God's people had an existence in covenant before they had any existence in this world. They were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world. They were first His; then He provided for them; sent His Son to die to redeem them because they were His; and gives His Holy Spirit to them because they are sons. (Gal. 4:6) They possessed a life in covenant different from the life belonging to the present creation.
In time God gave them an actual being in Adam; and all the blessings of this present life belonged to it. But when Adam fell, with all his posterity, they lost their position and their right to every blessing of this life; they lost their relation to the whole creation. Death came upon all men, for that all have sinned. (Rom. 5:12) They have no understanding of God by nature. (Rom. 3:11) That is the grand death under which all men have passed;--they are "alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them." (Eph. 4:18) Both this death and all other deaths which the child of God has to go through are to sever him from the life belonging to his present existence in this world, with all its worldly associations and ties, and to make way for another existence, which he had in Jesus Christ in covenant before the world began.
God also gives His people in time an actual existence of the life they had in covenant, a spiritual being, whereby they can know Him and love Him. To have a spiritual understanding of God is life eternal: "This is life eternal, that they might know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent." (John 17:3) Before this is given them they cannot know God nor the truth for themselves; they are no judges; they merely take for granted what they are taught. God teaches them something of what He is and of what they are; and these are facts they cannot get rid of. They discover they have never known Him aright nor worshipped Him; that they have sinned against Him, and are dark and ignorant and out of the way. As soon as He gives them this existence, they begin to die to the old existence they had in this world; that is, they begin to die to sin.
What is it to die to sin? It appears to be the very opposite. Sin is alive in the soul, which they never knew or felt before. None can die to this life until they have another existence, belonging to another world. Then they are made to pass through deaths oft; death comes upon everything in this life. Their hearts are turned to seek the Lord from real want of Him. They feel, "O that I could love God! O that I could come near Him!" and something obstructs the way. It is the death that is in them, through sin, that obstructs the way.
There is one point set before us particularly in the Word. When Adam sinned, he condemned his wife; his wife the serpent; and God condemned them all. So do we always by nature excuse ourselves, and justify what is wrong; but by grace the child of God always condemns himself. He is self-condemned for his own hardness, darkness, ignorance, and all sin. Now God has condemned sin in the flesh; therefore it is worthy to be punished; but He has punished the sins of His children in His Son. Poor self-condemned sinner, God is leading you hand in hand with Jesus Christ. His soul was sorrowful even unto death for those sins. He died for sin, shed His blood, and conquered death and the grave. Jesus Christ went through all the deaths you go through; and the sting of them He bore alone. We may feel, at times, something very sharp, like the sting of sin; but all the penal wrath of God Jesus bore, and took it out of the way. He grappled with death with eternal life, and conquered it, and His people with Him. When He died, they died; when He rose, they rose, by virtue of the representative life they had with Him in covenant; and they must actually die, and overcome death through eternal life in them, by virtue of vital union with Him. They must be crucified with Christ in the body of sin, and die to this world; but in their death they are not alone; for Jesus Christ has gone through the same before them. It is a great deal better to have Him with them than to be alone in death. He lived through death, and they live with Him. His grace is in them, His Spirit and life. Then "if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him." (Rom. 6:8)
"If we be dead with Christ," we shall feel the pains and pangs of death in the body of sin; if we are crucified with Him, we shall feel the nails. Crucifixion is death by starvation; but it means death in the end. It is dying that will last as long as we have any existence in this world. It is starvation and mortification of the old man with all his lusts. Who can look on the things of this life in their beauty and plenty, and not commit a breach of the commandment: "Thou shalt not covet?" Sin lingers in life, though it is nailed up to the cross of Christ. It is nailed there, "that henceforth we should not serve sin." (Rom. 6:6) We are fixed there so that we cannot get away. We may try to get out the nails; but that is impossible. How often we may have said we will read no more, pray no more; but we may as well say we will take no more food. Something in us requires food; and something in us requires the Word of God to eat.
Are you fixed somewhere, in a path where you are obliged to endure the mortification of your flesh, where you groan under sin, being burdened? Are you made to grapple with sin, that it should not "reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof?"
Sin is represented in this chapter and the 7th as a master, having dominion; and the apostle draws the figure of himself as a slave; and he says, "So then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me." It is not the servant who is blamed if his master orders him to do evil. In all law it is the master who is amenable for the act. "When I would do good, evil is present with me." "I am carnal; sold under sin"--sin is my master. "O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" But he has another nature, with which he thanks God through Jesus Christ. That is life, serving God.
"Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him." "For in that He died, He died unto sin once; but in that He liveth, He liveth unto God." (Rom. 6:10) So too, "it is appointed unto all men once to die;" (Heb. 9:27) once is enough. Those who die out of Christ, cannot live again. Those who are dead with Christ, when this crucifixion is over, will not be eternally separated from God. Our death will not hide His face from us for ever. That is what we fear; but that was the penal sentence Christ bore, and swallowed it up in victory. We must die in the body of sin once; and if we be dead with Christ, we shall also live with Him.
When our death is over, the life belonging to our existence in this world will be dissolved for ever, with all the worldly associations and ties with which Adam was created. Heaven is not this world in perfection, such as Adam had; as men dream. While the child of God lives, every tie to it is fast dissolving. How many have we less than we had twenty years ago! We should not like to go back twenty years, and pass through all the mortification and crucifixion over again. One death is enough. Others might be willing to start afresh; the child of God would not. When this life is over and the last hour comes, death is passed; then all the ties of this world are severed for ever; we have not then got to die. Life is before us; the life we had in Christ Jesus before the world began. Eternal life in the soul must live through all the deaths of this life; and then, poor sinner, "thy sun shall no more go down, and the days of thy mourning shall be ended." Then we shall live with Him without any death in us; what that is cannot be known till then. We shall live the same life that we live now by faith, that lives upon Jesus Christ alone, and is dead to this world. Jesus Christ is its all. The soul is fixed on Him, hungers and thirsts no more, and is satisfied with His likeness.