The main subject in the Gospel of John is life. “The Word was with God, and the Word was God… In him was life, and the life was the light of men.” The first Epistle of John gives just the same thing: “the word of life,” and life given in atonement, but the main subject is life. Christ gives life on the ground of forgiveness, and then comes the power of righteousness. Abraham walked with God in wonderful elevation of character; but the full question of righteousness had not been raised; it was not brought to light, because the way into the holiest was not yet made known. There was a righteousness which was owned, whilst he that sinned with a high hand was cut off. But there was not then the presence and power of the Spirit witnessing to, and acting in, eternal life, which could lead inside the veil, and give a new and accomplished righteousness, such as God has complacency in and could accept. All then was outside the veil, but there can be no outside now, for the veil is rent. I cannot stand before God now on the ground of the past. When the way of righteousness was not fully known, it was, “Walk before me, and be thou perfect.” The whole question of what man is had not been tried, nor was his utter inability and helplessness understood.
But it is a different thing now altogether, for it has been seen that man has not power to avail himself of the very remedy that could deliver him. Life is given to him, and righteousness has been wrought out for him, and grace gives the power of faith, which can lay hold of it. There was the promised seed for Abraham—the true Isaac—which his faith could lay hold of. To us there is accomplishment, and not promise only. The law held out life on obedience; but it did not give power: indeed this was just what it did not. “If ye will obey, then ye shall be,” etc.; Exod. 19:5. The Israelites in their foolishness take upon themselves to work for that which had been unconditionally promised to the fathers, and immediately make the golden calf. The law is holy in its requirements, but it never pretends to give strength; so that the very need makes that which the law could do unavailable. It is like the Bethesda pool to the helpless man. If I am searching within to know if I have done what the law demands, I shall find not only that I am without power to meet its claims, but that the very link is broken on which I could have had the slightest hope of getting help through it. My heart can get no comfort until I see that there is power to be had in some other way, for I have no strength to keep the law, and consequently I have no hope of getting life and righteousness under its principles. And it is just when I come to this that I learn Christ is the only one who can meet my need, for in Him I have both the remedy and the power that can use it. If I am trying to resist evil, this cannot comfort me; but I have comfort in the knowledge that Christ has life and righteousness for me. Strength for my need is found in looking at an object outside myself. If I look within, I only see that which will distress, perplex, and condemn me; but if I look to Christ I get rest and peace, for He is both life and righteousness.
The more I know of Christ, the more I shall be judging myself, it is true—the more desiring to apprehend that for which I am apprehended. But as there will be a knowledge of God’s righteousness, so there will not be the going about to establish a righteousness of one’s own, which must always raise the question as to its being my ground of standing before God. Christ is all I need, and the heart that is true to Him will not look at its own deeds of righteousness, but at Him who gives alike life and righteousness. In myself I see only sin, and evil, and all sorts of disorder. Now God requires holiness. Dare I look to what I am? No; but at Christ. “In him was life, and the life was the light of men.” The Lord Jesus Christ in passing through this world was the expression of perfect love and holiness. There was in Him all that law—nay, all that God—could demand.
Now what can I say for myself? Outward sins, in their gross form, may not trouble or distress me; but there is another thing: Have I communion with Christ? with God’s righteousness? Is there in me constant unmingled love to God, as the one spring and motive of all my actions before Him? You know there is not. Self, alas! in its varied shapes is but too generally your object. Is it not? Self-pleasing, self-exalting, self-advancing, are ever the principles of men’s actions—of men as they are. It is self-present or self-future with which he is occupied. In the blessed Lord there was the total absence of all selfishness; there was true devotedness of heart, and affection, and service, without the smallest particle of self-seeking. The believer gets the benefit of His holy walk and testimony, and his own selfishness is overcome by the grace he sees in Him.
The very thing man so much covets, there was the perfect absence of in Him. “I receive not honour from man.” Now what is the spring, and stimulus, and motive of almost every action? What is it that makes man—perhaps you—strive to be amiable, and pleasing, and agreeable? Is it not that you may “receive honour one of another”? And yet of such the word says, “I know you that ye have not the love of God in you.” Man’s acts begin and end in one continual effort to elevate self, instead of which there must be the death of self. It is no use to be striving to mend and improve self, for self must die. Death has to be written upon all the actions, and efforts, and motives of man: he must learn his entire helplessness, and the utter uselessness of every remedy; for his very need deprives him of the power of using the remedy. “There is no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool.”
We are a long time learning that there is no power in man— that the spirit of his nature and the very principles of his heart are but sin. Even when we are brought to this as regards the past, and have to own that as yet all has been evil, we do not give up the hope of being better in the future, and so acquire a righteousness this way. It comes to one thing. I failed as to yesterday, but I may improve for to-morrow. I have not reached this yet, that I must appear before God to-day, bad as I am—just as I am, in all my selfishness and sinfulness. We may be humble enough, too, in a way, and say, I am in a bad plight; but where there is a question of debt, there is always a talking about tomorrow. But this putting off until tomorrow will not make my position any better. I cannot appear in the presence of God without holiness; my conscience must be made clean. Where can I look for help? I do not desire that the holiness of God should be lessened; yet I have no power in myself to meet it. What is to become of me?
The Lord Jesus Christ said to the impotent man, who had an infirmity for thirty-and-eight years, “Rise, take up thy bed and walk.” It was God’s power, not man’s, and in the using of this power man gets the blessing. The grace of God puts the strength in him, “and immediately the man was made whole.” On Christ hangs all. He both provides the blessing and gives power to use it. He gives life. “The Son quickeneth whom he will.” From His own word we learn the wondrous truth, that He is become our life; for as we have partaken of the nature and fall of the first Adam, and got the sentence of death through him, so do we get life by Jesus Christ. Life is come down from heaven, and if I am resting in faith on this, it is mine. There may be self-judging, but my conscience will be at rest. I have seen this power of Christ on earth. “Take up thy bed and walk; and immediately the man was made whole.” There was no need of the pool, there was the life-giving presence of Christ. He had power to heal without the water. In Him was grace, strength, love, sympathy, and all the poor man could require. The helplessness of the man made him the very object for Christ to strengthen; his need was that which called forth the Lord’s help. This is the place in which He met us. “When we were yet without strength, Christ died for us.” He has made full atonement for sin. He “when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high.” We are “quickened together with him.” When I see Christ before God, I know that my sin is all put away, and that I have life in Him. I have life in the Son, and not in the creature. My sin is all gone, for Christ is up there at God’s right hand, and He has not got the sin with Him. If I am searching for life in myself, I must break off with Christ.
Eternal life is never said to be in us: we have it; but it is in Christ; and the standard is kept up in my soul by looking at Him; 2 Cor. 3:18. God has been perfectly glorified in the putting away of my sins; and I have got eternal life, for I have got the Son. If I have not the Son of God, I am yet in my sins. But the moment I see Christ risen and in heaven, I cannot but know that my sins are all gone, and I have life and righteousness; and He is the standard of both. “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation [or rather, judgment]; but is passed from death unto life.” It is written that we must all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ. Does this thought distress me? He “quickeneth whom he will.” Do you think He is going to judge those He has given life to? Is He going to judge Himself? No, the thought is monstrous. What power can be found to judge me?
Great confusion rises in the mind from mixing up “the resurrection of life” with “the resurrection of judgment.” Christ will execute judgment because “He is the Son of man.” Every knee shall bow before Him. He shall get glory from every creature. Is He going to judge what He has already glorified? We shall appear, we shall be manifested, before the judgment-seat of Christ, it is true; but it will be to receive from Him, for we shall be with Him in the glory before we get there. We are one with Him who is to judge. We shall have our glorified bodies then. “This mortal shall have put on immortality.” This vile body shall be changed and fashioned like unto His glorious body. It shall have what my soul has already got. Christ bore my sins, and is He going to judge what He has put away?
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word and believeth on him that sent me hath everlasting life.” It is he that submits, “he that hears,” he that owns himself to be without strength, dead altogether as to hope or help from self. If I am brought into such a place before God as to listen to Christ and receive from Him, then have I life. “He that heareth my word shall not come into judgment, but is passed from death unto life.” If my soul has bowed to Christ—if I have listened to Him—if I have learnt from Him, owning that I was lost—then have I a portion in life which settles every question of judgment. “He that heareth my word,” etc. This is the very way I have learnt that I am lost, and it has just come to this—I must either take my place with those who have the real life and shall not come into judgment, or with those who will be in the resurrection of judgment because they are rejecting Christ. I am a vile sinner, but I do believe the Father sent the Son; and this settles every question of my guilt. Am I mixing up the resurrection of life with that of judgment, so that the thought of judgment is still distressing me? God has committed all judgment unto the Son. Will He judge what He has quickened into life? Most assuredly He will not. Shall I find some other God to judge me? The thought would be blasphemy. The word is particularly clear: but we, in confusing the two, lose the comfort of their meaning.
“They that have done good unto the resurrection of life, and they that have done evil unto the resurrection of judgment,” v. 29. Well, if we have heard His word, and believed on Him that sent Christ, we have eternal life. “You hath he quickened who were dead.” We have that perfect blessed holiness that can stand before God. Believing on Him, I have got a life in which I have the blessed certainty that I shall not come into judgment. I have already eternal life and I have passed from death unto life. I was dead, but I am raised, as to my soul, by the power of God. I have got Christ. He has made me whole. He has given me both life and righteousness. As regards my present position, I am emptied out of myself into Him. He redeemed me. He died for me. There is a judgment, sure and inevitable for man; but it is altogether outside this eternal life. I must be in the one place or the other, either raised in the resurrection of life, or in that of judgment. I cannot have a portion in both. This vile body shall be changed like unto His glorious body. The full power of life will then be upon my body, as it is now in my soul. God must vindicate His holiness. This He did upon the cross; but the cross, while it shewed out, did not procure His love. Who sent the Son? Sin was put away by putting God’s Son in the sinner’s place; but His love was not created by the cross. His holiness was vindicated therein, but we make a great mistake if we suppose His love commenced at the cross. “God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son.” “The blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, cleanseth us from all sin.” And we have life in Him. He “bare our sins in his own body on the tree.” It is no question of what I shall be to-morrow, but of what I am, or rather what Christ is to me to-day. May the Lord give us to be humble, remembering the love that made Him sin who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him!