Eternal Life

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This immense privilege given to the believer let us weigh as scripture presents it. Always of the deepest moment, the assertion of its truth is more than ever called for, as will appear to faithful men before this paper closes. The spirit of error boldly opposes the Spirit of truth. Christ Himself is not only imperiled but misrepresented and undermined by the error; and error against the Son is of all things hateful to the Father. How dear to the Christian should be the truth!
For Christ is revealed to be, not only the true God, but life eternal (1 John 5:2020And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life. (1 John 5:20)). The Father raises the dead and quickens (John 5:2121For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them; even so the Son quickeneth whom he will. (John 5:21)); and so does the Holy Spirit, as Rom. 8 shows variously; but it is emphatically said of Him who is image of the invisible God and object of faith to man. He, the eternal Word, became flesh and tabernacled among us, full of grace and truth. For of His fullness we all received, and grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came into being through Jesus Christ. No one has seen God at any time; the Only-begotten Son that is in the bosom of the Father, He declared [Him] (John 1:14-1814And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. 15John bare witness of him, and cried, saying, This was he of whom I spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for he was before me. 16And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace. 17For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. 18No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him. (John 1:14‑18)). Hence the apostle (2 Tim. 1:1010But is now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel: (2 Timothy 1:10)) lays it down that Christ annulled death and brought to light life and incorruption through the gospel. Only then and thus were they revealed in Him personally, through His work and by words He spoke, spirit and life to His own.
In the O.T. the light as to this shone dimly, the expressions were comparatively vague, yet enough to convey a real sense of a blessed state of future being for those who truly received the testimony of God. This is certain from the Synoptists as well as John's Gospel: Matt. 19:1616And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? (Matthew 19:16), Mark 10:3030But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life. (Mark 10:30); also Luke 10:2525And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? (Luke 10:25), and John 5:3939Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. (John 5:39). Abel's faith testifies the death of another for the need of his soul. Was it lost on others? The translation of Enoch bore witness to a life in heaven, as he had walked in that life on earth before God took him. Was this too without help as to life for saints after him? When Abraham said to God, O, that Ishmael might live before thee! we can hardly imagine that he thought only of the earth and present things. Certainly “Thou wilt make known to me the path of life” conveyed far more (Psa. 16:1111Thou wilt show me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore. (Psalm 16:11)), and such words as “With thee is the fountain of life: in thy light shall we see light” (36:9).
The direct source of what even Jews owned in our Lord's day was presumably such scriptures as the last verse of Psa. 133 “life for evermore,” and the exact phrase in Dan. 12:22And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. (Daniel 12:2), as has often been remarked. Nor ought we to doubt that the revelation of grace which man heard at the fall itself gave assurance to repentant hearts, from the outset of his sad history, that the coming Seed of the woman would not only crush the mischievous power of evil but bless saints who looked to God through him with a new life victorious over death and capable of enjoying Himself in peace. Abraham exulted that he should see Christ's day; and he saw and rejoiced. The resurrection of the just was before Job (19:25-27), no less than of the unjust (14:10-12), the one connected with the Kinsman Redeemer's standing up on the last day on this earth of dust, as the other is with even the heavens being no more.
Thus from the O.T. we gather that life everlasting by psalm and prophet was bound up with Messianic days of power and glory. The Lord in Matt. 25:4646And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal. (Matthew 25:46) enlarged the Jewish expectation so as to embrace equally those saints of all the nations who receive the messengers of the gospel of the kingdom at the end of the age. Said generally of Israel, it is expressly applied to the believers of the ten tribes so long sleeping in the dust, and to those of the nations who believe at that time. It seemed needless to say it of the God-fearing Jewish remnant.
All this remains true; but it is not all the truth. Now comes that which is distinctive of Christianity. Here we find a rich part of the “better thing” God foresaw for us. It was reserved for Him Who was worthy, Whose personal dignity it suited, through Whom grace and truth assumed subsistence and shape, to make known present life, in the Gospel which starts with the Son unknown to the world and rejected by His own people. To Nicodemus, as far as revelation speaks, it was first divulged, and this when he was but an enquirer, stirred in conscience but not yet born anew. The Lord, correcting his ignorance in view of what the Jewish teacher ought to have known from the ancient oracles for the earthly things of the kingdom, presents Himself come in flesh as the sole way to the Father by faith. How adequate a Witness was He who says of Himself that no one has gone up to heaven save He who came down out of it, the Son of man that is (not that “was” merely) in heaven! “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that every one that believeth on him may have life eternal. For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that every one that believeth on him may not perish but have life eternal” (John 3:14-1614And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: 15That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. 16For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:14‑16)). Thus the positive blessing is the gift of life eternal, followed up by the assurance of “not perishing” and being “saved” (ver. 17), as flowing from divine grace. The believer was brought in Christ to receive known life, a life eternal capable of knowing and enjoying God Himself.
If John 4:1414But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life. (John 4:14) speaks of the Holy Spirit as given the believer to be “in him a fountain of water, springing up unto life eternal” (inward power rising up to its fullness), John 5 opens the source. It is not healing sin-sick man wants, but life. Angelic visitation is quite insufficient; He was present Who is Son of God and Son of man. Jesus gives life in communion with the Father. He received as Son of God quickens; if rejected, He solely judges by-and-by as Son of man. Thus is there also a twofold resurrection to come: one of life for those who practiced good (the issue of divine life); the other of judgment for those that did evil (as dead in trespasses and sins). If they believed not on the Son of God, they cannot escape Him when He executes judgment as Son of man. “Verily, verily, I say to you, He that heareth my word and believeth Him that sent me hath life eternal, and cometh not into judgment, but hath passed out of death into life” (ver. 24). Here revelation is explicit that the believer on Christ has life eternal. It is not future only, but his present possession. It is not surer that he does not come into judgment than that he has passed out of death into life eternal. Verse 25 is precise with the same solemn asseveration. “Verily, verily, I say to you, An hour is coming and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live.” Hearing Him and consequently “now” is pointedly distinguished from His voice afterward calling from the tombs specifically, first those who share the first resurrection, and next such as are raised for judgment or the second death. How solemn a word for such as searched the scriptures, thinking that in them they had life eternal! In fact the scriptures bore witness concerning Jesus; yet would the Jews not come to Him that they might have life. For in Him, not in them, was life; and the life is the light of men.
John 6 appropriately follows, setting aside, not only every other object, but even for the present His own Messianic glory according to promise and prophecy. Jesus is shown to be the true bread which the Father gives out of heaven. It is Himself incarnate, the bread of life; so that every one that beholds the Son and believes on Him should have life eternal, and as a distinct but sure consequence, be raised up by Him at the last day. This elicits the deepening unbelief of the Jews, and the Lord again solemnly affirms “Verily, verily, I say to you, He that believeth hath life eternal.” But He goes on to the gift of His flesh, not for Israel only, but for the life of the world. As the Jews contended yet more, He said, “Verily, verily, I say to you, Unless ye shall have eaten the flesh of the Son of man and drunk His blood, ye have no life in yourselves. He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath life eternal, and I will raise him up at the last day.” The possession of life eternal is most real now, the result for the body no less sure and glorious, as the full victory of life in Christ over death.
It should be borne in mind however that John speaks also of life eternal in the final sense, as in 4:14, 5:39, 6:27, 12:25.
Knowing in Himself that not Jews only but His disciples were murmuring at a word so foreign to Jewish thought, Jesus said, “Does this offend you? If then ye should behold the Son of man ascending where he was before?” It is Himself again, not incarnate only, nor in death, but going up to heaven; a move traversing all Jewish expectation, once Messiah was here. But it is the characteristic of Christianity there to know Him, though given to another apostle to develop as connected with the mystery concerning Christ and the church. Here the great truth is the Son of man, not as Judge of quick and dead, but meanwhile the food of Christian faith, and the means of having eternal life now, while awaiting its crown at the last day, and without loss of either for a single soul that believed, in bright contrast with the present ruin of Messianic hopes so withering to Jewish hearts. To receive the incarnate Son rejected by the Jews was to have life eternal. Yet He must die to glorify God and deliver sinful man; and so faith eats His flesh and drinks His blood. Unbelief might seem to welcome Him incarnate, but betrays its opposition to God and its rest in humanitarianism by stumbling at the still deeper grace, humiliation, and judgment of sin in order to bring in a new state, of which the possession of life eternal now is the pledge, and that completed state the blessed and sure result. His words are indeed spirit and are life.
In John 7 as in chap. 4 we hear not of “life” exactly, but of “living water” which is more, being the Spirit in power: the one as a fountain within springing up, power for worship, the other as rivers flowing out, power for testimony to Him who, refused by the Jews, is already glorified at God's right hand.
In chaps. 8 and 9, the Lord is fully revealed and rejected, first in His word and so in His divine nature and His Person; secondly in His work when become flesh, and so operating that those confident and proud of their sight are blinded judicially, and that those who saw not, being born blind, see clearly according to God. Here we have in both chapters Christ the light of the world, with the blessed effect, for him that follows Him, of having “the light of life” (8:12). It is not only knowing Christ but having Him as his life, the light of men. Now is the great need of it, and here in this world of darkness, whatever may be soon for the fullness of bright enjoyment on high. But the subject called for no more than, “Verily, verily, I say to you, If any one shall keep my word he shall never behold (or, taste) death” (51, 52). Figurative terms he employs, but in the strongest way He claims to give a life superior to death through His word kept, as Satan murders through his lie. Christ is the light of life.
Chap. 10 is more simple and definite. “The thief cometh not but that he may steal and kill and destroy; I came that they might have life and might have [it] abundantly” (ver. 10). Incarnate, He was life, and gave it to the believer; but when He died and rose, it was His life in resurrection power, with all the offenses forgiven (Col. 2:1313And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; (Colossians 2:13)). Truly it was life abundantly, and marked on the resurrection day by His breathing on His own, as He is never shown to do before (John 20:2222And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: (John 20:22)). As in all previous cases, the birth is said to be not only of the word (typified by water) but the Spirit, so now He said, Receive ye the Holy Spirit, for indeed such was its character, though the Paraclete was not yet given to dwell in them in personal power. And there the non-imputation of sin is impressively implied by His investing them with the administrative function of remitting or retaining the sins of others as the occasion might require in God's service. It is an important accession, and here distinctly announced, as well as significantly fulfilled, as we have seen. His Person and His work are the key.
In a further discourse of the same chapter our Lord explains to the Jews why they refused all evidence and witness. “But ye believe not, because ye are, not my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. And I give to them life eternal; and they shall never perish, and no one shall seize them out of my hand; My Father who hath given them to me, is greater than all; and no one is able to seize out of the Father's hand. I and the Father are one” (vers. 26-30). Here indefeasible security is assured: neither inner failure nor outer force could jeopardize their life; it is maintained by the Father and the Son, who were not more truly one in divine nature than in loving care for the sheep.
In chap. 11:25 Jesus declares, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Of this the resurrection of Lazarus, dead and buried, was a bright testimony. If it be said that this raising up was but to natural life, His words that follow look forward beyond doubt to its final perfection. “He that believeth on me, though he have died, shall live; and everyone that liveth and believeth on me shall never die.” So will it be at His coming. The dead believer shall be raised, and so live as to the body evermore; the living believer shall not die, but have mortality swallowed up of life. The phrase “eternal life” is not here used; but this it is, and in full conformity to Himself even bodily, for heavenly and everlasting glory. Again, in chap. 12:50 says the Lord, “I know that His (the Father's) commandment is life eternal.” This the Father gave Him, what He should say and speak. Eternal life, not providential care nor governmental dealings, was the blessed subject-matter of the Father's injunction and of the Son's gracious declaration. If He and His words in grace so rich were not received by any, that word which He spoke should judge him at the last day.
The Lord in chap. 14:6 says to Thomas words divinely suited to banish his gloom and readiness to stick at difficulties, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” In seeing the Son they had seen the Father whom He declared and made known. Thus then He Himself was the way to the Father, as He was the living word or the truth, and also the life, the divine nature which alone knows and enjoys Him as God and Father. And this is so true, as the Holy Spirit when given would enable the disciples fully to apprehend, that Christ does not hesitate to say in vers. 19, 20, “because I live, ye also shall live.” How truly is He our life In that day ye shall know (γν.) that I [am] in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you.” Their beholding Jesus in that day would be in no way a physical fact, such as the Jews will have of the Messiah, but in the Spirit; and so is their life, and such is their knowledge as Christians, that Christ is in the Father, they in Him (as is marked in the Epistle to the Ephesian saints),1 and He in them (equally so in that to the Colossians): 2 the true and distinctive knowledge, and privilege of the Christian.
If John 15 opens with fruit bearing as due to the Father and flowing from our abiding in Christ, and is followed by preparing the disciples for the world's hatred, yet to be strengthened by the Spirit's witness whom Christ should send from the Father, in addition to what they heard and saw from the beginning, chap. 16 dwells on the action of the present Spirit toward the world and in the saints. But in chap. 17:2, 3 we have the Son, the Second man, with authority given Him by the Father, and the special object of giving life eternal to all those given to Him. “And this is the life eternal, that they should know (γιν.) thee, the only true. God and Jesus Christ whom thou didst send.” His work, like His glorifying His Father on the earth follows and is distinct; His giving eternal life precedes as attaching to faith in His Person, whatever the added power when He rose from the dead.
Here too it is objectively presented, though generally applied to our subjective state. For the Lord speaks of what forms and characterizes it to our faith in its full Christian import. Those have the eternal life now who receive the wondrous revelation, in manifest contrast with Jewish thoughts of Jehovah and His Anointed. As yet He had dwelt in the thick darkness. Not till the Father was revealed in the Son whom He sent as man was the true God known. And He is thus to be known as the Lord had already shown by the power of the Spirit to be sent forth. Higher, deeper, nearer than this (when the Lord adds His going on high after the work was completed) God Himself, be it said reverently, could not go; and this now constitutes to us life eternal as objective revelation. Heavenly counsels in their immense scope were left for the Spirit to reveal by the apostle chosen in sovereign grace, when redemption would fit the believers to receive what they could not then bear. But here the Lord concentrates His teaching into a few simple words of marvelous depth, as bringing His own into the communion of the Father and of the Son which transcends all other relations, about to be definitely made theirs on His resurrection day (John 20:1717Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God. (John 20:17)).
Here it is not only life eternal such as Christ gave when souls believed on Him in the days of His flesh, but in its full development for the Christian. In no case is it natural life but supernatural, not of man but of God, not a restoration of the life which Adam had unfallen, but life in the Son, the life of the Second man, not the first. Every saint that ever lived to God had this life, for none ever lived to God save of the life the Son gave, He object of the faith of all the faithful, though only when come revealed as the Son of the living God, the Only-begotten Son of the Father. The life that it was in Him which quickened those who believe could and did through Him in communion with the Father acquire its fullest character, when He was manifested in flesh, and, we may add looking to His glorification, not simply on the ground of His Person but on that of His work which avails for us as well as every other purpose of God. Hence the emphasis laid here on “the eternal life,” and its declared character as giving the knowledge of the Father, and His Son whom He sent, Jesus Christ.
The knowledge of the Father and of His Son Jesus already sent is in effect the possession of life eternal; they are inseparable. But it was not, throughout the O. T. so characterized nor could be, till the Son of God was come and had given us an understanding to know Him that is true, as is implied in the verse before us. Yet none the less were all saints born of God; only if now, Christ gave this title to those that believe on His name (John 1:12, 1312But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: 13Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12‑13)). Yet Himself laid down (Luke 20:35, 3635But they which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage: 36Neither can they die any more: for they are equal unto the angels; and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection. (Luke 20:35‑36)) that all saints “are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection” i.e. from out of dead men, the “first” and “better” resurrection of life. They were born of the Spirit and thus had life as truly as we, though they understood it not. But God was pleased to mark it as life eternal when Christ was received in His rejection, and yet more in His ascension glory. But it was life eternal all through, though suitably so designated according to the new revelation. And Christ gives it now in this present character and fullness. The gospel brought it to light and in power through resurrection; but it was ever in the Son, and believers had it in Him, in unbroken connection with its source.
A few words more may be cited from John (20:31), the apostle's comment on the selected signs, rather than many others not written, which the Lord did before His disciples. “But these are written that ye may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing ye may have life in his name.” Scripture is all the more perfect, because God's design excludes what is not needed to render His mind clear, no matter how excellent might be any other deeds or words. An unneeded addition, however in itself excellent, would have been really a defect. Nor is the best of men capable of carrying out the design save as inspired of God to write. But here the aim as to the readers is plainly stated. The first of all divine claims is to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; the first of all blessed issues is to have life in His name. It is the eternal life, or life everlasting, as the Lord called it often not only in chap. 17:2, 3, but in 3, 5, 6, 10, & 12. It was always such substantially, though wise and fitting to reserve the known gift of it now for the rejected Christ. He imparts this new, everlasting and divine being; and the believer receives it, in virtue of which he is to be glorified with Christ. But even now He is a life-giving Spirit. The glorious result for the body awaits His coming again.
In the two short Epistles of John love and truth are applied in divine wisdom, and set forth richly in his First Epistle where life eternal is found afresh, the governing principle throughout. As wisdom in Prov. 8 points to Christ, so does the life eternal in the grand introduction here. “What was from [the] beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we beheld, and our hands handled, concerning the Word of life (and the life was manifested, and we have seen and bear witness and report to you the eternal life, the which was with the Father and was manifested to us): what we have seen and heard we report to you also, that ye also may have fellowship with us; yea and our fellowship [is] with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And these things write we to you that your joy may be full.” The manifestation of the life to the fullest degree was to the apostles, though not restricted to them, that they might report to others, who taught in faith have fullness of joy in sharing their fellowship with the Father and His Son Jesus on the basis of eternal life, the same life which, he declared, was with the Father before the manifestation, and then unrestricted in time; for He was eternal.
The statement is not abstract as in John 5:2626For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself; (John 5:26) (“the Father hath life in himself”), but personal (“with the Father,” πρὸς τὸν IIατέρα); it cannot be truthfully denied. Walking in the light indispensably accomplishes such a fellowship as this. The rest of the chapter lays down to us the divine message, judging every false profession, while the true one enjoys the grace that cleanses from every sin through the blood of Jesus His Son. Provision for failure is in the advocacy of the Righteous One with the Father (in chap. 2:1, 2), as He too is propitiation in all its abiding value, and widest application.
Then from chap. 2:3 follows practical application to those that bear His name: obedience first in 3-6; love next in 7-11; the necessary traits and exercises of the life in Christians, contrasted with spurious professors. There succeeds a most instructive and interesting digression on the family of God, and its differences in 12-28, all being addressed in these extremes, each class (fathers, young men, and young children or babes) in the intervening verses. The only express reference to the eternal life is in 25, where its promise before the world is meant, not that it remains a promise unaccomplished now.
Then in renewing the theme of practical righteousness, as the proof of being born of Him Who is righteous, is a parenthesis of grace in 3:1-3 to strengthen the warning against lawlessness. Thereon he resumes the thread, but presents Christ as the clean opposite, Who not only took away our sins, and had no sin, but gives a nature like Himself, and this in love as well as righteousness. The world on the contrary hates; and as we know that we have passed out of death to life because we love the brethren, so to hate one's brother is to be a murderer; and no murderer, we know, has life eternal abiding in him, like the believer.
We may now however omit a glance at the rest and the precious chap. 4, for the next direct occurrence is in 5:1, &c. “Every one that believeth that Jesus is the Christ is begotten (or, born) of God; and every one that loveth him that begot loveth him also that is begotten of him... For everything that is begotten of God overcometh the world.” Only a perverse will could question that one spiritually born of God has divine life in His Son, who in no way treats “life eternal” as a higher or a future life; for in John 6:40, 4740And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day. (John 6:40)
47Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life. (John 6:47)
He in terms predicates it of the result of faith in Him incarnate no less than of faith in giving His flesh to eat and His blood to drink in ver. 54, that is, faith in His death. Again, who can avoid seeing in vers. 11, 12 of our context that “life eternal” and “life” are interchangeable in this sense, though the one may be more fully expressed than the other in divine wisdom? But they mean the self-same life of Christ. No less truly were the O.T. saints begotten of God, and instinct with that life, though it could not be said that they believed in our Lord Jesus, but had rather a living hope in Him that was to come. Such was necessarily the character of their faith, but faith it surely was, the faith of God's elect in their day. No intelligent saint doubts their good portion through divine grace, which we, for whom God provided some better thing, should be the last to doubt or disparage. Nor was it a small part of the greater blessing to believe on Jesus, revealed by the Father as the Son of God, the living God, on Him too that came by water and blood, with the Spirit bearing witness as well as the water and the blood. “And this is the witness that God gave us life eternal, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath the life; he that hath not the Son of God hath not the life.” To us it is made known, as it could not be to an O.T. saint, and we therefore know it as they could not. This is fully warranted to us by the next verse (13): “These things I write [the epist. aor., or, I wrote] to you that believe on the name of the Son of God, that ye may know (εἰδ) that ye have life eternal.” This conscious knowledge of it, what a privilege and to us essentially characteristic of Christianity! Nor does the Epistle close without reminding us that, among other things consciously known by us, this is one, “that the Son of God is come and hath given us an understanding that we should know (γιν.) him that is true; and we are in the true One, in his Son Jesus Christ: he is the true God, and life eternal.” How establishing and endearing to us! What a safeguard against every idol!
It was not the apostle Paul's work to dwell on the present gift of life eternal to the believers. The righteousness, and the counsels, of God are fully treated in his Epistles with Christ's work the basis, His resurrection and ascension to give them heavenly character, and His coming to crown all. Hence He speaks of life eternal at the end (Rona. 2:7, 5:21, 6:22). He does however speak, not only of reigning in life but of justification of life (Rom. 5:17, 1817For if by one man's offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.) 18Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. (Romans 5:17‑18)): a remarkable phrase, and a blessed privilege which the Christian is meant to enjoy now. It is not “eternal” only but in risen form and power. Justified by His blood meets our sins, justified in His risen life goes farther and meets sin, sin in the flesh, not what we did evilly, but our evil self in Him dead and risen. Hence we are called 6:4 to “walk in newness of life.” This assuredly does not refer to walking with Christ in white when in glory, but to present walk here below. But this implies the life of Christ ours now as truly then, when all is complete. It is none other than life eternal. And as Christ, being raised, lives to God, so are we to count ourselves dead indeed to sin, but living to God in Christ Jesus. Such is the virtue of His death and resurrection, as vii. states that, had we been Hebrews of Hebrews, we were made dead to the law through the body of Christ, that we should belong to another that was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God: an impossible result without life, life eternal. So in 8:2 the law, not of Moses, but “of the Spirit of life in Christ” (compare John 20:2222And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: (John 20:22)) made me free from the law of sin and death, the communication of Christ's risen life, the form in which He now gives life eternal to every Christian. The co-operation of the Holy Spirit in this life is clearly marked, and that which is now as clearly distinguished as the completion of His work when the body is raised (10, 11).
In 1 Cor. 9 &10 we have the danger of power without life written for our admonition; indeed it runs throughout this Epistle. In the Second it is yet plainer, as in 2:16, and 3:6. Take again 4:10, 11, where we are exhorted always to bear about “in the body the dying of Jesus, that the life also of Jesus may be manifested in our body; for we that live are ever delivered unto death for Jesus' sake that the life also of Jesus may be manifest in our mortal flesh.” Can language express more explicitly that the believer now has His life, eternal life, mortal though our body still is, while waiting to be raised, not merely “through” but “with” Jesus by-and-by (14)? This triumph is attested as superior to death (“mortality swallowed up of life” in 5. 4). And what life is meant (ver. 15) “in those that live,” in contrast with “all dead”? Is it not life eternal and abundantly? and is it not now and here below? “So if any one [is] in Christ, [there is] a new creation.” What can be stronger, unless one were hardy enough to deny this a present application, because it is going to be complete at Christ's coming? or that “we have this treasure” (4:7) “because it is in earthen vessels”?
The Epistle to the Galatians speaks no otherwise. In what way was God's Son revealed in Saul of Tarsus when called (1:16) but as life, Christ our life? So in 2:20 the apostle says, “I have been and am crucified with Christ, and no longer live I, but Christ liveth in me, and what I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of (or, in) the Son of God, that loved me and gave himself up for me.” Can any Christian doubt that this living was of life eternal? In 5:25 the word is “if we live by the Spirit, by the Spirit let us also walk.” Can any one be so rash as to separate this from Christ, or deny that it is life eternal now?
In the Epistle to the Ephesians we are seen blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ. Have we now (1:4, 5) no new nature, holy and blameless in love according to God's purpose? is the predestined sonship, or adoption, only future? or can either exist without life eternal? Chap. 2 utterly refutes such thoughts, and declares that God rich in mercy and of His great love to us quickened us, once dead in our offenses and sins—quickened us together with Christ, and raised together, and made us sit down together in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus (2:6). What can transcend this life, a clearly present privilege, which could not be said of O.T. saints, any more than it is of the millennial saints? It is life eternal, but much more. It is the Pauline truth given him by the inspiring Spirit of Christ, not only as quickening which John treats so fully as a real thing now, but of Christ raised from the dead and the believer already quickened and raised together with Him, and seated in Him, waiting as we know from elsewhere to sit with Him when changed at His coming. “One new man” (2:15) supposes life now and a status most excellent.
So does Christ dwelling in our hearts by faith (chap. 3), and spiritual intelligence, and His love known, though surpassing knowledge; so does the exhortation to walk worthily of God's calling us after so marvelous a sort (4), not only together but individually, we having put on the new man as well as put off the old. Hence in 5. it is to imitate God as children beloved, and to walk in love as Christ loved us, and as children of light (life being supposed throughout), and not as unwise but as wise, understanding what is the will of the Lord.
To the Philippians the apostle dwelt on Christian practice. “For to me to live [is] Christ, and to die gain” (1:21). How possibly live Christ without having Christ as our life, and this beyond controversy life eternal? As believing on Him was the means, so their completeness as to the fruit of righteousness (ver. 11) and suffering for Him (ver. 29) could not be without the existing reality. Preaching Christ even of envy and strife might easily be without life, but not holding forth its word as lowly and blameless children of God, nor glorying in Christ in self-renunciation, nor learning, in whatsoever state, therein to be content.
In the Epistle to the Colossians, if not on the surface, life in Christ is everywhere the under stratum. He did not cease praying for our walking worthily of the Lord to all pleasing, bearing fruit and growing: surely not without life. Hence thanksgiving to the Father who qualified us for sharing the portion of the saints in light (chap. 1). But in ii. it is yet more precise. How walk in Christ (6), already received, without the life of Christ? When dead in the offenses and the uncircumcision of our flesh, God quickened us together with Christ, having forgiven us all our offenses, and raised us up together. It was not only life eternal but having His life in the highest form and the closest association with Him. Hence in chap. 3 if risen together with Christ, they were to seek the things above, and not have their mind on the things upon the earth. “For ye died, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ our life shall be manifested, then shall ye also be manifested with Him in glory.” But He is our life as truly now, though not so completely as then.
It is needless to gather similar evidence from the letters to the Thessalonians, and the Hebrews, to Timothy, Titus and Philemon; yet everywhere is it taken for granted as possessed by all save empty professors. Yet let us in no way strain the exhortation in 1 Tim. 6:1212Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses. (1 Timothy 6:12) “lay hold on the eternal life,” or in ver. 19, “that which is really life,” in contrast with present things desirable to the flesh. The glorious end is in view. But such as have not Christ as their life will become weary of well-doing, if they do not openly draw back, dead while they live. But 2 Tim. 1:11Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, according to the promise of life which is in Christ Jesus, (2 Timothy 1:1) does appear to touch John's presentation of life in Christ now brought to light through the gospel. We may compare Titus 1:2; 3:72In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began; (Titus 1:2)
7That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:7)
as distinguishing the Christian from the Jewish expectation.
As addressed to “the twelve tribes that are in the dispersion,” the letter of James resumes in general “the word of the beginning of Christ” (Heb. 6:11Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, (Hebrews 6:1)), and insists, not on redemption but on the life communicated from the Father of lights, who of His own will brought forth, or begot, us by word of truth. Nothing less than this new nature satisfies him; no one else can from his works show his faith as in chap. 2. The faith that has no suited works is barren and dead. “Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.” The word quickens by revealing Christ to the soul, and fruit follows by abiding in Christ; for the new life lives by dependence on Him. This Epistle looks at the practical and righteous side, judging by a law of liberty in consistency in ways, word, and heart, and the friendship of the world is enmity with God, but patience is to be till the coming of the Lord.
The life abundantly is disclosed as the present portion of the Christian Jews whom Peter in his First Epistle addresses. “Blessed the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who according to his much mercy begot us again unto a living hope through resurrection of Jesus Christ out of the dead,” &c. At the close, as at the beginning, the new life of grace and truth is shown clearly, and as it is by the word of God that we are thus born, so are we nourished (chap. 2). Husbands and wives among them are exhorted as fellow-heirs of the grace of life. Without this now they could not rightly dwell together for an hour or a moment. The Second Epistle addressed to the same puts the same very strongly in 1:3, 4; and affirms the partaking of a divine nature, and not a merely moral change. If it were no more than that, he shows the utter ruin of turning back after having escaped. Only life eternal abides. Otherwise it is but a dog still, and a washed sow: they were never born of God.
Jude indicates the more awful case of apostasy, rather than of the unrighteousness Peter denounced, though both might be in the same person. But he writes to saints without restriction as “called, beloved in God the Father and kept by (or, for) Jesus Christ” in view of the perishing of Christendom and the Lord's judgment of all the ungodly at His coming amidst His holy myriads. The beloved, meanwhile, building themselves on their most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, were to keep themselves in God's love, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto life eternal. This is “the end” doubtless, but there had been no beginning of grace without believing on Him and receiving life in His name to walk after God's will in the last time of mockers walking after their own ungodly lusts.