Spurgeon explains what it means to be legally dead before God (from a sermon on John 5:40, “You refuse to come to me that you may have life”).
No being needs to go after life if he has life in himself. The text speaks very strongly when it says, “Ye will not come unto me, that ye might have life.” Though it saith it not in words, yet it doth in effect affirm that men need a life more than they have themselves. My hearers, we are all dead unless we have been begotten unto a lively hope. First, we are all of us, by nature, legally dead—”In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt die the death,” said God to Adam; and though Adam did not die in that moment naturally, he died legally; that is to say death was recorded against him. As soon as, at the Old Bailey, the judge puts on the black cap and pronounces the sentence, the man is reckoned to be dead at law. Though perhaps a month may intervene before he is brought on the scaffold to endure the sentence of the law, yet the law looks upon him as a dead man. It is impossible for him to transact anything. He cannot inherit, he cannot bequeath; he is nothing—he is a dead man…We ought all to weep, if we lay this to our souls: that by nature we have no life in God’s sight; we are actually, positively condemned; death is recorded against us, and we are considered in ourselves now, in God’s sight, as much dead as if we were actually cast into hell; we are condemned here by sin, we do not yet suffer the penalty of it, but it is written against us, and we are legally dead, nor can we find life unless we find legal life in the person of Christ, of which more by-and-by.
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