THE PHYSICALLY DEAD AND THE SPIRITUALLY DEAD – THERE’S A DIFFERENCE!
It is often said that the spiritual state of the natural man is analogous to that of a corpse buried in the cemetery. From one standpoint that is correct; from another it is utterly erroneous. The natural man is a putrefying creature, a stench in the nostrils of the Holy One, and he can no more perform a spiritual act Godwards than a corpse can perform a physical act manwards.
BUT THERE THE ANALOGY ENDS!
There is a contrast between the two cases as well as a resemblance. A corpse has no responsibility, but the natural man HAS! A corpse can perform no actions; different far is the case of the sinner. He is- active, active against GOD! Though he does not love Him (and he ought!), yet he is filled with enmity and hatred against Him. Thus spiritual death is not a state of passivity and inactivity, but one of aggressive hostility against God. Here then, as everywhere, there is a balance to be preserved; yet it is rarely maintained.
Far too many Calvinists, in their zeal to repudiate the freewillism of Arminians, have at the same time repudiated man’s moral agency; anxious to enforce the utter helplessness of fallen men in spiritual matters, they have virtually reduced him to an irresponsible machine. It has not been sufficiently noted that in the very next verse after the statement “who were dead in trespasses and sins,” the apostle added,
“Wherein (i.e. that state of spiritual death) ye WALKED (which a corpse in the grave could not!) according to the course of this world, according to the spirit of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience. Among whom also we all had our conversation (“conduct”) in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind” (Ephesians 2:1-3).
So that in one sense they were dead (i.e. Godward) while they lived (i.e. in sin), and in another sense they LIVED (a life of self-seeking and of enmity against God), while DEAD to all spiritual things.
THERE IS A VAST AND VITAL DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A SPIRITUALLY DEAD SOUL AND A LIFELESS BODY.
The soul of Adam became the subject of penal and spiritual death; nevertheless it retained all its natural powers. Adam did not lose all knowledge nor become incapable of volition; nor did the operations of conscience cease within him. He was still a rational being, a moral agent, a RESPONSIBLE creature, though he could no longer think or will, love or hate, in conformity to the law of righteousness.
It is far otherwise with PHYSICAL dissolution. When the body dies it becomes as inactive, unintelligent and unfeeling as a piece of unorganized matter.
A LIFELESS BODY HAS NO RESPONSIBILITY, BUT A SPIRITUALLY DEAD SOUL IS ACCOUNTABLE TO GOD.
A corpse in the cemetery will not “despise and reject” Christ (Isaiah 53:3), will not “resist the Holy Ghost” (Acts 7:51), will not disobey the gospel (2 Thessalonians 1:8); but the sinner CAN and DOES do these very things, and is JUSTLY condemned for them. Are we, then, suggesting that fallen man is NOT “dead in trespasses and sins”? No indeed, but we do insist that those solemn words be RIGHTLY INTERPRETED and that no false conclusions be drawn from them. Because the soul has been deranged by sin, because all its operations are unholy, it is correctly said to be in a state of spiritual death, for it no more fulfils the purpose of its being than does a dead body.
The fall of man, with its resultant spiritual death, did not dissolve our relation to God as the Creator, nor did it exempt us from His authority. But it forfeited His favour and suspended that communion with Him by which alone could be preserved that moral excellence with which the soul was originally endowed. Instead of attempting to draw analogies between spiritual and physical death and deriving inferences from them, we must stick very closely to the Scriptures and regulate all our thoughts by them.
God’s Word says,
“You hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins: wherein in times past ye WALKED” (Ephesians 2:1-2).
Thus the spiritual death of the sinner is a state of ACTIVE opposition against God—a state for which he is RESPONSIBLE, the guilt and enormity of which the preacher should constantly press upon him. Why do we speak of active opposition against God as being DEAD in sins? Because in Scripture “death” does not mean cessation of being, but a condition of separation and alienation from God! (Ephesians 4:18).