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The Living Dead and the Dead Living

by A.J. Gordon

“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live.” — Galatians 2:20

    “Thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead. ” — Revelation 3:1.
    The question, “Who among men are the dead and who are the living?” is often the most difficult to answer. Indeed, there is but one person who can determine this point with absolute certainty, and that is He who alone among men has dared to take to himself the name of “The Life.” He, looking at those who seemed to bear every semblance and feature of living men, startled and maddened them by declaring that they were but “whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful without, but are within full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.” Looking, again, upon one who was lying upon her couch, pale and pulseless and without breath, he allowed himself to be laughed to scorn for saying, “The maid is not dead, but sleepeth.”
    These are but illustrations of Christ’s deep discrimination, and of the Divine answers which He constantly gives to the questions, “Who are the dead, and who are the living?” The Lord of life often places a tombstone where we should put a door-plate, telling us that here is a sepulchre instead of a residence; while, on the other hand, He writes in the book of life many a name that we should consign to the list of the dead. And looking through His eyes this world presents a strange medley of moving corpses and inanimate lives, — the living who are dead, and the dead who are living. Let us, in the light of Scripture, try to unravel this mystery, and to sort and separate in this strange conglomeration those who belong to the muster-roll of the living, and those who belong to the list of the dead.

The living dead that are in the world

There are such. St. Paul declares, ” I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live.” Crucifixion certainly means death; not a mere maimed and mutilated life, as some have supposed. It was not simply that Paul was constantly finding his Master’s cross in the midst of his labours, and being wounded by the offence and persecuted by the enmity which it stirred up. In a very real, though mystical, sense he had been crucified with Christ in His crucifixion on Calvary, and had become dead with Him. Nor was he alone in this. He was constantly addressing his fellow-Christians as those that were dead. “Ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.” “For if we be dead with Him, we shall also live with Him.” These and similar passages emphasize in the most solemn manner the fact that the believer has died in Christ; but this death is everywhere represented as the counterpart and condition of a far more exalted life than was ever known before.
    The cross has cut us off from the world only that we might be joined on to God; the nail has penetrated and slain the old life only that it might find and lay open the fountains of a new life in the wounded heart of Jesus Christ. “Dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord,” — this is the signature which has been stamped upon all who have been new created after the image of Christ. “The Church is born crucified,” says Lacordaire. The death of the outer man is the birth of the inner man, and the cross that slays our sins is the door through which we pass into the risen life of Christ in God.
    Now, that this doctrine may not be mystical to you, but practical and real, let me throw light upon it from several passages of Scripture.
    The Apostle Paul exclaims: “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.” Is not his meaning plain ? His attachment to this present evil world, his bondage to its laws and principles, had been sundered by a stroke of crucifixion light. But the blow that cleft him from his earthly connections, liberated him unto the life of God through Jesus Christ. Have we seen nothing like this in nature and human experience?
    What does the husbandman’s axe do which lays the branches of a tree sundered and dead upon the ground? It cuts off the limbs indeed, but it sends their sap upward, and turns into fruit the life which was wasting itself in building wood and leaves. That, we know, is the philosophy of pruning, — cutting off and making dead the suckers that are wasting the vitality of the tree, that the fruitful boughs may have more abundant life. And the cross is God’s pruning knife, for severing His people from the world, that the life of their souls, which has been going to feed the fleshly lusts and appetites, may be turned upward into the fruits of righteousness and true holiness. So, as a matter of fact, you w ill find that it is those who have died in some part of their nature that have the most abundant life towards God. If affections have been slain by the cutting off of some cherished object; if the selfishness has been pruned by the loss of property; if the pride has been slain by some great humiliation; if the self-reliance has been weakened by some sore defeat or sickness, then God’s strength, which is made perfect in weakness, has an opportunity for exercise unknown before. And this necessity has passed into a law of grace. Repression, mortification, death, have to be going on all the time in our carnal natures if the life of God is to be made manifest in our mortal bodies.
    This is a hard saying, I know, and we can only understand it by remembering that the two parts of the Christian, the flesh and the spirit, are “contrary one to the other.” What is given to the flesh is generally taken from the spirit; so that one cannot feed his pride and his pleasure, his love of gain and his love of applause, without at the same time starving his soul. Every cent of your wealth which you put into needless luxuries constitutes a draft on your spirituality; every redundant pleasure which you indulge in is a lien upon your religious life. And this is the contest that is going on with every one of you, unless you have surrendered or made a truce with your self-love, the contest for supremacy between the two elements of your double nature. It is the question which shall gain the mastery and finally subdue the other, and change it into its own substance. Shall the spirit subdue the flesh more and more, assimilating it to itself, warming it with Divine life and energy while quenching its unnatural ardours; or shall the flesh chill the spirit, and reduce it little by little to its own temperature, till in the end it freezes it, and the spirit passes into flesh, hard, stolid, relentless, the two no longer different substances, but one, and the end of that corruption? Oh, if there is anything for which we ought to pray with strong crying to God, it is that we may be saved from such a living death!
    Here is the secret of the apostle’s glorying in the cross that had crucified him to the world. His old man he declared had been slain with Christ; the rooted affections of the natural heart, the insatiable ambitions of the carnal man, had been pierced with the nail of crucifixion. Not utterly freed from them all was he as yet. But they had been delivered over to death and their destruction was certain. And now life was dominating him, and not death. “They that are Christ’s,” says the same apostle, “have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.” Here certainly are living men, — they that are Christ’s.” They are the on]y living men according to Scripture. “He that hath the Son hath life, and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.” But the condition and proof of this life is that they have died with Christ as to their carnal natures; that they have given over their lusts and affections to be mocked and scourged in the judgment-hall of self-denial; to be nailed to the cross of mortification; to be answered in their cries for indulgence with the vinegar and gall of sharper and sharper refusals, till they have become dead indeed. This is the austere and exacting ideal of the Christian who is wholly Christ’s.
    But you will ask with astonishment, perhaps, why the Lord Jesus must be so hard a Master. Does He delight in the stern exactions that gall and hurt, and perhaps repel us from His service? He is a hard Master in this matter, only because He has a hard master with which to contend. The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.” And what cannot be subdued to God must be slain. Hence the Son of God, having borne the cross Himself, has left it for us to bear after Him, that it may complete in our persons what it began for us in His; that, as we have been justified by the cross which He endured for us, we may be sanctified by the cross which we endure for Him. Christ did not die to exempt us from crucifixion, but to lead our way to it. “Forasmuch, then, as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh,” says Peter, “arm yourselves likewise with the same mind.” And all this is that we may have life instead of death, and be heavenly men instead of earthly. For we are to remember that self-denial is never an end, but always a means. We are to reduce the area of our carnal affections, only that we may broaden and extend the horizon of our heavenly.
    Have you never observed how the privation of any bodily sense increases the power of those that remain? If one’s sight is impaired, his touch becomes more acute; if his hearing is lost, his sight learns to read, from the lips, the sounds which the ear can no longer interpret. It is a striking illustration of death in one part working life in another. And the principle holds just as truly of the outer senses in their relation to the inner. When worldly affections have been blunted and selfish desires have been denied, and carnal appetites have been repressed, then it often is that for the first time the spiritual senses come into the largest and finest exercise. It is just as the apostle describes it, — the outward man perishing and the inward man renewed day by day.
    It is not always so. Indeed, there may be no such result with one whose moral life has never been quickened by the Spirit of God. But with those in whom the heart has been renewed by the Holy Ghost it is quite certain that this will be the issue. Think you, then, that God is a cruel Master that He sometimes permits the avenues of external sense to be closed by affliction, and that He requires you to narrow them rather than to widen them to the pleasures of this world? It is only that He may compel you to retreat to the inner sanctuary of the Spirit, where He reveals Himself. The Holy of Holies of the Temple had no windows. It was left utterly dark, that it might be lighted by the glory of God. And when the High Priest entered the Holiest he left the sun behind him, only to behold a brightness above the sun at noonday.
    And so, when the outer courts of our bodies, those temples of the Holy Ghost, are closed to pleasure, barred to the lusts of the flesh and the lusts of the eye, then it is as never before that we enter into the inner shrine of the spirit, where God reveals Himself to us, and the light of life shines upon us. Man is alive unto God just in proportion as his spirit is in contact with God’s Spirit, and as his moral faculties are quickened and refined to commune with that Spirit. And whatever, therefore, throws added necessity for exercise and action upon these faculties intensifies this life. One’s physical vitality is measured, other things being equal, by the soundness and activity of his five senses. It is the man that can see most, and hear most, and taste most, that can live most in the earthward and temporal direction. Reflect, then, that the spiritual senses are the reverse of the physical; faith the opposite of sight; hope the opposite of experience; love of God the opposite of love of this world; and how evident it becomes that the cutting off of outward gratifications is likely to result in the increasing of spiritual communion. We close the eyes in prayer in order to open wider our spiritual vision, and it is an unconscious sermon on the truth which we are considering. We look not upon the things that are seen, in order that we may look more deeply and clearly into the things that are not seen. We fast from bread, that we may feed more hungrily upon every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.
    This is the ideal of Christian living set before us in the Scriptures. Let us not shrink from it, and yet let us be careful that in seeking to attain it we are not drawn into any morbid and unsanctified asceticisms. It is the spirit within us that must carry on this discipline. The flesh cannot subdue itself; and if the spirit presides over our self-chastening, it will be sober, temperate, and Divinely reasonable. It will not make the mistake, so blind and fatal, of putting an inquisition in the place of a cross. We are to be dead with Christ, not from any morbid love of death, but in order to the highest life, — the life lived not in self, but by faith in the Son of God. That life is joyful, sweet, and healthful, It prepares one for service, instead of training him to prolonged spiritual sickness, as asceticism has so often done. It makes him active in blessing the world, and blessed in all his acting. It enables him, in a word, to live not for himself, but for Him that loved him, and gave Himself for him.

The dead living that are in the world

There are such all about us, — those who exhibit the form and motions of life, but are really without it. Men call them alive. God calls them dead. “I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead.”
    And these thus chided were Christians by profession. They were not without activity, for their works are spoken of; they were not without orthodoxy, for they had the name of true disciples still. But their works, we judge, were “dead works.” They wrought in the energy of the flesh, perhaps, rather than in the power of the spirit; they were impelled by the zeal of ecclesiastical ambition, maybe, rather than by the fire of love. At all events, their service was so defective that neither their soundness nor their activity could save them from the awful sentence of death.
    It is a startling thing to see how the symptoms of life and of death cross each other, and reappear in their opposites. Activities, which seem to give the most evident token of a living faith, may be but the ferment of a decaying faith. It is the instinct of a dying zeal to exhibit unwonted motion and stir, even as a drowning man struggles more violently than he who is safe upon the shore. So I am sorry to believe that we have to be on our guard against an unsanctified activity as well as a sanctified idleness. It is not, of course, that we are in danger of too much effort, but that there may be too little life inspiring it. There are services in God’s Church which may be impelled by the same force that drives a factory or directs a warehouse. God save us from belting on our worldly wisdom or fleshly energy to the Church of Christ to move its activities, instead of depending upon “the living spirit within the wheels.”
    Here is where we touch the secret of the Sardian condemnation, “I know thy works, that thou art dead.” It is in serving God with the spirit of the world, in working for Christ with the zeal of a man, in doing our duty with a lifeless heart, that we fall under this judgment. “Without Me ye can do nothing,” says Jesus. Activity may still go on after the pulse-beat of Christ’s heart has ceased to be felt within us in token of our communion with Him; but however we are bestirring ourselves, the Master says we are doing nothing all the while.
    Let these words be a serious warning to us all to watch with a vigilant eye even our service for Christ, lest it may be corrupted. If the minister preaches to entertain and win applause, and visits his flock only for social calls, what does he more than others? Do not the men of the world the same? If the singers only employ a trained and skilful voice in the service of God’s house, with no toil, and prayer, and consecration of the heart, what do they more than others? Do they not the same upon the stage and in the concert hall? If there are women in the Church who are taken up with fashionable charities, and popular and luxurious self denials for the poor, what do they more than others? Hundreds are busy in these things, who make no profession of being religious. If there are men in the Church who give themselves up to its secularities, collecting its tithes, serving on its committees, keeping its books, and treasuring its moneys, what do they more than others? Those without do all. these things, and never think of calling it Christian service. These things must be done, and all praise to those who do them well. But, if you value your life in Christ, do not neglect those other things which can be done only by the Spirit of God dwelling within you: leading lost souls to Christ; offering prevailing prayer for the sick and afflicted; testifying in our assemblies with such power of God as to quicken the dead in trespasses and sins, and living such sober and godly lives as to convince the world that Christ is in you. “For if ye do these things, ye shall never fall. For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of God.”
    And the same principle holds in regard to doctrinal soundness. It may be only the lifeless shell of an empty spirituality, and thus become a stigma instead of a glory. And such is the crossing and confounding of religious symptoms, that here also you are more than likely to find defection from the spirit of the gospel marked by increased zeal for the letter. And it is not difficult to see why this should be so. It is easier to defend a dogma than to live a life. Life is the movement of the Christian soul; creeds are its pauses. If one is tired of advancing, he can sit down behind the breastworks of his doctrinal belief, and stand his ground at least, guarding every point and punctilio of his theology with the utmost determination. This may not cost any very strenuous effort. But the Lord more than intimates that such a stand for doctrine may mean a surrender to spiritual death: “Thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead.” Do not, I beg you, suppose that I am depreciating any faithful and loyal defence of God’s truth. I am only pointing out one of the insidious and deceptive counter-symptoms of spiritual decay, and one that has many distressing manifestations in our time.
    Theological soundness ought to be the glory of the. Church, and it is only when made a buttress to spiritual decay and corruption that it becomes a reproach. Doctrine is the framework of life. It is the skeleton of truth, to be clothed and rounded out by the living graces of a holy life. It is only the lean creature whose bones become offensive. And it is only a lean Christian and a lean Church whose theological rigidness repels us. It is when the outward life has shrunk away from the doctrine, leaving it bare and angular and protruding, that we are offended. There is none too much of doctrine, perhaps; but it has been left exposed by the falling away in the spirituality of the body, and so has suffered an unseemly exposure. Woe to us if by our indifferent or worldly lives we turn into a dishonour that which should be the strength and security of the Christian life! We remember that it is written: “The letter killeth; the spirit giveth life.” And if we have not the spirit, no matter how sound the letter, we are hastening to decay, and nothing can arrest us.
    My brethren, where is your Christianity to-day? Is it packed away in the snug compartments of your creed? Is it found distributed through certain articles of faith and certain theories of Church order and religious observance? It is not amiss that it should be there; but if it is not found also in the corpuscles of your blood, in the fibres of your muscles, in the moisture of your eye, in the warmth of your hand, in the figures of your ledger, in the list of your expenditures, in visits to the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and in strong crying and tears over lost souls, you have not a living Christianity.
    There is such a thing in this day as having a name to live and being dead. This death begins at the heart, and may be going on to corruption while the outward forms and observances are steadily carried on. Oh, be not afraid to die, Christian, when your time shall come, but be terribly afraid of being buried alive in the tomb of formalism, the white robes of your profession turned into a winding-sheet of cold and respectable decay I am distressed at this peril that is confronting us in every branch of the Church. How has the fine gold become dim! How has Jerusalem, with its tongues of fire and its whole band of disciples filled with the Spirit, relapsed into Sardis, with its “things that remain, that are ready to die,” and its ” few names which have not defiled their garments!” “Remember, therefore, how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast and repent.”
    But these dead living men are not found in the Church alone. They are found among all who are lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God, and who live for the world instead of living for heaven. “She that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth” are the words of the apostle. And they have the widest application. Just as we said, a moment ago, that the crucifixion and denial of the outward man intensify the life of the inward, so of the reverse. Indulging the flesh, pampering the appetites, gratifying the ambitions, feeding the pride, all tend to quench whatever life there may be in the spirit. “Fleshly lusts that war against the soul,” is the language of Scripture. And it is a war which in hundreds of lives knows no truce till it has slain its victims. Dead while he liveth! What a kind of ghastliness and horror the words suggest!
    We shudder and the knees smite together at the apparition of a ghost. And what is a ghost? A soul that is bereft of its body, which is death. But is the death any less real when the body has been bereft of its soul; when the flesh has slowly consumed the spirit, — drunk it up through its lusts and passions, — till all traces of spiritual light and glory have gone out of the face, leaving only a body of dull, sodden, soulless flesh? You will not see a ghost; but you will see many such apparitions as this moving through our streets. And a spiritual man will have more shrinking from them than from the bloodless ghost. I do not say you must fly from such an one, and with hold your touch from the clammy, repulsive hand; but I say you should beseech God every day upon your knees to spare you from becoming such an one, — dead while you live.
    To God everything is possible; even of stones He can make children to Abraham. But there is some thing more rebellious than stones; it is the heart of the voluptuary. With him the soul has degenerated into flesh. The sources of love, mercy, and faith have dried up. The heart which sent all its life to the senses is withered. There is darkness, cold, and horror within the soul; while around it — I mean in the flesh — everything is lit and inflamed by the fire of lust, — a house lighted with a thousand lamps as on the evening of a festival, — a house of gladness, you would say; enter it, you will find within only a corpse and demons dancing round it.”
    And to think how such beings transmit and extend their moral death, and multiply it constantly in wretched victims! No man dies to himself alone. We talk of the drunkard’s grave. What is it? Not the narrow house where he lies at last, so narrow that it can hold only his own selfish self. The real drunkard’s grave is that deep, and wide, and insatiable tomb, where he has buried all sacred affections and holy vows, — position, honour, usefulness, and immortal life; a wife’s heart and children’s hope, and a mother’s unavailing prayers. And thus it is with all who slay themselves through pleasure. They become the propagators of moral ruin, and dispensers of the diseases of which they die. And so they are, in Scripture phrase, ” twice dead,” as every man is who ruins an other by his sin.
    But we must pause. It is necessary that we should sometimes look into this region and shadow of death, in order that we may be warned to flee from it. And now let us search our hearts by the light of God’s Spirit, and discover what beginnings of spiritual decay are there; let us try our souls by the light of Scripture, to see what germs of growing and spreading death are there. And, remembering how deceitful our own hearts are, let us call mightily and unceasingly upon God, “O Lord, my God, lighten mine eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death!”

This page Copyright © 2000 Peter Wade. The Bible text in this publication, except where otherwise indicated, is from the King James Version. This article appears on the site: https://www.peterwade.com/.

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