Eternal Life: notes of a lecture

(B.T. Vol. N5, p. 61-62.)

To avoid personality both lecturer and publisher are not named. But it is due to the Lord and His own to warn against what is calculated in this tract to deceive the simple. If it were an honest recantation of the recent error, all would hail it; but it is a crafty effort to adopt as far as possible the language of those who can say that Christians have life eternal now, while denying that they have it in any real sense, and confounding it with Christ’s raising us up at the last day when its result is made good for the body. The late defender of this false doctrine was candid, compared with, the new one; “It used to be commonly said, I know that I have got eternal life. Why? Because scripture says, ‘He that believeth hath everlasting life.’“ Alas! no reason could be better, if there were living faith too. But that defender openly at least avowed his unbelief, and thought he had persuaded people to think that no believer has the thing itself but only a promise, not the thing promised. The present defender of the same unbelief laboriously tries to make people believe that they can say and unsay, and think this is upright instead of being a cheat.

He starts with saying, “You must never confound the Gospel of John with the Epistle;” but he is all wrong himself. For not only does the Epistle speak of the eternal and only-begotten Son like the Gospel, but the Gospel is throughout the unfolding of the Person become Man on earth; and the Epistle as truly as the Gospel, though briefly, as a divine Person with the Father before His incarnation. Again both Gospel and Epistle alike testify His present glorification. But as the Epistle followed the Gospel and supposes it known, so it even more subtly and beautifully identifies Christ with God, purposely passing from Him to God and from God to Him in a way which all false doctrine ignores, and which orthodox theology does not understand or enjoy.

As to confounding eternal life with everlasting existence, who does this but the grossly ignorant or heterodox men who talk of conditional immortality? Perhaps however those whom he addressed may have needed this elementary truth, Hence he turns to confounding the new birth with eternal life. But here he is again utterly wrong. The Lord did unfold life eternal in its Christian fulness as now revealed. It is a false inference that the O.T. saints in being born anew had not life in the Son, though they knew it not as we do, or ought to do. What is this life but eternal, as no one ever questioned till of late? Those must be ill-instructed indeed, who are “accustomed to think of life as only the vital spark.”

Our Lord Himself, in John’s Gospel (John 6:35-40, John 10:10) makes it certain that the use found here of John 5:24, John 17:3, or any other text is mere human reasoning to oppose the truth, if “involves” means that the believer could not have life eternal till the new creation (John 4:9, 10). So does the Epistle refute the thought. He that ate of the living bread, that is, Himself incarnate, had life eternal; and if it were a work of the Spirit, he went on to eat His flesh and drink His blood (51-59), when he was also assured of having that life, instead of its being annexed to Christ’s ascension (63) where it is not said, as there was no need to say it. But this system, if true, ought to have it exclusively there. Hence also the absurdity of saying, “‘ That which was from the beginning’ supposes the first man set aside,” save in God’s mind. It was Christ incarnate, before the work was done, or Himself the risen man in glory. Is it not impudent, and misleading for such a defender to speak thus, “you say you have eternal life: no one disputes it for a moment;” when he knows well, that this is the very truth which was not only disputed but denied? Alas! it is what one has seen before: when the truth is lost, untruthfulness follows; especially where the desire is to shirk a plain profession of what has been exposed and discredited.

Nevertheless this defender does here and often contradict his late leader. For he utterly denied eternal life as a present possession for any: it “is God’s purpose for you” — “mine in title, but to say that I have it is another matter.” This is given up by the lecturer, who dares to say that “no one disputes for a moment” what exactly contradicted it. Think of another glaring contradiction. It was then taught that “eternal life refers to earth (!) I don’t think we should talk about eternal life in heaven”(!!) with the wild talk about a sphere. Here on the contrary the change is complete, and heaven is insisted on as “the sphere, or home, of eternal life.”

In p. 10 the cloven foot appears. Even for the believer now to be born again is severed from life eternal, and has it not yet till redemption, and the Spirit’s gift. It is quite true that no one is indwelt by the Spirit till he is by faith washed from his sins in Christ’s blood. But to say that eternal life and the Holy Ghost go together is the system, and unscriptural. Where does Scripture couple them thus? In Scripture faith in Christ is associated with eternal life, and in the most immediate way “hath,” and not merely shall have. But the gift of the Spirit is consequent on faith in Christ’s work, His blood or redemption, not on life eternal; for it is allowed that even John 4:14 looks on to the glorious result, whatever the intermediate joy.

Again, it seems a pity that one who used to be a fervent evangelist should, in setting up for a teacher, alas! be a false teacher, and extremely inconsistent too with the system he was supposed to defend. For the system ostensibly expounded, and never repudiated, was, that “there is a gulf between you and it [eternal life], and you have to pass over that gulf,” and again that “there is no truth in the assertion that eternal life was communicated this side of the bridge,” and that “the gift of the Holy Ghost” is what is communicated, not life eternal, but He the well of water springing up to eternal life. What wretched cloaking, and tinkering, and concealing the change in most important respects, while still pretending to be the same!

Take further the lecturer, with his “objective and subjective,” which he either misunderstands or misapplies. If we have life in the Son, it is not objective but subjective. It is our new being and a divine nature we never had before; and it is or ought to be in exercise throughout our life. “I am crucified with Christ, and no longer live I, but Christ liveth in me,” etc. This is not called life eternal as it was from Paul’s pen; but it is what is so called by the apostle John, to whom this great truth was given to make known. It is also a mere blunder to say that the indwelling Spirit (and this is the question) is subjective; for though He has a subjective place like Christ even in life, He is regularly and truly revealed as a real objective Person, witnessing with our spirit, helping our infirmity, interceding for us according to God, guiding into all the truth, and thus glorifying Christ in every way as regards us.

The remarks on 1 John 5:13 seem only brought in apparently to support his leader, while on the contrary they really oppose. What then is the meaning of “it says so,” and in italics? The notion that “knowing” there is objective, as first conveyed to faith, is merely an error, whoever “said so.” It is on the contrary inward and conscious, which the apostle desired for the family of God. But the system, here revised and altered by its defender, denied any possible inward consciousness, because it did not allow but refused any real present possession for the soul.

So far one may hail a rent in this flag of unbelief, though totally without the candour to acknowledge its departure from the system. It is partial homage to the truth; yet its apparent design is to deceive the simple folk who think that there is no change. It is to be hoped that the lecturer is not so far gone as to follow his leader in holding that Christ became (instead of was) the Word, the Eternal Word, or that, in becoming man, He became an incomplete and imperfect man (if He had no soul), but had His personality in the divine Word or Son: Monotheistic heterodoxy without doubt and never yet purged out, but hidden leaven still at work.