CHRIST, The Nature and Source of Spiritual Life
"I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me." -Gal. 2:20.
In a treatise designed to illustrate the moral phenomena of Spiritual Life- the lights and shadows which pencil its chequered history, it is essential that, in the outset, we scripturally and distinctly define its nature and indicate its source. On this vital subject it must not be concealed that opinions are extant which, when measured by the standard of God's Word, by which alone all theological teachings must be tested- will be found diametrically antagonistic to its teaching, and fatally perilous to those who receive them. In the creed to which we have referred, the idea is advanced- imported, doubtless, from the German school of thought, and endorsed with the name of one of its most learned divines- that Christianity is life derived from the sinless nature of Christ, as the 'ideal of humanity' and communicated solely by the authority and agency of the Church.
A more unscriptural and subtle theory- one more destructive of the true idea of spiritual life, and fatal to the eternal interests of those who adopt it, could not possibly be conceived. A spiritual and thoughtful mind will at one glance detect its fallacy and danger. The fact appears on the surface that it involves, as it is intended that it should involve, a total denial of the Deity and Atonement of Christ; while it equally includes a daring negation of the Office and Power of the Holy Spirit as the Divine Communicator of spiritual life, by whom alone the soul, "dead in trespasses and in sins," becomes truly and emphatically a "living soul."
It is a solemn enquiry how far the conception and reception of this heretical theory comprehends a real belief in the Bible as true, and in the religion of Christ as divine. If this be the accepted idea of spiritual life, and nothing more, it is difficult charitably to believe that those who hold it are really and experimentally, partakers of this divine blessing- are, in reality, "quickened with Christ."
Intellectually and theoretically they may accept the Bible to a certain degree as true; guarding their unbelief by the admission that, if not wholly inspired, there is at least inspiration in it; and that thus, par excellence, it is the most wonderful volume existent, as a book of history and philosophy, of poetry and ethics! As a Book of history and philosophy, of poetry and ethics, it is the most wonderful volume existent; but is it nothing more? Alas! what multitudes there are the fruitful offspring of this age of broad theory and speculative thought who thus accept the Bible as a text-book only without the slightest knowledge or profound conviction of its being wholly and only the Word of God: whose great revealed truth is, "Christ our life."
Enamored by the casket, they see not the Divine jewel it contains; admiring the frame, they are oblivious of the marvellous Picture it encases; fascinated, as we have remarked, with the Bible as a book profoundly philosophical, sublimely poetical, and divinely ethical; they are spiritually and wilfully blind to HIM to whom the Scriptures testify as the "light and the life of men;" who has emphatically declared- "I am the Way, the Truth, and the LIFE."
It is with SPIRITUAL LIFE, then, that we are now concerned. It will be acknowledged that life in its every form is a marvellous and a beauteous thing. There is, in reality, no place where life is not; there never was a time when life was not; and there never will be a period when life will cease to be. But, passing by all other forms of existence, our thoughts are now concentrated upon the divinest, most sublime, and holiest of all life- the life of God in the soul of man.
It is to this life the Apostle refers in the remarkable words which we now attempt to expound: "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me." An important truth meets us in the outset- the believer's crucifixion with Christ. "I am crucified with Christ." The crucifixion of Christ had a twofold object- His personal crucifixion for sin, and our spiritual crucifixion to sin. It is in this latter sense we are to interpret the language of the Apostle.
Doubtless, the death of Christ, as a substitutionary offering for their sins, constituted the death of the power and dominion of sin in the regenerate. There could not possibly have been the breaking the scepter, and the overthrow of the despotism of sin in the soul, had not Christ "condemned sin in the flesh" when, impaled upon the cross, He exclaimed, "It is finished!" Crucified for them, all believers clearly recognize the truth that, through the sacrifice of Christ, they are delivered from the penal consequences of sin, and are, consequently, fully and forever saved. Resting simply by faith in Christ, they reach the happy experience of peace with God through Him who "made peace by the blood of His cross," and thus can joyfully exclaim, "In whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace."
Oh what a vital and blessed truth is this! It is the brightest light in the picture of the Christian's spiritual life. Indeed, there had been no light but for this, the source from where all other gleams of brightness flow. Every spring of blessing, every rill of joy, every ray of hope which composes the Christian life, has its primal cause in the cross of Christ. The Fountain that was there- opened the satisfaction that was there offered- the victory that was there achieved; laid the basis of that stupendous superstructure of salvation which but awaits the crowning of the edifice- to wit, "the redemption of the body," and its reunion with the redeemed soul, at the "glorious appearing of the great God our Savior."
But, not the least result of Christ's crucifixion for sin is the believer's crucifixion to sin- in other words, the gradual, and, when death releases him, the entire overthrow of sin's power and dominion in the regenerate soul. Christ crucified for us, is not the same thing as our being crucified with Christ. The one aspect of the cross puts away what we have done (our sins) - the other puts away what we are. The one is the crucifixion of sin- the other, the crucifixion of self; the one is the death of what I was- the other, the death of what I am.
By the substitutionary death of Christ, in virtue of our mystical union with Him, we died to the law, as a means of justification- "Through the law, I am dead to the law, that I might live unto God;" and we also died to sin as an accusing and condemning element- "God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, condemned sin in the flesh."
Oh how faintly we apprehend this vital and glorious truth of SUBSTITUTION! It is the very soul and marrow of the gospel. All that Christ did was in the name, and on the account of, His Church; and in virtue of its oneness with Him, its Head, believers are mystically crucified with Christ, and are buried with Christ, and are risen with Christ, and are ascended with Christ, and are seated with Christ at the right hand of the Father in the heavenlies. We have nothing, then, to do with the putting away of sins which eighteen hundred years ago were arraigned and tried, sentenced and condemned, by our Substitute and Surety on the cross. What we have now to do with sin is its daily mortification and crucifixion in the body, that we should live no longer unto sin, or to ourselves, but as believers in Christ, to God, even "as those that are alive from the dead."
This introduces the second clause of the passage- the spiritual life of the believer, "Nevertheless I live." The Christian's is a paradoxical life; and no feature so strikingly and truly proves the dual, or the twofold, nature of the regenerate, as this. He is composed of opposites as wide apart as the poles asunder. No marvel that he is a wonder to others, and a yet greater wonder to himself! "I am," says David, "a wonder unto many." When he is weak, then is he strong; and when he dies, dies by the lingering death of a moral crucifixion- then, and only then, can he exclaim, "I live!"
It is an impressive declaration- not less true than solemn- which we pronounce in the exquisitely beautiful burial service, "In the midst of life we are in death." But Christianity reverses this sad sentiment, and in exultant language affirms of the believer in Jesus- "In the midst of death we are in life." In words more inspired and apostolic- "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live." Such may be the declaration of every believer in Christ "I live."
He is the subject of new and spiritual life- not born with him naturally, nor communicated to him humanly, but is the result of a new birth, and is imparted by the Holy Spirit. "Born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. "
The condition, of which this new life is the reverse, is one of the most difficult truths to bring home to the moral conscience of the unregenerate mind. And why? Simply because he is spiritually dead. No reasoning, no persuasion, no appeal will convince a corpse that it is a corpse. Neither can you convince an unregenerate soul, spiritually lifeless, "dead in trespasses and sins" that, before it becomes an heir of glory, it must become a subject of grace. We have to deal with death in the mind, death in the affections, death in the will, in a word, with death in the whole being. The moral sentence under which the whole human race rests is the original one pronounced upon our first parent- "In the day that you eat thereof you shall surely die." In the Hebrew, "in dying, you shall die the death."
Addressing the converted Ephesians, the Apostle, describing their present renewed state, forcibly reminds them of their former condition "You has He quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins." This is no figure of speech, no hyperbole, but the announcement of an indisputable and most awful fact. Oh, it is a solemn reflection how far you may go in a Christian profession, in pious duties, and in religious forms; how orthodox may be your creed, and punctilious your ritual, and yet all the while remain in the rigor of spiritual death. To you may be addressed the solemn reproach of the Church in Sardis- "I know your works, that you have a name that you live, and are dead."
But every true believer is a quickened soul, and with the Apostle, in the words under consideration, can exclaim, "I live!" He is in possession of another, a new and spiritual life; and to some of the features of this spiritual life let us now proceed to address ourselves. The first one we mention is, the moral death which it involves. It is a life unto death, and yet a life unto life! -the germ and first-fruits of the life that is eternal. It would seem to be a life engrafted upon death. Thus the Apostle expresses it: "You are dead and your life is hid with Christ in God." "I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God." "I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live." In what sense are we to understand this apparently contradictory language of the Apostle?
Clearly the moral death to which he refers, as a consequence of spiritual life, is the believer's death to the law as a covenant of works, as an instrument of life, and as a condemning power; his death also to sin as no longer ruling and reigning, though still dwelling and conflicting, in the living soul. This spiritual life, too, involves death to the slavery of the flesh, to the power of the world, and to the supremacy of Satan. In all this, beloved, you are dead, if the life of God pulsates in your quickened soul. The spiritual death that once held you as its victim has no more dominion over you. You are "through the law dead to the law, that you might live unto God." And a new and divine nature having been imparted, "sin shall no more have dominion over you;" for "you are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God."
Another feature of this life is, its divine nature and supernatural origin. It is above Nature (supernatural). 'Human nature' may counterfeit, but cannot imitate it. That there may be counterfeits of spiritual life, God's word makes it evident. Simon Magus believed, and yet was "in the gall of bitterness, and the bond of iniquity." Judas repented, yet "went out and hanged himself." Herod sent for John and heard the word from his lips gladly, but was eaten by worms. Oh, yes! Nature can go far in its forgeries of God's superscription, its counterfeits of the Spirit's work, and yet be Nature still.
'Human nature' prompts not the anxious question, "What must I do to be saved?" 'Human nature' inspires not the penitential prayer, "God be merciful to me a sinner!" 'Human nature' wrings not the agonizing cry, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" 'Human nature' awakens not the sweet confession, "Lord, you know that I love you!" 'Human nature' can go so far, but no farther.
Convinced of its impotence and defeat, it retires baffled and discomfited from the vain attempt successfully to imitate God's own work of grace in the soul of man; and so it becomes an unwitting and unwilling witness to the truth, that there is a genuine supernatural life in the regenerate, which no spurious, galvanized religion can counterfeit- of which God the Father is the Source, God the Son the Author, and God the Holy Spirit the Conveyancer; and of which all spiritually-quickened believers are, through sovereign grace, the happy subjects.
How solemn is the personal question which this statement forces upon the thoughtful mind- "Am I truly born again? is my religion a reality? is the spiritual life I profess the divine breathing of God in my soul? O you 'Second Adam!' you who are a 'quickening Spirit!' decide this solemn question, and cause me to know that, 'I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me! Lord, when you come in your glory, shall I be found but as 'reprobate silver;' grasping the burnished lamp of an empty profession, destitute of converting grace in my soul, having a name to live while yet dead? Search me, O Lord, and try me heart; examine me, and root out all that is false and spurious and dead, and make me a true temple of God through the Spirit!"
This conducts us to a most vital and important view of spiritual life- the indwelling of Christ in the soul. "Christ dwells in me." The spiritual life is Christ. It is not the believer that lives, but Christ living in the believer- "Christ, who is our life." "I have come that you might have life." "Christ in you the hope of glory." "I in them, and You in Me." Such are the terms which set forth this stupendous truth- the indwelling of Him who is essential life, in the quickened soul of the regenerate.
What a vivifying, sanctifying truth is this! Did we but live in the constant realization of an indwelling Savior, a reigning Sovereign, a loving Friend, what manner of people would we be in all holy conversation and godliness! How slow would we be to grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom Christ dwells in us, ever remembering that our bodies are the temples of God through the Spirit.
The indwelling of Christ in the regenerate soul is not less comforting than sanctifying. He dwells in the believer. It is His permanent residence, never to forsake it. He dwells there to watch His own vineyard night and day, lest any hurt it; to upbuild His kingdom in the soul; to subjugate to the scepter of His grace its corruptions and infirmities, the affections of the heart, the faculties of the mind, and the passions of the soul; in a word, Jesus dwells in the renewed heart as its consolation and hope; stopping the proud waves of sorrow which else might overwhelm it; illumining and gladdening it with the joys, the hopes, the sunlight of heaven.
Thus, it is a mutual indwelling of Christ and the believer. The believer dwells in Christ, his life hid with Christ in God; and by His Spirit, Christ dwells in the believer, his fount of consolation and his hope of glory. Blessed Jesus! make my body Your residence, my heart Your throne, my whole being Your sacred temple!
"As myrrh new bleeding from the tree,
Such is a dying Christ to me;
And while He makes my soul His guest,
My bosom, Lord, shall be your rest."
Another and most instructive characteristic of this spiritual life is, the crucifixion of self in us which it involves. This is, perhaps, one of the strongest and most convincing evidences of its reality and growth. "I live; yet not I." Here was an entire abnegation of self in the Apostle, and this grace constitutes the first round in the believer's ascent in this divine life. Self is the first citadel of the soul against which grace directs its battery. Until this is successfully besieged, there is no taking of "the town of Mansoul." Self-righteousness, self-trust, self-glorifying, must yield to the humbling, emptying power of the Spirit. Self must be mortally wounded before Christ lives in us. The two sovereigns cannot reign at the same time and upon the same throne. Self-righteousness, self-glorifying, self-seeking, must fall when Christ enters triumphantly to set up His kingdom, to erect His throne, and to subjugate all the powers and faculties of the soul to His own holy and gracious supremacy.
"I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me." And so should every believer respond! "I live to God- I labor for man- I win souls to Christ- I give my wealth- I devote my time- I consecrate my gifts- I mortify the flesh- I vanquish Satan- I overcome the world yet, not I, but Christ that lives in me! Though I be nothing in myself, yet, Christ in me, and Christ with me, and Christ strengthening me, I can do all things."
Oh what vigilance it demands, lest this wretched self in us obtain a partial, or even a momentary, ascendancy! The two principles- self and grace- are in deadly antagonism the one to the other in the regenerate. In proportion as Christ lives in us, self dies. It is recorded that, "there was long war between the house of Saul and the house of David: but David waxed stronger and stronger, and the house of Saul waxed weaker and weaker."
And thus it is with the principle of self and the principle of grace in the believer; in other words, the old and the new nature in the regenerate. Between these two kingdoms- "the house of Saul" representing the old nature, "the house of David" the new nature- there is a perpetual and long war; but, as Christ increases in us, as we grow in a knowledge of Christ, and are more filled with Christ, and more closely assimilated to Christ- the new man will grow stronger and stronger, and the old man will grow weaker and weaker, until it dies.
And the instant that the work of sanctification is complete- for it is a progressive work, and is destined to completion- that instant the believer will hear the Lord's words- "Come up hither," and he will ascend to that pure and blissful world of which it is said, "And there shall in no way enter into it anything that defiles, neither whatever works abomination;" for all are washed in the blood and are robed with the righteousness of the Lamb. Oh blissful life! Oh glorious hope! The thought that I shall before long be freed from all sin, and be emancipated from the body of death, thrills soul with "a joy unspeakable and full of glory."
That very thrill convinces me that I am the subject of a life that is eternal, that I possess a nature containing the germ of perfect holiness, and that before long, beneath a warmer sun and a brighter sky, the germ will reach its full perfection, and I shall be- not what I now am, a sickly, drooping plant of righteousness- but a full-blown, perfect flower of holiness, blooming in deathless beauty in the Paradise of Heaven!
Such is that spiritual life the variations of which these pages propose to delineate. Oh seek to know it more and more in its reality, power, and growth! It is, "Christ in you the hope of glory." And since there are fluctuations in the spiritual as in the natural life of the soul- its ebb and flow, its lights and shadows- let this truth be uppermost in your mind, that through whatever phases and variations your spiritual life may pass, He who is your life, in whom it is safely and eternally lodged, knows not the shadow of a change: "Jesus Christ the Same Yesterday, Today, and Forever."