Great Texts of the Bible
A Good Reckoning
Even so reckon ye also yourselves to be dead unto sin, but alive unto God in Christ Jesus.—Romans 6:11.
1. St. Paul’s object in this chapter is to exhibit the inconsistency of sin with the Christian faith and position. We are, he says, planted together with Christ, or engrafted into Him, and as little as the shoot can bear fruit different from the stalk, so little can we, if faithful to our position, live differently from Christ. We are baptized into His death that we may pass with Him through death into a new life. As interment is the evidence of death, so baptism, in Paul’s view, is the outward symbol that we are done with the old life and have entered on the new. When a person is buried, that means that death has taken place; when a person is baptized, that means that death to sin, with Christ and in Christ, has taken place. Paul asserts that in every genuine Christian there is a process going forward parallel to that which our Lord Himself passed through. The outward appearance of Christ’s experience may be wholly different from that of His followers, but essentially and inwardly they are precisely the same. For us, as for Him, death to sin results in resurrection to newness of life. We can get to life, Paul would say, only through a genuine death, a death not indeed of the body, but a death as real and generally much more painful.
2. Now, though this is a style of teaching very common with Paul, there are some minds to which it always seems nearly mystical. They are baffled when they strive to bring it into connexion with their own experience. They think Paul speaks as if the process of sanctification worked with mechanical certainty, whereas they find that after believing in Christ they are by no means dead to sin. They cannot make Paul’s teaching square with their own experience; it seems to them that the decisive severance from sin which he has in view does never in reality occur. This disagreement is merely superficial. Paul, in describing the process by which the sinner passed into life, was, of course, compelled to describe the ideal process, and not the actual experience of any single believer. That ideal process may never be actually realized by any one, but it is more or less nearly approached by all. The professor of surgery in describing the actual history of a gunshot wound, from the moment of its infliction, on through treatment and convalescence to perfect health, may describe a process from which each patient finds his own case to differ in certain particulars, but the description remains on that very account a sufficient guide in essentials for all cases; and Paul sufficiently indicates in this very chapter that there is nothing mechanical in his view of salvation. When he says, “Reckon ye yourselves to be dead unto sin … let not sin reign in your mortal body … yield not your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin,” and so forth, he sufficiently shows that our salvation is in his view not finished and not complete by one act of faith, but is only slowly and painfully accomplished by the constant renewal of spiritual desire and spiritual energy. He appeals to what we all know to be the spring and source of character, the human will.
“Give me first a death in which there is no life, and then a life in which there is no death.” He who uttered these words was not a Christian as we count Christian, but he understood the great law which regulates human and Christian life better than many of us Christians do. There is only one kind of perfect human life, and that is the life which is exemplified in Jesus Christ; and to this life there is only one possible path, and that is through a genuine death. The grub cannot pass to the higher life of the dragon-fly without first sickening and becoming dead to all the life it has been familiar with in the water, and we, in order to enter the true eternal life of man, must die to what we have been most familiar with in the old life.1 [Note: Marcus Dods.]
Dead to Sin
1. To be dead to an object is to be as incapable of being touched, influenced, or affected by it as if we were really dead. Thus some people are dead to the pleasures of the world—that is, earthly pleasures have no attraction for them; or they are dead to ambition—that is, the honours and dignities of the world are to their minds nothing better than children’s toys. And in this way, too, men are often dead to what is good—to truth, to justice, to honour, to duty; they are as insensible to their claims as a dead man would be. And so it is with regard to sin. To be dead to sin is to be insensible to all its temptations; it is to be in that state in which the motions of sin within and the allurements to sin without have no power; it is to be dead to all sinful appetites, passions, desires, thoughts; dead to all sinful objects and aims—in a word, it is to have ceased from sin, as one who is dead has ceased from all living acts.
Being dead to sin must obviously be the opposite of being dead in sin. The latter must undeniably be a state of entire sinfulness—a state in which the soul is dead to all good through the power of sin over it. But right over against this, to be dead to sin must be to be indifferent to its attractiveness—beyond the reach of its influence—as fully removed from its influences as the dead are from the objects of sense in this world. As he who is dead in the natural sense has nothing more to do with earthly things, so he who is dead to sin has nothing to do any more with sin’s attractions or with sinning itself.1 [Note: C. G. Finney.]
2. More particularly, St. Paul’s expression, “dead to sin,” suggests such ideas as these—
(1) We are dead to sin in the sense of being beyond its power to inflict penalty on us. He that is dead is freed from sin in that sense. If a servant has come to a settlement with his master there remains no longer any bond between them. Now the wages of sin is death, and our wages have been paid in the death of Christ. That is, roughly, Paul’s theology. The law has no claim upon a man who has suffered its extreme penalty, and this the old legal phraseology of Scotland brought out when it spoke of criminals being justified in the Grassmarket, when they were hung there. By death they cleared scores with the law. Thus we have by the death of Christ the removal of our guilt.
(2) To be dead to sin means, further, that we are irresponsive to the appeals of sin. How still, how unmoved, how irresponsive the dead are! Let the master shout at his slave’s dead body; not one finger stirs to obey his orders. Let him bring his lash across the upturned face; not a muscle quivers. Was the dead man vain and fond of applause? the acclaims of a world bring no smile of pleasure to his face now. Was he mean, greedy, grasping? tell him of the most promising investments; he has no ear, no heart for them. Fill the dead hand with gold; the fingers will not close upon it. Set round the dead the things that but a few hours ago made his eye glitter and his pulses quicken; now he is beyond them all—dead to them. The soldier who a few months ago sprang forward at the sound of the bugle now lies stiff on the field, and knows no difference between the charge and the retire. The most passionate kiss that love presses on the face of the dead wins no acknowledgment, no returning embrace. As a wild Bechuana said: “Soon I shall be dead, and they will bury me in my field; my flocks will come to pasture above me, but I shall no longer hear them, and I shall not come forth from my tomb to take them and carry them with me to my sepulchre.” Such is the image of our life in the midst of the world since we believed in Christ; such is the insensibility of the true Christian, of the man who avails himself of his position; such is his insensibility to the temptations that charmed him in his former years, to all that constituted the very essence of his old life. The man who was led by his appetites, and could not walk the streets without sinning, sets the Cross of Christ before him, and finds he can as little sin as if he were a corpse. The man who lowered his character and lost his self-respect to make a larger profit than was legitimate, carries with him the remembrance of Christ’s death, and can as little overreach or swindle as the miser who was buried a century ago. He is dead to the old life; it is a thing of the past; it is not in that direction he looks for happiness, nor from it that appeals have any effect.
It is in Christ Himself that we see what complete death to sin means. To the most subtle and enticing allurements that this world, and the varying exigencies of a most complicated life in this world, could present, He was simply dead. How vain to offer Him, after He was risen, any prizes of this world! How absolutely irrelevant and pointless any such offer or any such temptations appear! How insignificant, how paltry, how past and done with, do all the gaieties, the affections, the dangers, the prizes of this life seem in the light of that new life. And it is that new life, it is that risen life of Christ, we are to share in now; and we are to learn to be, and actually to be, as superior to temptation, as dead to sin, as He was. We are to keep impressing on ourselves that we belong to another world—“Reckon ye yourselves to be dead to sin.” We are to keep impressing on ourselves that it is not in the ways of this world that we are to attain our ends, that we have an inheritance above, and it is through real sympathy with Christ Himself that we can alone reach this position.1 [Note: Marcus Dods.]
(3) Again, to be dead to sin implies not only a complete but a final severance from it. Death is a state from which no one returns to the old life. When death comes there is at once and for ever an end of what has been. So must it be with our severance from sin; so, one is tempted to say, it was with Paul himself, who realized his position in Christ. But so it is not always. There are animals which hibernate, and for months seem to be dead; there are animals which become torpid, and for all practical purposes are dead for a season; they do no mischief, they cease to be a terror to their natural prey, they entirely abandon their customary haunts and habits; but when the warmth of spring penetrates to their temporary burying-place there is a revival of their old instincts, energies, and habits.
With many persons the abandonment of sin is a mere hibernation, not a death. For awhile they seem to have lost all taste for their old ways; temptations which before were irresistible now flit past them and attract no notice, cause no movement; for awhile, in the ardour of a newly conceived idea of life, the man is impregnable to all that would lead him from it. He is wrapped up in his new and strong resolve, and while that lasts he is insensible to the storms that would drive him from his path. Or something has made the world cold, distasteful to a man; his love of it has got a chill; his investments have not turned out well; his prospects in life have become contracted or have been blighted, and he withdraws from his former keen engagement in this world’s affairs. Or there comes to the man of pleasure or to the sensualist higher and better impulses; the Spirit of Christ inwardly solicits him and strives with him, or some outward event warns and admonishes him, and for the present he becomes dead to the solicitations of appetite. Or a young person comes under the influence of some older and stronger character, of some one who does live a consecrated, unselfish, Christlike life; the influence is commanding while it lasts, but when it is removed it becomes apparent that it was merely a mesmeric state, which had produced not a real death, not a final separation from old weaknesses and habits. And so with all those temporary abandonments of sin; they are mere swoons or fits, or sleeps, or states of torpor; the soul of sin lives on securely underneath the insensible lethargic surface, and, when the period of slumber passes and the cause of insensibility has exhausted itself, will return again with renewed and stronger life to all its old habits and ways—a most melancholy, most discouraging, but most common spectacle.
Alive to God
1. This is the other aspect of our participation in Christ, and it is even more important than the death to sin. To die to sin is but the necessary preliminary to the new life. By itself it is incomplete and ineffective. It is not death that can ever be in any form a desirable state, but only life, fulness of life, and it is because death of this kind promises fuller life that we pass through it. Some persons, however, are dead to sin, but they are dead to everything else. Religion, instead of enlivening and enlarging and inspiring them, seems to have benumbed and deadened them all round; they would be larger and better men if they had no religion at all. For all the active good they do they might as well be in the grave. The poor man who needs help would as soon think of knocking at a tombstone as of knocking at their door; active beneficence on their part would startle us as if the sheeted dead had come to our aid. Where there is fulness of life there is activity, joy, love, intensity; not coldness, selfish caution, parsimony, retirement, and seclusion from the woes, the wounds, the joys, the interests of men. And where there is life it will appear; burying the seed beneath the clod, the life that is in it will work its way through, and show what it is. The body of Christ could not be held under the power of death, and if the spirit of life that was in Him be really in us, that life will break through all that overlies it and will appear.
Do not try to live neither for sin nor for God. Engage at once in the spiritual and heavenly life, the life that is for God. To be dead is to be miserable, nay, it is worse, it is on the road to dissolution, and the reason why Christian society is so unattractive, so feeble, so disappointing, is that so many of us are content to be dead to the old sins, but without any activities that make room for themselves in the world around us, and carry a blessing with them. Take note that if you do not fill your life with Christian activities, and your heart with Christian joys, they will soon be filled and flooded with the old life; commit yourself quickly to the new life, making its joys, its hopes, its privileges, its views, its ways yours; give yourself fairly, speedily, and in very truth to the risen life, to that life that is in thorough sympathy with Christ. Be strenuous and abundant in expressions of this risen and heavenly life, or there is small hope for you. Do not make it needful that men should feel your pulse, or hold a mirror to your mouth to see if you be really alive; but let it be seen by the brightness of your vision, by the activity of your step, by the force and helpfulness of your hand, that you have a more abundant life.1 [Note: Marcus Dods.]
2. When is a man alive to God?
(1) When he fully recognizes the signs of the presence of God. That man is “alive to God” who habitually realizes the divine presence, to whom God is not a theory by which he can conveniently account for the universe, or a name for certain human conceptions of nature and its working, or a principle which deserves investigation when life’s hard work is over, or an invention of priestcraft to terrify and scare the soul, or a philosophic concept, the presence or absence of which has little to do with life or happiness, but the great and only reality, the prime and principal element of all his thoughts. He has learned from nobler sources than the pure reason, or the trembling conscience, or the widespread activities of power, his estimate of the character of God. He has been to the Cross of Christ and there comprehended the righteousness and the love of God, and he has gone back into the great region of conscience, of reason, and of nature, with the lesson he has learned there, and can compel the cold impassive laws to murmur to him of pity, and teach conscience to be at peace with a higher revelation than that of law: and while his reason exults in God, who is one and not two, he spreads out the ineffable love over the universal wisdom; he feels that the justice and the mercy of God are two manifestations of the same God; he adores the compassion and exults in the grace of God, while he bows before His unsullied and eternal Majesty.
(2) Again, a man is alive to God when the sense of the divine presence awakens all his energies and engages all his faculties. Conscious of the divine presence, he renders to Him into whose presence he is brought the appropriate homage of his entire being. Then every place is a temple, every act is a sacrifice, every sin the pollution of a sacred place, the defilement of a holy day. No praise that he can render can ever equal the demand of conscience, nor will his actual obedience ever realise the ideal he has formed of consecration to Him. It is morally impossible for one who is alive unto God to imagine that he is doing too much to express his sense of reverence, gratitude, or obligation. He can hold back no faculty, no affection, no treasure, saying, “This is mine and may be appropriated to my own ends.” The “faculty” is God’s own gift—nay, rather, God’s own power working through the human will; the “affection” is a divine incentive meant to reveal the God of love, and must not be made a rival to Him who gave the power to love and the object to be loved; while on every one of his “treasures” he has learned to write, “Holiness unto the Lord”—“bought with a price.” In one word, self is subdued to Him, and human will is lost in God’s.
(3) If a man is alive unto God, he will not only realize the divine presence, and feel the claim made by the divine Being upon every faculty of his nature, but he will find his highest desires gratified. “In thy presence is fulness of joy.” If we are alive unto God, we shall find that we are following the bent of our true nature. We shall fear an inward contradiction and antagonism of our nature to God far more than the crucifixion of our passions. He that drinketh of the water given him by Christ shall never thirst after those draughts of carnal pleasure to be found in the broken cisterns of human invention, and it shall be in him a well of water springing up to everlasting life.
A lady came to me in Japan last summer, and said, “I am a missionary here, and have come to make a sad confession to you. I have come to tell you this—that though I came out from America to teach the people here in Japan, I have never had a single hour of joy in my Christian life. And,” she said, “I feel so ashamed of it. Can you tell me the secret of joy? Can you tell me how to get some gladness into my life? I feel that I cannot commend the religion of Jesus Christ to people, while I have a joyless experience.” I said, “I do not know any secret of joy like this—I am alive in the risen, victorious, indissoluble life of my risen Lord. The glory of that Easter morning is mine. Why, I cannot think of that for five minutes without being glad, without saying good-bye to sorrow and sighing.”1 [Note: J. Gregory Mantle.]
That manly Christian, that stalwart teacher, Dr. Dale, of Birmingham, tells us that, towards the end of his life, he began to ask God to forgive something for which he had never asked forgiveness before. He asked God to forgive him for the sin of gloom. He felt that his face had been gloomy, and that his voice had been gloomy; and he wanted forgiveness for the gloom that had overshadowed his life. You remember what happened. On one Easter morning, as he was getting ready for the Easter Day Services, there flashed upon him, with a new meaning, the thought—Jesus Christ is alive! He walked up and down his study, and said, “Jesus Christ is alive!” And, in the glory of that risen life, he went to preach; and his sun nevermore went down. In the gladness of that resurrection vision, in the glory of that Easter morning, he lived, and his congregation sang every Sabbath morning the Easter hymn, “Christ the Lord is risen to-day, Hallelujah.”
Buried with Christ, and raised with Him too,
What is there left for me to do?
Simply to cease from struggling and strife,
Simply to walk in newness of life.
Glory be to God.
In Christ Jesus
St. Paul describes both the death to sin and the life to God as “in Christ Jesus.” In Christ’s death we died—in Christ’s resurrection we rose again to newness of life. It is by contemplating Christ as dying in our room, and as thereby suffering the punishment due to our sins, that we come to reckon ourselves as dead unto sin—to look upon all sin as that with which we should now have nothing to do—which belongs to a former condition of things that has passed away—the gulf of death having intervened—and which, whenever doubts appear, should be looked upon with surprise and alarm as a message from the dead, to be immediately dismissed. It is by thus looking upon Christ, as dying that we might live, and as rising again for our justification, that we should be led to reckon ourselves as exempted from death and all its consequences—as restored to the enjoyment of that life, which we had forfeited, with all its privileges—and as thus bound by the most solemn obligations to devote it to Him who looked upon us in our low and lost estate, and who sent forth His only-begotten Son to die in our room.
1. The death to sin is in Christ Jesus. By the cross of Christ, says the Apostle, “the world is crucified unto me and I unto the world”; “I am crucified with Christ”; “If we be dead with him, we shall also live with him.” We are “buried with him by baptism into death.” The thought often recurs that our faith in Him nails our own hands to the cursed tree, closes and films our eye on worldly pageant and glory, crowns us with thorns, exposes us to contumely and shame, makes us the butt of devilish malice, taunts our agony with a cup which we cannot drink, buries us away out of sight of the world, rolls a stone to the door of our sepulchre, shuts us up in darkness, makes us see to the uttermost the misery, the shame, the cowardice, the miscreant humour, the curses, the consequences, the wages of sin. If we have taken up this thought, not only into our intellects, but into our entire spiritual nature so that it has entered into the very essence of our being, that “Christ died for our sins,” then we are dead. We have gone through the shame and humiliation of His death.
As we become alive to what the death of Christ really is and means, how it prepares the only way by which a new life could enter our race, and a new spirit be given to transgressors; by which God could justify the ungodly, and still be just: as all this, and very much more than this, is partially felt by the simplest mind when it “closes with Christ” (as the old divines expressively said), it is not difficult to understand that faith in Christ, that union to Christ, involves dying with Christ to sin; that it involves our being crucified and buried with Christ; that it is the mortification of sin, the sharing of His agony, and the participation of the soul in His death. “They that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its affections and lusts.” A true and deep faith in Christ, a recognition by mind and heart of the work of Christ, is such an intuition of law, such a sense of God, such a revelation of the evil of sin, such a burning of the heart against self and the flesh, and the world and the devil, that the Apostle was justified in saying, that through faith in Christ our Lord, Roman Christians might reckon themselves dead unto sin.1 [Note: H. R. Reynolds.]
When Jesus Christ died, every member of His body died too. That follows logically. His hands, His feet, His head, were all dead. Hence, if you are a member of Jesus Christ spiritually, when Jesus Christ died you died too. That is what St. Paul is arguing. It is because of your union with Him, as a living newborn soul, that you look back upon His death and say, “I have died.” A friend of mine, who is a missionary, had once witnessed a public flogging, and he turned to his wife and said: “That man committed a theft with his hands. How was it then that his back was flogged?” She saw what he was aiming at, and said: “I think, John, it is the union that does it.” Precisely. How is it that you suffer with Jesus Christ, the Head? It is the union that does it. And in Jesus Christ’s death, I who have thought that I was alive, if I will begin where St. Paul begins, will say, “I died too.” That is the first great fundamental point. Our old man was crucified when Christ was crucified.2 [Note: H. C. Lees.]
2. The life to God is in Christ Jesus. This is more obvious, for—
(1) Christ is the revelation of the Father, the organ and chief minister of God; the highest manifestation of the righteousness, of the mercy, of the wisdom and truth of God. By faith in Him we have the highest opportunities for the recognition of the character and nature of God. Christ is not a rival to the God of nature and providence; if He were so, if the Christian consciousness had made of Him a second God, if the Catholic Church had suffered the Gnostic schism in the Divine manifestation and attributes to have stolen into its creed, if the Arian delusion had not been driven off from the Church by deeper views of both God and man, the language of the text would have been very perplexing. As it is, Christ is no rival to God. The Divine element in the Christ is the eternal Son of God; the whole of the Divine nature manifests itself to us under the aspect of the eternal Son. God is manifest therefore in the flesh. The Word that is God has been incarnate, and “we have beheld his glory, the glory of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” It is by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ that we are alive to God, because it is in Him that we can “see the Father,” and because “no man knoweth the Son but the Father; and no man knoweth the Father but the Son, and he to whom the Son will reveal him.”
(2) Faith in Christ is, further, a resurrection with Christ from the death to sin. The illustrations which Paul draws from the resurrection of Christ to throw light on our divine life are very numerous. The new life of the soul is a resurrection-life, charged with all the associations and aspirations which would be possessed by one who had passed, through dying, from death to life.
(3) The life to God flows out of the life of God in the soul. It cannot be that the life of the soul will be characterized by deep perceptions of God, that the delighting in God, resting in God, hoping in God, will be the characteristics of the human spirit, unless God Himself create within us the new life by His Holy Spirit. This Holy Spirit is the dispensation of the exalted Christ. The new germ of life in our humanity is planted there by the risen Jesus. The new vision of God is the work of Him who is the life of our life, the strength of our heart, and our portion for ever.
When the Apostle bids us reckon ourselves to be dead to sin and alive to God, of course he is telling us to reckon ourselves to be what we really are—not something different from what we are. It is not that we are to suppose or imagine ourselves to be dead to sin in some figurative or fictitious sense, but that being so, we are to recognize the truth, and make it a conviction. If we are not dead to sin and alive to God, there would be absolutely no meaning at all in this precept and no possible effect from it.
You could not say to a blind man, “Reckon yourself to be one possessed of sight”; or to a paralysed man, “Reckon yourself to have the use of your limbs”; or to an ignorant man, “Reckon yourself to be learned.” A man must possess sight before he can consider himself able to see, and he must have the use of his limbs in order to count on being able to move, and he must have wealth or knowledge if he is to reckon on using either. It would be not only ineffectual and senseless, but a cruel mockery to call upon any one to exercise gifts or powers which they did not possess, or were incapable of exercising.
Why am I authorized to reckon on these glorious facts? Simply because God does it. God reckons me to have died with Christ, and I am going to reckon myself to be where God reckons me. God reckons me to be living in Christ, and I am going to reckon myself to be living in Christ. The word in the Book of Genesis about Abraham is this—not “Abraham believed God,” but “Abraham amened God.” He staggered not at the promise, through unbelief, but said “Amen” to it. It seems akin to madness for you to reckon yourself dead to the foul things in your life that have mastered you a hundred times, so that you continue under an overwhelming sense of defeat. Say “Amen” to God. Then God will honour your faith and make victory real in your life, and your Amen to God will please Him as Abraham’s did, for God was so pleased with Abraham’s Amen that He counted it to him for righteousness.1 [Note: J. Gregory Mantle.]
1. It is an exercise of the Imagination. The imagination is the faculty by means of which we perceive the facts of life and apply them to our lives. “Reckon yourselves dead,” “reckon yourselves alive”; in other words, be convinced of it, and you will be it. It is a significant anticipation of the method adopted by those who call themselves Christian Scientists in their attempts to heal the body. It is what is called “Auto-suggestion,” namely, a strong, purposeful denial of one set of experiences and phenomena, and an equally strong affirmation of others, and the anticipation that the series thus denied will wither, as a plant withers when deprived of water.
There is little doubt that the principle of auto-suggestion is rapidly being recognized on the physical plane in the sphere of the influence of mind over body. On this plane the principle works both ways—both for disease and for health; the mind, dwelling constantly on particular symptoms of disease, renders the body liable to be affected by that disease. In an obituary notice in the Lancet of a great nerve doctor, who died from paralysis, this is practically acknowledged, for we read: “It is remarkable that he wrote much about diseases of the nervous system, thus giving another example of the curious coincidence that not infrequently medical men die of the diseases to which they have given special attention.” It certainly tells for health. In spite of many failures, and premises that, in my opinion, are erroneous, and an exaggeration of the matter-denying philosophy of Berkeley, the so-called Christian Scientists may fairly claim to have established the principle that the sphere of causes is the mind. Their council to their disciples is: “Ally yourself in thought with the resistless Divine life within you as the one true fact of your being. Obliterate the obstructions of doubt and fear, that the Divine force within may have scope to work; ‘reckon yourself dead’ to all the illusions of the false self; ‘reckon yourself alive’ to all the elements of health and power, and strength, and perfection, and this mental process will result in change throughout the whole physical frame.” And it certainly does, and in numerous instances, to some of which I am able to testify from personal observation, the result is the cure of disease. It is almost a matter of surprise, considering the training of the man in the strictest sect of the Pharisees, to note the strong grasp of spiritual intuition with which this truth—known to the Easterns 2000 years b.c.—is adopted by St. Paul, and applied to the Divinely ordered method of spiritual growth. “Reckon yourself dead to sin—reckon yourself alive to God.” The road to a true and noble life, he would say, is the intense, purposeful focusing of your mental faculties upon all that is high, noble, pure, Divine, and the deliberate, persistent ignoring, denying, all that contradicts it. The seed of action is impulse. Meet the impulses within you on their own ground—where you find them. They are all in the mental region—think yourself into God—reckon yourself alive to God.1 [Note: Canon B. Wilberforce.]
There is a pathetic story of a slave who was put up for auction at a slave-mart. A kind-hearted man in the crowd paid the price and gave him his freedom; but the iron of slavery had entered his soul, and he could not divest himself of the mental habit of a slave. He failed to imagine the change in his position, and so he went back to his squalid hut, took up the hoe, and resumed his old place in the slave-gang. He could not imagine anything so good, and until he could, he was not free. There are thousands like him, slaves because the imagination is enslaved, in bondage to habit, to vice; and they might be free if only it could be brought home to the imagination. It is not money that delivers: it is the imagination.2 [Note: W. G. Stooke.]
2. But, more biblically and more accurately, it is an exercise of Faith. It will be observed that the starting-point in these verses is not something at which we are to aim, but a fact which has already happened, and which is stated to us on authority. Over and over again it is repeated that we have died; that we are dead; that we died when Christ died; and that we died with Him. This is a matter of revelation and of fact for every Christian Upon this is built a primary duty—the duty of believing it, because Scripture says that it is true. It is a subject for faith. Why is it that we do not get the better of our sins? Why do the best of us make so little progress in practical obedience? Why are some living in a constant succession of failures, so that they seem never to improve? Why are others living to the present world, or living in sin? There is one cause of this common to every case alike—want of faith. We do not advance because we want faith; we lead careless, ungodly, sinful lives, because we want faith. We do not believe in Christ’s work. We languidly believe in what He once did for us—that He died for our sins upon the Cross, and rose again; and we believe in what He is ready and willing to do for us—that He is ready to help us now if we seek Him; but we do not believe in what He has done in us—in that great and real work which He did once actually accomplish upon our individual nature; we do not believe that we are now, or ever were, truly dead to sin; we have not faith in this great fact; and this is what St. Paul bids us believe—believe now, and believe at all times. Let us reckon by faith that in Christ Jesus we are both dead to sin and alive to God.
(1) Let us reckon on the fact. For in that He died to sin we died to sin. Notice the use of the word with by St. Paul. In Romans 6:6, “Crucified with him”; in Romans 6:8, “Dead with him”; in Romans 6:4, “Buried with him”; in Romans 6:8, “Live with him.” Crucified with Him, dead with Him, buried with Him, living with Him; identification in crucifixion, in death, in burial, in resurrection. And if we are to rest our faith unwaveringly, without any hesitancy, upon this great fact, we must remind ourselves once again that it is gloriously true that “our old man,” that is, our fallen, unregenerate nature, not as God created it, but as sin defaced and defiled it, “our old man” was crucified with Christ, that the “body of sin”—so called because every part of our being has been corrupted by sin—might be done away or abolished.
(2) Let us reckon on the fellowship. Notice how the Apostle insists upon that, in this chapter. He says, “Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death; that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection.” “If we be dead with Christ” (Romans 6:8), “we believe that we shall also live with him: knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once; but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. Even so reckon ye also yourselves to be dead.” What a wonderful argument that is at the close of chapter 5., that magnificent contrast between the first Adam and the last Adam! Every living soul is identified either with the first Adam or with the last Adam.
(3) Let us reckon on the continuity of the death and life. “In that he died, he died unto sin once for all” (notice the addition of these two words, “for all,” in the margin of the Revised Version), “but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God.” Is there not need to emphasize the continuity of this resurrection life?
I have been disheartened, at times, when I have gone back to some place where there has been a gracious visitation of the Spirit of God, and many men and women have, by faith, identified themselves with Christ, in His death and risen life. It has been a great discouragement to me to find that they have gone back; and that, when I have gone to the place again, they have had to renew this great act of identification with Him.1 [Note: J. Gregory Mantle.]
An old divine says: “A sheep and a sow may each fall into the same quagmire; but the sow will wallow in it, whilst the sheep will bleat piteously, until she is extricated and cleansed.” Such is the difference between the ungodly and the children of God. “Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not”; that is, sin can never become his normal and habitual State.2 [Note: F. B. Meyer.]
A Good Reckoning
Bishop (J. W.), The Christian Year, 205.
Cunningham (W.), Sermons, 251.
Drummond (H.), Stones rolled away, 62.
Hickey (F. P.), Short Sermons, 2nd Ser., 134.
Keble (J.), Sermons for the Christian Year. Easter to Ascension Day, 138.
Kuegele (F.), Country Sermons, New Ser., iii. 63.
Maturin (W.), The Blessedness of the Dead in Christ, 317.
Meyer (F. B.), Christian Living, 45.
Rogers (J. H.), The “Verily, Verilys” of Christ, 53.
Temple (F.), Sermons preached in Rugby School Chapel, 1st Ser., 306.
Thompson (R. E.), Nature, the Mirror of Grace, 19.
Tyng (S. H.), The People’s Pulpit, New Ser., ii. 197.
Wilberforce (B.), Feeling after Him, 29.
Wilberforce (B.), New (?) Theology, 203.
British Congregationalist, Jan.–June 1910, 538 (Jowett).
Christian World Pulpit, x. 169 (Bainton); xxxvi. 252 (Dods); lxxiv. 205 (Stooke).
Churchman’s Pulpit (Good Friday and Easter Even), vii. 172 (Temple); (Easter Day and Season), vii. 198 (Keble); (Sixth Sunday after Trinity), x. 385, 389 (Reynolds), 391 (How).
Keswick Week, 1908, 51 (Lees), 68 (Mantle).
Plain Sermons by Contributors to the “Tracts for the Times,” vii. 111.