of his influences to see the beauty and excellence of the Gospel plan. He persuasively inclines, or more powerfully draws, his will into the choice of the better part. He renews the sinner's nature, and sanctifies his affections, so as to prepare him for an entire surrender to God of all his faculties and powers, and for a full engagement in all the duties of evangelical obedience. These things, in his natural state, he discerned not. They were, on the contrary, foolishness to him. Now he sees them in bright and undeceiving colors, and his heart is enraptured with the view. O who, in the pride of his soul, would trust the blindness of the natural understanding, or the feeble light of unassisted reason, when offered such an enlightener and such a guide! Who would rest in his own inefficient efforts, when he may rely on this all-powerful Agent! Who would delay one moment to accept that aid, without which the Bible presents in vain its glorious truths, and the soul remains utterly unprepared for the bliss of heaven, and momentarily exposed to perdition? Shall we be told that there is discouragement in this view of man's required reliance on divine assistance in the work of salvation? We answer, No. It is the only sure