By H. Forbes Witherby.
24. In Laying Hold of Eternal Life.
Glorious prospects — reigning in life — the hoped-for end — grasping the life now — entering into life.
The eternal life which God communicates has not only moral characteristics, but hopes pertaining to it. The circumstances, whatever they may be, which make this world what it is to each individual child of God, do not affect the actual nature of the life itself that all the family by grace possess. The life peculiar to trees is the same life everywhere, whether the tree grow in congenial soil or where it can barely find nourishment to exist.
Christ is our life, and should death touch the body of the child of God, no change is made to the eternal life itself, which he possesses. The circumstances of glory, in which he will be in heaven, will not alter the nature of the eternal life which he now possesses. In time and in eternity the life is the same, and the holy enjoyments, heavenly delights, and the fellowship pertaining to it, ever alike. But what the fulness of this holy enjoyment, and what the depths of the fellowship with the Father and the Son will be, we know but in part.
The natural mind evolves for itself the notion of a future existence from the basis of the things of this present life. The future state, according to the heathen, was a kind of shadow of the present, for the mind of man cannot imagine that which it has no data to work from; the future state according to modern infidelity, is the counterpart of its own mist and darkness concerning the origin of life; — "no God" for the beginning of life; "no God" for the hope of life, is its boast and its folly. The revelation of God declares to us an eternal life, explains its character by the gospels of the Son of the Father, and tells us not only what our future happiness will be, but also what our final state will be — likeness to Christ in glory. There is absolute explicitness in the word of God as to what we shall be, as well as the absolute certainty of our haying eternal life now.
Glorious prospects are before the children of God, and the contemplation of the future stirs up hope and leads hearts forward to the entering into life. Scripture teaches us, as we have sought to show, what the life is, and that the life is ours now; it also teaches us that there is an entering into life in the future. Thus life has eternal prospects attached to it, as well as present enjoyments, and the deeper the present enjoyment the more marvellous are the eternal prospects to the soul.
In one sense the idea of life, as it will be ours in the manifested glory, is more easily apprehended than is the fact of life in its actual, essential, ever-present character. The child of God thinks of himself, perhaps at a distant day, entering into life; which is well if the coming glory is before him; but if he thinks of himself in a way that separates him in his thoughts at the moment from this life, he has lost the sense of his life being in Christ, and has not the true thought of what entering into it is. The fulness of the eternal life, which is ours, will not be known until — spirit, soul, and body we are like the Lord Himself. At no point short of this great end, can the Christian's longings tarry, and his life-hopes reach right up to Christ where He is in heaven; "When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with Him in glory." (Col. 3:4.) The more the child of God enters into his present portion, the nobler and the more just will be his desires for the future.
We are not yet reigning in life, this prospect is before us. The full blessedness of the eternal life will be known only in glory. The first Adam, by his disobedience, brought death into the world, and by this work of sin death now reigns over the globe. The human race has death only for its last prospect. We began to live on this earth, and so soon as we were capable of thinking, we learned that we should have to die and leave the world and all its delights. What an awful darkness it is to have only such an outlook as this!
The last Adam, by his obedience unto death and through righteousness, brought the new life to the people of God; and though the circumstances of this world, where we receive the new life, are often sorrowful, the life itself has, as the prospect attached to it, only glory; "We shall reign in life by one Jesus Christ." The life is our present possession, the glory our prospect — the one is as secure as the other. We have the eternal life, and we also look forward to it in the condition of glory. This, whatever the trial, harass, pain, or poverty that may beset the child of God, is his outlook. He has no less an expectation before him than entering fully into life.
There is an end before the believer. There is an end for his service of righteousness: "Ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life" (Rom. 6:22); and also for his trials and conflicts, "He shall receive the crown of life." (James 1:12.) Thus also, when the harvest is anticipated and the end of the good and the evil of these few years is before us, and consequently the sowing to the flesh and the sowing to the Spirit is looked at, the word for the people of God is, "He that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting." (Gal. 6:8.) An end is before the christian. When everything in and of the world has come to its close, when the world and the lust thereof has passed away, when the great godless system built up on the earth is no more, and all its pleasures have melted away for ever, there lies an end for the christian, and that end is — eternal life.
"Lay hold of eternal life," said the apostle to Timothy, viewing him in his conflict on this earth, face to face with foes. (1 Tim. 6:12.) He had been called to this eternal life, he had confessed the good confession before many witnesses. He possessed the life, could never lose it, neither could any ever take it from him, therefore, and with the more reason, he was to lay hold of it with all the force of divinely-given power.
If the christian is grasping the things of the world he is not laying hold of this life. A hand that grasps glory is for the soul of the child of God a great practical deliverance from the glitter of the world, the strife of tongues and the questions of the hour. Where power of soul-grasp is deficient, and enervation prevailing among the children of God, we may be sure that there is not a stirring up of the soul to the glorious eternity which is before us. We cannot grasp eternal life and the world also; one or other must be let go. We want both hands to grasp aright.
The more truly we live in the power of the eternal life as in its future display, the more shall we be taken up with it and keep a firm spiritual hold of it. Vain babblings, points, and disputations on the one side, and worldliness and greed of money on the other, seem to have been before the apostle's mind in his exhortation to Timothy, as the great deterrents to the people of God laying hold of the eternal life. The former, evidence a mind far off from practical christianity, and filled with anything but genuine godliness; the latter, speak of hearts possessed with this poor present hour; both prove the absence of communion with God, from which desires for the coming glory must, of moral necessity, spring. Satan defiles and entangles men's hearts with both.
"Laying hold," is a great word for a day of christian feebleness. We have but to read the apostle's word to Timothy to be made to feel that he seems to have pictured our very times. What a vast amount of wasted time there is, on the one hand, over "questions and disputes of words," which might have been devoted to true godliness, visiting the sick, caring for the poor and the aged, and good works; whilst, on the other, what lack of simplicity, and oftentimes what reliance on position and wealth!
Eternity is out of sight when these and such like things are filling the mind. They are Satan's toys given to the child of God to play with, in order to make him forget who he is, and whither he is going. How little is eternity before even true christians as a present realisation! How little laying hold of that which alone is really life!
After all, what is truly life? The transitory things of the hour: the questions of the day, babblings, contention about men, fame and honor, and money and worldly glory? No, the eternal life only — the present delight of which, is the fellowship with the Father and the Son, and the prospects of which, are glory with Christ on high.
Practical godliness, the apostle had strongly before him in his words to Timothy, on the laying hold of the eternal life. Let none think that the real enjoyment of the eternal life, its vigor and Spirit-given energy, finds its answer in any concern less than that which is of eternal value. The world's honors are but for the day; those who receive them die, and there is the honors' end; but the things of God are for eternity as well as time, even the cup of cold water given in the Lord's name will never lose its reward. "Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world." (James 1:27.) The Lord, the Life, labored in love for souls. He went about doing good; so shall we, in our small way, if His life in us is unhindered in action.
The true display of what the eternal life is in God's children on earth, is true likeness to Christ in His path below. The one great object of the believer should be, God and eternity. The contemplation of eternity has a mighty effect on our lives. Let one school affect one line of exterior piety and another school a different one, may the reality of eternity, so near at hand, and the fact of our so soon being about to stand before our God and Father, govern the outcome of our behaviour!
If we have in any way a clear sense of what eternal life is, let us be absolutely real and earnest in our desires respecting it; let us lay hold of it. This spiritual energy will work out in the most practical way In every day conduct, and will make each hour of our lives worth living. The world lives for that which ends in death, the christian for eternity and life.
Our Lord speaks to us of cutting off the right hand and plucking out the right eye, of getting rid of every hindrance, even of hating this natural existence, in view of entering the eternal life. Exhortations of the most intense earnestness are addressed to the child of God to stir him to holy living and self-sacrifice in the view of eternity. And the more truly believers realize their present blessings, the more earnest will they be to lay hold of that which is their prospect.
The child of God is going into life in its condition of everlasting blessedness, and the enjoyment of what he has now is the stimulant to his spirit to make him long for that which is still future.