The Nature and Manifestations of the Inner Life
"I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me." -Galatians 2:20.
It is impossible for a truly spiritual mind to resist the conviction, or close the eye to the fact, that inward vital godliness by no means keeps pace with the profession of Christianity which almost universally prevails. A more alarming sign could scarcely appear in the moral history of the world. If the prevalence of a nominal Christianity be one of the predicted and distinct characteristics of the approaching consummation of all things- if it is to be regarded as the precursor of overwhelming judgments, and as immediately ushering in the coming of the Son of man, then who can contemplate the religious formalism which so generally exists among professing Christians without a feeling of sadness, and the excitement of alarm? Were we duly affected by the spectacle which we see around us, of multitudes substituting signs for things, symbols for realities, an external profession of Christ for the indwelling of Christ, the mere semblance of life for life itself, how should we, sympathizing with man, and jealous for the Lord, sigh and cry, as those who have God's mark upon their foreheads.
It seems but proper that, in a work called forth by this alarming state of the professing Church, and designed to lay open that state in some of its scriptural and figurative delineations, we should commence with a consideration of the nature, properties, and actions, of the spiritual, or inner life, of the quickened soul. It is a self-evident truth, that the absence of spiritual life is but the existence of spiritual death. There is no link that unites the two conditions. A soul is either living or dead. The artificial representation of life is no more real life than a painted sun is the real sun, or than a corpse under powerful galvanic shocks is a living body. The reader will therefore at once perceive that, in entering upon an inquiry into this state of religious formalism, it is of the greatest moment that we have a clear and distinct idea of that inward, deep, spiritual life, apart from which, with all his intellectual light, orthodox creed, and religious profession, a man is "dead in trespasses and in sins." I know of no words which more distinctly and beautifully bring out this subject than those of the apostle, in referring to his own experience- "I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me."
The first great truth which the passage suggests is, that EVERY TRUE BELIEVER IN THE LORD JESUS IS THE SUBJECT OF AN INWARD, SPIRITUAL LIFE- "I live." It is altogether a new and supernatural existence. The old and the natural state, as we have just affirmed, is a state of death. Death! it is a solemn word! Dead! it is an awful state! And yet how difficult to bring a man to a real belief and conviction of this his condition! And why? because he is dead. No argument, no reasoning, no persuasion, however profound or affecting, can convince a corpse that it is lifeless.
Equally impossible is it to convince the natural man that his soul is spiritually dead, and that before he can be a true expectant of Heaven, an heir of glory, he must be born again, and so become the subject of a new and spiritual life. Indignant at the statement, he rejects, spurns, and deprecates the idea. The reason is, that in pressing home upon him the fact, we are met with death in the judgment, with death in the will, with death in the affections, with death in the whole soul. The original sentence under which every individual of the human family lies is thus recorded—"In the day that you eat thereof you shall surely die:" in the Hebrew, "You shall die the death." Our parent disobeying this law, died, and in him, as their federal head, died every son and daughter of Adam. "You has he quickened WHO WERE DEAD. He who has the Son has life, but he who has not the Son of God HAS NOT LIFE." On another occasion Jesus said, "Let the dead bury their dead," that is, let those who are spiritually dead bury those who are naturally dead. What an appalling condition ! The spectacle of a dead body is solemn. The idea of natural death is awful. To see the eye that gleamed with bright intelligence fixed and glazed in death; the lips that spoke so kindly, and that discoursed so profoundly--sealed in unbroken silence; the countenance whose every feature was radiant with the light of intellect and love, cold and rigid, -how instinctively we shudder at the sight, and recoil from the touch! But with all the affecting and humiliating circumstances of our natural dissolution, what, in comparison, is this spectacle of a lifeless form of clay with that of the soul dead in sin? With all its intellectual greatness, its splendid genius, its powers of thought, its rich endowments, its varied acquisitions, its creative energies, its brilliant achievements, its religious creed and forms and observances, its name to live,- it is yet spiritually dead. Dead to all that is worthy the name of life, dead to every lofty consideration and feeling, purpose and enterprise, in harmony with its creation, and parallel with its endless being Dead as to any spiritual understanding of God, or knowledge of Christ, or transforming power of the Holy Spirit, or experience of those spiritual exercises, and sacred feelings, and hallowed emotions, and animating hopes, which belong to the soul made alive unto God. The question is repeated--what, with all its attendant circumstances, humiliating and affecting, is the spectacle of a lifeless body, in contrast with the spectacle of a lifeless soul? We might almost reply- nothing.
The dissolution of the body is not the destruction of the soul. The perishing of the material is not the annihilation of the immaterial. Death is not the end of our being; no, it is not even an interruption of it. It is an event that befalls a man at a certain point of his existence, but it is a change of place and circumstance only, involving the suspension of his immortality- no, not for a moment. How infinitely more momentous, solemn, and appalling, then, is that spiritual state of man which links his future destiny to all the certain horrors of the second death! O that this might be a quickening truth, startling, an arousing reflection to the unconverted reader! What grand impertinences, what, mere non-entities, do all other considerations appear in contrast with this! You may lose and recover again everything else, but your soul. This, once lost, is irrecoverably and forever lost. And have you never paused and reflected upon the probability of your losing it? You are at this moment the subject of spiritual death; in the strong language of the Savior you are condemned already; and the last enemy, with the funeral pall of your soul in his hands, stands prepared to enshroud you within its dark folds, at the word of Him "in whom you live, and move, and have your being." Does not this affect you, alarm you, arouse you? Spirit of God! who but yourself can quicken the soul? Who can convince of danger, convict of sin, and lead to Christ, but You? Speak but the word, and there shall be light. Touch but the soul, and it shall awaken. "Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live."
But, with regard to the great truth before us, we again remark, that every truly gracious man is a living soul. He is in the possession of an inner, spiritual life. He can appropriate to himself the words of the apostle- "I live." The first important characteristic of this spiritual life is its engrafting upon a state of death. The words of the apostle will explain our meaning, "For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God," "I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live." Addressing the believing Colossians, he says, "You are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God." The simple meaning of these declarations is- the living soul is dead to the law of God as an instrument of life, and to its works as a ground of salvation. It is dead, too, to the curse and tyranny of the law, and consequently to its power of condemning. To all this, the soul made alive by Christ, is dead with Christ. Thus is it most clear that a man, dead already, though he originally is, in trespasses and in sins, must morally die before he can spiritually live. The crucifixion with Christ must precede the living with Christ. He must die to all schemes and hopes of salvation in or by himself, before he can fully receive into his heart Christ as the life of his soul. This spiritual mystery, this divine paradox, the natural man cannot understand or receive; he only can, who is "born of the Spirit."
Then let me ask and press upon you the personal and searching question, has the law of God been brought into your conscience with that enlightening, convincing, and condemning power, as first to startle you from your spiritual slumber, and then to sever you from all hope or expectation of salvation in yourself? If so, then will you know of a truth what it is, first, to die before you live. Dying to the law, dying to self, you will receive him into your heart who so blessedly declared, "I have come that you might have life, and that you might have it more abundantly." Thus is the life of God in the soul engrafted upon a state of death. "I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live."
The second view of this inner, spiritual life is, its supernatural character. It is above nature, and therefore all the power of nature cannot inspire it. Nature, we admit, can go far in imitating some of its characteristics, but nature cannot create the essential property or principle of this life. Nature can produce a semblance of faith, as in the case of Simon Magus; of repentance, as in the case of Judas; of hearing the word with joy, as in the case of Herod; it can even appear to taste the heavenly gift, and feel the powers of the world to come all this, and much more, can nature do, and yet be nature still. Here its power stops. There is that which it cannot do. It cannot counterfeit the indwelling of Christ in the sinner's soul. It cannot enable a man to say, "I live, and Christ lives in me." This infinitely transcends its mightiest power. Spiritual life, then, springs not from nature, and is therefore produced by no natural cause or means. It is from God. He it is who calls this new creation into being, who pencils its wonders, who enkindles its glories, and who breathes over it the breath of life. It is God's life in man's soul.
Thus the true Christian is one who can adopt the expressive and emphatic language of Paul, "I live." Amplifying the words, he can exclaim, "I live- as a quickened soul. I live- as a regenerate soul. I live- as a pardoned sinner. I live- as a justified sinner. I live- as an adopted child. I live- as an heir of glory. I live, and I never lived before! My whole existence until now has been but as a blank. I never truly, really lived, until I died! I lived, if life it may be called, to the world, to sin, to the creature, to myself; but I never lived by Christ, and I never lived to God."
O tremendous truth! O solemn thought! for a soul to pass away into eternity without having answered the great end of its creation- without having ever really lived! With what feelings, with what emotions, with what plea, will it meet the God who created it? "I created you," that God will say, "for myself, for my glory. I endowed you with gifts, and ennobled you with faculties, and clothed you with powers second only to my own. I sent you into the world to expend those gifts, and to employ those faculties, and to exert those powers, for my glory, and with a view to the enjoyment of me forever. But you buried those gifts, you abused those faculties, you wasted those powers, and you lived to yourself and not unto me; and now to yourself, and in everlasting banishment from my presence, you shall continue to live through eternity."
Come from the four winds, O breath of the living God, and breathe upon the dead, that they may live! Avert from the reader so dire a doom, so fearful a catastrophe! And permit none, whose eye lights upon this solemn page, any longer to live to themselves, but from this moment and forever, gracious Savior! may they live for you- their solemn determination and their sublime motto this- For me to live is Christ.
But we are now conducted to a great and a most precious truth- THE INDWELLING OF CHRIST IN THE HEART AS CONSTITUTING THE SPIRITUAL LIFE OF THE BELIEVER. "I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me." It is not so much that the believer lives, as that Christ lives in the believer. I in them. The Lord Jesus is essential life. Were it not for this, the doctrine of indwelling life would be but a dream. With what authority of tone, and with what sublimity of language, has he affirmed this idea, "I am the resurrection and the life: he who believes in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live." Can thought be more grand, or words be more intelligible? " With You is the fountain of life."
Couple together these two passages, and what demonstrative proof do they afford to the doctrine of the essential Deity of the Savior. How could he be the Resurrection and the Life, and in what sense the Fountain of Life, but as he was essentially God? No comparison can be instituted between finite being, however exalted, and Infinite. It has been truly said, that all finite beings are infinitely more destitute of life than they are possessed of it; and this will be the case forever. Standing by the grave that entombs the soul dead in sin, Essential Life exclaims- "I AM the Resurrection and the Life- Come forth!" and in a moment the soul is quickened, and rises to newness of life. What but Deity could accomplish this? Take off your shoes from your feet, for you stand upon holy ground! Jesus is the True God, and Essential Life. The smallest seed, the most loathsome insect, the lowest creature on earth, and the mightiest angel, and the brightest saint in Heaven, draw their life from Christ. All life- vegetable, animal, rational, spiritual- emanates from him, the Fountain of Life to all creatures. What a mighty and glorious Being, then, is the Son of God, the ceaseless energy of whose essence prevents each moment, everything that has life from being destroyed, and from accomplishing its own destruction! Who would not believe in, who would not love, who would not serve such a Being? Who would not crown him Lord of all? The spiritual life, then, of the believer is the life of Christ, or rather, "Christ who is our life" in the soul. The Scripture proof of this is overwhelming. "I in them," are words declarative of this truth by the Savior himself. Again, the apostle thus exhorts- "Examine yourselves, whether you be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know you not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except you be reprobates?"
Alas! how is this precept overlooked! How few are they who rightly and honestly examine themselves! They can examine others, and speak of others, and hear for others, and judge of others; but themselves they examine not, and judge not, and condemn not. To the neglect of this precept may be traced, as one of its most fruitful causes, the relapse of the inner life of the Christian. Deterioration, and eventually destruction and ruin, must follow in the steps of willful and protracted neglect, be the object of that neglect what it may. The vineyard must become unfruitful, and the garden must lose its beauty, and the machinery must stand still, and the enterprise must fail of success, and the health must decline, if toilsome and incessant watchfulness and care has not its eye awake to every symptom of feebleness, and to every sign of decay.
If the merchantman examine not his accounts, and if the gardener examine not his field, and if the nobleman examine not his estate, and if the physician examine not his patient, what sagacity is needed to foresee, as the natural and inevitable result; confusion, ruin, and death? How infinitely more true is this of the soul! The lack of frequent, fearless, and thorough searching into the exact state of the heart, into the real condition of the soul, is before God, in the great matter of the inner life, reveals the grand secret of many a solemn case of declension, shipwreck, and apostasy. Therefore, the apostle earnestly exhorts, Examine yourselves; as if he would say, "Do not take the state of your soul for granted. Do not be deceived by the too fond and partial opinion of others. Judge not yourselves by a human and a false standard, but examine yourselves, prove your own selves by the word; and rest not short of Christ dwelling in your hearts- your present life and your hope of glory."
But HOW DOES CHRIST DWELL IN THE BELIEVER? -a most important question this. An ignorance with regard to the mode of Christ's indwelling at one time opened the door for the introduction into the Church of one of the most fanatical errors that ever assailed its purity. We allude to the heresy of the personal, corporeal indwelling of Christ in the believer, which, being believed and asserted by many, they set themselves up as being themselves Christ, and thereby rushed into innumerable extravagant, blasphemous, and deadly sins. Thus has Satan ever sought to engraft the deadly nightshade of error, upon the life-giving Rose of Sharon, rendering the most spiritual and sanctifying truths of God's word subservient to the basest and most unholy purposes. But by what mode does the Lord Jesus dwell in the truly regenerate? We answer- by his Spirit. Thus it is a spiritual and not a personal or corporeal indwelling of Christ. The Scripture testimony is most full and decisive on this point. "Know you not that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit." "If Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he who raised Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwells in you." And that this inhabitation of Christ by the Spirit is not the indwelling of a mere grace of the Spirit, but the Spirit himself, is equally clear from another passage- "Hope makes not ashamed, because the love of God (Here is a grace of the Spirit) is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which he has given us" -(here is the possession of the Spirit himself). This is the fountain of all the spiritual grace dwelling in the soul of the truly regenerate, and at times so blessedly flowing forth in refreshing and sanctifying streams. "He who believes on me, as the scripture has said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. But this spoke he of the Spirit." Thus, then, is it most clear that by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, Christ has his dwelling in the hearts of all true believers.
Christian reader, what a solemn truth is this! What an unfolding of true Christianity! What a view of real, vital, saving religion, does this truth present! How do all religious rites, and forms, and ceremonies, dwindle into insignificance, before this all-important, all-essential, all-commanding doctrine of the inhabitation of Christ in the soul by the Holy Spirit of God! Apart from the experience of this truth, every other is a false religion.
But there is one view of our subject too interesting and important to be overlooked. "Christ lives in me," says the apostle. It is a living Christ dwelling in a living soul. It implies permanency. The religion of some is a religion of the moment. Like the gourd of the prophet, it appears in a night, and it withers in a night. It is the religion of impulse and of feeling. It comes by fits and starts. It is convulsive and periodical. It is easily assumed, and as easily laid aside. But here is the grand characteristic of a truly converted man. Christ lives in him, and lives in him never to die. He has entered his heart, never to retire. He has enthroned himself, never to abdicate. And although the fact of his permanent indwelling may not always appear with equal clearness and certainty to the mind of the believer himself, nevertheless Christ is really there by his Spirit. It is his home, his dwelling-place, his kingdom. He lives there, to maintain his government, to sway his scepter, and to enforce, by the mild constraint of his love, obedience to his laws. He lives there, to guard and nourish his own work- shielding it when it is assailed, strengthening it when it is feeble, reviving it when it droops, restoring it when it decays; thus protecting the "lily among the thorns," preserving the spark in the ocean, and keeping, amid opposing influences, the life of God that it die not. Truly is the believer in Jesus a living soul; and all are dead who cannot say, "Christ LIVES in me."
But let us briefly contemplate some of THE CHARACTERISTICS OF THE INNER SPIRITUAL LIFE OF THE SOUL, as more fully illustrating its character, and as supplying evidences by which we may test the question of its personal possession. The first characteristic which we notice is its self-renouncing tendency. "I live, YET NOT I." The life of Christ and the life of self cannot co-exist in the same heart. If the one lives, the other dies. The sentence of death is written upon a man's self when the Spirit of Christ enters his heart and quickens his soul with the life of God. "I live," he exclaims, "yet NOT I." What a striking and beautiful example of this have we in the life and labors of the Apostle Paul. Does he speak of his ministry? -what a renunciation of self appears! Lost in the greatness and grandeur of his theme, he exclaims- "We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord." Again- "Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ." Does he refer to his office? -what self-crucifixion! "I magnify my office." In what way? Was it by vaunting proclamations of its grandeur and legitimacy, its Divine institution, or its solemn functions? Did he challenge for it- "otherwise than as it was connected with miraculous endowments, the unquestioning and instant submission of men's hearts and consciences, as to an oracle that must not be disputed- or their subserviency in the conduct of life, as to a law that was death to disobey? Did he ever exalt its possessors to a height of unintelligible and mystical sacredness, above the condition of humanity and the common feelings and infirmities of nature, which might demand the prostration of others at their feet, as if separated from them by an impassable, though invisible chasm- an abyss which it was sacrilege to traverse even in imagination, and which still divided the priest, the bishop, or the pastor, from the man?
Never! But he magnified his office, by diminishing himself and exalting his Master. He was nothing -ay, and even his office itself was comparatively nothing- that "Christ might be all and in all." Does he speak of his gifts and labors? what absence of self! "I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But, by the grace of God, I am what I am; and his grace, which was bestowed upon me, was not in vain, but I labored more abundantly than they all: yet, not I, but the grace of God which was with me." Such was the religion of Paul. His Christianity was a self-denying, self-crucifying, self-renouncing Christianity. "I live, yet not I. I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I" O what self-denying spirit was his!
"But where," asks somewhat quaintly a writer of olden time, -and how appropriate the inquiry to our own! -where is this self-denying power of heart now to be found among us? how does this I, this same self, creep into all our speeches, and into all our doings! If it please the Lord to use a minister in his service, what an I-ing is there! I converted such a man, and I comforted such a man; and it was my prescription, and it was my receipt, and I did it. And if a Christian do but pray, or perform a duty, Thus and thus I said, and these words I spoke! did not I tell you so? I told you what would come to pass. O what an I-ing is there among the people! How does this I and self creep into all our speeches, and into all our doings!" -Bridge
But every truly spiritual man is a self-renouncing man. In the discipline of his own heart, beneath the cross of Jesus, and in the school of trial and temptation, he has been taught in some degree, that if he lives, it is not he that lives, but that it is Christ who lives in him. Upon all his own righteousness, his duties, and doings, he tramples as to the great matter of justification; while, as fruits of the Spirit, as evidences of faith, as pulsations of the inner spiritual life, as, in a word, tending to authenticate and advance his sanctification, he desires to be "careful to maintain good works," that God in all things might be glorified.
This thought suggests another of much importance. We should be always careful to distinguish between the denial of self and the denial of the life of God within us. The most entire renunciation of ourselves, the most humiliating acknowledgment of our personal unworthiness, may comport with the strongest assurance and profession of Christ living in us. Self-denial does not necessarily involve grace-denial. It is the profoundest act of humility in a Christian man to acknowledge the grace of God in his soul. Never is there so real a crucifixion, never so entire a renunciation of self as when the heart, in its lowly but deep and grateful throbbings, acknowledges its indebtedness to sovereign grace, and in the fervor of its adoring love, summons the whole Church to listen to its recital of the great things God has done for it- "Come, all you that fear the Lord, and I will tell you what he has done for my soul." O yes! it is a self-denying life. Listen to Job- "I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes." Listen to Isaiah- "Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts." Listen to the penitent publican- "God be merciful to me a sinner!" Listen again to Paul- "I live, yet not I." Thus does a sense of sin, and a believing sight of Christ, lay the soul low before God in self-renunciation and self-abhorrence.
Judge your spiritual condition, dear reader, by this characteristic of the inner life. Is it yours? Has there been this renunciation of your sinful self, and of your righteous self? Has the Spirit of God emptied you? has the grace of God humbled you? has the life of God crucified you? Are you as one in whom Christ lives, walking humbly with God? O, it is the essence of vital godliness, it is the very life of true religion. If Christ is living in you, you are a humble soul. Pride never existed in the heart of Christ. His whole life was one act of the profoundest self-abasement. In the truest and in the fullest sense of the emphatic declaration, "he humbled himself." It is impossible, then, that he who was thus "meek and lowly in heart" can dwell in one whom "pride compasses as a chain." "I live, yet not I," are two states of the renewed soul as inseparable as any cause and effect.
A humble and a self-denying Christ dwells only with a humble and a self-denying soul. If your gifts inflate you, if your position exalts you, if your usefulness engenders pride, if the honor and distinction which God or man have placed upon you have turned you aside from the simplicity of your walk, and set you upon the work of self-seeking, self-advancing, so that you are not meek and gentle, child-like and Christ-like in spirit, be sure of this- you are either not a partaker of the life of Christ, or else that life is at a low ebb in your soul. Which of the two, do you think, is your real state?
And have the self-denying, the self-renouncing, no reward? O yes! their reward is great. They are such as the King delights to Honor. When John the Baptist declared, "He must increase, but I must decrease," and on another occasion, "Whose shoe-latchet I am not worthy to unloose," Christ pronounced him "the greatest born of women." When the centurion sent to say, "Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof," our Lord places this crown upon his faith, "I tell you I have not found so great faith, no not in Israel." When the publican exclaimed, "God be merciful to me a sinner!" he descended from the temple justified, rather than the self-vaunting Pharisee. Yes, "when men are cast down then there is lifting up."
There is a present reward of grace to the humble. Christ exalts them. "Humble yourselves under the hand of the Lord, and he will exalt you in due time." And what tongue can describe the inward peace, satisfaction, and contentment of that soul in whom this self-denying life of Christ dwells! Such an one has a continual feast. He may be deeply tried, sorely tempted, heavily afflicted, severely chastened, but his meek and submissive spirit exclaims, "It is the Lord, let him do as seems good in his sight."
Another characteristic of this life is- It is a Christ-honoring, Christ-advancing life. A self-denying life, proceeding from a gospel principle, must be a Christ-exalting life. The Lord Jesus can only erect and carry forward his kingdom in the soul upon the ruins of self and as this kingdom of grace is perpetual in its growth, so the demolition of self is a work of gradual advancement. "He must increase," says the lowly-molded Baptist. As the inner life grows, Christ grows more lovely to the eye, more precious to the heart. His blood is more valued, his righteousness is more relied on, his grace is more lived upon, his cross is more gloried in, his yoke is more cheerfully borne, his commands are more implicitly obeyed. In all things Christ is advanced, and the soul by all means advances in its knowledge of, and in its resemblance to, Christ. Reader, is Christ advanced by you? Is his kingdom widened, is his truth disseminated, is his fame spread, is his person exalted, is his honor vindicated, is his glory promoted by the life which you are living? O name not the name of Christ if it do not be to perfume the air with its fragrance, and to fill the earth with its renown.
We must group the remaining characteristics of the inner life. It is a conflicting life. It always wears the harness, and is ever clothed with the armor. Opposed by indwelling sin, assailed by Satan, and impeded by the world, every step in advance is only secured by a battle fought and a victory achieved.
It is a holy life- springing from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, it must necessarily be so. All its actings are holy, all its breathings are holy, all its fruits are holy; and without holiness no man has this life, or can be an inheritor of that life to come, of which this is the seedling and the germ, the foretaste and the pledge. "The water that I shall give him," says Christ, alluding to the spiritual life, "shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life."
Need I add that happiness, progression, and deathlessness, are equally its characteristics? Happiness is but a phantom and a name, where Christ dwells not in the heart. Progression is but an advance towards eternal woe, where the love of God is not in the soul. And death is an eternal, lingering despair, the soul and body ever dying, yet never ceasing to exist- where the Spirit of life has not quickened the inner man, creating all things new.
Such, reader, is the life, the inner, spiritual, and deathless life, the relapse and recovery of which, the pages that follow will unfold. No imagination can fully depict, nor language adequately describe, the importance of this life, the grandeur of its nature and destiny, and the necessity of its progression and its manifestations. Reader, the world without you teems with rational existence. All is life, activity, and progress. There is vegetable life, and animal life, and rational life. The flower that scents the air with its perfume, the insect that renders it vocal with its music, and man who fills and beautifies the earth with monuments of his greatness and creative genius, testify to the possession of a life of amazing power, activity, and progression. To this may be added a species of moral life, maintained by many, developed and embodied in religious forms, observances, and sacrifices. But there is a life as infinitely superior to all these as the life of him whose mind conceived the towering pyramid, is to that of the little insect that flutters its brief hour in the sunbeam and then vanishes forever. It is THE LIFE OF GOD IN THE SOUL OF MAN. Deep planted in the center of his spiritual nature, lodged within the hidden recesses of his deathless mind, diffusing its mysterious but all-pervading and renovating influence through the judgment, the will, the affections, and linking his being with a future of glory, "which eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither has entered into the heart of man to conceive;" the world rushes on, and knows not its existence, and sees not its glories, and heeds not its joy- so deeply veiled from human eye, ay, and so far removed from human power, is the inner spiritual life "hidden with Christ in God."
Reader, there is a religion towering as far above your religion of merit, and of works, and of forms, as the heavens are above the earth, even as the spiritual life of God is above the sensual life of man. It is the religion of a renewed mind, of a renovated heart, of a conquered will, of a soul- all whose sanctified faculties are consecrated to the glory of God here, and are destined to the enjoyment of God hereafter. Illustrious as may be your position in the Church, luminous as may be your profession of Christianity, splendid as your gifts, and rich as your endowments, and costly as your offerings, and apostolic as your zeal, and unwearied as your labors may be, bear with me while with all solemnity I remind you, that you still may live, and toil, and die, a stranger to the inner life. Deeper and loftier and more momentous than all these is the great truth upon which we are expatiating- "Christ Lives in Me." Its foundation is in the soul, its summit is in Heaven.
I enunciate to you a great mystery- the mystery of Christ and his Church, of the soul of man and the life of God- both spiritually and indissolubly one. Have you thus "passed from death unto life?" Has the great transformation taken place? Has the destroyer, intrenched within, in all the plenitude of undisputed power, been dispossessed? Have the avenues of the heart, closed and barred against the admission of Christ, been thrown open? Has the fearful alienation, and the withering curse, and the deep guilt, which portrays to you God as an enemy, and which arms all the powers of your soul against him as his foe, been revealed, felt, and deplored? Has the captive spirit been disenthralled, the prey taken from the mighty, the power of the destroyer broken, and the soul awakened from its deep slumber to listen to its Creator speaking in tones of mercy, and in thoughts of love? Has light, emanating from the abodes of glory- invisible to others- dawned upon the midnight of your spiritual desolation? has a voice, speaking from the throne of Heaven- unheard by others- startled your spirit in its deep trance, and dispelled its floating dreams? has a hand, mighty and unseen, riven the chain, thrown open the dungeon, and led you forth to liberty and joy, to life and immortality? In a word- and this is the sum and consummation of all- has another and a Diviner life, a new and a superior nature, descending from God, and begotten within you by the Spirit, and unfolding to your view a Heaven of brightness, full of purity and fragrance and song, been communicated to your soul, thus creating you a new creature, and constituting you an "heir of God, and a joint heir with Christ Jesus?" If so, then you may adopt the language of Paul, and exultingly exclaim, "I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me." O deem not this a vain thing, for it is your life!
But I will suppose your honest reply to these searching interrogatives decides the case against your claims to a possession of spiritual life; then let me beseech you, with a knowledge of this alarming fact, rest not where you are. What is your natural life but a vapor that is soon dissolved, a dream that vanishes away? And what are your present pursuits but things unworthy of your rational existence, and inappropriate to your approaching destiny? O what egregious folly, O what moral insanity, to merge all consideration of your future existence in the present brief space graciously allotted you for its study and its preparation! You are all life, all nerve, all animation, all ardor, all activity, all excitement, all hope, to whatever is noble, and intellectual, and refined, and enterprising, of earth; but all death, all insensibility, all indifferent, all languor, all hopeless, to every thought and feeling and consideration of the great things that relate to your state beyond the grave. Is this wise, is this rational, is this sane?
Your studies of literature, your pleasures of taste, your pursuit of gain, your toil of ambition- those splendid impertinence, those cruel mockeries, those heartless soul-murderers of the present time; stifle in your heart all feeling, and annihilate in your mind all thought that you are an accountable steward, a moral agent, a deathless being; and that soon, yes, in one moment, your soul may be in eternity- standing agitated, trembling and speechless, before the tribunal of God! Yearning for your salvation, let me with the tenderest affection and the deepest solemnity plead with you for your life. Reflect for a moment what your present careless, unbelieving and impenitent state really is. It is nothing less than to challenge the vengeance of the Most High God, to defy his power, to disdain his clemency, to refuse his compassion, to reject his pardon, to insult his majesty, and to expose yourself to the fierceness of his eternal wrath. It is to be without the regeneration of his Spirit, to have no part in the atoning sacrifice of his Son, to have all your sins uncancelled, and to stand before the throne of eternal justice, a culprit and a criminal, upon whom the righteous judgment of God must pronounce and execute its withering sentence of an unchanging destiny, and an inexorable doom.
Where, then, can you flee to hide from the dark storm that gathers over you, from the thick clouds, and treasured-up lightning, and embosomed bolt, and desolating winds that wait but the signal of God's uplifted hand to rush forth upon you in all their unchecked, unmitigated fury? Where can you flee? You have "made a covenant with death, and are at an agreement with Hell." You are fascinated with the world, and are enamored with yourself, and are satisfied to have no other portion. You reject the Rock of Ages, refuse the sheltering pavilion of the Savior's cross, and despise the offers of his grace, where, then, when the tempest leaps forth in all its maddening fury, will you flee?
Yet how calmly you tread upon the very brink of ruin, how sportively you sail along the very edge of the vortex, how content and happy to course your way to the bar of a holy and a just God, through a world of disease and casualty and death, without one anxious thought to obtain deliverance, or one earnest struggle to escape your doom! Listen to a fact of recent occurrence, for the truth of which, in all its awful particulars, my personal knowledge of the parties can safely vouch. The conversation of a group of gentlemen, after dinner, turned upon the doctrine of a future state. Each one gave his opinion. It came to the turn of an elderly gentleman, a man of high legal attainments, of considerable wealth, and general esteem. He remarked that, "as it regarded himself, this life was good enough for him; that he desired no better, and would be willing to enter into an agreement to live in this world forever." The words had scarcely passed his lips when his hand relaxed its hold upon the glass it was grasping, his countenance changed, his head drooped, and he was borne insensible to a sofa. Restoratives were used, and every effort made that skill could devise; but life was extinct- his spirit had fled to the God who gave it! Reader, I leave this appalling fact to make its own impression. May that impression be deep, permanent, and saving!
But I turn to the living. I address those in whose souls are the deep, holy, deathless throbbings of an inner, spiritual life. Blissful day, Christian reader, that witnessed your resurrection from the grave of sin to walk in newness of life! Happy hour when you left your soul's shroud in the tomb, exchanging it for the robe of a glorious deathlessness, when your enmity was conquered, and your hostility was subdued, and you were led in willing and joyous captivity, amid the triumphs of your Lord, to the altar where he bled- self-consecrated to his service. O memorable moment, when Jesus, by the resistless but gentle power of his grace, broke down every barrier, entered your heart, and planted there the germ of a life as Divine, as holy, and as immortal as his own! Ever keep in mind your deep indebtedness to sovereign grace, your solemn obligation to Divine love, and the touching motives that urge you to "walk worthy of the vocation with which you are called."
Welcome all the dealings of God, whatever the character of those dealings may be, designed as they are but to animate, to nourish, and to carry forward this precious life in your soul. The north wind of sharp trial, and the south wind of covenant mercy, are made to breathe their blended gales over this beautiful garden, that the fruits and flowers of holiness may abound- that the actings of a living faith and love and hope may evidence to yourself, to the Church, and to the world, that you are indeed "risen with Christ," a partaker of his new resurrection-life.
It is perhaps a question of deep anxiety with you- "Oh, that I knew I were in reality a possessor of this inner spiritual life! My heart is so hard, my affections are so cold, my spirit is so sluggish, in everything that is spiritual, holy, and divine." Permit me to ask you- Can a stone feel its hardness, or a corpse its insensibility? Impossible! You affirm that you feel your hardness, and that you are sensible of your coldness. From where does this spring but from life? Could you weep, or mourn, or deplore, were the spiritual state of your soul that of absolute death! Again I say, Impossible! But rest not here- go to Jesus. What you really need is a fresh view of, a renewed application to, the Lord Jesus Christ. Sit not brooding over your mournful condition, in fruitless lamentation, but rise, and go to Jesus. Take to him the stone-like heart, the corpse-like soul. Tell him that you want to feel more, and to weep more, and to love more, and to pray more, and to live more. Go, and pour out your heart, with all its tremblings, and doubts, and fears, and needs, upon the bleeding, loving bosom of your Lord, until from that bosom, life more abundant has darted its quickening energy, vibrating and thrilling through your whole soul. "I have come," says Jesus, "that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly."
You are, perhaps, a severely tried, a sorely tempted, a deeply afflicted believer. But cheer up! You have Christ living in you, and why should you yield to despondency or to fear? Christ will never vacate his throne, nor relinquish his dwelling. You have a suffering Christ, a humbled Christ, a crucified Christ, a dying Christ, a risen Christ, a living Christ, a triumphant Christ, a glorified Christ, a full Christ, dwelling in you by his Spirit. Yes! and you have, too, a human Christ, a feeling Christ, a sympathizing Christ, a tender, loving, gentle Christ, spiritually and eternally reposing in your heart- why, then, should you fear the pressure of any need, or the assault of any foe, or the issue of any trial, since such a Christ is in you? "Fear not!" They are his own familiar and blessed words- "It is I, do not be afraid." You cannot lack for any good, since you have the fountain of all good dwelling in you. You cannot be finally overcome of any spiritual evil, since you have the Conqueror of sin and Satan and the world enthroned upon your affections. Your life- the inner, divine and spiritual life- can never die, since Christ, essential life, lives and abides in you. Like him, and for him, you may be opposed, but like him and by him you shall triumph. The persecution which you meet, and the trials which you endure, and the difficulties with which you cope, shall but further your well being, by bringing you into a closer communion with Jesus, and by introducing you more fully into the enviable state of the apostles- "Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. For which cause we faint not: but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, works for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory." Soon the portals of glory will expand their gates, and receive you into the beatific life- the life which is eternal.
You are, perhaps, mourning the loss of those who sleep in Jesus, or you are the occupant of a sick chamber, or, ecstatic thought!- it may be you are poised upon the wing for Heaven, waiting only the signal for your upward flight. Whether it be the sorrow of bereavement, or the languishing bed of sickness, or the immediate prospect of eternity, how appropriate, and animating, and soothing, the contemplation of the life which is before you! How exceeding great and precious are the promises which refer to the security and assured enjoyment of that life: "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give unto them eternal life: and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, who gave them to me, is greater than all: and no one is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand." Listen to his words of indescribable sweetness and overwhelming grandeur, breathed over the grave of one whom he loved: "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whoever believes in me shall never die." "Enough, dear Lord," may you exclaim. "You have spoken words of soothing and of hope to this bleeding, sorrowing heart of mine, and I am comforted. You have dried my tears, bound up my wounds, and calmed my spirit, healing, and hushing it to rest upon your own gentle, loving bosom- once stricken with a sorrow infinitely deeper, and keener, and bitterer than mine."
Are you, my reader, a searcher of this life? Are you breathing for it, panting after it, seeking it? Then, be it known to you, that he who inspired that desire is himself the Life for which you seek. That heaving of your heart, that yearning of your spirit, that 'feeling after God, if haply you may find him,' is the first gentle pulsation of a life that shall never die. Feeble and fluctuating, faint and fluttering, as its throbbings may be, it is yet the life of God, the life of Christ, the life of glory in your soul. It is the seedling, the germ of an immortal flower. It is the sunshine dawn of an eternal day. The announcement with which we meet your case- and it is the only one that can meet it- is, "this man receives sinners." O joyful tidings! O blessed words! Yes, he receives sinners- the vilest, the lowest, the most despised! It was for this he relinquished the abodes of heavenly purity and bliss, to mingle amid the sinful and humiliating scenes of earth. For this he abandoned his Father's bosom, for a cross. For this he lived and labored, suffered and died. "He receives sinners!" He receives them, of every name and condition- of every stature, and character, and climate. There is no limit to his ability to pardon, as there is none to the sufficiency of his atonement, or to the melting pity of his heart. Flee, then, to Jesus the crucified. To him repair with your sins, as scarlet and as crimson, and his blood will wash you whiter than snow. What though they may be as clouds for darkness, or as the sand on the sea-shore for multitude- his grace can take them all away. Come with the accusations and tortures of a guilty conscience, come with the sorrow and relentings of a broken heart, come with the grief of the backslider, and with the confession of the prodigal- Jesus still meets you with the hope-inspiring words- "Him that comes unto me, I will in no wise cast out." Then, "return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon you; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon."
Such, reader, in conclusion, is the nature, and such the manifestations of the inner spiritual life, whose relapse and recovery, whose declensions and revivings, we are about to consider. Alas! that a life so heavenly and divine, so holy and so happy, should ever fluctuate and change- should ever droop and decay. Alas! that in its onward progress to the paradise of God, it should have its autumn and its winter- the seared leaf and the congealed current- and not be always clothed with the perpetual verdure of spring, and be ever laden with the ripe fruit of summer. But such is the fallen nature in which it dwells, and such the hostile influences by which it is surrounded and assailed, the utmost vigilance is demanded to maintain the heavenly spark alive and glowing in the soul.
Before, beloved reader, we pass to a more minute examination of our important subject, together let us solemnly "bow our knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ," praying "that he would grant us, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in our hearts by faith: that we, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passes knowledge, that we might be filled with all the fullness of God. "Now glory be to God! By his mighty power at work within us, he is able to accomplish infinitely more than we would ever dare to ask or hope. May he be given glory in the church and in Christ Jesus forever and ever through endless ages. Amen." Ephesians 3:20-21