Looking upon the words in reference to such as are in nature, they point out those three truths to us:
I. That all of us by nature are dead, standing in need of quickening and of life; for this is presupposed, while he is said to be the Life, and that both legally and really: Legally, being under the sentence of death, for Adam's transgression, Rom. v.15, and for that original corruption of heart we have; and really, the sentence of the law being in part executed, and that both as to the body and as to the soul. As to the body, it is now subject to death, and all the forerunners thereof, such as weakness, pains, sickness, fears, torment, trouble, weariness, yea, and in hazard of hell-fire, and the torments of the second death for ever. As to the soul, it also is many ways dead; but first in a way that is purely penal, and next in a way that is also sinful; and both ways, as to what is present, and as to what is future. For as to that which is penal and present, it is, (1.) separated from God and his favour, Gen. iii.8, 10, 24; (2.) is under his curse and wrath, whence it cometh to pass, that by nature we are children of wrath, Eph. ii.2, 5; servants of Satan, 2 Tim. ii.26; the consequence of which is sad and heavy, for hence it is that we cannot please God, do what we will. Till we be brought out of that state, our ordinary and civil actions, even ploughing the ground, is sin, Prov. xxi.4; yea, our religious actions, whether natural or instituted, are abomination; even our sacrifices, Prov. xv.8; xxi.27; and prayers, Prov. xxviii.9. Psalm x.7; yea, and all our thoughts and purposes, Prov. xv.26; and likewise all our ways, Prov. xv.9. As to what is penal and future, it is obnoxious to that everlasting excommunication from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power, 2 Thess. i.8, 9; and to the torments of hell for ever, Mark ix.44, 46, 48. Luke xvi. As to what is not only penal but also sinful, the soul here is under the stroke of darkness in the understanding, perverseness and rebelliousness in the will, irregularity and disorder in the affections, whereby the soul is unfit for any thing that is good, Rom. iii.10-20. Eph. ii.1, 2, 3. Rom. v.6; viii.7, 8; whence proceedeth all our actual transgressions, James i.14, 15. And moreover sometimes the soul is given up to a reprobate mind, Rom. i.28; to strong delusion, 2 Thess. ii.2; to hardness of heart, Rom. ii.5; horror of conscience, Isa. xxxiii.14; to vile affections, Rom. i.26, and the like spiritual plagues, which, though the Lord inflict on some only, yet all are obnoxious to the same by nature, and can expect no less, if the Lord should enter with them into judgment. And finally, as to what is future of this kind, they are, being fuel for Tophet, obnoxious to that malignant, sinful, blasphemous, and desperate rebellion against God, in hell for evermore!
O how lamentable, upon this consideration, must the condition of such be, as are yet in the state of nature! Oh, if it were but seen and felt! But, alas! there is this addition to all, that people know not this; they consider it not, they believe it not, they feel it not, they see it not; and hence it cometh to pass, that,
First. They cannot bewail and lament their condition, nor be humbled therefor.
Secondly. They cannot, and will not seek after a remedy; for the whole will not trouble themselves to seek after a physician.
And sure upon this account, their case calleth for pity and compassion from all that know what a dreadful thing it is to be in such a condition, and should stir up all to pray for them, and to do all they can to help them out of that state of sin and misery, which is dreadful to think upon.
Should not the thoughts and consideration of this put us all to try and search, if we be yet translated from death to life, and delivered out of that dreadful and terrible state, and made partakers of the first resurrection. It not being my purpose to handle this point at large, I shall not here insist in giving marks, whereby this may be known, and which are obvious in Paul's Epistles, and to be found handled at large in several practical pieces, chiefly in Mr. Guthrie's Great Interest. I shall only desire every one to consider and examine,
1. Whether or not the voice of Christ, which quickeneth the dead, hath been heard and welcomed in their soul. This is effectual calling.
2. Whether or not there be a thorough change wrought in their soul, a change in the whole man, so as all things are become new.2 Cor. v.17.
3. Whether or not there be a principle of life within? and they be led by the Spirit.
4. Whether or not there be a living to the glory of the Lord Redeemer.
And when by an impartial trial, a discovery is made of the badness of our condition, should we not be alarmed to look about us, and to labour by all means for an outgate? Considering, (1.) How doleful and lamentable this condition is. (2.) How sad and dreadful the consequences of it are. (3.) How happy a thing it is to be delivered from this miserable and sinful condition. And, (4.) How there is a possibility of outgate.
Finally. It may break a heart of stone to think, how people that are in such a condition are so unwilling to come out of it: For,
1. How unwilling are they once to suspect their condition, or to suppose that it may be bad, and that they may be yet unconverted?
2. How unwilling are they, to sit down seriously to try and examine the matter, and to lay their case to the touch-stone of the word?
3. Yea, how unwilling are they to hear any thing that may tend to awaken them, or to discover unto them the deadness of their condition?
4. How ready to stifle challenges of conscience, or any common motion of the Spirit, which tendeth to alarm their soul?
5. How great enemies are they to such ordinances as serve to awaken sleeping consciences?
6. And how do they hate such ministers as preach such doctrine as may serve to rouse them up, and set them a-work about their own salvation?
II. We learn hence, that without Christ there is no imaginary way of delivery out of this natural state of death. "No other name is given under heaven whereby we can be saved," Acts iv.12; and angels can make no help here, nor can one of us deliver another; the redemption of the soul is more precious than so, Psalm xlix.7, 8. Nor is there any thing we can do for ourselves that will avail here; all our prayers, tears, whippings, fastings, vows, alms-deeds, purposes, promises, resolutions, abstinence from some evils, outward amendments, good morality and civility, outward religiousness, yea, and if it were possible, our keeping of the whole law, will not help us out of this pit. And we may weary ourselves in such exercises in vain; for they will prove but bodily exercises that profit little. And when in this way we have spent all our time, parts, spirits, and labour, we shall at length see and say, that we have spent our money for that which is not bread.
This should put all of us to try what it is which we lean to for life; and what it is, the consideration whereof giveth us peace and quietness when the thoughts of death, judgment, hell, and the wrath of God come upon us and trouble us: For if it be any thing beside Christ that our soul leaneth to, and that we are comforted by, and found all our hopes upon, we will meet with a lamentable (oh! for ever lamentable!) disappointment. Be sure then, that our hearts renounce all other ways and means of outgate out of this death, besides Jesus, the resurrection and the life, else it will not be well with us.
III. We see here, that delivery out of this natural state of death is only had by Christ: For he alone is the life, and the life that is in him is suitable and excellent. Hence he is called "the bread of life," John vi.35, 48. "The resurrection and the life," John xi.25. "The water of life," Rev. xxi.6, and xxii.17. "The tree of life," Rev. xxii.2, 14. "The prince of life," Acts iii.15. "Our life," Col. iii.4. "The word of life, and life itself," 1 John i.1, 2.
And as he is a suitable and excellent life, so is he an all-sufficient and perfect life, able every way to help us and to deliver us from all the parts of our death. For,
1. He delivereth from the sentence of the law, Rom. v.17, 18, undergoing the curse of the law, and becoming a curse for us, 2 Cor. v.21.
2. He taketh away the curse and sting of all temporal plagues, yea, and of death itself, causing all to work together for good to such as love him, Rom. viii.28. He hath killed him that had the power of death, that is, the devil, Heb. ii.14; and through him the sting of death, which is sin, is taken away, 1 Cor. xv.56, 57.
3. He reconcileth to God, taking away that distance and enmity, 2 Cor. v.20; and so he is our peace and peacemaker, purchasing access to us to the Father, Eph. ii.14, 16; iii.12.
4. He also delivereth from the power of sin and corruption, Rom. vii.24.
5. And from all those spiritual strokes; such as blindness, hardness of heart, &c. For he is our light; and hath procured a new heart for us, even a heart of flesh.
6. So delivereth he from hell fire, having satisfied justice, and having brought life and immortality to light; and he giveth life eternal, as we see, Rev. ii.3.
Oh! it is sad, that Christ is so little made use of, and that so many will forsake the fountain of living waters, and dig to themselves broken cisterns that can hold no water; and slight, despise, and undervalue the gospel of Christ, which bringeth life and immortality to light.
Oh! if the consideration of this could move such as never found any change in themselves, to run to, and make use of Jesus Christ for life; and would for this end,
(1.) Cry to him, that he would make them sensible of their deadness, and waken them out of their deep sleep.
(2.) Cry to him, to set them a-work to renounce all other help beside his, as being utterly unable to quicken and put life in them.
(3.) Cry to him, that he would draw and determine their souls to a closing with him by faith alone, to a hearing of his voice, to an obeying of his call, to a following of his direction, to a giving up of themselves to him, leaning to him, and waiting for all from him alone: in a word, to take him for their life in all points, and to lean to him for life, and to expect it from him, through faith in the promises of the gospel.
Next. This being spoken to the disciples, whom we suppose to have been believers, it will give us ground to speak of it, in reference to believers, and so yield three points of truth, which we shall briefly touch, and then come to speak of use-making of Christ as the Life, in some particular cases.
First. It is here clearly presupposed, that even believers have need of Christ to be life unto them; and so have their fits of deadness. If it were not so, why would Christ have said to believers, that he was life? And daily experience doth abundantly confirm it. For,
1. They are oft so weak and unable to resist temptation, or to go about any commanded duty, as if they were quite dead.
2. They are oft so borne down with discouragement, because of the strength of opposition which they meet with on all hands; and because of the manifold disappointments which they meet with, that they have neither heart nor hand; and they faint and set up in the ways of the Lord; and cannot go through difficulties, but oftentimes lie by.
3. Through daily fighting, and seeing no victory, they become weary and faint-hearted; so that they lie by as dead, Isa. xl.29.
4. They oft fall sick and decay, and have need of restoration and quickening.
5. The want of the sense of God's favour, and of the comforts of the Holy Ghost, maketh them to dwine and droop, and look out as dead.
6. While under soul desertions upon one account or other, they look upon themselves as free among the dead, that is, as dead men, of the society of the dead, with Heman, Psalm lxxxviii.
7. Yea, many times they are as dead men, led captive in chains of unbelief and corruptions, as we see David was, when his heart panted, and his strength failed him, and the light of his eyes were gone from him, Psalm xxxviii.10.
8. Many times the frequent changes, and ups and downs they meet with, take all courage and heart from them, that they become like men tossed at sea, so as they have no more strength.
And many such things befall them, which make them look as dead, and to stand in need of quickening, reviving and strengthening cordials from him who is the life. And thus the Lord thinketh good to dispense with his own people,
(1.) That they may be kept humble, and know themselves to be indigent creatures, needing influences of life daily.
(2.) That they may have many errands to him who is the life, and have much to do with him, and depend upon him continually.
(3.) That he may show himself wonderful, in and about them, giving proof of his skill in quickening the dead, and in bringing such through unto everlasting life, who were daily, as it were, giving up the ghost, and at the point of death.
(4.) That heaven may be heaven; that is, a place "where the weary are at rest," Job iii.17; and the troubled rest, 2 Thes. i.7; and where the inhabitants shall not say they are sick, Isa. xxxiii.24.
(5.) That they may be taught more the life of faith and of dependence on him, and trained up in that way.
(6.) That he may be owned, acknowledged, and submitted unto as a sovereign God, doing what he will in heaven and in earth.
For all this, there is no cause that any should take up any prejudice at Christianity: for, for all this their life is sure, and the outgate is sure and safe. Nor would they think it strange, to see believers oft mourning and drooping, seeing their case will oft fall for new supplies of life. Their fits are not known to every one; nor doth every one know what lieth sometimes at their heart; nor would they think it such an easy matter to win to heaven as they imagine; and so deceive themselves. The righteous are saved through many deaths.
And as for believers, they would not think it strange to meet with such fits of deadness; nor thence conclude, that all their former work was but delusion, and that they are still in the state of nature. But rather observe the wisdom, faithfulness, and power of God in bringing their broken ship through so much broken water, yea, and shipwrecks; and his goodness in ordering matters so as they shall be kept humble, watchful, diligent and constant in dependence upon him who is and must be their life, first and last. And hence learn a necessity of living always near to Christ, and depending constantly upon him by faith; for he being their life, they cannot be without him, but they must die and decay.
Second. We hence learn, that under all these fits of deadness to which his people are subject, nothing without Christ will help: Not,
1. All their pains in and about ordinary means, prayer, reading, hearing, meditation, conference, &c. They will all cry out, that help is not in them: for he is the life.
2. Nor extraordinary duties, such as fasting and prayer, and vows, -- these will never revive and quicken a drooping or fainting sickly soul: for they are not Christ, nor the life.
3. Nor will a stout courageous spirit and resolution of heart avail. If he who is the Life, breathe not, all that will melt away and evanish.
4. Nor will the stock of habitual grace which remaineth in the soul, be sufficient to quicken and revive the sick soul, if the Life breathe not on these habits; and if new influences of life and strength flow not in upon the soul, and new rays come not down from this Sun of Righteousness to warm the frozen soul, the habits will lie by as dead.
5. Far less will their great gifts and endowments help them out of that dead condition; all their light and knowledge, without the influences of this Life, will prove weak and insufficient for this end and purpose.
6. Nor will sound, pure and lively-like ordinances work out this effect; for till he look down, all these ordinances may prove dead and deadening to them.
It were good if believers were living under the conviction of this daily, and by their practice and carriage declaring if they believe, that Christ only is the Life, and that they must live in him, and be quickened and revived through him alone.
Third. We see hence, that Christ is the Life, that is, one that sufficiently, yea, and abundantly can help the believer while under those fits of deadness which have been mentioned, and the like. There is in him a rich supply of things that tend to revive, encourage, strengthen and enliven a soul under spiritual deadness and fainting. Therefore is he called the Life; as having in him all that which is necessary for and answerable to souls under spiritual sicknesses, distempers, desertions, fainting and swooning fits, &c., for with him "is the fountain of life," Psalm xxxvi.9; "and he it is that upholdeth the soul in life," Psalm lxvi.9; "and can command the blessing, even life for ever more," Psalm cxxxiii.3.
For further clearing of this, we would consider those things,
1. That he is God, equal with the Father in power and glory, and thereby "hath life in himself," John v.26; and can "quicken whom he will," ver.21. By this he proveth his own Godhead and equality with the Father; so, John i.4, it is said, "that in him was life," and that life was the light of men, whereby also his Godhead is confirmed. This should be firmly believed, and rooted in our hearts, as being the ground of all our hope, comfort, and life: For, were it not so, that our Mediator were the true God, all our hopes were gone, our comforts could not be long lived, and our life were extinct.
2. As Mediator God-man, he is fully and thoroughly furnished to quicken and enliven his members and followers, first and last; and all along their life must be hid with Christ in God; "for in him dwelleth the Fulness of the Godhead bodily," Col. ii.9; as Mediator, he is called "a tree of life," Prov. iii.18; quickening and enlivening all that feed upon him; and "the bread of life," John vi.35, 48. Yea, because of power and authority to command life to the dead soul, he is called "the Prince of life," Acts iii.15; and as a living, quickening stone, he giveth life to all that are built upon him, 1 Pet. ii.4. Yea, as being fully fitted and furnished for this work, he calleth himself "the resurrection and the life," John xi.25. This should be riveted in our hearts, as a comfortable and encouraging truth.
3. Of this stock of life and quickening and reviving grace which he hath got, and is furnished withal as Mediator and Redeemer of his people, he is communicative, -- "of his fulness do we receive, and grace for grace," John i.16. He got it that he might give it out, and that from him as a head it might flow unto his members, and therefore he is the bread that came down from heaven, and giveth life to the world, John vi.35. Yea, he giveth eternal life to all his sheep, John x.28; and he is come for this end, that his sheep might have life, John x.10. Therefore hath he taken on such relations, as may give ground of confirmation of this, as of a head, of a stock or root, and the like. This consideration is strengthening and reviving.
4. He communicateth of this stock of life, and of reviving strength, which he hath most sweetly and on most easy terms. So that,
(1.) Such as seek him shall find life by him, Psalm lxix.32.
(2.) Yea, such as know him shall not miss life, John xvii.3.1 John v.20.
(3.) If we will believe on him and rest upon him, we have life first and last, John iii.15, 16, 36; vi.40, 47.1 Tim. i.16.
(4.) If we will come to him, John v.40, and cast our dead soul upon him, we shall live.
(5.) If we will hear his voice, Isa. lv.3, and receive his instructions, we shall live; for they are the instructions of life.
(6.) Nay, if the soul be so dead, that it can neither walk nor hear, if it can but look to him, he will give life, Isa. xlv.22.
(7.) And if the soul be so weak, that it cannot look, nor lift up its eyes; yet if it be willing, he will come with life. Rev. xxii.17.
Oh, if this were believed!
5. As he is communicative of that life which he hath gotten as head, and that upon easy terms; so he giveth out of that life liberally, largely, abundantly, yea, more abundantly, John x.10. The water of life which he giveth, is "a well of water springing up to everlasting life," John iv.14. Therefore he alloweth his friends to drink abundantly, Cant. v.1.
6. Yet it would be remembered, that he is Lord and master thereof, and Prince of this life, and so may dispense it and give it out, in what measure he seeth fit; and he is wise to measure out best for his own glory, and to their advantage.
7. All this life is sure in him, -- none of his shall be disappointed thereof. His offices, which he hath taken on; and his commission, which he hath of the Father, abundantly clear this; and love to his, will not suffer him to keep up any thing that is for their advantage. He is faithful in his house as a son, and will do all that was committed unto him to do. The whole transaction of the covenant of redemption, and suretyship, and all the promises of the new covenant of grace, confirm this to be a sure truth; so that they that have him have life, 1 John v.12. Prov. viii.35.
8. Yea, all that is in Christ contributeth to this life and quickening. His words and doctrine are the words of eternal life, John vi.63, 68. Phil. ii.16. His works and ways are the ways of life, Acts ii.28. His natures, offices, sufferings, actings, all he did as Mediator, concur to the quickening and enlivening of a poor dead soul.
9. This fulness of life which he hath, is fully suited to the believer's condition, in all points, as we shall hear.
10. This life is eminently and transcendently in him, and exclusively of all others. It is in him, and in him alone; and it is in him in a most excellent manner: So that he is the life, in the abstract; not only a living head, and an enlivening head; but life itself, the life, the "resurrection and the life."