Dead or Alive?

J. C. Ryle

Dead or Alive

“And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins.” Ephesians 2:1

Search your own heart. Are you among the living, or among the dead?

First, let me tell you what we all are by nature. We are spiritually DEAD!

“Dead” is a strong word–but I did not choose it. The Holy Spirit had Paul write it down about the Ephesians: “And you hath he quickened [made alive], who were dead in trespasses and sins.” The Lord Jesus Christ made use of it in the parable of the prodigal son, “This my son was dead, and is alive again” (Luke 15:24, 32). You will read it also in the first epistle to Timothy, “She that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth” (1 Tim. 5:6). Shall a mortal man be wise above that which is written? Must I not take heed to speak that which I find in the Bible, and neither less nor more?

“Dead” is an awful idea, and one that man is most unwilling to receive. He does not like to allow the whole extent of his soul’s disease. He shuts his eyes to the real amount of his danger. Many a one will allow us to say that naturally most people “are not quite what they ought to be. They are thoughtless, unsteady, wild, or they are not serious enough.” But dead? Oh, no! It is going too far to say that. The idea is a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence.

“This is the reason we are no better, because our disease is not perfectly known; because we know not how bad we are.” —Usher’s Sermons.

This is the condition of every man by nature in the matter of his soul, and the state of the vast majority of people around us in spiritual things. God calls to them continually–by mercies, by afflictions, by ministers, by His Word–but they do not hear His voice.

The Lord Jesus Christ mourns over them, pleads with them, sends them gracious invitations, knocks at the door of their hearts, but they do not regard it.

The crown and glory of their being, that precious jewel, their immortal soul, is being seized, plundered, and taken away, and they are utterly unconcerned. The devil is carrying them away, day after day, along the broad road that leads to destruction, and they allow him to make them his captives without a struggle. And this is going on all DEAD OR ALIVE? J. C. RYLE around us, among all classes throughout the length and breadth of the land. You know it in your own conscience while you read this paper–you must be aware of it. You cannot deny it. And what then can be said more perfectly true than that which God says–we are all by nature spiritually dead?

Yes! when a man’s heart is cold and unconcerned about religion, when his hands are never employed in doing God’s work, when his feet are not familiar with God’s ways, when his tongue is seldom or never used in prayer and praise, when his ears are deaf to the voice of Christ in the gospel, when his eyes are blind to the beauty of the kingdom of heaven, when his mind is full of the world, and has no room for spiritual things, when these marks are to be found in a man, the word of the Bible is the right word to use about him–and that word is, “Dead.”

We may shut our eyes both to facts in the world and texts in the Word, but God’s truth must be spoken. To keep it back does positive harm. Truth must be spoken, however condemning it may be. So long as a man does not serve God with body, soul, and spirit, he is not really alive. So long as he puts the first things last and the last first, buries his talent like an unprofitable servant, and brings the Lord no revenue of honor–in God’s sight, he is dead. He is not filling the place in creation for which he was intended. He is not using his powers and faculties as God meant them to be used. The poet’s words are strictly true:

“He only lives, who lives to God, And all are dead beside.”

This is the true explanation of sin not felt and sermons not believed; of good advice not followed, and the gospel not embraced; the world not forsaken and the cross not taken up; of self-will not mortified and evil habits not laid aside; of the Bible seldom read and the knee never bent in prayer. Why is all this on every side? The answer is simple–men are dead!

This is the true account of that army of excuses which so many make “with one consent.” Some have no learning, and some have no time. Some are consumed with business and the care of money, and some with poverty. Some have difficulties in their own families, and some in their own health. Some have peculiar obstacles in their calling, which others, we are told, cannot understand; and others have peculiar drawbacks at home, and they wait to have them removed. But God has a shorter word in the Bible, which describes all these people at once. He says that they are dead. If spiritual life began in these people’s hearts, their excuses would soon vanish away.

See how sad is the condition of all who have gone through no spiritual change. There is a mountain of division between them and heaven. They have yet to “pass from death to life” (1 John 3:14). Oh, that they did but see and know their danger! Alas, it is one fearful mark of spiritual death, that, like natural death–it is not felt! “The dead,” says the wise man, “know not any thing” (Eccl. 9:5). And this is just the case with dead souls.

See, too, what reason ministers have to be anxious about their congregations. We feel that time is short, and life uncertain. We know that death spiritual is the high road that leads to death eternal. We fear lest any of our hearers should die in their sins, unprepared, unrenewed, impenitent, unchanged. Oh, marvel not if we often speak strongly and plead with you warmly! We dare not give you flattering titles, amuse you with trifles, say smooth things, and cry, “Peace, peace,” when life and death are at stake. The plague is among you! We feel that we stand between the living and the dead. We must and will “use great plainness of speech.” “If the trumpet gives an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself for the battle” (2 Cor. 3:12; 1 Cor. 14:8)?  

(Excerpted)

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