Death and Life

No creature has life in himself; God alone has that. Man was made a living soul by God’s breathing into his nostrils the breath of life (Gen. 2:7). Therefore man is “The offspring of God,” and that no mere animal is. In Him we live, and move, and have our being (Acts 17:28). As to the lower creation, the waters brought forth the creatures that move in them, and the earth brought forth the living creature, the cattle, and the beast after its kind. In this way they were brought into being by the power of God. But man is the subject of Divine counsel. The Godhead consult together regarding his creation. God said, “Let us make man in our image.” Man is placed in intelligent relationship with God. The word of God is addressed to him. He is set in responsibility to God. He is God’s offspring. The lower creation is under his authority, he is under the authority of God. God names him, he names the animals. These are to look up to him, he is to look up to God. He was the link between God and everything that God had made upon the earth. He was to bear rule over the fish of the sea, the fowls of the air, and over everything that moved upon the earth; God was to have rule over him. There was affinity between him and God; and there was affinity between him and the living creatures.

The life of man was derived directly from God, from contact with Him, and was to find its employment in the doing of His will. His work was assigned to him, and he was to find his delight in doing that which was marked out for him to do by his beneficent Creator. His natural life was maintained by the provision made for him in the fruit of the trees of the garden in which he was placed, and his spiritual life was to find its sustenance and supreme happiness in the God who had made him a living soul. His cup of joy was full, his delight in God unbounded and unruffled by external circumstances. His mind was not engrossed with his environment He had no need to ask where tomorrow’s bread would be found, the fruitful trees held out their hands to him laden with the good things of God. He had no need to seek happiness; he had it to the full. It was an innocent creation, and his innocent life was perfectly free to rejoice in his Maker.

The moment he sinned all this was changed. He found himself in another sphere. His joy in God was at an end. Fear filled his heart. The poison of his guilty attempt to grasp at Divinity coursed through the channels of his sin-bitten Soul. Death now lay upon him as the judgment of God, and he was also in a state of moral death toward God. He had broken with God, and he had no desire to have anything more to do with Him. To his guilty conscience God had assumed the character of a righteous, inflexible Judge, and was no longer to be viewed as a beneficent Creator.

He was dead, dead morally; and so is all the race that springs from his loin. Happiness is lost. It has now to be sought. But man will not seek it in the place in which only it can be found. He has gained knowledge of good and evil, but he has lost the good, and the evil clings to him. He has now become an object to himself. Pleasure he finds, but it is the pleasure of sin, which lasts but for a moment, and leaves behind it the pains of an outraged conscience. He walks in thick darkness, and the riddle of his existence he is ever trying to solve, but gets no nearer to the solution of it by all his efforts. He has a thousand remedies for the ills of life, but the remedies are provokingly impotent even to ameliorate his condition. He has built up the world, but under the inspiration of his inveterate enemy the devil, and in it he has everything calculated to keep him from taking a serious view of his condition as under the eye of God, and of the death and judgment to which he is fast hastening. He will not believe in the goodness of God, but judges Him to be a hard Master. He thinks that, if he had the power, he could do a great deal better for himself than God is doing; that is, if there be a God at all, a question that he would prefer to solve with a blunt and decided negative. He hates God, and out of his world God is rigidly excluded. Man’s world is a dark, Christless, Godless scene of sin, hatred, jealousy, envy, lust, pride, falsehood, and every abomination that the fallen nature of man is privy to. It is, as I have said, a scene of moral death.

I have drawn a dark picture, but of this I am certain, no one who knows anything of the state of this world will say that I have exaggerated the wretched condition of the human race. Is man not away from God? Is it not a fact that many of the world’s leaders question the very existence of a Supreme Being? And where His existence may be admitted, how few there are that believe the revelation He has been pleased to make of Himself! Has it not been torn to pieces by His professed servants? Have they not charged the inspired Apostles of our Lord with so adulterating the great thoughts of God with their own silly ideas that we are unable to distinguish between truth and error, and therefore we have no reliable revelation from God at all? Christianity has been thus largely given up by Christ’s professed servants.

Are men, the leaders even more than the led, not in gross darkness? Is this fact not admitted by themselves? If they know the truth, why are they professedly searching after it? If the Bible has told them the truth regarding man’s state after death, why are they anxious to get into contact with the spirits of the departed, and to learn from them? If one is found searching after truth it is evident he has not yet arrived at it.

Look at the upheavals industrially and socially. We are told that men are beginning to feel their power, and they are using it. True; and therefore you have lawlessness on the part of the people, and helplessness on the part of the rulers. Look at Russia: and how soon the same state of things may be in this land. “The sun turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, and the stars of heaven cast down to the earth.” The supreme power without light that would enable him to control the populace, and all is in darkness and chaos; and the subordinate authorities turned into blood, or cast down from their high position to fall in the general massacre.

The disease is not difficult to diagnose. Man is away from God, and his very efforts to make a fine world without Him infinitely increase the disaster. He will educate the people, be will lift up the masses, he will make the world a fit place to live in, he will work wonders, but he will do all this without God. It shall not be God’s world. Men will have none of His interference. He must keep to His own sphere. They are very well able to attend to their own happiness. The level-headedness of man will yet assert itself to his salvation, and in good time everything will right itself, and peace and safety will be everywhere enjoyed.

Such are some of the drivellings of men in their alienation from God. They pride themselves in the fiction that the race is advancing toward perfection, because men have got a smattering of education, wear clothes, do not always tattoo their bodies, nor eat human flesh unless they are dying of hunger. But are men less covetous than the painted savage? Are they less cruel? What about Russia? What about the inhabitants of the German Empire in the late war? What uncivilized people have ever resorted to greater atrocities? Is this world not more like a jungle of wild beasts than it is like creatures who are the offspring of God?

And they call this life! And one nation pits itself against all others for morality, for intelligence, for endurance, for philanthropy, for honesty, and for honourable conduct! And though in some instances the surface may, as compared with others, be in measure blameless, the superficiality of it cannot be hidden, for the veneer will crack, and the rottenness of its depths will too often be discovered. As the smooth and placid ocean seems to deny that in its innermost recesses no rival forces fierce to death contend, but while you look, the huge and shiny bulk of the sea monster breaks through the smooth surface, engaged in deadly combat with a foe that neither takes nor gives quarter; so occasionally there is a lull among the nations, but not for long does the sword rest in the scabbard. The noise of battle must be heard again, and the earth be dyed with the blood of those that fall.

How can it be otherwise with a creature wandering from his Creator, and seeking to fill his unsatisfied heart with the husks that the swine eat? And all the unrest of this miserable world arises from a search after happiness, a thing that the whole world could not give. If the whole universe were given to one man, what good would it do him? Would it satisfy the craving of his degenerate heart? It would do nothing else than burden him with cares, and make his existence a misery to himself.

Man has lost God. He has lost that in which life really consists. He is away from the fountain of living water, and is digging in a desert for that which he never can find. And the worst feature of his case is that he is unaware of his utterly hopeless condition. In a few words of Holy Scripture is his deplorable state described, “Without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12). And how true the word of the Lord addressed to that which is called by His name on earth, “Thou sayest, I am rich, and increased in goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked” (Rev. 3:17).

Alive to sin, alive to the satisfying of his carnal appetite, alive to the pleasures of this world, alive in his rebellion against God; but dead toward God, estranged in heart and mind from his Creator, his ear deaf to the call of God in the Gospel, his eye blind to the glory that invites him, his conscience often past feeling, and the energy of his whole moral being put forth to keep God out of his existence. Such is man’s dreadful condition—dead in trespasses and sins. This is the sphere of death.

The Sphere of Life

But as there is this sphere of death, blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, there is also a sphere of life. And just as in the sphere of death men have their objects, objects which can never satisfy the craving of the heart, so in the sphere of life men have their objects, objects which are infinitely great, and which make the cup of happiness overflow. God revealed in Jesus, the Father and the Son. What heart could contain all the joy that flows from the knowledge of such Persons? The people that dwell in this sphere do not need to seek happiness—they have found it. They have reached the spring and fountain of all life and perfect felicity. Here they have everything that in the whole universe is worth having. They no longer have the sense of need. They hunger no more. Their thirst is for ever quenched. They have come into the region of satisfied desire. They have got within them a fountain that springs up into eternal life, And “This is the life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent” (John 17). Such were once in the sphere of death, but they have “passed out of death into life” (John 5:24). They have reached the true Centre and Source of all content. They have reached the Fountain of all lasting pleasure, and their joy is full.

They know that their many sins are all forgiven. They are justified from all things. The blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, has cleansed them judicially before God. They have got a perfect standing in Christ before God. They have been taken into favour in the Beloved. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is their God and Father. They have the Spirit of God’s Son in their hearts giving them the enjoyment of sonship, into which they are brought in Christ. They are born of God, are His children, have His nature, and bear His moral characteristics. But above all, they know Him, they know His love, and they know that they cannot be separated from it. Added to this they have the bright prospect of being for ever with the Lord, when He shall come to raise His saints from their graves in incorruption, power, and glory, and to change the bodies of the living, fashioning them like to His own, and calling all up to meet Him in the air; and should the earthly tabernacle be taken down before this takes place, they have the certainty of being, though absent from the body, present with the Lord.

If they look back they see the grace that met them in their sinful condition, when fulfilling the lust of the flesh and mind, that grace that brought the Son of God from the highest heaven down to the lowest depths of dishonour, and which led Him to take their place under that judgment that lay upon them on account of their sins, and to glorify God when made sin, that they might become the righteousness of God in Him. There the whole love of God was brought to light, and there the whole question of their guiltiness was gone into, visited with the judgment of God, and closed for ever, never to be reopened.

If they look forward the glory awaits them. It beckons them heavenward with its brilliancy. In the brightness of that world to which they are called the glitter of this garish scene seems ghastly indeed. In that world of everlasting light there is fullness of joy and pleasures for evermore. It is the Father’s world, the invention of eternal love. Sin cannot enter there, sorrow has no admittance, death is unknown. There supreme satisfaction is realized by every heart, and the cup of every inhabitant runs over with joy unspeakable.

This life was the thought of God for man before this world came into being. Paul speaks of being “in hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began” (Titus 1:2). It is not the life of fallen man purified and eternalized. That cannot be, for the life of all flesh is corrupt, and unmendably evil (Rom. 8:7). Nor is it the life of innocent man in the Garden of Eden. It is the life of the last Adam, the Son of the living God. It is not creature life, though creatures have it in possession. It is a life the source and nature of which is divine. This life is in the Son, who is “the true God, and eternal life” (1 John 5:20). It is the life of all who are born of God, for the life of the One who has begotten is in those who are begotten.

It is viewed by the Apostle Paul, as we have seen, as the eternal purpose of God for man, and promised in Christ Jesus (2 Tim. 1:1), but the Word of that life has in this present dispensation been manifested in the glad tidings of God (Titus 1:1-3). It is not in evidence in His ways with His creature, either in innocence or guilt, but has to do entirely with eternal counsel. It is not dispensational, though only come to light in this present dispensation. John views it as the present possession of the believer down here in this world, “He that heareth my word, and believes on Him that sent me, has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but is passed out of death into life” (John 5:24).

In the Gospels we have that life delineated in its infinite perfection in the Son, as He walked down here to the delight of the Father’s heart. In this scene of contrariety were all its graceful characteristics developed and brought to light; the blasted, corrupt, and selfish life of the fallen creature forming the dark background of the picture. Here was brought to light its meekness, lowliness, obedience to the Father’s will, unselfishness, kindness to those unthankful and unholy, righteousness, holiness, goodness, truth, purity, and every other grace that was the delight of God.

What man born of the first and fallen Adam would take pleasure in a life like that? Where is the pride, the boldness, the self-respect, the haughtiness, the self-reliance, the contempt for enemies, that constitute a man a hero in this world? No one acquainted with the things that find appreciation with the men of this world will be surprised to learn that when He was manifested, there was no beauty in Him that would make Him acceptable to the people. We cannot be astonished to read that “He was despised and rejected of men” (Isa. 53), or that in His public testimony He could not be tolerated longer than three and a half years; or that His life was ended on a gibbet. Who that knows what man is can be really astonished?

His life is the life of the children of God. “He that believes on the Son has everlasting life” (John 3:36). They know the Father, and Jesus Christ His sent One. They still have the Adam life, which is corrupt, for by the body they are still connected with the old creation. But at the coming of the Lord their bodies will be changed, and fashioned like to Christ’s body of glory, and then the last link with the old creation will be severed.

It is only in this divine life that we can live to God. And nothing but the beautiful characteristics of this life should be seen in us. And the manifestation of these characteristics indicates those that are born of Him. The thing that was true in Christ, and manifested in Him down here, is now true in believers, “Which thing is true in Him and in you” (1 John 2:8), and only the characteristics of that life should be seen in them.

This life is the life of the Father’s world of glory, in which the believer lives, the power of the Spirit of God uniting itself to that life, and energizing it so that that life which was exhibited in all its infinite perfections in the Son is continued in the midst of this world of death in those who are born of God. It is life in the midst of death, light in the midst of darkness, the eternal in the midst of the temporal, that which is heavenly found in the sphere of earth, and love divine in the presence of human hatred.

Everything in the Fathers world is eternal. In that world nothing had beginning, neither shall anything there have end. Believers were chosen in Christ before the foundation of this world (Eph. 1). God calls those things that be not as being (Rom. 4:17). Our minds are finite, and from our standpoint we cannot see things in connection with eternity, we are compelled by our own limitations to connect all things with time. We are certain that everything we see had a beginning. We can better understand a thing having no end, because this thought does not compel us to force our thoughts out of the stream of time. With us it is still time lengthened out indefinitely. If we think of God, we know that He cannot have had a beginning, and yet we find in our reason a substratum of rebellion against this thought, for it is utterly foreign to our mode of thinking, and entirely beyond our comprehension. And yet the conviction is forced upon us that there must be a first cause of all things, and here again our finite minds rise up against the Infinite, which we cannot understand. But how could the creature understand the Creator?

Thank God, we know Him in a better way than this, for we know Him in His nature, and “God is love.

But the difficulty with us is that we connect time with God, and I suppose we cannot do anything else. Yet God has made a revelation of Himself, and by means of that revelation, and aided by the Divine Spirit, we are led to see that when God calls things that be not as being, it is no exaggeration or overstraining of precious truth, but the simple truth itself. The life believers have is the life of God, and we have it as born of God, just as we have human life by being born of human parents. And this life is in His Son (1 John 5:11). But it was ever in the Father and the Son, though it is now in the Son in manhood, in the Mediator, the Man Christ Jesus. And this life is now the life of our souls, as it shall be one day the life of our bodies, for the life-giving power of God shall be applied to our bodies at the coming of Jesus for His church (Rom. 8:11; Phil. 3:21). All that we are, then, in the Father’s world, all that we are in new creation power, is eternal, and disconnected from time altogether.

Personally, individually, and experimentally, we have had our beginning even as sinners, which we can never forget, and as subjects of the grace of God, for which we shall praise Him for ever. We can look back upon a time when we were not; as our Lord says, “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58). And no person is eternal, that is, had not a beginning, but the living God. But in the mind and purpose of God that which He determines to accomplish in time has reality.

All this may seem contradictory, but the only contradiction there is in it is the contradiction that exists between time and eternity, that which is finite and that which is infinite. We can truly say that the Son of God loved us and gave Himself for us, and yet we had no actual existence at the time of His death. Christ loved the Church, and gave Himself for it, but it had no existence actually when He set His love upon it. But it is another thing to say it had no existence for Him. It did exist in the mind and purpose of God, and as to actual fact it was evolved from Himself; for just as surely as, in our sinful condition, we all derived from Adam, had our life and moral nature from him, so as in Christ do we derive from Him our life, our moral nature, and in the end our changed bodies—all are by His life-giving new-creative power. The incarnation of the Son, and the revelation of the Father in Him, have made a complete change in the conception of the intelligent and unfallen creation, and certainly not with any darkening of the understanding. The grace manifested toward mankind in the gospel has to them a wondrous interest (1 Peter 1:12); and to the principalities and authorities in the heavenly places is made known by the Church the manifold wisdom of God (Eph. 3:10). This fresh unfolding must have, as it were, lifted them up to a higher plane, and have even given their service to God a lustre that it had not previously, however perfect it may always have been.

But as regards man, it was a light too bright for the eye of innocence, and utterly abhorrent to the eye of guilt. Just as our mortal vision had been given to us, and perfectly adapted to take in the light of the sun, so had there been a work wrought in us by the power of God, that enables us to receive and appreciate the revelation of the Father in the Son, so that “we know that the Son of God has come.” We know it because we are in the light and enjoyment of that Revelation, for “He has given us an understanding, that we may know Him that is true.” The sun is not a light to the eyes of a blind man. To enable him to take in the light, sight must be granted to him. And this is just what has been done in our case, so that we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us an understanding, that we may know Him that is true, and we are in Him that is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God, and eternal life (1 John 5:20).

The believer is partaker of this life by the quickening power of the Word of God. He has passed out of death into life. He no longer lives to himself, but to Him that died and rose again. He feeds upon that living Bread, that gives life to the world (John 6). He appropriates Christ given in death as a sacrifice for sin He appropriates Him as thus given. He eats His flesh, and drinks His blood; that is, by the appropriation of the death of Christ he eats and drinks death to all that he is as a sinner alive in the life of flesh; he makes that death his own by faith. As our Lord has said, “Whoso eateth My flesh, and drinketh My blood, has eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day;” and again, “He that eateth My flesh, and drinketh My blood, dwelleth in Me, and I in him.” The true believer is in Him for acceptance with God, and He is in the believer as life. We are in Him before God, and He is in us before men. We are out of the darkness of death, and in the light of life.

And we do not come into judgment (John 5:24). Judgment has no application to those who are partakers of that life. Believers who have passed away before the Lord comes for His Church shall be in the resurrection of life, not in that of judgment (John 5:28-29). And those who remain until that hour shall have their mortal bodies quickened by the power of that same life in which they now live to God. The dead in Christ are raised in glory (1 Cor. 15), and the living saints are changed; and all are caught up to meet the Lord in the air, and to be ever with Him (1 Thess. 4).

To give the believer perfect assurance that this life is his, three witnesses are given, “the Spirit, the water, and the blood” (1 John 5). The water and the blood came forth from the side of Christ when He had died upon the cross. A soldier with a spear pierced His side, and forthwith came there out blood and water (John 19:34). The Spirit came down from Christ glorified. The blood and water testify of the value of His death for us. The blood is the witness to us that by that death our sins are for ever gone out of existence. The water bears witness, that by means of that death we are morally cleansed. That death has not only made an end of our sins, but has made an end of sinful flesh; so that we have, by means of that death, our sins made an end of, and that which committed the sins brought to an end also. The Spirit’s witness is to Christ glorified, and life only in Him, but that we are partakers of that life by His quickening power, and by His indwelling. “God has given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He that has the Son has this life, and he that has not the Son has not this life.” All without this life are in the sphere of death.

Nothing is of more importance for us than is the realization that we are in that sphere of life. The Spirit of God has been at a great deal of pains to bring us to apprehend that sphere in the faith of our souls, and to enable us to live in that holy sphere. The measure in which we enter into it is according to the measure in which we cultivate divine affections, “We know that we have passed from death into life, because we love the brethren” (1 John 3:14). That which is ecclesiastical has broken down in its outward form and manifestation, though everything that is vital subsists in the power of God. But when through the worldliness of believers, and the carelessness of bad builders (1 Cor. 1:19-31; 3:11-17), that which professes the name of Christ has lost its pristine glory, and become utterly corrupt, we are by the Spirit of God being turned to that which is neither dispensational nor subject to the corruption that has invaded the Christless profession; that is, life in the Son, and in the believer by the power of the Divine Spirit.

Let us then seek to cultivate those divine affections that belong to that life, “Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loves is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loves not knoweth not God: for God is love” (1 John 4:7-8). We cannot expect to be in the enjoyments that are found in the sphere of life while miserable jealousies, backbitings, bitterness, and evil speaking exist among us. All these belong to the sphere of death.

Let us keep ourselves in the love of God, for it is in that holy atmosphere that the divine nature receives the nourishment that is necessary for its growth. The Lord direct our hearts into the love of God.