The Dead Man - Ephesians 2:1

by Richard Sibbes

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

THE matter of this excellent epistle is partly doctrinal and partly exhortatory, as it was St Paul's course in all his epistles to lay the foundation of practice in doctrine. The heart must be moved, but the brain must be instructed first. There is a sympathy between those two parts; as in nature, so in grace. The doctrinal part of the epistle sets out the riches of Christ—chiefly in the first chapter—in regard of the spring of them, God's eternal election. Then in this chapter, by way of comparison, by comparing the state of grace to the state of nature: 'You hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins.'

The dependence of this verse, I take it to be from the 19th verse of the first chapter. The apostle there prays that the Ephesians might have 'the eye of their understandings opened and enlightened,' that they might know, among other things, what the exceeding great power of God is towards us that believe: 'According to the working of his mighty power that he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead,' that they might have experience of that mighty power that raised Christ from the dead. Now, here in this chapter he saith, 'They were raised together with Christ, and set together with him in heavenly places.' His reason is in this manner: those that are raised up and quickened with Christ to sit in heavenly places with him, have experience of a mighty power; but you are raised up and quickened with Christ to sit in heavenly places with him; therefore you have experience of a mighty power that raised Christ, for those that are raised and quickened with Christ have experience of that power that Christ had when he was raised up.

The second thing that he intends especially in this chapter is, to shew that, being raised with Christ, they are brought nearer to God, both Jews and Gentiles, that of themselves were far off. Now, he shews that they 'were raised and quickened with Christ, and brought near to God in Christ,' that they might magnify the free grace of God in Christ—all is by grace—and thereupon to be stirred up to a suitable, comfortable, and gracious life. To come to the words, 'And you hath he quickened,' &c. They are an application of the former comfortable truths to them, 'you hath he quickened,' &c. These words, 'hath he quickened,' are not in the original in this place. They are after in verse 5, 'When we were dead in sins, he quickened us;' but they are put in in the translation, because they must be understood to make the full sense.

In the words consider these things:

First of all, here the apostle puts them in mind of their former condition.

And then he sets down in particular what it was: 'they were dead in trespasses and sins.'

Then he tells them wherein they were dead, what was the cause of their death, and the element wherein they were dead: 'in trespasses and sins.'

Lastly, Not in one trespass and in one sin, but 'in trespasses and sins.'

And then to speak a little of 'quickening,' to take it out of the 5th verse: 'You hath he quickened.' There is the benefit with the condition. That which I aim at is especially to shew our estate by nature, and how we are raised out of that. I shall touch the points briefly as I have propounded them.

1. St Paul here first minds them of their former condition—'You were dead in trespasses and sins,'—for contraries give lustre one to another; and it magnifies grace marvellously to consider the opposite condition. He that never knew the 'height, and breadth, and depth' of his natural corruption, will never be able to conceive 'the height, and breadth, and depth' of God's infinite love in Jesus Christ. St Paul had deep thoughts of both as ever man had; therefore he could never enter into the argument of abasing man and extolling the love of God in Christ, that he could satisfy himself, but his spirit carries him from one thing to another, till he set it out to the full. And every one of us should be skilful in this double mystery, the mystery of the corruption of nature, that is unsearchable. There is corruption in the heart that none knows but God only; and we must plough with his heifer, that carries a light into the hidden parts of the soul, and discovers corruption. There is a mystery of that as well as of the gospel, of our deliverance out of that cursed estate from the guilt and thraldom of it. I do but touch it only, to shew the scope of the apostle.

Now, besides the consideration of it for this end—to magnify the grace of God, and to understand what our former estate was the better—there are many other ends; as to stir up our thankfulness, when we consider from what we are delivered, to glorify God the more. There is no soul so enlarged to glorify God as that soul that hath large thoughts of its estate by nature; and that estate by nature made worse by custom, our second ill nature and bondage voluntary. Considering God's mercy in delivering and freeing us from all sins and trespasses, this will make us thankful indeed. And it is a spring of love to God. When we consider what great sins we have forgiven us, it will make us humble all the days of our lives and pitiful to others. But this may be handled fitter from another portion of Scripture. To come therefore to the words:

'Who were dead in trespasses and sins.'

Their condition is, 'they were dead.' The specification of their death, 'in sins and trespasses,' and not in one, but in 'sins and trespasses.' Here I might digress and tell you a discourse of life and death at large: every man knows by experience what they are. In a word, death is a privation of life. What is life? and whence ariseth it? Not to speak of the life of God,—God is life and Christ is life,—but of life in us, it ariseth from the soul. First there is a soul, and then a life from the union with that soul; and then there is a secret-kindled motion and operation outward wheresoever life is. Life in man, I say, springs from the soul. The soul hath a double life, a life in itself, and a life it communicates to the body. The life in itself it liveth when it is out of the body,—it hath an essential life of its own,—but the life of the body is derived from its union with the soul; and from that union comes lively motion and operation. The spiritual life of the soul is by the Spirit of Christ, when our soul hath union with the quickening Spirit of Christ, and by Christ's Spirit is joined to Christ, and by Christ to God, who is life itself, and the first fountain of all life: then we have a spiritual life. The Spirit is the soul of our souls; and this spiritual soul, this Spirit in us, is not idle. Wherever life is there is motion and operation inward and outward, suitable and proportionable to the fountain of life, the Spirit of God himself.

So on the contrary it is with death. What is death? Death is nothing else but a separation from the cause of life, from that from whence life springs. The body having a communicated life from the soul, when the soul is departed it must needs be dead. Now death, take it in a spiritual sense, it is either the death of law, our sentence,—as we say of a man when he is condemned, he is a dead man,—or death in regard of disposition; and then the execution of that death of sentence in bodily death and in eternal death afterward. Now naturally we are dead in all these senses.

1. First, By the sin of Adam, in whose loins we were, we were all damned. There was a sentence of death upon all Adam's rotten race; as we say, damnati antequam nati, we were damned before we were born, as soon as we had a being in our mother's womb, by reason of our communion with Adam in that first sin.

And then there is corruption of nature as a punishment of that first sin, that is a death, as we shall see afterward, a death of all the powers: we cannot act and move according to that life that we had at the first; we cannot think; we cannot will; we cannot affect*; we cannot do anything [that] savours of spiritual life.

2. Hereupon comes a death of sentence upon us, being damned both in Adam's loins and in original sin, and likewise adding actual sins of our own. If we had no actual sin it were enough for the sentence of death to pass upon us, but this aggravates the sentence.

3. We are dead in law as well as in disposition. This death in law is called guilt, a binding over to eternal death. It breeds horror and terrors in the soul for the present, which are the flashes of hell-fire, and expectation of worse, even of the 'second death,' for the time to come, which is an eternal separation from God for ever—an eternal lying under the wrath and curse of God in body and soul, after they are united at the resurrection,—because we would sin eternally if we did live eternally here. And, no satisfaction being made for man after death, there must be an eternal sentence and punishment upon him. A terrible condition! If we were not afraid of the first death, we should be afraid of the second death that follows. 'We are all dead in trespasses and sins.'

Now what is the reason of it why we are dead?

First of all, The ground of it is: by sin we are separated from the fountain of life; therefore we are all dead.

Secondly, By sin we lost that first original righteousness which was comproduced with Adam's soul. When Adam's soul was infused, it was clothed with all graces, with original righteousness. The stamp of God was on his soul. It was co-natural to that estate and condition to have that excellent gracious disposition that he had. Now, because we all lost that primitive image and glory of our souls, we are dead.

We are dead likewise, not only in regard of the time past, but for the time to come. No man by nature hath fellowship with the second Adam till he be grafted into him by faith, which is a mere* supernatural thing. In these regards every man naturally is dead.

Nay, sin itself, it is not only a cause of death,—of temporal death as it is a curse, and so of eternal death; of that bitter sentence and adjudging of us too, both that we feel in terrors of conscience and expect after,—but sin itself is an intrinsecal death. Why? Because it is nothing but a separation of the soul from the chief good, which is God, and a cleaving to some creature; for there is no sin but it carries the soul to the changeable creature in delight and affection to its pride and vanity, one thing or other. Sin is a turning from God to the creature, and that very turning of the soul is death: every sinful soul is dead. In these and the like considerations you may conceive we are all dead.

'And you hath he quickened who were dead,' &c.

Let us consider a little what a condition this is, to be 'dead in trespasses and sins.' Not to speak of the danger of the death of sentence, when a man by the state of nature lies under the wrath of God, that hangs over his head and is ready to crush him every moment, but to speak of that death that seizeth upon our dispositions, we are dead by nature. And what doth death work upon the body?

1. Unactiveness, stiffness; so when the Spirit of God is severed from the soul it is cold, and unactive, and stiff. Therefore those that find no life to that that is good, no, nor no power nor strength, it is a sign that they have not yet felt the power of the quickening Spirit; when they hear coldly and receive the sacrament coldly, as if it were a dead piece of work and business; when they do anything that is spiritually good coldly and forced, not from an inward principle of love to God, that might heat and warm their hearts, but they go about it as a thing that must be done, and think to satisfy God with an outward dead action.

2. Again, death makes the body unlovely. Abraham would buy a piece of ground that he might bury his dead out of his sight; he could not endure the sight of his own beloved wife when she was dead. Death takes away the beauty and the honour that God hath put upon the body, so that it is not honourable to those that behold it after death. The image of God stamped upon the soul of man by the Spirit, it is the glory of a man; after sin it is an unlovely soul. 'We are all deprived of the glory of God,' as St Paul saith, Rom. 3:23.

3. And not only so, but there is a loathsomeness contrary to that honour that was in it before. Though all art and skill be used that may be to set out a dead body,—with flowers, or whatsoever you will,—to please the fancy of the living, yet it is but a dead body, and the stench will be above all other sweet smells. So let any natural man be as witty, and as learned, and as great, and as rich as you will, or as he can be set out with all these ornaments and flowers, yet he is but a carrion, a loathsome creature to God, if his soul be separate from God and inwardly cleave to the creature. If he have not a new heart, he is abominable and loathsome to God, and to all that have the Spirit of God. A dead soul is abominable to all God's senses. The scripture thus familiarly condescends unto us; he will not behold him. 'He looks upon the proud afar off,' Isa. 2:12. And he smells no favour* from their performances, 'The very sacrifice of the wicked is abominable,' Isa. 1:13. He looks upon them as we do upon a dunghill, as a loathsome thing: 'The prayers of the wicked are an abomination to God,' Prov. 28:9; he turns away his face from them, he cannot endure them. And for his ears, 'He will not hear the prayers of the wicked.' And for feeling, he is wearied with their sins, 'as a cart is with sheaves,' Amos 2:13. Nay, he is wearied with their very good actions, as it is Isa. 1:8, seq. Whatsoever wicked men perform, it is abominable to God; he cannot behold them; he cannot endure them; he is burdened with their sins; and those also that have the Spirit of God in them, as far as they see the foulness of their sins, they loathe them.

But herein a wicked man agrees with a dead body: a dead body is not loathsome to itself. So take a carnal man, he pranks up himself; he thinks himself a jolly man; especially when he is set out in his flowers,—those things that he begs of the creatures,—he sees not his loathsomeness; he thinks himself a brave man in the world, in the place he lives in; and he hath base conceits of others, of God, and all things of God. Dead men are not loathsome to themselves, because they want senses. As in a prison, the noisome savour is not offensive to them, because they are all acquainted with it; it hath seized upon and possessed their senses. So wicked men they smell no ill savour and scent, one from another, because they are all dead persons. One dead man is not loathsome to another; as a company of prisoners they are not offended with the noisomeness of one another.

4. Again, we sever dead persons from the rest. So, indeed, a dead soul, as he is severed from God, so, de jure, he should be severed from the company of others. There should be a separation; and as soon as the life of grace is begun, there will be a separation between the living and the dead. 'Let the dead follow the dead, and bury the dead,' saith our Saviour in the gospel, Mat. 8:22.

5. Where bodily death is it deprives of all senses. There is no use of any, either of the eye or tongue, &c. It makes them speechless. So he that is spiritually a dead man, he can speak nothing that is savoury and good of spiritual things. If he doth, he is out of his element. If he speak of good things, he speaks with the spirit of another man. If he speak of the writings of other men, it is with the spirit of the writer. He cannot speak to God in praise, or to others in experience of the work of grace, because he hath a dead soul. Put him to his own arguments, to talk of vanity, to swear, or to talk of the times, you shall have him in his theme; but to talk of God and divine things, unless it be to swear by them and to scorn good things, he cannot. He is speechless there; it is not his theme. And as he is speechless, so he hath no spiritual eyes to see God in his works. There is nothing that we see with our bodily eyes, but our souls should have an eye to see somewhat of God in it; his mercy and goodness and power, &c. And so he hath no relish to taste of God in his creatures and mercies. When a man tastes of the creatures, he should have a spiritual taste of God and of the mercy in him. Oh how sweet is God! A wicked man hath no taste of God. And he cannot hear what the Spirit saith in the word. He hears the voice of man, but not of the Spirit when the trumpet of the word sounds never so loud in his ears. These things ought not to be over much pressed. Much curiosity must not be used in them, but because the Holy Ghost raiseth the proportion from these things, something must be said of them.

6. As there is no sense nor moving to outward things, so no outward thing can move a dead body. Offer him colours to the eye, food to the taste, or anything to the feeling, nothing moves him. So a dead soul, as it cannot move to good, so it is moved with nothing. That that affects a child of God, and makes him tremble and quake, it affects not a carnal man at all.

7. And as in bodily death, the longer it is dead, the more noisome and offensive it is every day more than other, so sin it makes the soul more loathsome and noisome daily, till they have filled up the measure of their sins, till the earth can bear them no longer. We say of a dead body it is heavy; so dead souls, I am sure, they are heavy, heavy to God, and to Christ that died for sin, and heavy in themselves. They sink to earthly things in their affections, and thereby they sink lower and lower to hell, and never leave sinking till they be there. As the life of grace is like the sun when it riseth, it grows still till it come to full perfection, till it come to the life of glory, so, on the contrary, this death is a death that is more and more increased in the loathsomeness and noisomeness of it every way; so that the longer a carnal man lives, the more guilt he contracts. 'A child of a hundred years old,' Isaiah 65:20, as the prophet saith, the longer he lives, the more vengeance is stored for him; 'he treasures vengeance up against the day of vengeance,' Rom. 2:5, and it is a curse for a man in his natural estate to live long, for he grows more and more abominable every way. These things help to understand the Scripture, and therefore so far we may well think of them.

If this be so, I beseech you let us learn to know what we are by nature, not to make ourselves in our own conceits better than indeed we are. We judge of ourselves as we are to civil things. A man that hath natural parts, that can discourse and understand the mysteries of law and of the state, we value men by these. Alas! poor soul, thou mayest be dead for all this. What are all these abilities for? Are they not for the spiritual life? What is this to the life of grace? They only blow thee up with pride, and set thee further off, and make thee incapable of grace. If thou talk of learning, the devil is a better scholar than any man. He knows matters of state and other things better than thou dost, and yet he is a devil for all that. Therefore never stand upon these things. But there is a company that are more to blame than these. One would think that these have something to be proud of, that they might set themselves against God and goodness; but there is a generation that have little in them, that yet think themselves the only men in loose licentious life, despising all, caring for none, and think it the only life to live as they list, to go where they list, in what companies they list, to have bounds of their own. These think themselves the only men, when indeed they are nobody; they are dead, loathsome creatures. It is the mercy of God that the ground doth not sink under them; and yet they carry themselves as if they only were alive.

Again, if we be all dead by nature, and there ought to be a separation of the living from the dead, let us take heed in our amity and society, that we converse not with natural men too much, that have not spiritual goodness in them; that we converse not with them with delight and complacency. It is a tyrannical thing to knit dead and living bodies together, and he was accounted a tyrant that did so. Surely, in choosing our society, conjugal or friendly, any intimate society, to join living and dead souls together, we are tyrants to our own souls. We wrong our souls to join with dead persons; who would converse with dead corses and corpses?* The very creatures startle at the sight of a dead body; nature startles at that that is dead. If we had the life of grace, further than the necessity of civil conversation, and the hope of bettering them forceth it upon us, we would have no society with those that we see are in the state of nature. What issues from them but stench? eyes full of adultery; nothing that is pleasing can come from them; nothing can come from all their senses but rottenness and stench. What comfort can a man that loves his own soul, and hath any desire to be saved, have by intimate converse with such persons? Let them have never so good parts, they hurt more one way than they do good another. You see we are all dead by nature, and what this death is.

Obj. But you will say there is a difference between natural death and spiritual death; for in natural bodily death there is no moving, but in this spiritual death of the soul men have senses and motion, &c.

Ans. It is true thus far they differ; though a man be spiritually dead, yet notwithstanding he hath feet to carry him to the house of God; he hath ears to hear the word of God; he hath abilities of nature upon which grace is founded. God works grace upon nature. Now a man living in the church of God, that is a grace when a man hath grace to live within the compass of the means. He can, by common grace, without any inward change of nature, come and hear the word of God; and when he is there, he may yield an ear to listen, and he hath common discourse and understanding to know what is said, and upon what ground. He can offer himself to the work of the Spirit; he can come to the pool, though he be not thrust in this day or that day, when God stirs the waters. This, by common grace, any man living in the church may do.

Therefore, though we be all dead, even the best of us, by nature, yet let us use the parts of nature that we have, that God hath given us, to offer ourselves to the gracious and blessed means wherein the Spirit of God may work. Let us come to hear the word of God: John 5:25, 'The time is come, and now is, that the dead shall hear the voice of God,' where the voice of God is in the ministry, 'and so they shall live.' As in the latter day the noise of the trumpet shall raise the dead bodies, so the trumpet of the word of God, sounding in the ears of men, together with the Spirit, shall raise the dead souls out of the grave of sin. Therefore I beseech you, as you would be raised up out of this death, hear the noise of God's trumpet. Come within the compass of the means. As God is the God of life, and Christ calls himself the life, and the Spirit the Spirit of life, so the word 'is the word of life,' because, together with the word, God conveys spiritual life. The word of God in the ordinance is an operative, working word. As it was in the creation, God said, 'Let there be light, and there was light,' so in the ministry it exhorts and stirs up to duty; and there is a clothing of the ministerial word with an almighty power. It is a working word; as when Christ spake to Lazarus when he stank in his grave, he said, 'Lazarus, come forth,' it was an operative working word. There went an almighty power to raise Lazarus. Therefore, though we find ourselves dead, and have no work of grace, yet let us present ourselves more and more to the ordinance of God. God will be mighty in his own ordinance. The blessed time may come; let us wait when the waters are stirred, and take heed that we despise not the counsel of God, which is to bring man to spiritual life this way.

And object not, I am dead and rotten in sin many years; I am an old man.

You know many were raised in the Gospel; some that had been dead few days. Lazarus was rotten, and stank. It shews us that though a man be dead and rotten in sin, yet he may be raised first or last. The blessed time may come, therefore wait. Never pretend long custom and long living in sin. All things are in obedience to God. Though they have a resistance in themselves, yet God can take away that resistance, and bring all to obey him. All things in the world, though they be never so opposite to God's grace, they are in obedience to his command. Therefore though there be nothing but actual present resistance in the soul to that that is good, and a slavery to the bondage of sin, yet attend meekly upon the ordinance. God can make of lions lambs; he can take away that actual resistance. As Christ, when he was raised, the stone that lay upon the grave was removed, so when God will quicken a man, he will remove the stone of long custom that is upon him. Though he have been dead so many years, yet God can roll away the stone, and bid him rise up. Therefore let none despair. God is more merciful to save those that belong to him, than Satan can be malicious to hinder any way.

The best of us all, though we be not wholly dead, yet there are some relics of spiritual death hanging upon us, there be corruptions which in themselves are noisome. Therefore let all attend upon the means, that the Spirit of God by little and little may work out the remainders of death, the remainders of death in our understandings, and of rebellion in our wills and affections. For there be usually three degrees of persons in the church of God. Some open rotten persons, that are as graves, open sepulchres, that their stink comes forth, and they are profane ones. There are some that have a form of godliness that are merely ghosts; that act things outwardly, but they have not a spirit of their own. They have an evil spirit and yet do good works. They walk up and down, and do things with no spirit of their own. The second are more tolerable than the first in human society; because the other stink and smell to common society: common swearers and profane persons, that stink to any except it be to themselves. But the godly have this death in part. The life of sentence is perfect, the life of justification; but spiritual life in us is by little and little wrought in the means. The Spirit of life joins with the word of life, and quickens us daily more and more. A word of these words,

'And you hath he quickened.'

Suitable to the occasion.* This being our estate, let us know how much we are beholding to God who 'hath quickened us.' God quickens us with Christ and in Christ. It is a comfortable consideration, in that God hath quickened Christ and raised him from the grave, it shews that his Father's wrath is pacified, or else he would not have quickened him. He gave him to death, and quickened him again; therefore we may know that he hath paid the price for us. And he quickens us with Christ and in Christ. Whatsoever we have that is good, it is in Christ first: 'That Christ in all things might have the pre-eminence,' Col. 1:18. Christ first rose and ascended and sits in heaven, and then we rise, and ascend, 'and sit in heavenly places, with Christ.'* Therefore, as St Peter saith well in 1 Peter 1:20, 'God hath raised Christ, that our faith might be in God.' If Christ had not been raised up, our faith and hope could not have been in God that he would raise us up. We are quickened and raised in Christ. All is in Christ first, and then in us. The ground of this is, that Christ was a public person in all that he did in his death; therefore we are crucified and buried with him; in his resurrection and ascension, therefore, we are quickened with him, 'and sit in heavenly places with him.' He is the 'second Adam.' And if the first Adam could convey death to so many thousands so many thousand years after, and if the world should continue millions of years he would convey death to all, shall not Christ, the second Adam, convey life to all that are in him? So think of all things, both comfortable and uncomfortable, in Christ first. When we think of sin, think of it in him our surety; and when we think of freedom from death and damnation, think of his death. When we think of our resurrection, think of his when he rose again. In his resurrection, the acquittance from our sins was sealed. Thereby we know that the debt is paid, because he rose again. Let us see an acquittance of all in the resurrection. And if we think of the glory that God hath reserved for us, think of it in Christ. See Christ glorious first, and we in him. See Christ at the right hand of God, and we in him. Carry Christ along with us in our contemplations. We are quickened with Christ. Christ takes away all the deaths I spake of before. Christ by his resurrection took away the death of sentence. He rose again for our justification, 'so that now there is no condemnation to them that are in Christ,' Rom. 8:1. So again in regard of that deadly disposition that is in us, Christ quickens us in regard of that, by infusing grace by his Spirit, for Christ is an universal principle of all life. Now Christ, by his death pacifying his Father, obtained the Spirit, and by that Spirit, which he infuseth as a principle of life, he more and more quickens our nature, and makes it better and better, till it be perfect in heaven. As Adam was a principle of death, and the more we live in the state of nature, the worse we are, till we come to hell, so when we are in Christ, the Spirit sanctifies us more and more, till he have brought us to perfection. And as we are quickened from the death of sentence and of disposition, so we are quickened in regard of that hope of glory that we have. For now in Christ we are in heaven already; and though there come bodily death between, yet notwithstanding, that is but a fitting us for glory. The body is but fitted and moulded in the grave for glory. This very consideration will quicken a man in death: my head is in heaven above water, therefore the body shall not be long under water. And faith makes that that is to come present, and affects the soul comfortably. Christ is in heaven already, and I am there in Christ; and I shall be there as verily as he is there. I am there de jure, and de facto I shall be there. In these considerations, Christ quickens us. Therefore, saith St Peter, 'Blessed be God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath begotten us again through the resurrection of Christ from the dead to a lively hope of an inheritance immortal,' &c. We are begotten again to this inheritance by the resurrection of Christ, who is risen again to quicken himself and all his. The consideration of this should affect us as it did St Peter, 'to bless God.'

Now all this quickening power ariseth from our union with Christ. We must have a being in Christ before we can have comfort by death with him or by rising with him. Our union with Christ springs from faith. Faith is cherished by the sacrament. The word and sacrament beget faith. Faith unites us to Christ. Union with Christ makes us partake of his death and the benefits of it, and of his resurrection and ascension to glory. Therefore the more we attend upon this ordinance of the word, and the seal of the word, the sacrament, the more our faith is increased; for God invites us to communion and fellowship with Christ, and all his benefits and favours; and the more we find faith assured of Christ, the more union and fellowship we have with Christ; and the more we feel that, the more Christ is a quickening Spirit, quickening us with the life of grace here, and the hope of glory afterward. Therefore let us comfortably attend upon the ordinance of God sanctified for this purpose, to strengthen this our union with Christ.

Sibbes, Richard. The Works of Richard Sibbes.


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