09 April 2006

Not just mostly dead

posted by Phil Johnson

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon

The PyroManiacs devote space at the beginning of each week to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive.

The following excerpt is from an Easter sermon Spurgeon preached in his third year as a pastor in London. His congregation by then had already outgrown the famous New Park Street Chapel but were still several years away from relocating to the famous Metropolitan Tabernacle. To accommodate the massive Sunday crowds that overwhelmed their chapel, they held Sunday services regularly at the Music Hall, Royal Surrey Gardens.

This particular Resurrection Sunday, Spurgeon spoke on the principle of resurrection from Ephesians 2:1. I love the breathtakingly vivid imagery he employs. The graphic word-picture he paints would have been even more shocking to Victorian audiences than it sounds to us. He paints the picture of death with disturbing clarity and then points out that this is the spiritual state of every unbeliever:

About to become a carnival for worms

What a solemn sight is presented to us by a dead body! When last evening trying to realize the thought, it utterly overcame me.

The thought is overwhelming, that soon this body of mine must be a carnival for worms; that in and out of these places, where my eyes are glistening, foul things, the offspring of loathsomeness, shall crawl; that this body must be stretched in still, cold, abject, passive, death, must then become a noxious, nauseous thing, cast out even by those that loved me, who will say, "Bury my dead out of my sight."

Perhaps you can scarcely, in the moment I can afford you, appropriate the idea to yourselves. Does it not seem a strange thing, that you, who have walked to this place this morning, shall be carried to your graves; that the eyes with which you now behold me shall soon be glazed in everlasting darkness; that the tongues, which just now moved in song, shall soon be silent lumps of clay; and that your strong and stalwart frame, now standing to this place, will be unable to move a muscle, and become a loathsome thing, the brother of the worm and the sister of corruption?

You can scarcely get hold of the idea; death doth such awful work with us, it is such a Vandal with this mortal fabric, it so rendeth to pieces this fair thing that God hath builded up, that we can scarcely bear to contemplate his works of ruin.

Now, endeavour, as well as you can, to get the idea of a dead corpse, and when you have so done, please to understand, that that is the metaphor employed in my text, to set forth the condition of your soul by nature: "And you . . . were dead in trespasses and sins" (Ephesians 2:1).

Just as the body is dead, incapable, unable, unfeeling, and soon about to become corrupt and putrid, so are we if we be unquickened by divine grace; dead in trespasses and sins, having within us death, which is capable of developing itself in worse and worse stages of sin and wickedness, until all of us here, left by God's grace, should become loathsome beings; loathsome through sin and wickedness, even as the corpse through natural decay.

Understand, that the doctrine of the Holy Scripture is, that man by nature, since the fall, is dead; he is a corrupt and ruined thing; in a spiritual sense, utterly and entirely dead. And if any of us shall come to spiritual life, it must be by the quickening of God's Spirit, vouchsafed to us sovereignly through the good will of God the Father, not for any merits of our own, but entirely of his own abounding and infinite grace.

By the way, the description of a corpse as "a carnival for worms" was a particular favorite of Spurgeon's. It was the kind of expression his critics often complained made his preaching sound lowbrow and unpolished. Spurgeon was rightly more concerned about clarity than he was about any culturally-driven standard of propriety. It's one of the main reasons his sermons still have a profound impact even today.

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donsands said...

Man, that was exhilarating! What's wrong with me?

May our sovereign Lord grant us preaching of His truth like this once again. So be it.

Carla said...

Rather convicting & sobering thoughts indeed.

CraigS said...

I was interested in the comment that we become "loathsome" if left to sin.

God's common grace still prevents the unregenerate from falling into utter depravity, but what will they be like when this final grace is removed?

It is part of the answer to those who say "How will I enjoy heaven if loved ones are in Hell?" But our loved ones will be utterly unloveable in Hell, there will be nothing redeeming left about them, as all that was good and loveable was a function of God's grace.

Loving the damned will be about as easy as loving a rotting corpse...

Libbie said...

CraigS, as someone with unsaved and dead close relatives, that is one of the best and most helpful reasonings on this topic I've ever heard.

Mike Ratliff said...

Not politically correct.

DJP said...

Craig -- your observation minds me of C. S. Lewis remarks (maybe in two different places) that we've never met an ordinary human being in our lives, and that if we could see our fellows as they will be in eternity, we'd either be tempted to fall down in worship, or we'd shrink away in horror and revulsion.


ThirstyDavid said...

It's funny that Spurgeon could be considered "unpolished." Preachers today could use a dose of his eloquence.

Mike Y said...

Totally agree with Craig and Dan's comments. It's a sobering perspective that I don't often consider.

Rick Potter said...


I agree with libbie - good post.


Your post reminded me of this sermon from Wesley:

If the children of God will connect themselves with the men of the world, though the latter should not endeavour to make them like themselves, (which is a supposition by no means to be made,) yea, though they should neither design nor desire it; yet they will actually do it, whether they design it, and whether they endeavour it, or no. I know not how to account for it, but it is a real fact, that their very spirit is infectious. While you are near them, you are apt to catch their spirit, whether they will or no. Many physicians have observed, that not only the plague, and putrid or malignant fevers, but almost every disease men are liable to, are more or less infectious. And undoubtedly so are all spiritual diseases, only with great variety. The infection is not so swiftly communicated by some as it is by others. In either case, the person already diseased does not desire or design to infect another. The man who has the plague does not desire or intend to communicate his distemper to you. But you are not therefore safe: So keep at a distance, or you will surely be infected. Does not experience show that the case is the same with the diseases of the mind?

Wesley, J. (1999). Sermons, on several occasions. Sermon #80