By H. Forbes Witherby.
6. Eternal life Communicated.
Life given — Christ the Life-giver — the Son and the Father giving life — Christ came into this world that we might have life abundantly.
We have sought to indicate what the eternal life is, and by so doing find ourselves in the presence of the Son of God. As we consider Him in His ways, and study the motives of His heart when He was here amongst men, we feel how immeasurable is the distance, speaking morally, which lies between God and man in his nature state. There is no bridging this gap, neither can the vastest cycles of time develop in man that which shall fit him for God. The life of man fallen, and the life eternal, are absolutely distinct.
As to life itself, the creature can neither give nor acquire it. In the presence of life we are in the presence of that which marks our place in creation, and proclaims the finger of God. If we speak of divine life, we know that we are far off from God, and must ever so remain in ourselves. God is the giver of life to His creatures whatever the character or condition of their life may be. He creates His people anew in Christ Jesus, and gives them eternal life in His Son; the character of this life is made manifest in what Jesus was as a man on earth; the condition of it in its present communication, His life as a man risen from the dead.
Eternal life is bestowed on man by God — it comes to us solely by way of gift there is none other way of obtaining it, "The gift of God is eternal life." He bestows it as it pleases Him, yet the gift is "in Jesus Christ our Lord" (Rom. 6:23), it is not given by God to us except as in Christ. "God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son." (1 John 5:11.) It is not the believer's in any sense apart from or independently of the Son. If we have Christ we have the life of Christ: "He that hath the Son hath life." If we have not Christ we are dead in our sins: "He that hath not the Son of God hath not life." (1 John 5:12.) The life and the Son go together; the gift of life is communicated with the Son.
If any one inquire, "Have I eternal life?" the answer lies in the reply to such questions as, "Have you the Son?" "Do you believe on the Son who came from heaven?" "Has your heart received Him?" To look within ourselves in order to trace whether we possess this life, is to continue in a state of dread; to look to Christ, who is the Life, is for doubts and difficulties to vanish.
Christ is the life-giver in a peculiar way. God the Father has committed to Him the right, the authority over all flesh — all mankind. Every-human being is under His sway, whether obedient or not; and though He may allow infidelity to run its rampant course, and heathenism to continue its allegiance to demons, yet every man, woman and child is under His authority. (John 17:2.)
It was when looking up to heaven and speaking to His Father anticipatively as having finished the work given Him to do, even to death, that the Son spoke of His authority over all flesh. Little did the princes of this world know whom they were crucifying: the Lord of glory, the Lord of all, yet suffering the crown of thorns and the mockery of the gorgeous robes. But through His death life comes to us; He died that we might have the life eternal. He put away our sins, accomplished perfect redemption by His death, and pardoned sinners, redeemed by His own blood to God, have this new life.
In exercise of His authority the Son gives eternal life to as many as God the Father has given Him. To Him man must go for life eternal — to Him, now crowned with glory and honour, the Man in heaven, once suffering and dying, the Man of sorrows on earth. The first man, Adam, was made a living soul, he was made of the dust of the earth; the last Adam, the Lord from heaven, is a life-giving Spirit; He "quickens whom He will." (John 5:21.) As He is, so are His. Those of the first man are of the earth, earthy; those who are of Christ are as He is, heavenly.
Apart from the Son of God, man lives on in this world for his few years in moral separation from God, then passes out of this condition of human existence into eternity. Death cuts short the career on earth, but death does not change the nature, which is alienated from the life of God, and, leaving the world Christ-less, the sinner is Christless for ever, and ever remains without eternal life.
"I give unto them eternal life" (John 10:28), are our Lord's words. He acts in His divine sovereignty. He died for the flock, and gives life to those for whom He died. "The bread that I will give is My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world," and "Whoso eateth My flesh, and drinketh My blood, hath eternal life." (John 6:51, 54). None shall say Him nay in the bestowal of this life to every poor sinner who believes on Him. Do we believe on Him really and in our hearts? It is not enough to believe that He died, or to accredit the fact of His being in glory, we have to believe on Himself; to make the death of Jesus, as it were, our own, eating and drinking spiritually of Him in His death. Food does not feed us unless we partake of it, neither is Christ, the bread of life, spiritually ours, unless by faith we eat thereof.
The Lord associates His Father's name with Himself when He speaks of giving life: "My Father giveth you the true bread from heaven; for the bread of God is He which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world." (John 6:32, 33.) The life is not bestowed by either the Father or the Son alone, but is jointly given, the Spirit implanting it by means of the word of truth.
Judgment is vested in the sole hands of the Son, for He was despised and rejected of men, and set at naught as the Son of man. He will execute judgment in the day that is to come; and this renders exceedingly solemn the position of all who have not really believed on Him. For with Christ, every man must have to do, if not as the Life, then as the Judge. (See John 5.) In this present time He is giving life to the spiritually dead; the words which He speaks are spirit and life; but in the future He will judge the lifeless sinners whom He will raise from the dead. When so raised they will be as lifeless as they were when alive in this world, in the sense that they are Christless, though made immortal as to the body then, even as now immortal as to the soul.
The manna fell from heaven in the desert place for Israel only; in the barren wastes, which afforded their tens of thousands no nourishment, the chosen nation ate of angels' meat; but the Bread of God is given to the broad world of sinners, of every clime and of every tongue. Now, in this greater wilderness, in this place of soul-hunger and of moral death, all who come to Jesus receive life. Oh! come, every hungry soul, feed on the Bread of God; eat and live for ever.
Christ came into this world that we might have life. He said, I am come that they might have life." He came from the glory above into this world of estrangement from God and ignorance of the Father, to communicate life to such as knew not God; and He came not only that they might have it, but "that they might have it more abundantly." (John 10:10.)
Every believer from the earliest days of faith on this earth had life; having life from God, and having faith in Christ, are united by God never to be separated till faith is lost in sight. But life in abundance is the sole portion of believers since Christ came. Life and liberty are now joined together. Not until the Lord's death was openly taught by Himself, was the wonder of the eternal life made manifest to men; and not until we rejoice in the fulness of this redemption can we rejoice in the liberty of the life He has communicated. It may be that all who believe do not enjoy the liberty, but all may do so: faith in the Lord's redeeming work introduces the soul into liberty.
The capacity in the individual believer for the enjoyment of the life, and the moral ability to live for God, may lessen or increase in the individual believer, according to his practical walk — may be smaller or greater, according to his conscious knowledge of God and occupation with Christ; but the life in itself is divinely perfect. Being brought by grace into the most intimate relationship with God the Father, it is the believer's portion to have the joy of the Son fulfilled in him, and for his joy to be full. The way to let the water into the basin of the lock is to open the lock gates, but too often the believer is using his endeavours to keep them shut, and is all the while wondering and complaining of the smallness of what is his practically.
What the life is in its abundance we perceive in Jesus on earth; His joy in His Father, His peace from the Father, testify to it. Before He came the people of God were under the law; theirs was the spirit of bondage, legal restraint, and God not fully known: this was not the life in its abundance. Never till our Lord was here was there seen on earth the perfect dependence of a man on God, the perfect obedience of a man to God, and the perfect joy of a man in God. The people of God have the life of Christ, they have also their own fallen natures; but the purpose of God is, that on this earth, and while having a fallen nature, the life of Christ should manifest itself in them, and that their joy should be full. The life in its abundant character is the present possession of all believers now, but its practical blessedness is ours in so far as we abide in Christ.
The Lord is now on the resurrection side of death, having gone down into it and annulled its strength, and being risen from among the dead, He now communicates His life to us from Himself in resurrection; hence we receive His life in the condition of resurrection. We know our Life where He now is — in heaven, and the abundance becomes ours in a peculiar way. Life is the believer's now in a different condition from that which characterised the people of God under the law. Now redemption is accomplished, the sins of believers are put away, and, standing in the favor of God, there is nothing to hinder the full action of the life in the child of God.
The eternal life is not any kind of improved condition of our Adam nature, let us most earnestly remember, nor an infusion of the divine into the natural — no sort of change of nature, but a new thing absolutely. Just as Adam fallen and the Lord from heaven are distinct, so the life derived from Adam, and the life received from Christ, are distinct. Ht will be our effort in future chapters to show how this great fact works within us spiritually, but first let us emphasize the fact. In divine things we always do well to begin with God. Too often we begin with our measure of faith in divine facts or with our feelings and experiences about ourselves, and so long as we continue with the gauge of experience in our hands we cannot rightly know the truth of God. A distinct reality is before us, — a new life communicated,which is in no sense whatever the life which is ours by birth into this world. Let us keep this clear, and shape our souls by the truth, and not seek to shape the truth to our souls.
Having Christ Himself present both as the life and the life-giver, the vital question for us is simple and clear "Have we Christ?" He will in no wise cast out those who come to Him, whosoever they may be. God forbid that one solitary reader of these pages should seek life elsewhere save in Christ. "Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life." (John 6:68.)