Eternal Life.

When God formed Adam from the dust of the earth and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, He set him up in all the delights of the earthly paradise, so that he might he happy in the circumstances provided for him in God's goodness, and be there with his God-given companion for the pleasure and glory of God. Alas! so very soon after, Adam and his wife forfeited fair Eden: and the tree of life was guarded by the Cherubim and the flaming sword, lest they should eat of it and live for ever in their sinful condition. That God had eternal life for man did not come out in relation to Adam innocent or fallen; indeed, it is expressly recorded that life, found in the tree of life, was forbidden to man in sin: nevertheless the tree of life surely indicates that God had in reserve a life upon which man had never fed, in which there was divine life and blessing for him. With the sentence of death upon him, Adam lived nine hundred and thirty years, but death at length claimed him; and although men in the successive generations lived to nearly a thousand years, every one of them, save Enoch, departed by way of death.

After cleansing the polluted earth, God called out Abraham, and gave him the promise of earthly blessing, blessing that would be complete in Christ's day, which Abraham was privileged by faith to see and rejoiced in it. From the seed of Abraham, the nation of Israel was separated from the nations, and put under the law, having the oracles of God and many advantages in the goodness of God. Man in Israel was under probation; he was being tested under the most favourable circumstances and had he kept the law he would have lived on earth in the blessings promised to those who kept the law; even as the Lord said to the young man, "This do and thou shalt live." Poor Israel failed miserably: but the gifts and calling of God are not subject to repentance: and on the ground of the promises made to Abraham, Israel will yet have blessing on the earth. This will not be on the ground of the covenant made at Sinai, but as founded on the New Covenant secured by the death of the Lord Jesus Christ. Looking forward to that day, David by the Spirit sees Israel in millennial blessing, where the dew of Hermon descends upon the mountains of Zion, and he says, "For there hath Jehovah commanded the blessing, life for evermore." What is denied to Adam in sin, is vouchsafed to Israel under God's grace, living for ever on the earth. No doubt, when the first earth passes, it will be to live on the new earth, in the conditions and circumstances prepared of God for men in the eternal scene. Daniel also foresaw many in Israel entering into this millennial blessing, awaking from their sleep among the nations to have eternal life, the life of earthly blessing promised to God's earthly people.

Speaking of Messiah, David said. "He asked life of thee thou gavest (it) Him, length of days for ever and ever." This is God's answer in resurrection to His dear Son. Who glorified Him on the earth. These are all the Old Testament Scriptures pertaining to eternal life, and it will be readily seen that there is no mention of its being communicated to any in those days there is no one who speaks of it as a present possession no one who sees anything other than continuance of life on earth.

Coming to the New Testament, the synoptic Gospels present eternal life in connection with the world to come yea it comes thus from the Lord's own lips. To the enquiry of the young man in Matt. 19, who asked "What good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life;" the Lord replies, "But if thou wouldest enter into life, keep the commandments." This of course would not take him beyond the Old Testament ground. It is evidently the same young man in Mark 10 and Luke 18. Arising out of this interview, the Lord speaks of life eternal in the coming age for those who, like Peter, had forsaken things here for Him and His testimony. In Matthew 26 it is again clearly in connection with the coming day that the sheep are given eternal life. Replying to the lawyer in Luke 10 the Lord tells him to keep the commandments, saying, "This do and thou shalt live." There is no thought in the synoptic Gospels of the revelation, present possession, or present enjoyment of a divinely communicated heavenly life; something entirely different from anything yet known upon the earth.

With John the subject of eternal life is opened up in an entirely new way. In John 3 we find the necessity of the lifting up of the Son of Man that through faith in Him, the believer might have eternal life. God, in wonderful love, gives His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him might not perish, but have eternal life. Does not this scripture show that eternal life could not be given to men apart from the death of the Son of Man? Eternal life also brings to us the knowledge of the wonderful love of God. At the close of this chapter, the one who believes on the Son has life eternal; it is the present possession of the believer. So that eternal life is brought to us through Christ's death; it brings to us the knowledge of the love of God; and is possessed by those who believe in the Son. Another instructive point to be noted is that eternal life is heavenly; the truth of new birth and the kingdom, the Lord speaks of as earthly things. So that eternal life is a heavenly life, brought to us in the Son of God and made available to us through His death, in which we learn the love of God, and which is given to those who believe in the Son.

The rivers of living water in John 7 expressly refer to the Spirit, about to be given as the power for testimony in the life of the believer; so that the fountain of living water in John 4 is evidently the indwelling Spirit, which in springing up into eternal life is the power for the enjoyment of the life given to those who believe in the Son. Verse 36 of this chapter may refer to the coming day; in service for the Lord now the reaper receives wages, according to the estimation of the Lord of the service rendered; and the fruit is being gathered in view of the coming day when the sower and the reaper shall rejoice together. The gathering unto life eternal may look at the display of the fruits in the coming glory; it may also be that in the results of the service of Christ the servant is brought into the blessedness of the life enjoyed in the power of the in-dwelling Spirit.

Eternal life in John 5 belongs to him who hears the word of God's Son, and who believes Him Who sent Him. So that this life consists in hearing the word of the Son, and in having the faith of the Father Who sent the Son. How blessed it is to be listening to the word of Him Who came forth from the Father, for that word brings to us all the thoughts of the Father's heart, all the things belonging to the Son, all the wealth of grace introduced in the ministry of Him Who knows all the secrets of the Father's will and counsels. This was not found in the Old Testament Scriptures. The Jews searched these Scriptures: and had they understood them they would have learned of Him Who alone could give them life eternal; but they would not come to Him that they might have life.

There is food which abides to life eternal, food which can nourish and satisfy the heart; the bread of God. Feeding upon Christ brings this blessed life to the soul in its practical realisation in communion with God. How necessary then to feed on Christ if we would truly know what eternal life is; delighting in Him, meditating upon Him, appropriating Him: and all this as we are communing with Him. It is not that we willed to have this life: we have it on account of the Father's will. Not only are we to be raised up in the last day in glory with Christ, but even here we are brought into this wonderful portion, partaking of the heavenly life which is found in the Son; and entering into it as believing in Him. Surely this means that as we are truly occupied with Him, the eye in faith resting on Him, we have the life which lies outside of things here. It is true that this life belongs to every one who has believed in Him; but faith is a present living thing, which engages the heart with the object upon which it rests; and it is being thus engaged with the Son of God that eternal life is ours in its reality. But if it is as feeding upon the Son and as believing in Him, it is as eating His flesh and drinking His blood that we have eternal life. Eternal life is truly known in feeding upon the death of Christ, in thus appropriating the love of the Father and the Son made known in Christ's death.

Well did Peter say "Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life." Eternal life has come in the Person, and in the testimony of God's own Son; and although it was but in a feeble way the disciples of Jesus could then know eternal life, not yet having the indwelling Spirit, they knew that in the Son of God, present among them, there were the precious words which gave them some knowledge of it. That blessed heavenly life was theirs, the gift of God to them, received by believing in the Son of God, yet the full joy and blessedness of it could not be theirs until the Lord Jesus died, and until they ate His flesh and drank His blood. There could not be the full knowledge of God's love until His Son died; nor could there be the true knowledge of the Father and the Son until the Holy Spirit came to indwell the believer. Still, it is good to know that while awaiting the full knowledge of the eternal life, the disciples knew that the Lord Jesus had for them the words of eternal life, which held them in deep attachment to Him, so that Peter could say "Lord to Whom shall we go?" They seemed to realise that eternal life was the substance of the Lord's ministry for them: a blessing of surpassing value, so valuable that they would remain with Jesus, even if all others left Him.

In John 10 the Good Shepherd leads His sheep from the Jewish fold, saying "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of My hand." The disciples recognised and followed the Shepherd, they knew His voice; they not only knew He had the words of eternal life, but the voice drew them to His Person, the giver of eternal life. He was not simply giving the words of eternal life, or the promise of eternal life, but He was giving the life itself. It was a life altogether different from the life they had in the Jewish fold: in it they could go in and out and find pasture; they had divine liberty and heavenly food. Nor was it a life that death had claim to, for they would never perish; it was truly eternal life as to its duration, even if it was eternal as belonging to a scene where time was not. Moreover if there was no cessation of this life, and death could never rob them of it, none could ever take them from the hand of the Son or the hand of the Father, so that there never could be any possibility of the sheep losing the eternal life. They might lose the enjoyment of it, or never have a very deep sense of its reality in their souls nevertheless, if they were Christ's sheep, this eternal life was theirs as the gift of the Good Shepherd, the Son of God. But observe it is after the sheep follow the Shepherd out of the Jewish fold that He speaks of giving them eternal life. They could not have eternal life there, for it was not connected with the legal system, but with the heavenly order of things into which the Son was leading them.

The first reference to eternal life in John 12 shows that it is a life in contrast to the life we live in our present circumstances "He that loves his life shall lose it and he that hates his life in this world shall keep it to life eternal." Do we really value life in this world or are we seeking our life in another world? The life lived down here in the enjoyment of the things of nature and of the things of the world will come to a close, it will be lost; only what has been sought of Christ will abide, being kept to life eternal. No doubt the future is in view, for eternal life is not only a present possession, it is ours after we leave this world behind. Hating the life in present things we shall indeed seek the life that is to be ours in the coming day, but that is the eternal life even now ours in association with the Son of God on the other side of death. Hence the life we keep to eternal life is what we have lived and enjoyed in communion with Christ, yea with the Father and the Son, in those things made known by the Son in His testimony here, and made available for us by His death upon the cross. So that eternal life is not connected with our life in this world; it is not the life touched in natural things; it lies in things outside of this world altogether.

John 6 told us that it was the Father's will to give the believer eternal life; now the Lord tells us that all He spoke was from the Father, it was His commandment, containing life eternal. And this is what the Jews were rejecting in refusing the Son of God; they were turning from the divine blessing of eternal life offered to them in the Father's grace. If this brings before us the utter folly of Israel, it also manifests the wondrous grace of the Father and the Son. What can we say to this, that the Father had sent forth His well-beloved Son into the world with this great message of life eternal, giving Him the very words to speak, so that we might know perfectly the grace of His heart? And to think that the Son, so great and so glorious, should undertake to proclaim the message of the Father; giving out exactly the thoughts and the very words committed to Him by the Father. Surely these things should bring us down in worship before the Father and the Son.

But the Son is no longer here, He has been glorified by the Father, and this in response to the expressed desire of His heart, "Father, the hour is come; glorify Thy Son, that Thy Son also may glorify Thee" (John 17:1). Then we see how the Father's glory is to be secured, "As Thou hast given Him power over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as Thou hast given Him." Had He not glorified the Father in faithfully proclaiming the words of eternal life according to the Father's commandment? Now He would still glorify the Father in giving eternal life to those the Father had given to Him in the counsels of His grace. As the Good Shepherd He had spoken of giving life eternal to the sheep; this was the grace of the incarnate Son; now in that same grace, the glorified Son would communicate the eternal life for the Father's glory, for it was the Father's will to give the believer life eternal. Here we see how the life is connected with the counsels of the Father, not as elsewhere with our believing, but as imparted to those given to the Son in the Father's counsels of love. The Son in communicating the eternal life to His loved ones is glorifying the Father m accomplishing His will and counsels.

Then the Son, in speaking to the Father, lets us into the true secret of eternal life, "And this is life eternal, that they might know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, Whom Thou hast sent." It is a life that consists in the knowledge of the Father, revealed in the Son, and in the knowledge of Him in Whom God is revealed. This is a knowledge that lies entirely outside of man's world; it has come down here in Jesus, but it shall be ours in Him for all eternity. How blessed for the believer to retire in spirit into the Father's presence, to be engaged there with Him-self and with His well-beloved Son; to be in the consciousness of the deep love made known in Jesus, and to enjoy it in the wonderful place of nearness and relationship into which God's grace and Christ's work have brought us. Here is an entirely new world for us to live in, with new pleasures, new joys, new relationships, new affections, new objects; yea where all things are new. But while they are new to us, they are the things that have ever existed, belonging to a world outside of time and the senses of men, for it is the eternal life that was with the Father, and was manifested unto us. In the holy atmosphere of divine and heavenly relationships and affections the spirit can rest in all that the Father is, and the divine nature within us can delight in Jesus Christ, sent of the Father to bring us into this eternal life.

Paul and Barnabas told the Jews that they had judged themselves unworthy of eternal life, so they turned to the Gentiles; then Luke records that as many as were ordained to eternal life believed (Acts 13:46, 48), indicating as John does that the subject is connected with God's sovereignty and the exercise of faith. In the epistle to the Romans, the apostle Paul shows that eternal life is entered into at the close of the life of those who seek for glory, honour, and incorruptibility, that is the life of the saint of God. Again in Romans 5:21 we are taught that grace reigns through righteousness until eternal life is reached in the world to come. Then at the close of Romans 6 as servants of God we have our fruit unto holiness, and the end for us is eternal life; but this eternal life is the gift of God to us in Christ Jesus our Lord. These passages in Romans plainly teach that eternal life belongs to the end of the life of responsibility; it is not at all connected with our path of service to God down here. But while this is so, Galatians teaches that "He that soweth to the flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting." Life eternal will be reaped at the end, although there is also a sense in which we may enter into it now, as John teaches, and as Paul exhorts Timothy, "Lay hold on eternal life."

In Timothy's first epistle, 1 Tim. 1:16, eternal life is the end reached by faith; and in chapter 6 as we have seen Timothy is exhorted to lay hold of eternal life now, the life to which God has called us. Paul, introducing the second epistle to Timothy, speaks of himself as apostle, "according to the promise of life, the (life) which is in Christ Jesus;" and in the introduction to Titus, Paul is bondman and apostle "in (the) hope of eternal life, which God, Who cannot lie, promised before the ages of time." Eternal life is the "blessed hope" of Titus 2:13, and for the third time in this short epistle it is referred to as a hope in Titus 3:7.

Jude also gives the future aspect of eternal life. Here in a world, fast ripening for divine judgment, the Christian is to keep himself in the love of God, and the bright prospect before him is eternal life, into which the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ shall bring us. Life in its divine fulness and joys shall be ours when the Lord Jesus takes us to heaven, and when, with glorified bodies like His own body of glory, we shall enter into without hindrance all that has been brought to us here by the Holy Spirit, and those things which could not be tittered to men in flesh and blood down here.

John, in his First Epistle has much to say of eternal life: it was something entirely new for men; first manifested by the Son of God incarnate, the Word of Life: the True God and Eternal Life; manifested in view of its communication to us, that we might possess it in Him, and find our deepest joys in its realisation in communion with the Father and the Son.
Wm. C. Reid.