Life in itself is a very simple thing, though to give an accurate description of it in words would, I have no doubt, puzzle the wisest. It has been defined as power to enjoy the relationships in which one is placed, and though this definition of it may be far from perfect, I know no better. Of course, life can be seen to exist apart from the consciousness of surrounding objects, as that of a newly-born child, a man asleep, or one rendered unconscious through misfortune. The latter is mere animal or, better, physical life; the former, moral; one the life lived, the other the life essentially. The latter is what is referred to in Acts 17:25-28, “He gives to all life and breath,” and “In Him we live, and move, and have our being.” This can scarcely refer to life in moral relationship with God, for man in his natural condition is dead in sins. (Col. 2:13). Again, He says, “If He set His heart upon man, if He gather unto Himself his spirit and his breath, all flesh shall perish together, and man shall turn again unto dust” (Job 34:14-15).
Mere animal life does not take God into account, nor was it ever intended that it should. But man is not a mere animal; he was made a living soul by the inbreathing of God. He was thus not only a living organism, but set in direct relationship with God as an intelligent being. In innocence he not only was a living soul, which was also true of everything that breathed the breath of life, but he lived to God, in communion with Him and sharing His thoughts as far as those thoughts concerned the position of dignity and trust in which he was placed; and as far as his knowledge of God went his joy was in Him, and his worship acceptable. When he fell he did not cease to be a living being, but his joy in God was at an end, and as far as his relationship to his Creator was concerned all was moral death. Never again was the blessed God to have His rightful place in the soul of either that man or of any of his descendants in their mere natural condition. The vital principle which constituted them living beings could not be destroyed; they must exist for ever as living beings; but without the communication of a new divine life it must be alienation from the life of God as long as they are in this world, and an eternity of separation from Him in the lake of fire when this world’s history is closed.
Man must have a new life by the quickening power of God, or he must perish. The old Adam life, that is, the life in which he lives in connection with objects outside himself, and to which he stands in relation, is corrupt. Had he remained in pristine perfection he would have loved God and his neighbour, but as fallen away from God he hates both. Self has usurped the place which rightly belongs to God. Everything that stands in the way of the exaltation of self he would ruthlessly destroy, and nothing less than the throne of the universe would satisfy his guilty ambition. In the breast of many this principle of evil lies dormant, because no prospect of self-deification intrudes upon its repose; but let one ray of the hope of rising into a higher position stream through the keyhole of his heart’s door, and desire will awake in him with the fury of a demon.
This will not do for God, for God is love, and nothing can stand in blissful relationship with Him which is offensive to His nature. Hence from the hour of man’s first transgression up till the present moment, whatever might be the character of the various dispensations, God has been working in life-giving power in the hearts of men. Jesus says, “My Father works hitherto, and I work” (John 5:17), and this work is quickening the dead souls of men with divine life.
But this communication of divine life was one of the secret ways of God with men. Now that the true light shines we can look back and see that there was no other way of blessing for His fallen and lost creature, but ostensibly it was the Adam life which was under probation, and which God was in various ways addressing by His prophets. As to what men understood of this secret operation of God we are not told. The blessed Lord’s word to Nicodemus seems to imply that he should have known that man must be born again; but be did not know, and whether any saint of God knew before the advent of the “True Light” we are not informed. The fact was declared in dark sentences and in figures of speech, which should have been understood had there been ability to enter into the thoughts of God. Moses, at the close of the journeyings of the children of Israel, and when they were about to enter into the land, utterly disappointed on account of the obstinacy of the flesh, owns with sorrow of soul that the Lord had not given them a heart to perceive, and eyes to see, and ears to hear (Deut. 29:4), thus admitting that only by a divine work in the soul could man be in blessing with God. Ezekiel speaks of a day when this would come to pass. He says, “Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean. . . . A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you” (Ezek. 36:25-26). In the New Testament we get the truth in plain words: “Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).
But this is all truth concerning a new nature, whereas my subject at present is life; though here I think the Word of God is just as plain and definite, “My Father works hitherto, and I work” is quite enough to show us that that which is the very soul of the present dispensation, was in some measure in operation in the past. New birth, the quickening power of God, faith as a principle of relationship with God and the only thing that really pleased Him, are all found in the subjects of the grace of God from the time sin entered into the world, but they were more the secret things which belong unto the Lord our God than the things which were revealed (Deut. 29:29). Now these things are revealed: men are plainly told they must be born again, life is proclaimed in the Gospel as the gift of God, and faith is the declared principle upon which men are to have all the blessings which are in Christ.
In the past dispensations the Adam life was under probation, and men were ostensibly on that footing in their relations with God. We read of men as good or evil, just or unjust, righteous or wicked, and held to be either this or that according to their outward actions; but the fact of men being called righteous did not then convey the idea that such had received a new life from God, or were in any different relationship from others: they were simply viewed as more faithful children of Adam. The wicked Israelite was outwardly in the same relationship with God as was the righteous, though the latter was what he was by the quickening operation of God’s grace in his soul. By the aid of the “True Light” which shines in this dispensation, we can look back upon those dispensations of darkness, and recognise behind them God at work in grace, producing faith, quickening, justifying, and giving the subjects of these gracious operations an assurance of acceptance with Him, when as to the dispensation itself there was nothing for them but the curse. From Moses to Christ, all Israel were outwardly under law, and “As many as are of the works of the law are under the curse” (Gal. 3:10); but secretly and on the part of God, however little it may have been understood, there were those under grace, otherwise none would ever have been saved at all: but this must not be confounded with the dispensation; it is outside, above, and beyond all dispensations except the present one, which is in faith (1 Tim. 1:4, N.Tr.; Gal. 3:23-25).
Therefore you get the Apostle speaking of the age of law as “Before faith came,” and of the present time as “After that faith is come” (Gal. 3:25), though faith characterized every saint of God from Abel onward (Heb. 11) to the present time, and will as long as the world lasts. But until this dispensation it was never revealed as the principle upon which men were in blessed relationship with God. Up to the flood the testimony seems to have been approach to God by sacrifice. In this way we have the righteous and the wicked set forth in Cain and Abel. After that, in the Patriarchal day, we have promise, and God linking His name up with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Next we have the law given by Moses, and Israel told that “The man that does these things shall live in them” (Lev. 18:5; Gal. 3:12). When we come to the present dispensation it is “FAITH.” In Christ we find the One who has offered the one infinite and acceptable sacrifice, the One in whom all the promises are yea and amen, the One in whom we have righteousness, life, salvation, and inheritance; and faith is the principle upon which every one of these blessings is made ours. It is in this way the Apostle speaks of faith having come. It is not meant that it never was in the heart of man in previous dispensations, but that it never had been the declared principle upon which men were in relationship with God. The Gospel is the power of God to salvation to all them that believe (Rom. 1), the righteousness of God is upon the believer (Ron. 3), he that believes on the Son has eternal life (John 3), being justified by faith we have peace with God, we receive the promise of the Spirit through faith, and we are all the sons of God by faith (Gal. 3). The blessings of the Gospel are set forth on the principle of faith, and the man that believes has them.
In connection with this there is an expression used in Scripture which it might be well to consider. I refer to the term “Flesh.” It is the nature of a child of Adam, and is in contrast with “Spirit” in John 3, and I may say everywhere else: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” It is just what a child of Adam is in his natural condition, and in it dwells no good thing (Rom. 7:18). It is all evil, root and branch. Now to be “In the flesh” is to be in the standing and condition of a child of Adam. In this dispensation the believer is not in that standing: “Ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you” (Rom. 8:9); but until the Spirit descended from Christ glorified to dwell in the bodies of believers all were in the flesh. In the past dispensations all, saints and sinners alike, were viewed as men in the flesh.
It may be objected to this that Scripture says, “They that are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom. 8:8), and that therefore Old Testament saints could not have been in the flesh, for they pleased God. But the same difficulty would arise in connection with the law, for the law addressing all under it says, “There is none that does good, no, not one” (Rom. 3:12), and all saints in the past dispensation were under law. Hence if I reasoned that, because Scripture says that men like David did good and sought God, he must not have been under law, I would be doing violence to the revelation which God has given us, under the plea of subjection to its authority.
Still it does say that they that are in the flesh cannot please God, and yet of Enoch it affirms that before his translation he had this testimony that he pleased God (Heb. 11:5). Was Enoch, then, not in the flesh? Let me ask another question, Was he in the Spirit? It is only by the Spirit’s indwelling that we can he said to be in the Spirit. That Enoch had the Spirit of prophecy no one who believes the epistle of Jude will question. But was the Spirit dwelling in him in the sense in which His indwelling is presented in Romans 8? Most certainly not. In the way in which Christians have the Spirit, He could not be given until the flesh was set aside in the judgment of the cross, and Christ was glorified (John 7:39). How, then, could it be said that Enoch pleased God?
It does not seem to me to be a question altogether of a man’s general conduct when it is said he pleased God. That Enoch was a sinner, as we all are, goes without saying; and that all his life long he was, like all other saints, a poor failing creature requires no proving: there is no man’s works able to justify him before God, and to be judged by them would result in condemnation. What, then, was that upon which the eye of God rested with such satisfaction. The Scripture makes this plain to us, if we only read with that reverence and care which become those who feel they have to do with the words of the living God.
“Without faith it is impossible to please Him: for He that comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.” There we have the explanation of the whole matter. The chapter in which the statement is found deals entirely with the value and power of faith. Faith is that which is begotten in the soul by the Word of God. It comes by report, and report by the Word of God (Rom. 10:17). This is why it is so indispensable to us and so pleasing to God. It was upon the faith of Enoch that the eye of God rested with pleasure, and not upon his failing footsteps. His walking with God was only the outcome and result of the work of God in his soul, his faith was a product of the new nature, which was in him by the mighty operation of the grace of God.
In the past dispensations there was no other revealed standing for men than that of the old Adam standing, the flesh. That the Last Adam was in the mind of God, and ever before Him, I need hardly say, but He had not come; redemption was yet to be accomplished, and the Son of God had yet to take the place in resurrection of Last Adam and life-giving Spirit. Now He has taken this place, and it is not only that men are quickened by His Word, but the Holy Spirit, sent down from the glorified Head, dwells in the already renewed soul, unites Himself with that primitive work of the grace of God, as the strength of that which has been already born of Him. Then one can be said to be of Christ, of the risen and exalted Head: “Ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His” (Rom. 8:9).
“In the flesh,” as I have said, refers to the standing and condition of a child of Adam. There may be a work of grace present, or there may not be. What God may do secretly and sovereignly is not the question. A new declared position for man in relationship with God is set before us in this present dispensation, and no one is in that position but he who is indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God. To say that saints in the past dispensation were in Christ, is to say that they were in One who had yet to be born, to say nothing of the necessity of His death and resurrection. Whatever they were as saints they were that by the work of God in them; but new birth does not take a man out of the standing of flesh. All in the past were on the line of Adam, as to their declared status or position with respect to their relationship with God, and the line of Adam is the line of flesh. But now no man is in relationship with God on any other line than that of Christ, and no man is on that line apart from the gift of the Spirit. That the thing is true for him on the part of God the moment the first work of grace is begun in his soul I do not question, but he has not come into it on his side, nor has he any ability to do so until he receives the Spirit.
I would add as to Old Testament saints this remark, that there was in addition to new birth an edifice of truth built up in their souls, which gave them ability to serve God. As weakness characterizes the man born into the world, so does it characterize the soul born again. There is no strength in the child born after the flesh, neither is there in the one born after the Spirit. But as I have said, in saints of the past dispensation there was a building up and growth in the divine nature, which manifested itself in enduring afflictions, and in working righteousness, so that they have become a pattern to us. But in this present time there is nothing of this previous to the reception of the Spirit. Hence it would not be wise of us to put a soul born again in this dispensation on the same level with children of God in the past. When Scripture says that they that are in the flesh cannot please God, it is not speaking of anything previous to Christianity. That the man described in the latter part of Romans 7 is not in Christian liberty everyone who is a Christian knows. That he is not an unconverted man is just as evident. He has got an “inward man” who delights in the law of God, and yet he has no power against evil, it has the mastery over him. That this was not true of an Old Testament saint goes without saying, for there was something built up in him which gave him strength. But with us there is no building up till we get the Spirit: He is our power. “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death” (Rom. 8:2). In our infantile condition there was nothing but desire after righteousness, and a cry for deliverance. The Spirit of God, which makes free from the law of sin and death, is the answer to that cry. A new divine power comes in by which we are enabled to put to death the deeds of the body and live to God. No greater gift could the blessed God have bestowed upon us than the gift of His Spirit. He has given His only begotten Son for us and He has given His Holy Spirit to us, and nothing now will be withheld. May we know better how to appreciate and use such a wonderful gift.
In reading the New Testament one cannot but be impressed with the fact that the writers present the testimony with regard to this life as peculiar to the present dispensation. Paul speaks of it as promised before the ages of time, and that God has in due time manifested His word through the proclamation which was entrusted to him. He puts nothing regarding this life between the eternal counsel of God and the proclamation committed to him except the advent of Christ into the world (Tit. 1). It is the life, he says, which is in Christ Jesus (2 Tim. 1). It was in the secret counsels of God, and undisclosed until He came who was the object of these counsels, and the One in whom they were to have their accomplishment. Now He has abolished death, and has brought life and incorruptibility to light by the Gospel. The life was manifested down here in Him who was Himself the life. In Him its beautiful moral characteristics shone resplendent before the eyes of men, though it had no attractions for any except those in whose souls the Father wrought in grace. Still it was there, shining as light in the midst of this darkness, its every feature a priceless brilliant under the eye of God. But now we see it in its own native clime, that which it was in the vision of God before ever the earliest age of time was brought to birth. Life and incorruptibility have been brought to light by the Gospel.
Now Christ was the word of that life, the law was not. No law had been given able to give life; had there been, righteousness would have been by the law (Gal. 3:11). But before the age of law, and while the dispensation of law was running its course, there were communications of grace, which, as far as they went, were (like the beams of the morning which fitfully gleam across the brow of heaven while it is yet night) flung backward in prophetic message, and which caused the souls of those who received them to live in that life which was as yet unrevealed. But while, as far as I can see, there was no other life for fallen man than that which is in God’s Son, there is not the same volume of life in the soul of every redeemed family. According to the measure of the revelation, so is the life begotten by that revelation. Hence we hear nothing of eternal life in the past times, except in the way of promise. It is not that saints were not quickened, but they were dependent for the life which was communicated to them upon the word that was addressed to their faith. Intrinsically, or essentially, the life of God’s people was always the same; but this is a poor and imperfect, if not a deceptive, way of considering divine life, or indeed any kind of life. There is a great difference between the life enjoyed by a caterpillar and that which is the portion of a butterfly. Intrinsically, I suppose, their life is the same, but the enjoyment and manifestation of life is as different as can be.
To puzzle our minds about essential life is, it seems to me, a very foolish and vain proceeding. It is all well enough to hold fast that when man fell there was life nowhere for him but in God, and that the counsel of life was between the Father and the Son, and that the Son in manhood was given to have life in Himself as the Father had, and that in time He became Last Adam, a life-giving Spirit, also that He is given power over all flesh that He may give eternal life to as many as the Father has given Him; but when we begin to reason about the ways of God in connection with the families of the redeemed before the cross, and when we allow our minds to roam in paths which are not marked out for us by the word of God, we are sure to get into error. Eternal life in Scripture is connected with the revelation of the Father in the person of the Son become Man, and to take it out of this connection and place it in dispensations where the Father was unknown is to do violence to the word of truth. We need to be very careful, lest in our anxiety to make much of the blessings of the saints in past dispensations, we do not bring our own rich blessings down to their level. It has been said that “Life is exercised and unfolded in connection with its objects, and thus characterizes itself. The source from which it flows makes us capable of enjoying it; but an intrinsic life which has no object on which it depends is not the life of a creature. Such life as that is the prerogative of God. This shows the folly of those who would have a subjective life, as they say, without its having a positively objective character: for its subjective state depends on the objective with which it is occupied. It is the characteristic of God to be the source of His own thoughts without an object—to be, and to be self-sufficing (because He is perfection, and the centre and source of everything) and to create objects unto Himself, if He would have any without Himself. In a word, although receiving a life from God which is capable of enjoying Him, the moral character of man cannot be formed in him without an object that imparts it to him.”
It is nowhere said in Scripture that saints before the present dispensation had eternal life; indeed, the prophetic word rather carries it forward to the world to come, thus apparently excluding it from the dispensations during which man was under probation. We know now by the light which has come to us in the Gospel, that no man could live to God in the Adam life. This we know is moral death. But it was not so described in past ages. Another thing I would say: It is not vital to our soul’s interests that we, who know so little about what life really is, should understand all about the quickening operations of God in the past times. If anything referring to this has been revealed, by all means let us seek grace to understand it, for whatever has been written is there for our instruction, but let us not go beyond the light given to us by the Spirit of God. I should affirm that the saints in Old Testament times lived to God by His quickening power, and my reason for doing so is this: I know that they loved God and lived to Him, and served Him agreeably to His will; also I hear the blessed Lord say when upon earth, “My Father works hitherto” (John 5), and that work was raising up the dead and quickening. But it is quite another thing to affirm they had eternal life. He who does that, does it without Scripture warrant.
It may be retorted there was no other life for men than that which is in the Son, and if they had that life then they must be said to have eternal life. I answer, this is your reasoning, and you have no right to force its conclusions upon the saints of God. Where Scripture is silent we do well to be silent also; when it speaks we need have no fear to give an echo to its wonderful disclosures. Another thing I would press, we live by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God, therefore to alter that word in any way to suit our preconceived ideas, or to give the appearance of divine support to a certain line of teaching, is suicidal. Let us not seek to fashion the revelation of God according to our thoughts of what is just and right, but let its clear light drive out of our hearts our own natural and carnal notions, as the sun drives from his presence the owls and bats which have their home in the darkness of the night. May we be like the Psalmist who could say, “How precious also are Thy thoughts unto me, O God! how great is the sum of them! If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand” (Ps. 139).
Eternal life is said to have been “With the Father” (1 John 1:2). This, I do not doubt, goes back before incarnation, as “In the beginning was the word” does also. But while this is clear, it is also just as clear that in revelation it is not only with the Father in the person of the Son, but in others who possess that life it is not disconnected from the Father, but is said to be possessed in “Fellowship with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1). It is not found in connection with the Almighty, or with Jehovah, or even with the Most High, but only with the Father. No name but that of Father carries with it eternal life. I am speaking from Scripture. If it is connected with any other revealed name of God let it be pointed out, but not reasoned out. The Lord Jesus addressing the Father in that wonderful prayer recorded in John 17, says, “This is life eternal, that they might know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.” Yes, but it is said that it is not the Father here, but the only true God. But who is the only true God in this dispensation? A Jew who only knew Jehovah as such could not now be said to know the only true God. The only true God for us today is the Father revealed in the Son. Hence it is, not only the only true God, but Jesus Christ Thy sent One. God is revealed in this dispensation as Father, and no one can know God in any other character, or by any other name than the character or name in which He is pleased to come to light.
Now as to the knowledge of the Father. The babes are said to know Him (1 John 2). In Galatians we read, “Because ye are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.” With a lower state of soul than this eternal life is not connected in Scripture. That there is a lower state is here in Galatians declared; it is “because ye are sons” the Spirit of His Son is given. Hence we have souls here with a work of God in them, born of Him, for they are sons, and yet they have not the Spirit, and consequently are unable to cry, “Father.” That they are children of God as born of Him will not be denied, but they have not as yet power to take that place. In John 1 we read, “As many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name: which were born . . . of God.” But, as I have said, eternal life is not connected with this state, only with those who know the Father, and such have the Spirit of His Son in their hearts.
It may be objected to this that the Lord Himself, during His ministry upon earth, and before the Spirit could be given, accredits those who believed on Him with eternal life. True, but such are also said by Him to know the Father. He says, “He that hears My word, and believes on Him that sent Me, has everlasting life” (John 5:24). Again He says, “He that believes on Me, believes not on Me, but on Him that sent Me, and he that sees Me sees Him that sent Me” (John 12:44-45). Again, “I have given unto them the words which Thou gavest Me, and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from Thee, and they have believed that Thou didst send Me” (John 17:8). Is all this true now of anyone who has not received the Spirit? Surely not. The blessed Lord was there, and doing a work in the souls of those who heard His word, a work which no one but the indwelling Spirit can now do. No one knows the Father now unless he has the Spirit. The babes in John’s first epistle are said to know the Father. As I have already said, lower than this the Spirit does not recognize anything as Christian state, but that there is something lower than this, spoken of as begotten of God, cannot rightly be denied, though with that primitive work in the soul Scripture does not connect eternal life. That life is there he would be a bold man who would deny, but as to intrinsic or essential life, as people are pleased to call it, we know but little.
Scripture clearly testifies that life was in the counsel of God for man before the world was (Tit. 1), that it was with the Father (1 John 1), thus indicating a new order of relationship for man, and the perfect revelation of God; that it was manifested in this world in the One who was the Word of life and the Son of God (John 1); that it lies for us in the knowledge of the Father and Jesus Christ His sent One (John 17); that the Son of Man had to be lifted up on the cross for men to have it (John 3); that a dead Christ must be appropriated for men to possess this life (John 6:53-56); that whoever eats His flesh and drinks His blood has it; that it is the life of all the family of God, from the babe who knows the Father to the most advanced who knows “Him who is from the beginning” (1 John 5); that this life is in the Son of God, and that He is it—the true God and eternal life.
The testimony that God has given to us eternal life, and that this life is in His Son, is substantiated to us by three witness-bearers—the Spirit, the water, and the blood. The water and blood came forth from the side of a dead Christ. A soldier with a spear pierced His side, and forthwith came there out blood and water. This was when it was discovered that He was already dead. The other witness, the Spirit, came down from Christ when He was risen and glorified. The water and blood speak to us of the value of the death of Christ, the Spirit of what we have in Him glorified. The blood bears witness that by that death my sins are expiated and gone for ever in the judgment of God, so that my conscience is purged, and I am at perfect peace and rest in His holy presence. The water speaks of moral purification: “Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean from all your filthiness!” (Ezek. 36); “Washing with water by the word” (Eph. 5:26). The water therefore bears witness to me that that same death which has put away my sins has made me clean. But how am I clean? Can the flesh be purified? It is in its nature corrupt and hostile to God. How then can I be made clean? “Our old man is crucified with Him” (Rom. 6) is the answer of Scripture. The flesh must be condemned, set aside in judgment. This has been done in the cross of Christ. It is my privilege now to be able to say, “I am crucified with Christ” (Gal. 2). The flesh is not cleansed, but I am cleansed from it. Both expiation and purification are in the death of Christ, and the water and the blood testify of these things.
The third witness is the Spirit, or rather we may say the first witness, for it is in His power we understand the import of the other two. This witness came down from Christ glorified, bearing testimony to the power of life in Him, and that life for man is found nowhere else. But this Spirit is the power of life in us, so that we are linked up in life with Him who is its fountain head. The objects which create, form, feed, and characterize that life which is ours by the gift of God, are presented to us, and made real to conscience, mind, and heart in the power of that Holy Spirit who has come down from the glorified Son of God; by His means the revelation of God in Christ becomes the fountain of life in our souls, we know the Father, can address Him as our Father, have our delight in Him, know that we are children of God, and delight to contemplate the love which has given us such a wonderful place.
These are God’s three witness-bearers whose combined testimony converge to one great point, namely, that “God has given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.” The blood, as I have said, witnesses that our sins are gone, the water that we as defiled children of Adam are gone ourselves, the Spirit that life is in the risen Son of God; and these three together bear testimony that eternal life is ours by the gift of God in His Son. This is the witness of God, and “He that believes on the Son of God has the witness in himself.” He lives in the love of God, and in relationship with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ, in the consciousness of sonship, and in life and nature in the Father and the Son, and thus realizes that the gift of God is his. “He that has the Son has life, and he that has not the Son of God has not life.” This is the exalted plane upon which this life is here viewed. Now Paul always speaks of eternal life as in hope, and connects it with our glorified condition. He speaks, however, of quickening as a present thing. We have it in Colossians: “You, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, has He quickened together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses.” Here it is not at all the way in which eternal life is set before us. It is not here a question of the relationships and affections in which we are set, which is the way in which John treats the subject, but it is that we are quickened with Christ out of all the dreadful condition in which we lay as sinners, dead in our sins. It is more what we are by this means taken out of, than the order of things into which we are brought, and in which we live. It is so also in Ephesians, though there we are not only said to be quickened together with Christ, but also raised in Him and seated in Him in the heavenlies. We are said to be God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works. But this is very different from fellowship with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. I do not say that the life is different, but I do say that the adjective is never used in connection with this way of speaking of life, at least not as far as I am aware. Again, I think that both in Colossians and in Ephesians life is looked at in the development in which it can be taken account of as the life of Christ. The Apostle is speaking of men who have the Spirit of God. They were His workmanship, but that does not mean that they were all that they were as the workmanship of God when Paul could address them as such, by the first breath of divine life. I do not think that such words as these could be used of any who have not received the Holy Spirit. There is the caterpillar as well as the butterfly, and though no other life may have been communicated to the latter than that which it had in its primitive condition, there is a development of that life which takes it completely out of its larval condition. Who would say the grub was a butterfly? Yet from the moment of its conception that is what it was designed to be. We must not imagine that the first movement of the Spirit of God in quickening power in the soul makes a man at once a fully fledged Christian. With such thoughts as these we should never understand the way things are presented to us in Scripture. For instance, I might ask the question, Does a dead sinner, in order to get life, eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood? or is this appropriating of the death of Christ not an evidence that there has been a work of grace wrought in his soul? Surely the only right answer must be, that in such a soul a work of grace is present. Or I might ask again, Who is it comes to Christ for salvation? Scripture will answer the question. It is “Everyone who has heard and learned of the Father” (John 6:45). Paul was sent to open the eyes of the Gentiles, that they might turn to God and receive forgiveness (Acts 26). No one will turn to God until he gets his eyes opened, and what is the opening of the eyes but the entrance of the light of God into the soul. No one will come to Christ, or have anything to do with Him, until there is a work of grace within. And what is this work of grace but the beginning of that which God will yet be able to describe as quickening together with Christ?
According to the first epistle of John, the feeblest in the family of God know the Father, and surely no one would contend that the first breath of divine life in the soul brings the knowledge of the Father with it. When saints are viewed as quickened with Christ, or in the possession of eternal life, they are always contemplated as in the height of the Christian position, as indwelt by the Spirit of God, and able to cry, Abba, Father. To make divine life, in its inception, bring the soul with lightning rapidity into the consciousness of these rich and unspeakable blessings is to disregard the plainest teaching of Scripture. That there must be the opening of the eyes to the grace of God, the turning of the soul from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, before forgiveness of sins is received, must be entirely overlooked by those who make new birth, eternal life, and sealing of the Spirit, take place together. It really makes repentance and turning to God a work of the flesh, instead of a work of the Spirit of God.
It is plain enough from Scripture that God is the One who begins the work which leads to Christ, and that that beginning is new birth. In John 3:3 we have it spoken of in its inception; in 1 Peter 1 we have it stated of those who call on the Father, and who have been begotten by the word preached in the Gospel. In John’s first epistle we have it in the highest way in which it can be viewed; they are begotten of God, His children, unknown by the world, overcomers of the wicked one, the antichrists of the world, untouched by the wicked one, as Christ is they are in this world, and when He appears they shall be like Him. I do not question its being always the same life and nature, but we have it in its various settings, and viewed in its various developments, and spoken of according to these developments, and if we mix these things all up together we will only get into hopeless confusion, and lose the truth of the Gospel.
May we know the life better by being in the enjoyment of it in the power of the Spirit, and may its beautiful characteristics be seen in us, to the glory and praise of God.