This is the high excellence of the Christian religion, that it contains the most absolute precepts for a holy life, and the greatest comforts in death, for from these two the truth and excellency of religion is to be measured, if it have the highest and perfectest rule of walking, and the chiefest comfort withal. Now, the perfection of Christianity you saw in the rule, how spiritual it is, how reasonable, how divine, how free from all corrupt mixture, how transcending all the most exquisite precepts and laws of men, deriving a holy conversation from the highest fountain, the Spirit of Christ, and conforming it to the highest pattern, the will of God. And, indeed, in the first word of this verse, there is something of the excellent nature of Christianity holden out, "if Christ be in you," which is the true description of a Christian, -- one in whom Christ is, which imports the divine principle and the spiritual subject of Christianity. The principle is Christ in a man, -- Christ by his Spirit dwelling in him. This great apostle knew this well in his own experience, and, therefore, he can speak best in this style "I live, yet not I, but Christ in me," Gal. ii.20 importing, that Christ and his Spirit is to the soul what the soul is to the body, -- that there is a living influence from heaven that acts and moves the soul of a Christian as powerfully yet as sweetly and pleasantly, as if it were the natural motion of the soul, and truly it is the natural motion of the soul. It is that primitive life which was most connatural to the soul of man, which sin did deprive us of. All the powerful constraint and violence that Christ uses in drawing the souls of men to him, and after him, is as kindly unto them, and perfects them as much, as that impulse by which the soul moves and turns the body, a sweet compulsion and blessed violence. Now this should make Christians often to reflect upon another principle of their life than themselves, that by looking on him, who is "the resurrection and the life," who is "the true vine," and abiding in him by faith, their life may be continued and increased. It is certainly much reflection on Him who is all in all, and less upon ourselves that maintains this life, and, therefore, the most part of men being wholly strangers to this, whether in their purposes or practices, or judgings of both, unacquainted with any higher look in religion than they use in their natural and civil actings, it doth give ground to assure us that they are strangers, -- alienated from the life of God, -- without God, and without Christ in the world.
But then the spiritual subject of Christianity is here, Christ in you not Christ without you, in ordinances, in profession, in some civil carriage but Christ within the heart of a man, -- that is a Christian. It is the receiving of Christ into the soul, and putting him on upon the inner man, and renewing it, that makes a Christian, not being externally clothed with him, or compassed about with him, in the administration of the ordinances. It fears me, most part of us who bear the name of Christianity, have no character of it within if we were looked and searched. Many are like the sepulchres Christ speaks of, -- without, painted and fair, -- within, no thing but rottenness and dead bones. What have many of you more of Christ than what a blind man hath of light? It is round about him, but not within him. The light hath sinned in darkness but your darkness cannot comprehend it. You are environed with the outward appearances of Christ in his word and ordinances, and that is all, but neither within you, nor upon many of you, is there any thing either of his light or life. Not so much as any outward profession or behaviour, suitable to the revelation of Christ, about you. As if you were ashamed to be Christians, you maintain gross ignorance, and practise manifest rebellion against his known will in the very light of the gospel. How few have so much tincture of Christ, so much as to colour the external man, or to clothe it with any blamelessness of walking or form of religion! How few are so much as Christians in the letter! For you are not acquainted either with letter or spirit, -- either with knowledge or affection or practice. But suppose that some have put on Christ on their outward man and colour over themselves with some performances of religious duties, and smooth themselves with civility in carriage, yet alas! how few are they who are renewed in the spirit of their mind, and have put on Christ in their inward man, who have opened the secrets of their hearts, and received him to "lie all night between their breasts." How few are busied about their hearts, to have any new impression and dye upon their affections, -- to mould them after a new manner, -- to kill the love of this world and the lusts of it, -- and cast out the rottenness and superfluity of naughtiness which abides within! But some there are who are persuaded thus to do to give up their spirits to religion, and all their business and care is, to have Christ within, as well as without. Now, if the rest of you will not be persuaded to be of this number, consider what you prejudge yourselves of, of all the comfort of religion, and then religion is no religion, and to no purpose, if you have no benefit by it. And certainly, except Christ be in you as a King to rule you, and a Prophet to teach you, -- to subdue your lusts, and dispel your darkness, when he appears, he cannot appear to your comfort and salvation. You are deprived of this great cordial against death, and death must seize upon all that is within you, soul and body, since Christ the Spirit of life is not within you. Happiness without you will not make you happy -- salvation round about you will not save you. If you would be saved, there must be a near and immediate union with happiness. Christ in the heart, and salvation cometh with him. A Christian is not only Christ without not imputing his sins to him, clothing him with his righteousness but Christ within too, cleansing the heart from the love of sin, "perfecting holiness in the fear of God." Do not think you have any share in Christ without you, except you receive Christ within you, because Christ is one within and without, and his gifts are undivided. Therefore true faith receives whole Christ as a complete Saviour, even as he is entirely offered, so he is undividedly received as he is without saving us, and within sanctifying us, -- Christ without, delivering from wrath -- and Christ within, redeeming from all iniquity -- these cannot be parted more than his coat that had no seam. It is a heavy and weighty word of this apostles, 2 Cor. xiii.5: "Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates." I wish you would lay it to heart, who have never yet returned to your hearts. If Christ be not formed in you, (as Gal. iv.19,) you are as yet among the refuse, dross, and that which must be burnt with fire. You cannot but be cast away in the day when he makes up his jewels. Where Christ is he is the hope of glory, -- he is an immortal seed of glory. How can you hope for Christ, who have nothing of him within you?
Now, the other touchstone of true religion is, the great comfort it furnishes to the soul, and, of all comforts, the greatest is that which is a cordial to the heart against the greatest fears and evils. Now, certainly the matter of greatest fear is death, not so much because of itself, but chiefly because of that eternity of unchangeable misery that naturally it transmits them unto. Now, it is only the Christian religion possessing the heart that arms a man completely against the fear either of death itself, or the consequents of it. It giveth the most powerful consolation, that not only overcometh the bitterness and taketh out the sting of death, but changeth the nature of it so far as to make it the matter of triumph and gloriation.
There is something here supposed, the worst that can befall a Christian, it is the death of a part of him, and that the worst and ignoblest part only, "the body is dead because of sin." Then, that which is opposed by way of comfort to counter-balance it, is, the life of his better and more noble part. And, besides, we have the fountains both of that death and this life, -- man's sin the cause of bodily death, Christ's righteousness the fountain of spiritual life.
Of death many have had sweet meditations, even among those that the light of the word hath not shined upon, and, indeed, they may make us ashamed who profess Christianity, and so the hope of the resurrection from the dead, that they have accounted it only true wisdom and sound philosophy to meditate often on death, and made it the very principal point of living well to be always learning to die, and have applied their whole studies that way, neglecting present things that are in the by, have given themselves to search out some comfort against death, or from death. Yea, some have so profited in this, that they have accounted death the greatest good that can befall man, and persuaded others to think so.(200) Now, what may we think of ourselves, who scarce apprehend mortality, especially considering that we have the true fountain of it revealed to us, and the true nature and consequents of it.
All men must needs know that death is the most universal king in the world, that it reigns over all ages, sexes, conditions, nations and times, though few be willing to entertain thoughts of it, yet sooner or later, they must be constrained to give it lodging upon their eyelids, and suffer it to storm the very strongest tower, the heart, and batter it down, and break the strings of it, having no way either to fly from it or resist it. Now, the consideration of the general inundation of death over all mankind, and the certain approaching of it to every particular man's door, hath made many serious thoughts among the wise men of the world. But being destitute of this heavenly light that shineth to us, they could not attain to the original of it, but have conceived that it was a common tribute of nature, and an universal law imposed upon all mankind by nature, having the same reason that other mutations and changes among the creatures here below have, and so have thought it no more a strange thing, than to see other things dissolved in their elements. Now, indeed, seeing they could apprehend no other bitter ingredient in it, it was no wonder that the wisest of them could not fear it, but rather wait and expect it as a rest from their labours, as the end of all their miseries.
But the Lord hath revealed unto us in his word the true cause of it, and so the true nature of it. The true cause of it is sin, -- "Sin entered into the world, and death passed upon all, for that all have sinned," Rom. v.12. Man was created for another purpose, and upon other conditions, and a law of perpetual life and eternal happiness was passed in his favour, he abiding in the favour, and obeying the will of him that gave him life and being. Now, sin interposing, and separating between man and God, loosing that blessed knot of union and communion, it was this other law that succeeded, as a suitable recompense, "thou shall die:" it is resolved, in the council of heaven, that the union of man shall be dissolved, his soul and body separated, in just recompense of the breaking the bond of union with God. This is it that hath opened the sluice to let in an inundation of misery upon mankind: this was the just occasion of that righteous but terrible appointment, "It is appointed that all men once should die, and after death come to judgment," Heb. ix.27; that since the body had enticed the soul, and suggested unto it such unnatural and rebellious motions of withdrawing from the blessed Fountain of life, to satisfy its pleasure, the body should be under a sentence of deprivement and forfeiture of that great benefit and privilege of life it had by the soul's indwelling, and condemned to return to its first base original, "the dust," and to be made a feast of worms, to lodge in the grave, and be a subject of the greatest corruption and rottenness, because it became the instrument, yea, the incitement of the soul to sin against that God that had from heaven breathed a spirit into it, and exalted it above all the dust or clay in the world. Now, my beloved, do we not get many remembrances of our sins? Is not every day presenting our primitive departure from God, our first separation from the Fountain of life by sin, to our view, and in such sad and woful effects pointing out the heinousness of sin? Do you not see men's bodies every day dissolved, the tabernacle of earth taken down, and the soul constrained to remove out of it? But what influence hath it upon us, what do the multiplied funerals work upon us? It may be, sorrow for our friends, but little or no apprehension of our own mortality, and base impression of sin, that separates our souls from God. Who is made sadly to reflect upon his original, or to mind seriously that statute and appointment of heaven, "In that day thou shalt die?" It is strange that all of us fear death, and few are afraid of sin, that carries death in its bosom, -- that we are so unwilling to reap corruption in our bodies, and yet we are so earnest and laborious in sowing to the flesh. Be not deceived, for you are daily reaping what you have sown. And, O! that it were all the harvest; but death is only the putting in of the sickle of vengeance, the first cut of it: but, O! to think on what follows, would certainly restrain men, and cool them in their fervent pursuits after sin!