By H. Forbes Witherby.
8. Eternal Life Received.
How received — what is faith? — life the possession of all the children of God — never lost — traceable to its source — life and Christ Himself the portion of all believers.
Eternal life and immortality are distinct from each other. Every human being has an immortal soul, and is destined to exist for ever; those, and those only, who are the children of God have eternal life. It is a grievous error to confound immortality with eternal life, and the error ends in denying the real character of both the one and the other. We receive our immortality together with our natural life; we receive the eternal life when we are born again. The one is derived through Adam, and is part of our humanity; the other comes to us from the Lord Jesus Christ.
How is the eternal life received? We have already shown that we are dead to God and divine life by nature, and, therefore, that no works of ours can obtain us eternal life; for the works of the spiritually dead are useless in this question. The eternal life becomes ours by gift, and God gives the life freely: "Eternal life is the gift of God in Jesus Christ our Lord." (Rom. 6:23.) What, then, has man to say to this? He cannot do anything to reach this life. It is not and cannot be his of merit, nor of works. Let the scripture supply the answer: "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life."(John 3:36.) We have not to seek to work for life — self is not the source of life; we have not to wait to see if the Spirit of God has wrought in us the work of the Spirit of God is not the object of faith: Christ is both the source of life and the object of faith, and, believing on Him, we live. Too many of God's people are digging into themselves all day long to see if the root of the matter be in them, and many are unbelievingly folding their hands and saying, "If we are to have life the Holy Spirit will show us whether such is to be the case." But the scriptures present Christ, the life, for us as the object for faith, not our faith in the Holy Spirit's work in us, as the evidence of life; far less do the scriptures teach us to go about to establish a righteousness of our own, as if we could earn eternal life by "dead works."
The faith that receives Christ is not merely belief in a fact, it is belief on a person — many accredit the fact that Christ died, but comparatively few who believe this fact have faith in Himself and in His Father who sent Him. "He that believeth on Me hath everlasting life." ( John 6:47.) "He that heareth My word, and believeth on Him that sent Me, hath everlasting life." (John 5:24.) "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 3:16.) In these and kindred scriptures, faith in God and His Son is clearly presented to us. Let the reader note how seldom, comparatively speaking, faith in the work of Christ is set before the soul, and how that in by far the greater number of passages where faith is put before the sinner, it is faith in the Son of God, or faith in God, that is presented.
As we lay hold of the divine truth that faith rests in a person, many difficulties are cleared away, the affections are set in action, and the working of the mind is relegated to its right place. The mind may assent to accomplished facts without the heart being touched by them, but when the person who did the work is believed, the work is accepted not only for its own sake, but because of him who did it.
However important doctrine may be, still true faith rests in the subject of all divine doctrine, God and His Son the Lord Jesus Christ; and we cannot truly receive doctrine until we have received Christ. If we rightly read the scriptures we shall, by them, become better and better acquainted with the Lord. True religion is true dealing with God; it is not the mind mastering what God says. A son might understand what his father told him, and yet lack obedience: and who then would value his knowledge of his father's will? Knowledge of the truth apart from faith in God and His Son only adds to the sinner's condemnation; to know all about what God is, and what He has done for man, and still not to believe God Himself, is double death.
What is faith? Faith is the eye of the soul. The eye, simply by looking, appropriates that which is outside itself, taking in the fashion of the object before its vision. Through its liquid window the appearance of that upon which the gaze is fixed enters the marvellous chamber called the retina, and straightway the form of that which is without is written in living shape and color within the eye's chamber. Then that which is seen is conveyed to the understanding, and by appropriation becomes our own. This window of the eye simply allows the character of the objects outside entrance into the chamber of which it is the light. The word of God is that wherein the Son of God is presented to us. There we see Him. The eye does not create, it receives. Such is faith. It toils not, labors not, it receives. Look unto Me," says the Lord, and whosoever looks, lives; he has received Christ whom his faith has seen.
Faith occupies itself with that which is outside the believer, and by so doing Christ is formed in the believer's heart. As we look on Him, He becomes our own. There is thus set up an answer within the heart to Him whom faith sees outside. What we gaze upon is, as it were, formed in our hearts, Christ is appropriated. Too many, who would really "see Jesus," see Him not, because their thoughts are turned inwards to find that which can only be discovered by their faith, looking outwards. They close the eye of faith, and then use the mind to seek to discover that which can never be seen so long as the eye is blinded.
In natural things, very many of the concerns of life run on the wheels of faith. Every child has faith in man — it believes what it is told; because men are so unworthy of trust the faith of little children so early fades away. A little child having learnt by bitter disappointment to distrust his parents' word is a melancholy ex ample of the fruits of sin. On the other hand, accepting the parent as worthy of confidence, or the friend of trust, the doubting child or mistrustful friend are unhappy instances of the badness of the unbelieving heart. It is "impossible for God to lie," (Heb. 6:18.) He is ever faithful, never changes, in Him is no variableness, neither the shadow of turning, and if there exist one single doubt in our hearts as to His word, the reason of the doubt lies in the evil of our nature. If we believe God, we accept what He says, and "without faith it is impossible to please Him." (Heb. 11:6.)
Perhaps nothing more strikingly instances what believing really is than the recollection of the time when we heard the word of life with our outward ears merely. We then heard the letter, the sound of the words, even as men asleep hear the sound of music, and, because of it, dream, and awaking, remember that they have dreamed, but know not what made them dream. Thus for years together do many hear the sound of the words of truth; but such hearing is not that which results in life. There is nothing more melancholy amongst professing christians than this spiritual dreamland. The realities of heaven and of hell, of God's love in sending His Son to die for sinners, and of the agony and death and sin-bearing of Jesus, are all believed, after a sort, by these sleepers. Sunday by Sunday these things are reiterated in their ears; it is part of a religious education to believe them, but the belief has no more effect upon these sleeping hearers than has the tale of the invasion of their country a thousand years ago to stir them to meet the foe.
The ploughshare of conviction has never cut up the hard soil of these adamantine hearts; the point of the sword of the Spirit has never pierced these leathern consciences, it is only educational assent to a national creed or the religion of parents. The belief may induce respectability, perhaps morality; but the dead are dead still, and dead asleep. The words "everlasting life" and "everlasting death" have not bitten right into their souls, and God, the holy God, is neither feared nor loved. "Awake, awake," poor dreamers, eternity and its realities will soon burst upon you. God Himself loves you. He has sent His Son to die that you may be saved for glory and for Himself. "Hear, and your soul shall live."
Eternal life is the possession of all God's children. Even as the new-born babe lives as truly as the grown son, so is the life God gives His people as much the possession of the feeblest babe in Christ as of the young man or father. It is quite true that some are more vigorous than others, for in some the evidence of life is very feeble, but there is no disconnecting believers on the Son from the life they have in Him. God speaks; we hear His word; we believe God; our faith is like the out-stretched hand of a hungry child when bread is offered it, and our giving God never denies to any that for which He Himself, by His Spirit, has created a longing. As Christ is believed, the life is received. "He that hath the Son hath life." (1 John 5:12.)
Eternal life is never lost by its possessors. In things natural we receive life once, and surrender it up once on earth, to live on endlessly in eternity. There is no such possibility as to be alive one day, dead the next, and alive again the day after! But this is precisely what those think of the eternal life who say we are saved today, and may he lost tomorrow, and then be saved again! He who is born of God has the life which is eternal, for it is the life of the Son of God. The word to Adam respecting natural life was, "of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die" (Gen. 2:17), and Adam, by disobedience to the plain direction of God, forfeited his life. But the eternal life has not been given upon the principle of human responsibility, it is secured to believers in Christ, who died and rose again out of death, and can never be forfeited. What language can more forcibly express the security of the life of those who are Christ's than these words: "Your life is hid with Christ in God"? (Col. 3:3.) Neither flesh, nor sin, nor Satan, can reach up to "Christ in God." No failure of the believer can, in any sense, touch the security of this life.
In the tenth chapter of the gospel by John, the Lord sets forth most perfect assurances of the believer's security. In the 28th verse He says, "I give unto them eternal life" — He Himself, emphatically, gives — the eternal Son of God gives — this is one assurance. His unfailing word is another. "And they shall never perish" they shall not ever — thus the Lord's "not" stands between His sheep and "ever perish," therefore, if one were to perish the word of the Lord would have failed — an utter impossibility, an impossibility so impossible that we may lay us down upon our beds and sleep into eternity, satisfied in its security, depending upon His own character and glory. Yet further, the Lord says, "neither shall any pluck them out of My hand." His own power will keep His own against all enemies; no man, no devil, shall ever catch one of the least out of His keeping. As for the sheep slipping out of His hand, such thoughts are bred and born out of the corruption of self-confidence; they have their origin in the vain presumption that a man can keep himself, and in the denial of scripture, which tells us we are kept by the power of God.
But the Lord says more to us still. Already in three ways His words have assured us in relation to Himself: first, His "I" — His own personal giving of life to us; second, His unfailing word — His "never perish"; third, His unquestionable power — "neither shall any pluck them out of My hand." But He says more still: "My Father, which gave them Me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of My Father's hand." The Lord sets the Father's power before us as well as His own, so that there may not be the faintest shadow of question in any heart; the Father holds the sheep as firmly as the Son. Still more assurance follows, lest one heart should have one doubt remaining. Jesus says, "I and My Father are one"; the united will and power of God the Father and of God the Son assure the sheep of Christ of their unquestionable security; thus the glory of the Son and the glory of the Father singly, and the glory of the Father and Son unitedly is the safety of all who believe.
Eternal life is traceable to its source. The moral characteristics of the life of Christ, and the life derived from Adam as seen in man upon this earth, are widely different — each is traceable to its own head. "The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven. As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy; and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly." (1 Cor. 15:47, 48.) It is not merely that the life of those who are earthy is in certain qualities different from that of those who are heavenly, but we see in the vegetable and the animal worlds life pertaining to different kingdoms, and the physical helps us to see the difference in the spiritual kingdom — each has its own nature, each its own origin. Now, until the fact of the absolute distinctness of the eternal life be realised in the soul, the believer is frequently in spiritual distress, by reason of the painful sense within him of contrary workings and affinities; for he has in himself the life he received when horn into the world, and he has also the eternal life. The practical effect of this in causing conflict, we shall touch upon later; we merely note the fact now.
Eternal life and Christ Himself are the portion of every believer. Life is inseparable from the Son, who is the Life. Those who have Christ have life, and if we have life we assuredly have Christ. The condition of the life, in its communication to the believer, depends upon the position Christ occupies. We comprehend not only what the life is, but also its character, as we apprehend Christ. He is now in heaven, having risen from among the dead; He has gone out of the world to the Father; and the divine life now communicated to the believer flows from Him, the head in glory of the heavenly family, who will soon be glorified with Him.
The risen Lord lives to die no more; He is our life in His position of glory on high, therefore there is in the children of God in this day a reaching-out to Christ who is in heaven, and a dwelling with Him in spirit beyond death. When death comes, it finds in the child of God one who has already passed from death unto life, and whose life-source is in glory. Very beautifully was this expressed by a dear youth, now with the Lord, in his dying moments. His mother was watching him with that tearful solicitude which none but a mother's heart can know; she was leave-taking, when her beloved boy, fixing his eyes upon hers and looking into them, said, with increasing emphasis, "Mother, I have everlasting life, everlasting life, everlasting life." He had already in spirit passed beyond death, and being on the very borderland of eternity, and death to the body being present to him, this dear youth fully realised life was his where Christ is. There is no severance of the Life from those who live in Him. "God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in. His Son." (1 John 5:11.)