Saturday, July 25, 2009
I love bad guys that are just pure bad. For a long time, even as comics began to "mature" into the shades of gray and degrees of evil we have today, one such engine of pure evil was The Brood. These insectivorous body snatchers were reminiscent of the Aliens that battle Sigorney Weaver, but actually came first and had the capability to speak an reason.
My first encounter with The Brood, like almost everybody, was in their first appearances in the X-Men comics. Like all Chris Claremont creations they seemed to appear from nowhere and the storyline had no reasonable conclusion, only to be picked up issues later when you had forgotten them completely and had to go back to your old issues to figure out what the H*&^ was going on.
But alas, these engines of destruction had to get complicated. In the Planet Hulk story line, one actually joins the jolly green guy to save a planet. Of course, he does so out of seeming self-interest, but nonetheless can you hate them completely after such a "noble" act.
There is also the question of whether his ability to do such admirable things was because of his distance from others of his kind, eliminating the hive mentality of The Brood.
Can a Brood liberation story line be far behind? Crying shame, I like pure evil every now and then. It justifies extraordinary violence in pursuit of comic fun!
Friday, July 24, 2009
Yes, I have become emotionally attached to the churches I join. But it is an emotional attachment rooted in a theological conviction that I'm supposed to gather with other believers, formally commit to them, and dig into that community for the glory of God, the good of myself and my family, and the good of the community in which we serve.There are a lot of ways to experience community, the local church being only one of them, but it is the lack of any sense thereof that makes the whole mega-church thing problematic to me. They talk about small groups which is great, but that makes the small group "the church" as far as I am concerned. My point is that the need for community is not an argument for denominationalism - but denominationalism should be argued for and with that small deviation Menikoff is on the right track.
Though I have no intention of removing the name "Baptist" from the church's title, I have no strong conviction that it has to be there. However, I no longer see denominationalism as staid--I've seen too much robust Christianity dwelling in the midst of congregations that identify themselves with a denomination. Those who take Scripture seriously end up disagreeing over matters that are not central to the gospel but that remain important to congregational life. Nonetheless, my prayer is not that a particular denomination would grow but that individuals would be saved by God into a community of believers eager to follow Jesus together.
Two trends make a robust commitment to local church membership more difficult. The first is the reality that American evangelicals are increasingly eager to identify themselves as "followers of Jesus" rather than members of Christ's church. The second is the continued growth of the mega-church movement that makes anonymous Christianity (in the non-Rahner sense) possible. In the face of both these trends, I pray that the theological substance of my experience--a commitment to and love for the local church--will not fade away.
Being a part of a denomination provides two incredibly important things - clerical accountability and breadth of religious perspective. Too many pastors turn in too many wrong directions and while in theory it is possible for the congregation to provide correction, such can as easily tear a congregation apart as it can provide a corrective to the pastor. Formal authority system provide a means by which a corrective can be applied without forcing the laity of the congregation into "choosing sides."
But breadth of religious perspective is where I really want to spend my mental energy in this post. The more I mature as a Christians the more I come to understand that being a good Christian is a pretty diverse thing. It is not about having the "proper" devotional life, or mastering theology, or even "holy" behavior. There is a consumptive totality to it - a remaking of the whole - that is going to going to look different for every individual because every individual is created uniquely.
Congregations, naturally end up being relatively similar people. But to develop into a Christian in that whole and consumptive sense one needs experience and knowledge from a vast array of sources and examples. Only something large and diverse like a denomination can supply that.
This is why I find it interesting that Menikoff seems to be moving in such a direction as he grows and matures. Such certainly parallels my path.
Friday Humor - Cartoon Violence Warning
Thursday, July 23, 2009
Not This Again
Here is my real problem with the idea - there is nothing "historical" about the approach. Theology -- myth -- belief -- perception -- spin -- all shape history far more than mere "fact." I mean what is history? - it is the study of what went before. It is an incontrovertible fact that a "mythologized" Christ is the single largest contributor to the history of the western world in the last 2 millennia. "Demythologizing" Him does not attempt to study history, it attempts to destroy it. What utter semantic bunk to call it a search for the "historical" Jesus.
You want to deal with "facts" then deal with what is, not what in your opinion "should not have been." Or more grammatically understandable, study what was, not what you think should have been.
In the vast majority of situations we are never privy to all pertinent fact. We take what we get, we balance against our perceptual set (which includes belief and "myth") and we act. History is the study of how we act. So if we want to study history, that is to say learn about the past acts of man, the best thing to do is try to understand that perceptual set, not remove it from the equation.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Are You Passive?
Warfare will be a common experience in the life of a Christian. I have said it before, “the Christian life is not a passive experience.” Rather, the life of a Christian is a life of action, a life of warfare against Satan and his demons, a life of passionate obedience to our Commanding Office, and ultimately a life of victory.I can take or leave warfare imagery. I believe in Satan, but I also believe that the language of warfare can place too much emphasis on the enemy, when winning is all about what I do. I have seen people get so caught up in looking for the devil in every detail that they forgot they the goal was for themselves to be transformed.
But this statement is a gem:
the Christian life is not a passive experiencemany people appropriate the good news of God's infinite grace as "sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride?" How many people think the gospel begins and ends with just belief?
How often do we design what we do as Christian community to preserve and enhance that misconception? We build our churches so that people can come enjoy the show, instead of come and commit to action. We build our churches to allow anonymity because when you know someone's name you might ask something of them, and they don't want that.
And yet, Jesus does not ask something of us, He asks everything. What's more, sacrifice is activity, not passivity. Why did Jesus tear through the moneychangers in the Temple? We will never know with precision, but I think it had less to do with the mishandling of money and more to do with the fact that they made the observation of the sacrificial rites just a little too easy. They reduced the genuine act of giving to the Lord to a mere ceremonial exchange of cash.
How hard do we work in our lives to move the genuinely active to the ceremonially passive? We engage in ritual to avoid the real.
We are called to be active and restless, never satisfied as Christians. Are you just a bit too satisfied?
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Confusing Theology and The Gospel
From time to time, I am asked about my view of the extent of the atonement. I certainly have definite convictions about this issue (a most helpful essay, which many have read, is by J.I. Packer in his introduction to John Owen’s book, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ).
However, I don’t like getting into these kinds of discussions with people because they are typically unfruitful and unnecessarily divisive most often because so many operate from a skewed, caricatured understanding (e.g., Calvinists stifle evangelism; Arminians don’t preach the gospel).
Moreover, these discussions more times than not miss the point when it comes to the gospel and evangelism.
The point is that regardless of whether a man believes in limited or unlimited atonement, there is never a reason to introduce either view when preaching the gospel. Neither view is something that needs to be included in the equation.
Think about that for just a minute. A theological distinction is unimportant to evangelism. Makes sense. When people accept Christ, we do not require them to immediately study and decide on things like dispensationalism - nor do we make sure, often ever, that they have read Calvin, or Augustine, or Luther, or N.T. Wright.
Now, I think most people will agree with this in principle, but how many are willing to explore it out to the edges. We seem to have "theological lines" about what is and is not a Christian. (Trinitarianism for example.) Yet, how many people in your congregation could give a straightforward answer in two sentences or less to the question, "What is the Trinity?" (OH, I know everybody can run off "Father, Son and Holy Ghost" - but I mean an answer that reveals understanding of what that means.) But if our view of atonement is not important to salvation, why is our view of the Trinity?
What about the ramifications of this idea for spiritual development? And specifically what does that say about the methods we use to help people develop spiritually?
I was blessed in my undergraduate education to attend a very well funded school with extensive laboratory facilities and limited student numbers. That meant, among other things, that I got to play in the lab - a lot. When I entered the working world and met other people that had studied chemistry, but from larger institutions where lab time was severely restricted, I met people that know how something was supposed to work, but they could not actually DO chemistry.
I will never forget having a guy about my age come into my lab at my employer and ask me to run an infrared spectrum on something. He was a chemistry major from one of the more prestigious, if larger, chemistry schools in the country. I was really busy at the moment, and told him so, but pointed at the instrument and told him to have at it. The entire exercise should have taken him about 15-20 minutes, including clean-up. I came back two hours later to find him staring hopelessly at the instruction manual for the instrument. I walked up and helped him out at that point, and he mumbled some quasi-insult about "technician's work." (I put that to rest when the spectrum was complete and I identified the unknown for him at a glance while it took him two hours in the library to interpret the spectrum, but that is a story for another time.)
How often we view simply being a Christian, or doing Christianity as "technicians work." And yet, that is so backwards. Theory, is theory, is theory. It is important, and it is even useful in some context, but it is often unnecessary to do the job. I don't need to know if atonement is limited or unlimited to access it - I just need to access it.
I am wondering what a church that was built on doing Christianity, that is to say being a Christian, rather than learning about Christianity would look like. A lot more decentralized is the first thought that comes to mind.
And while we are on the subject, looks like Aggie made the news.
Related Tags: cartoons, catblogging, Aggie, Flash
Monday, July 20, 2009
Say It Ain't So...
The Obama Administration is considering the possibility of applying Title IX of the Civil Rights Act to force colleges and universities to mandate that half of all students taking science, engineering, math and technology classes be female.That could be the dumbest policy consideration I have ever run across. We are going to prevent people that want to do science from doing it for the sake of those that do not. That sounds like a ticket to the Dark Ages to me.
Since it is illegal to force women to take these classes, the most practical response to this mandate by colleges would be to limit male enrollment in these courses.
Title IX is the law under which numerous men's college sports programs were closed so that the number of women and men participating in college sports programs could be made equal.
While touring Hadrian's Wall a couple of weeks ago, a guide blew his tip from me by commenting that it was the coming of Christianity at the time the Romans left Britain that created the Dark Ages - flying in the face of any reasonable understanding of the historical record.
This maneuver would end scientific advancement in our nation faster than any possible religious movement could dream of.
The Holiday Temptation
Every year I need to remind myself that Easter is not a marketing opportunity. The resurrection of the Son of God is not an opportunity to market our programs or build “my” church, even under the guise of concern for lost.AMEN AND AMEN!
When we get all special for those few times when the unchurched come to church, all we end up doing is presenting false pretenses - in two ways. First, we make people think that being a Christian is about "the Sunday show." Secondly, because we are on "our best behavior" people think becoming a Christian is like throwing a switch, instead of the slow committed process that it actually entails. Hyatt calls it "bait and switch."
You've all been there haven't you? The ad promises a big screen HDTV for $21.99 - and you get to the store only to find there was "only one available at that price" and you are out of luck. Don't you feel lied to when that happens?
Which is what really bothers me about this stuff when we do it in the church - it is a form of lying. Sure it may be the Christian ideal, but we have not achieved the ideal, we seek it,we - unlike others - have the path to it, we even have the promise of it -- BUT WE ARE NOT THERE YET. To act like we are is to lie to people about what it means to be a Christian. And isn't lying just a bit of a sin?
Sunday, July 19, 2009
Sermons and Lessons
Who were dead in trespasses and sins - Even when we were dead in sins. – Eph 2:1&5
There is a kind of death which we all expect to feel that carries terror in the very sound, and all its circumstances are shocking to nature. The ghastly countenance, the convulsive agonies, the expiring groan, the coffin, the grave, the devouring worm, the stupor, the insensibility, the universal inactivity, these strike a damp to the spirit, and we turn pale at the thought. With such objects as these in view courage fails, levity looks serious, presumption is dashed, the cheerful passions sink, and all is solemn, all is melancholy. The most stupid and hardy sinner cannot but be moved to see these things exemplified in others, and when he cannot avoid the prospect, he is shocked to think that he himself must feel them.
But there is another kind of death little regarded indeed, little feared, little lamented, which is infinitely more terrible, the death, not of the body, but of the soul: a death which does not stupify the limbs but the faculties of the mind: a death which does not separate the soul and body, and consign the latter to the grave, but that separates the soul from GOD, excludes it from all the joys of his presence, and delivers it over to everlasting misery: a tremendous death indeed! “a death unto death.” The expression of St Paul is prodigiously strong and striking; θαυατος εις θαυατου, Death unto death, death after death, in a dreadful succession, and the last more terrible than the first (II Cor 2:16); and this is the death meant in my text, “dead in trespasses and sins.”
To explain the context and shew you the connection I shall make two short remarks.
The one is, that the apostle had observed in the nineteenth and twentieth verses of the foregoing chapter that the same almighty power of GOD which raised CHRIST from the dead, is exerted to enable a sinner to believe. “We believe, says he, according to the working or energy (Ευεργειαυ) of his mighty power which he wrought in CHRIST, when he raised him from the dead.” The one as well as the other is an exploit of omnipotence. The exceeding greatness of his mighty power is exerted towards us that believe, as well as it was upon the dead body of CHRIST to restore it to life, after it had been torn and mangled upon the cross, and lain three days and three nights in the grave. What strong language is this! what a forcible illustration! Methinks this passage alone is sufficient to confound all the vanity and self-sufficiency of mortals, and entirely destroy the proud fiction of a self-sprung faith produced by the efforts of degenerate nature. In my text the apostle assigns the reason of this. The same exertion of the same power is necessary in the one case and the other; because, as the body of CHRIST was dead, and had no principle of life in it, so, says he, “ye were dead in trespasses and sins;” and therefore could no more quicken yourselves than a dead body can restore itself to life. “But GOD, verse 4th, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us;” that GOD, who raised the entombed Redeemer to life again, that same almighty GOD, by a like exertion of the same power, “hath quickened us, verse 5th, even when we were dead in sins;” dead, senseless, inactive, and incapable of animating ourselves. Let any man carefully read these verses, and consider their most natural meaning, and I cannot but think common sense will direct him thus to understand them. The Scriptures were written with a design to be understood; and therefore that sense which is the most natural to a plain unprejudiced understanding is most likely to be true.
The other remark is, That the apostle having pronounced the Ephesians dead in sin, while unconverted, in the first verse, passes the same sentence upon himself and the whole body of the Jews, notwithstanding their high privileges in the fifth verse. The sense and connection may be discovered in the following paraphrase: “You Ephesians were very lately Heathens, and, while you were in that state you were spiritually dead, and all your actions were dead works. In time past ye walked in trespasses and sins, nor were you singular in your course: though it be infinitely pernicious, yet it is the common course of this world, and it is also agreeable to the temper and instigation of that gloomy prince, who has a peculiar power in the region of the air; that malignant spirit who works with dreadful efficacy in the numerous children of disobedience; but this was not the case of you Heathens alone: we also who are Jews, notwithstanding our many religious advantages, and even I myself, notwithstanding my high privileges and unblameable life as a Pharisee, we also, I say, had our conversation in times past among the children of disobedience; we all, as well as they, walked in the lusts of the flesh, fulfilling the desires and inclinations (Θελήματα) of our sensual flesh, and of our depraved minds; for these were tainted with spiritual wickedness, independent upon our animal passions and appetites, and we were all, even by nature, children of wrath, even as others: in this respect we Jews were just like the rest of mankind, corrupt from our very birth, transgressors from the womb, and liable to the wrath of GOD. Our external relation and privileges as the peculiar people of GOD, distinguished with a religion from heaven, makes no distinction between us and others in this matter. As we are all children of disobedience by our lives, so we are all, without exception, children of wrath by nature: but when we were all dead in sins, when Jews and Gentiles were equally dead to GOD, then, even then, GOD who is rich in mercy had pity upon us; ‘he quickened us;’ he inspired us with a new and spiritual life by his own almighty power, which raised the dead body of CHRIST from the grave. ‘He quickened us together with CHRIST:’ We received our life by virtue of our union with him as our vital head, who was raised to an immortal life that he might quicken dead souls by those influences of his Spirit, which he purchased by his death; and therefore by grace are ye saved. It is the purest, richest, freest grace, that ever such dead souls as we were made alive to GOD, and not suffered to remain dead for ever.”
This is the obvious meaning and connection of these verses, and we now proceed to consider the text, “Dead in trespasses and sins:” you dead, we dead, Jews and Gentiles all “dead together in trespasses and sins.” A dismal, mortifying character! “This one place, says Beza, like a thunderbolt, dashes all rnankind down to the dust, great and proud as they are; for it pronounces their nature not only hurt but dead by sin, and therefore liable to wrath (Hoc uno loco, quasi fulmine totus homo, quantus quantus est prosternitur. Neque enim naturam dicit læsam, sed mortuam, per peccatum; ideoque iræ obnoxiam.).”
Death is a state of insensibility and inactivity; and a dead man is incapable of restoring himself to life, therefore the condition of an unconverted sinner must have some resemblance to such a state in order to support the bold metaphor here used by the apostle. To understand it aright we must take care on the one hand that we do not explain it away in flattery to ourselves, or in compliment to the pride of human nature: and on the other hand that we do not carry the similitude too far, so as to lead into absurdities, and contradict matter of fact.
The metaphor must be understood with several limitations or exceptions; for it is certain there is a wide difference between the spiritual death of the soul, and the natural death of the body, particularly in this respect, that death puts an entire end to all the powers, actions, and sensations of our animal nature universally with regard to all objects of every kind; but a soul dead in sin is only partially dead, that is, it is dead only with regard to a certain kind of sensations and exercises, but in the meantime it may be all life and activity about other things. It is alive, sensible, and vigorous about earthly objects and pursuits; these raise its passions and engage its thought. It has also a dreadful power and facility of sinning, though this is not its life but its disease, its death, like the tendency of a dead body to corruption. It can likewise exercise its intellectual powers, and make considerable improvements in science. A sinner dead in trespasses and sins may be a living treasury of knowledge, an universal scholar, a profound philosopher, and even a great divine, as far as mere speculative knowledge can render him such, nay, he is capable of many sensations and impressions from religious objects, and of performing all the external duties of religion. He is able to read, to hear, to pray, to meditate upon divine things; nay, he may be an instructor of others, and preach perhaps with extensive popularity: he may have a form of godliness, and obtain a name to live among men: he is in some measure able, and it is his duty to attend upon the means GOD has instituted for quickening him with spiritual life, and GOD deals with him as with a rational creature, by laws, sanctions, promises, expostulations, and invitations: these concessions I make, not only to give you the sense of the text, but also to prevent the abuse of the doctrine, and anticipate some objections against it, as though it were an encouragement to continue idle, and use no means to obtain spiritual life; or as though it rendered all the means of grace needless and absurd, like arguments to the dead to restore themselves to life. But, notwithstanding all these concessions, it is a melancholy truth that an unregenerate sinner is dead. Though he can commit sin with greediness, though he is capable of animal actions, and secular pursuits, nay, though he can employ his mind even about intellectual and spiritual things, and is capable of performing the external duties of religion, vet there is something in religion with regard to which he is entirely dead: there is a kind of spiritual life of which he is entirely destitute: he is habitually insensible with regard to things divine and eternal: he has no activity, no vigor in the pure, spiritual, and vital exercises of religion: he has no prevailing bent of mind towards them: he has not those views and apprehensions of things which a soul spiritually alive would necessarily receive and entertain: he is destitute of those sacred affections, that joy, that love, that desire, that hope, that fear, that sorrow, which are as it were the innate passions of the new man. In short, he is so inactive, so listless, so insensible in these respects, that death, which puts an end to all action and sensation, is a proper emblem of his state; and this is the meaning of the apostle in my text. He is also utterly unable to quicken himself. He may indeed use means in some sort, but to implant a vital principle in his soul, to give himself vivid sensations of divine things, and make himself alive towards GOD, this is entirely beyond his utmost ability: this is as peculiarly the work of almighty power as the resurrection of a dead body from the grave. As to this death it is brought upon him by, and consists in “trespasses and sins.” The innate depravity and corruption of the heart, and the habits of sin contracted and confirmed by repeated indulgences of inbred corruption, these are the poisonous, deadly things that have slain the soul; these have entirely indisposed and disabled it for living religion. “Trespasses and sins” are the grave, the corrupt effluvia, the malignant damps, the rottenness of a dead soul: it lies dead, senseless, inactive, buried “in trespasses and sins.” “Trespasses and sins” render it ghastly, odious, abominable, a noisome putrefaction before an holy GOD, like a rotten carcass, or a mere mass of corruption: the vilest lusts, like worms, riot upon and devour it, but it feels them not, nor can it lift a hand to drive the vermin off. Such mortifying ideas as these may be contained in the striking metaphor, “dead in trespasses and sins;” and I hope you now understand its general meaning.
If you would know what has turned my thoughts to this subject I will candidly tell you, though with a sorrowful heart. I am sure, if any objects within the compass of human knowledge have a tendency to make the deepest impressions upon our minds, they are those things which Christianity teaches us concerning GOD, concerning ourselves and a future state; and if there be any exercises which should call forth all the life and powers of our souls into action, they are those of a religious nature: but, alas! I often find a strange, astonishing stupor, and listlessness about these things. In this I am not singular; the best among us complain of the same thing; the most lively Christians feel this unaccountable languor and insensibility; and the generality are evidently destitute of all habitual concern about them: they are all alive in the pursuit of pleasure, riches, or honors; their thoughts are easily engaged, and their affections raised by such things as these; but the concerns of religion, which above all other things are adapted to make impressions upon them, and stir up all the life within them, seem to have little or no effect. When I have made this observation with respect to others, and felt the melancholy confirmation of it in my own breast, I have really been struck with amazement, and ready to cry out, “Lord what is this that has befallen me, and the rest of my fellow-mortals? what can be the cause of such a conduct in a rational nature, to be active and eager about trifles, and stupid and careless about matters of infinite importance? 0 whence is this strange infatuation!” Thus I have been shocked at this astonishing fact, and I could account for it no other way but by reflecting that we have all been “dead in trespasses and sins.” In such a solemn hour the apostle’s expression does not seem at all too strong. I have no scruple at all to pronounce, not only from the authority of an apostle, but from the evidence of the thing, that I, and all around me, yea, and all the sons of men have been dead, in the spiritual sense utterly dead. Multitudes among us, yea, the generality are dead still; hence the stillness about religion among us; hence the stupor, the carelessness about eternal things, the thoughtless neglect of GOD, the insensibility under his providential dispensations, the impenitence, the presumption that so much prevails. GOD has indeed, out of the great love wherewith he loved us, quickened some of us, even when we were dead in sins, and we have a little life, some vital sensations and impressions at times, but 0! how little, how superficial, how much of a deadly stupor yet remains! how little life in prayer, in hearing, or in the nearest approach to the living GOD! The reflection is shocking, but, alas, it is too true; consult your own hearts and you will find it even so. Animal life seems to be a gradual thing; it gradually grows in an infant, it is perfect in mature age, and in old age it gradually decays, till all is gone; but how small is the degree of life, when the fetus is just animated, or the infant born into the world! but little superior to that of a plant or an oyster: what faint sensations, what obscure and languid perceptions, what feeble motions! Such are the children of grace in the present state. Spiritual life is gradual; it is infused in regeneration; but 0! how far from perfection while on this side heaven! Alas! the best of us are like the poor traveler that fell among thieves, and was left half dead: however, it is an unspeakable mercy to have the least principle of spiritual life, and we should prize it more than crowns and empires.
If you would know my design in choosing this subject, it is partly for the conviction of sinners, that they may be alarmed with their deplorable condition, which is the first step towards their being quickened; partly to rouse the children of grace to seek more life from their vital head; and partly to display the rich grace of GOD in quickening such dead sinners, and be stowing upon them a spiritual and immortal life; and surely nothing can inflame our gratitude and raise our wonder more than the consideration that we were dead in trespasses and sins! If I may but answer these ends it will be an unspeakable blessing to us all. And 0 that divine grace may honor this humble attempt of a poor creature, at best but half alive, with success! I hope, my brethren, you will hear seriously for it is really a most serious subject.
You have seen that the metaphorical expression in my text is intended to represent the stupidity; inactivity, and impotence of unregenerate sinners about divine things. This truth I might confirm by argument and scripture authority, but I think it may be a better method for popular conviction to prove and illustrate it from plain instances of the temper and conduct of sinners about the concerns of religion, as this may force the conviction upon them from undoubted matters of fact and their own experience. This therefore is the method I intend to pursue, and my time will allow me to particularize only the following instances.
I. Consider the excellency of the divine Being, the sum total, the great original of all perfections. How infinitely worthy is he of the adoration of all his creatures! how deserving of their most intense thoughts, and most ardent affections! If majesty and glory can strike us with awe and veneration does not Jehovah demand it, who is clothed with majesty and glory as with a garment, and before whom all the inhabitants of the earth are as grasshoppers, as nothing, as less than nothing, and vanity? If wisdom excites our pleasing wonder, here is an unfathomable depth. 0 the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of GOD! If goodness, grace, and mercy attract our love and gratitude, here these amiable perfections shine in their most alluring glories, If justice strikes a damp to the guilty, here is justice in all its tremendous majesty; If veracity, if candor, if any, or all of the moral virtues engage our esteem, here they all center in their highest perfection. If the presence of a king strikes a reverence, if the eye of his judge awes the criminal, and restrains him from offending, certainly we should fear before the Lord all the day, tor we are surrounded with his omnipresence, and he is the Inspector and Judge of all our thoughts and actions. If riches excite desire, here are unsearchable riches: if happiness has charms that draw all the world after it, here is an unbounded ocean of happiness; here is the only complete portion for an immortal mind. Men are affected with these things in one another, though found in a very imperfect degree. Power awes and commands; virtue and goodness please; beauty charms; justice strikes with solemnity and terror; a bright genius is admired; a benevolent merciful temper is loved: thus men are affected with created excellencies. Whence it is then they are so stupidly unaffected with the supreme original excellencies of Jehovah? Here, my brethren, turn your eyes inward upon yourselves, and inquire, are not several of you conscious that, though you have passions for such objects as these, and you are easily moved by them, yet, with regard to the perfections of the supreme and best of beings, your hearts are habitually senseless and unaffected. It is not an easy thing to make impressions upon you by them; and what increases the wonder, and aggravates your guilt, is, that you are thus senseless and unaffected, when you believe and profess that these perfections are really in GOD, and that in the highest degree possible. In other cases you can love what appears amiable, you revere what is great and majestic, you eagerly desire and pursue what is valuable, and tends to your happiness; and all this you do freely, spontaneously, vigorously, by the innate inclination and tendency of your nature, without reluctance, without compulsion, nay without persuasion; but as to GOD and all his perfections you are strangely insensible, backward, and averse. Where is there one being that has any confessed excellency in the compass of human knowledge that does not engage more of the thoughts and affections of mankind than the glorious and ever-blessed GOD? The sun, moon, and stars have had more worshippers than the uncreated fountain of light from which they derive their luster. Kings, and ministers of state, have more punctual homage, and frequent applications made to them than the King of kings, and Lord of lords. Created enjoyments are more eagerly pursued than the supreme good. Search all the world over, and you will find but very little motions of heart towards GOD; little love, little desire, little searching after him. You will often indeed see him honored with the compliment of a bended knee, and a few heartless words under the name of a prayer, but where is the heart, where are the thoughts, where the affections? These run wild through the world, and are scattered among a thousand other objects. The heart has no prevailing tendency toward GOD, the thoughts are shy of him, the affections have no innate propensity to him. In short, in this respect the whole man is out of order: here he does not at all act like himself; here are no affection ate thoughts, no delightful meditations, no ardent desires, no eager pursuits and vigorous endeavors, but all is listless, stupid, indisposed, inactive, and averse; and what is the matter? “Lord! what is this that has seized the souls of thine own offspring, that they are thus utterly disordered towards thee!” The reason is, they are dead, “dead in trespasses and sins.” it is impossible a living soul should be so stupid and unaffected with such an object: it must be a dead soul that has no feeling. Yes, sinners, this is the melancholy reason why you are so thoughtless, so unconcerned, so senseless about the GOD that made you: you are dead. And what is the reason that you who have been begotten again to a spiritual life, and who are united to CHRIST as your vital head, what is the reason that you so often feel such languishments, that the pulse of spiritual life beats so faint and irregular, and that its motions are so feeble and slow? All this you feel and lament, but how comes it to pass? what can be the cause that you who have indeed tasted that the Lord is gracious, and are sensible that he is all-glorious and lovely, and your only happiness, 0! what can be the cause, that you, of all men in the world, should be so little engaged to him! Alas! the cause is you have been dead, and the deadly stupor has not yet left you: you have (blessed be the quickening spirit of CHRIST!) you have received a little life; but, alas! it is a feeble spark; it finds the principles of death still strong in your constitution; these it must struggle with, and by them it is often borne down, suppressed, and just expiring. Walk humbly then, and remember your shame, that you were once dead, and children of wrath, even as others. The carelessness and indisposition of the soul toward the supreme excellence will appear yet more evident and astonishing, if we consider,
II. The august and endearing relations the great and blessed GOD sustains to us, and the many ways he has taken to make dutiful and grateful impressions upon our hearts. What tender endearments are contained in the relation of a Father! This he bears to us: “he made us, and not we ourselves.” Our bodies indeed are produced in a succession from Adam by generation, but who was it that began the series? It was the Almighty, who formed the first man of the dust it was he who first put the succession of causes in motion, and therefore he is the grand original cause, and the whole chain depends upon him. Who was it that first established the laws of generation, and still continues them in force? It is the all-creating Parent of nature, and without him men would have been no more able to produce one another than stones or clods of earth. As to our souls, the principal part of our persons, GOD is their immediate author, without the least concurrence of secondary causes. Hence he is called the Father of your spirits in a peculiar sense (Heb 12:9), and he assumes the endearing name of “the GOD of the spirits of all flesh (Num 16:22).” Now the name of a lither is wont to carry some endearment and authority. Children, especially in their young and helpless years, are fond of their father; their little hearts beat with a thousand grateful passions towards him; they love to be with him, to be dandled on his knees, and fondled in his arms, and they fly to him upon every appearance of danger; but if GOD be a father, where is his honor? here, alas! the filial passions are senseless and immovable. It is but a little time since we came from his creating hand, and yet we have forgotten him. It seems unnatural for his own offspring to inquire “where is GOD my Maker?” They shew no fondness for him, no affectionate veneration, and no humble confidence; their hearts are dead towards him, as though there were no such being, or no such near relation subsisting between them. In childhood a rattle, or a straw, or any trifle, is more thought of than their heavenly Father: in riper years their vain pleasures and secular pursuits command more of their affections than their divine original and only happiness. Compare your natural temper towards your heavenly Father, and towards your earthly parents, and how wide is the difference! Nature works strong in your hearts towards them, but towards him all the filial passions are dull and dead; and why? alas! the reason is, you “are dead in trespasses and sins.” But this relation of a Father is not the only relation our GOD sustains to you; he is your supreme King, to whom you owe allegiance; your Lawgiver, whose will is the rule of your conduct; and your Judge, who will call you to an account, and reward or punish you according to your works; but how unnatural is it to men to revere the most high GOD under these august characters! Where is there a king upon earth, however weak or tyrannical, but is more regarded by his subjects than the King of heaven by the generality of men? Were ever such excellent laws contemned and violated? Did ever criminals treat their Judge with so much neglect and contempt? And are these souls alive to GOD who thus treat him? No. Alas! “they are dead in trespasses and sins:” however lively they are towards other things, yet in this respect they are seized with a deadly stupor. GOD is also our Guardian and Deliverer, and from how many dangers has he preserved us, from how many calamities has he delivered us! Dangers, distresses, and deaths crowd upon us and surround us in every age and every place: the air the earth, the sea, and every element are pregnant with numberless principles of pain and death ready to seize and destroy us: sickness and death swarm around us; nay, they lie in ambush in our own constitution, and are perpetually undermining our lives, and yet our divine Guardian preserves us for months and years unhurt, untouched; or if he suffers the calamity to fall, or death to threaten, he flies to our deliverance; and how many salvations of this kind has he wrought for us, salvations from accidents, from sicknesses, from pain, from sorrows, from death; salvations for our persons and our possessions, for ourselves, and for our friends and relations; salvations from dangers seen and unseen; salvations in infancy, in youth, and in maturer years! These things we cannot deny without the most stupid ignorance, and an atheistical disbelief of divine Providence. Now such repeated, such long-continued, such unmerited favors as these would not pass for nothing between man and man. We have hearts to feel such obligations; nay, the ten thousandth, the millionth part of such gracious care and goodness would be gratefully resented, and thankfully acknowledged. Indeed it is impossible we should receive even this small, this very small proportion of favors from men in comparison of what we receive from GOD; and even when they are the instruments of our deliverance he is the original author. But after all, is there a natural aptitude in the hearts of men to think of their gracious Guardian and Savior? Does the principle of gratitude naturally lead them to love him, and to make thankful acknowledgments to him? Alas! no. They may indeed feel some transient, superficial workings of gratitude when under the fresh sense of some remarkable deliverance, but these impressions soon wear off, and they become as thoughtless and stupid as ever. But let a man, like yourselves, save you from some great distress, you will always gratefully remember him, think of him often with pleasure, and take all opportunities of returning his kindness, especially if your deliverer was much your superior, and independent upon you, if you had forfeited his favor, provoked him, and incurred his displeasure: great favors from such an one would make impressions upon the most obdurate heart. But though GOD be infinitely superior to us, and it is nothing to him what becomes of us, though we have rebelled against him, and deserve his vengeance, yet ten thousand deliverances from his hands have little or no effect upon the hearts of men: all these cannot bring them to think of him, or love him as much as they do a friend, or a common benefactor of their own species: and does such stupid ingratitude discover any spiritual life in them? No; they are dead in this respect, tho’ they are all alive to those passions that terminate upon created objects. Farther, GOD is the Benefactor of mankind, not only in delivering them from dangers and calamities, but in bestowing unnumbered positive blessings upon them. Here I cannot pretend to be particular, for the list of blessings is endless, and it will be the happy employment of an eternity to recollect and enumerate them. What an extensive and well-furnished world has our GOD formed for our accommodation! For us he has enriched the sun with light and heat, and the earth with fruitfulness. The numerous inhabitants of every element, the plants, minerals, and beasts of the earth, the fishes of the sea, the fowls of the air, are all rendering their service to man; some afford him food, and others work for him: the winds and seas, fire and water, stones and trees, all conspire to be useful to him. Our divine Benefactor crowns us with the blessings of liberty of society, of friendship, and the most endearing relations: he preserves our health, gives us “rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, and fills our hearts with food and gladness.” In short, he gives us life, and breath, and all things; every day, every hour, every moment has arrived to us richly freighted with blessings; blessings have resided with us at home. and attended us abroad; blessings presented themselves ready for our enjoyment as soon as we entered into the world; then GOD provided hands to receive us, knees to support us, breasts to suckle us, and parents to guard and cherish us; blessings have grown up with us, and given such constant attendance, that they are become familiar to us, and are the inseparable companions of our lives. It is no new or unusual thing to us to see an illustrious sun rising to give us the thy, to enjoy repose in the night, to rise refreshed and vigorous in the morning, to see our tables spread with plenty, the trees covered with fruit, the fields with grain, and various forms of animals growing up for our support or service. These are such familiar blessings to us, that they too often seem things of course, or necessary appendages of our being. What a crowd of blessings have crowned the present morning! You and yours are alive and well, you have not come hither ghastly and pining with hunger, or agonizing with pain. How many refreshing draughts of air have you drawn this morning, how many sprightly and regular pulses have beat through your frame, how many easy motions have you performed with hands, fret, eyes, tongue, and other members of your body; and are not all these favors from GOD? yes undoubtedly; and thus has he gone on blessing you all your days, without any interruption at all in many of these particulars of kindness, and with but very little in the rest. Sinful and miserable as this world is it is a treasury rich in blessings, a store-house full of provisions, a dwelling well furnished for the accommodation of mortals, and all by the care, and at the expense of that gracious GOD who first made and still preserves it what it is. Lord, whence is it then that the inhabitants forget and neglect thee, as though they were not at all obliged to thee? 0 whence is it that they love thy gifts, and yet disregard the giver; that they think less of thee than of an earthly father or friend, or an human benefactor; that there should be so little gratitude towards thee, that of all benefactors thou shouldst be the least acknowledged, that the benefactors of nations, and even of private persons, in instances unworthy to be men¬tioned with those of thy goodness, should be celebrated, and even adored, while thou art neglected, thine agency over¬looked, and thy goodness forgotten? 0 whence is this strange phenomenon, this unaccountable, unprecedented stupidity and ingratitude in reasonable creatures! Surely, if they had any life, any sensation in this respect, they would not be capable of such a conduct; but they are dead, dead to all the generous sensations of gratitude to GOD: and as a dead corpse feels no gratitude to those that perform the last friendly office, and cover it with earth, so a dead soul stands unmoved under all the profusion of blessings which heaven pours upon it.
The blessings I have mentioned, which are confined to the present state, are great, and deserve our wonder and thanksgiving, especially considering that they are bestowed upon a race of rebellious, ungrateful creatures, who deserve the sever¬est vengeance: but there is a set of blessings yet unmentioned, of infinitely greater importance, in which all others are swallowed up, by the glory of which they are obscured, like the stars of night by the rising sun. To some of our race GOD has given crowns and kingdoms. For Israel JEHOVAH wrought the most astonishing miracles; seas and rivers opened to make way for them; rocks burst into springs of water to quench their thirst; the clouds poured down manna and fed them with bread from heaven: their GOD delivered Daniel from the jaws of hungry lions, and his three companions from the burning fiery furnace. He has restored health to the sick, sight to the blind, and life to the dead. These blessings and deliverances have something majestic and striking in them, and had we been the subjects of them we could not but have regarded them as great and singular, but what are these in comparison of GOD’s gift of his Son, and the blessings he has purchased? his Son, who is of greater value, and dearer to him than ten thousand worlds; his beloved Son, in whom he is well pleased; him has he given for us, given up to three and thirty years of the most mortifying abasement, and an incessant conflict with the severest trials, given up to death, and all the ignominy and agonies of crucifixion. Thus has GOD loved our world! and never was there such a display of love in heaven or on earth. You can no more find love equal to this among creatures than you can find among them the infinite power that formed the universe out of nothing. This will stand upon record to all eternity, as the unprecedented, unparalleled, inimitable love of GOD. And it appears the more illustrious when we consider that this unspeakable gift was given to sinners, to rebels, to enemies, that were so far from deserving it, that, on the other hand, it is a miracle of mercy that they are not all groaning for ever under the tremendous weight of his justice. 0 that I could say something becoming this love; something that might do honor to it! but, alas! the language of mortals was formed for lower subjects. This love passes all description and all knowledge. Consider also what rich blessings CHRIST has purchased for us; purchased not with such corruptible things as silver and gold, but with his own precious blood: the price recommends and endears the blessings, though they are so great in themselves as to need no such recommendation. What can be greater or more suitable blessings to persons in our circumstances, than pardon for the guilty, redemption for slaves, righteousness and justification for the condemned, sanctification for the unholy, rest for the weary, comfort for mourners, the favor of GOD for rebels and exiles, strength for the impotent, protection for the helpless, everlasting happiness for the heirs of hell, and, to sum up all, grace and glory, and every good thing, and all the unsearchable riches of CHRIST for the wretched and miserable, the poor, and blind, and naked! These are blessings indeed, and in comparison of them all the riches of the this world are impoverished, and vanish to nothing; and all these blessings are published, offered freely, indefinitely offered to you, to me, to the greatest sinner on earth, in the gospel; and we are allowed, - allowed did I say? we are invited with the utmost importunity, entreated with the most compassionate tenderness and condescension, and commanded by the highest authority upon pain of eternal damnation to accept the blessings presented to us: and what reception does all this love meet with in our world! I tremble to think of it. It is plain these things are proposed to a world dead in sin; for they are all still, all unmoved, all senseless under such a revelation of infinite grace; mankind knows not what it is to be moved, melted, transported with the love of a crucified Savior, till divine grace visits their hearts, and forms them into new creatures: they feel no eager solicitude, nay, not so much as a willingness to receive these blessings, till they become willing by almighty power: and judge ye, my brethren, whether they are not dead souls that are proof even against the love of GOD in CHRIST, that are not moved and melted by the agonies of his cross, that are careless about such inestimable blessings as these? Has that soul any spiritual life in it, that can sit senseless under the cross of JESUS, that can forget him, neglect him, dishonor him, after all his love and all his sufferings; that feels a prevailing indifference and languor towards him; that loves him less than an earthly friend, and seeks him with less eagerness than gold and silver? Is not every generous passion, every principle of gratitude quite extinct in such a spirit? It may be alive to other objects, but towards this it is dead, and alas! is not this the common case! 0 look round the world, and what do you see but a general neglect of the blessed JESUS, and all the blessings of his gospel? How cold, how untoward, how reluctant, how averse are the hearts of men towards him; how hard to persuade them to think of him and love him! Try to persuade men to give over their sins which grieve him, dishonor him, and were the cause of his death; try to engage them to devote themselves entirely to him, and live to his glory, alas! you try in vain; their hearts still continue cold and hard as a stone; try to persuade them to murder or robbery, and you are more likely to prevail. Suffer me, in my astonishment, to repeat this most melancholy truth again; the generality of mankind are habitually careless about the blessed JESUS; they will not seek him, nor give him their hearts and affections, though they must perish for ever by their neglect of him! Astonishing, and most lamentable, that ever such perverseness and stupidity should seize the soul of man! Methinks I could here take up a lamentation over human nature, and fall on my knees with this prayer for my fellow-men. “Father of spirits, and Lord of life, quicken, 0 quicken these dead souls!” 0, sirs, while we see death all around us, and feel it benumbing our own souls, who can help the most bitter wailing and lamentation; who can restrain himself from crying to the great Author of life for a happy resurrection! While the valley of dry bones lies before me, while the carnage, the charnel house of immortal souls strikes my sight all around me far and wide, how can I forbear crying, “Come from the four winds, 0 breath; breathe upon these slain, that they may live?” But to return from this digression, into which I was unavoidably hurried by the horror of the subject, I would observe farther, that kind usage and pleasing treatment may not be always best for such creatures as we are: fatherly seventies and chastisements, though not agreeable to us, yet may be necessary and conducive to our greatest good. Accordingly GOD has tried the force of chastisements to make impressions upon our hearts: these indeed have been but few in comparison of his more agreeable dispensations; yet recollect whether you have not frequently felt his rod. Have you not languished under sickness and pain, and been brought within a near view of the king of terrors? Have you not suffered the bereavement of friends and relations, and met with losses, adversity, and disappointments? Others have felt still greater calamities in a closer succession, and with fewer mercies intermixed. These things, one would think, would immediately bring men to regard the hand that smites them, and make them sensible of their undutiful conduct, which has procured the correction: these are like the application of fire to one in a lethargy, to awaken him to life; but alas! under all these afflictions, the stupor and insensibility still remain. Sinners groan by reason of oppression, but it is not natural for them to enquire, “Where is GOD my Maker, that giveth songs in the night?” It is not natural for them to repent of their undutiful conduct and amend; or, if they are awakened to some little sense, while the painful rod of the Almighty is vet upon them, as soon as it is removed they become as hardened and senseless as ever. And is not a state of death a very proper representation of such sullen, incorrigible stupidity? Living souls have very tender sensations; one touch of their heavenly Father’s hand makes deep impressions upon them; they tremble at his frown, they fall and weep at his feet, they confess their offences, and mourn over them; they fly to the arms of his mercy to escape the impending blow; and thus would all do were they not quite destitute of spiritual life.
I have materials sufficient for a discourse of some hours, but at present I must abruptly drop the subject: however, I cannot dismiss you without making a few reflections. And
1. What a strange affecting view does this subject give us of this assembly! I doubt not but I may accommodate the text to some of you with this agreeable addition, “You hath he quickened, though you were once dead in trespasses and sins.” Though the vital pulse beats faint and irregular, and your spiritual life is but very low, yet, blessed be GOD, you are not entirely dead: you have some living sensations, some lively and vigorous exercises in religion. On the other hand, I doubt not but some of you not only were, but still are “dead in trespasses and sins.” It is not to be expected in our world, at least not before the millennium, that we shall see such a mixed company together, and all living souls. Here then is the difference between you; some of you are spiritually alive, and some of you are spiritually dead: here the living and the dead are blended together in the same assembly, on the same seat, and united in the nearest relations: here sits a dead soul, there another, and there another, and a few living souls are scattered here and there among them: here is a dead parent and a living child, or a dead child and a living parent: here life and death (0 shocking!) are united in the bonds of conjugal love, and dwell under the same roof; here is a dead servant and a living master, and there a dead master (0 terrible!) commands a living servant. Should I trace the distinction beyond this assembly into the world we shall find a family here and there that have a little life; perhaps one, perhaps two discover some vital symptoms; but 0 what crowds of dead families! all dead together, and no endeavors used to bring one another to life; a death-like silence about eternal things, a deadly stupor and insensibility reign among them; they breathe out no desires and prayers after GOD; nor does the vital pulse of love beat in their hearts towards him; but, on the contrary, their souls are putrefying in sin, which is very emphatically called corruption by the sacred writers; they are over-run and devoured by their lusts, as worms insult and destroy the dead body. Call to them they will not awake; thunder the terrors of the Lord in their ears they will not hear; offer them all the blessings of the gospel they will not stretch out the hand of faith to receive them: lay the word of GOD, the bread of life, before them, they have no appetite for it. In short, the plain symptoms of death are upon them: the animal is alive, but alas! the spirit is dead towards GOD. And what an affecting, melancholy view does this give of this assembly, and of the world in general! “0 that my head were waters, and mine eyes fountains of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!” Weep not for the afflicted, weep not over ghastly corpses dissolving into their original dust, but 0 weep for dead souls. Should GOD now strike all those persons dead in this assembly whose souls are “dead in trespasses and sins,” should he lay them all in pale corpses before us, like Ananias and Sapphira at the apostle’s feet, what numbers of you would never return from this house more, and what lamentations would there be among the surviving few! One would lose a husband or a wife, another a son or a daughter, another a father or a mother, and alas! would not some whole families be swept off together, all blended in one promiscuous death! Such a sight as this would strike terror into the hardiest heart among you. But what is this to a company of rational spirits slain and dead in trespasses and sins? How deplorable and inexpressibly melancholy a sight this! Therefore,
2. “Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from dead, that CHRIST may give thee light.” This call is directed to you dead sinners, which is a sufficient warrant for me to exhort and persuade you. The principle of reason is still alive in you; you are also sensible of your own interest, and feel the workings of self-love. It is GOD alone that can quicken you, but he effects this by a power that does not exclude, but attends rational instructions and persuasions to your understanding. Therefore, though I am sure you will continue dead still if left to yourselves, yet with some trembling hopes that his power may accompany my feeble words, and impregnate them with life, I call upon, I entreat, I charge you sinners to rouse yourselves out of your dead sleep, and seek to obtain spiritual life. Now, while my voice sounds in your ears, now, this moment waft up this prayer, “Lord, pity a dead soul, a soul that has been dead for ten, twenty, thirty, forty years, or more, and lain corrupting in sin, and say unto me, Live: from this moment let me live unto thee.” Let this prayer be still upon your hearts: keep your souls always in a supplicating posture, and who knows but that he, who raised Lazarus from the grave, may give you a spiritual resurrection to a more important life? But if you willfully continue your security expect in a little time to suffer the second death; the mortification will become incurable; and then, though you will be still dead to GOD, yet you will be “tremblingly alive all over” to the sensations of pain and torture. 0 that I could gain but this one request of you, which your own interest so strongly enforces! but alas! it has been so often refused that to expect to prevail is to hope against hope.
3. Let the children of GOD be sensible of their great happiness in being made spiritually alive. Life is a principle, a capacity necessary for enjoyments of any kind. Without animal life you would be as incapable of animal pleasures as a stone or a clod, and without spiritual life you can no more enjoy the happiness of heaven than a beast or a devil. This therefore is a preparative, a previous qualification, and a sure pledge and earnest of everlasting life. How highly then are you distinguished, and what cause have you for gratitude and praise!
4. Let us all be sensible of this important truth that it is entirely by grace we are saved. This is the inference the apostle expressly makes from this doctrine; and he is so full of it, that he throws it into a parenthesis (verse 5th) though it breaks the connection of his discourse, and as soon as he has room he resumes it again, (verse 8th) and repeats it over and over in various forms in the compass of a few verses. “By grace are ye saved - By grace are you saved through faith - It is the gift of GOD; - not of yourselves, - not of works,” (ver. 9th). This, you see, is an inference that seemed of great importance to the apostle, and what can more naturally follow from the premises? If we were once dead in sin, certainly it is owing to the freest grace that we have been quickened, therefore, when we survey the change, let us cry “Grace, grace unto it.”