I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly–Joh 10:10
What Is Life?
Amid all the mysteries which engird us there is none deeper than the mystery of life. We recognize life by a thousand evidences, and yet we know not what it is. When we see the surging crowd upon the streets under the glaring lamps of a great city; when we watch the children in their lighthearted glee come pouring from the school when it is over, we whisper to ourselves, What life is there! And yet, though it looks at us through countless eyes and speaks to us through innumerable voices, what that life is which is so manifested remains one of the hidden things of God. We probe for it with the lancet, and it flees us. We have our hand on it, and it escapes. It meets us in the surging of the city and in the quietness of nature’s solitude. And yet this life, familiar as the sunshine and common as the sand upon the shore–what is it? We know not what it is.
If Life Is a Mystery, Much More Is This True of Life Eternal
Now if that be true of all life, as we encounter it in common days, much more may we expect it to be true of what the Scripture calls eternal life. That may be something which we can perceive. It may be something which we can enjoy. It may have qualities which flash upon us and tell us that eternal life is there. But if the life in any tiniest weed is something unfathomable and untouchable, eternal life must be a secret too. If a child’s storybook in a foreign tongue is given you and you cannot understand a word of it, it is scarcely likely that you will comprehend a poem by a genius in that language. Nor is it likely that we will ever fathom the profound mystery of life eternal when we are baffled daily by life’s rudiments. What do you mean by life eternal, is perhaps a question you may ask of me. Well then, in our Scottish fashion, I shall ask you a question or two in return. What is that life which waves in the green grass? What is that life which dances in the butterfly? What is that life which looks as from the depths through the eager eyes of little children? There is an agnosticism which is the child of pride. There is another which is the child of wisdom. It is a great step upon the road to light when a man will bow the head and say, I do not know. Even our Lord, though He was the Son of God, was not above that honoring humility, for of that day and hour, He said, knoweth no man, not even the Son, only the Father.
One Word Sums up the Gospel: “Life”
And yet though all life be a mystery and though the springs of it be wrapped in darkness, I want you to remember that it was this mystery which was the great message of the Lord Jesus Christ. Sum up His Gospel in a single word, and that one word is life. Get to the heart of all He had to teach, and life is nestling against that heart. One thought determines every other thought; one face interprets and arranges everything, and that one fact, so dominant and regal, is the deep fact of life. Deeper than faith, for faith is but a name unless it issue from a heart that lives; deeper than love though God Himself be love, for without life love would be impossible. Life is the rich compendium of the Gospel and the sweet epitome of its good news and the word that gathers into its embrace the music and the ministry of Christ. Of course, like the perfect preacher that He was, Christ was ever varying His message. He did not always harp on the same string. He did not always knock with the same summons. He cast His message in a hundred forms in His consuming earnestness to save, for every heart has its own tender spot and will not open to any other call. No words could be more occasional than Christ’s. No life could be less trammeled by routine. No word that He spoke, no deed He ever did, but fitted the moment with a perfect niceness. Yet always, underneath that large variety which is the freedom of the Son of God, there was the undertone of life eternal. “The words that I speak unto you,” He said, “they are spirit, and they are life.” “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” “I am the way,” He said, “the truth, the life.” “I am the resurrection and the life.” All that He came to teach–all that He was–is summed up and centered in that little word.
Life Is a Good Thing
Now the very fact that Jesus spoke of life so is our assurance that life is a good thing. Whatever it be, in its unfathomed depth, it must be good since Christ has spoken so. When I recall the life of Jesus, I sometimes wonder that He did not weary of it. Baffled on every hand and disappointed, was there anything in that life to make it sweet? He was no dreamer in a shady solitude where all the voices of the world were calling peace. “He was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” Always, upon His sunniest hour, there was the shadow of the cross of Calvary. Always beside Him, in His frankest moment, were the suspicious eyes of His betrayer. And yet that Christ whose life was so environed–who could not move without the serpents hissing–held to it that life was a good thing. This was the human life that He had known; yet “I am come that they might have life,” He said. Baffled and bruised, He never longed for death. He never preached the solace of the grave. He preached that life is good, not in its trappings, but in that secret which we can never fathom: “I am the resurrection and the life.” It is just there that Jesus Christ our Lord stands separated by all the world from Buddha. For Buddha was so touched by human pain that he wanted to have done with life forever. But Christ, who knew a sorrow far more terrible than had ever fallen on the heart of Buddha, tells of a life that is to be eternal. He was not manifested to take life away: He was manifested to take death away. Buddhists believe that the last enemy which shall be destroyed is life. But Jesus Christ has never spoken so, nor has the Gospel which conveys His spirit. It is our hope–it is our trust–that the last enemy which shall be destroyed is death.
Eternal Life Is Something Different from Immortality
Along that line, then, we come to understand what is the meaning of eternal life. We see, for instance, that eternal life is something different from immortality. Christ did not come that we might have immortality. We should have had immortality without Him. We are not immortal because Christ was born and because He died for our sins upon the tree. We are immortal by the touch of God who in His sovereign pleasure has created us and in whose gift there is the stamp and seal of an existence that shall never cease. Immortality is the Creator’s heritage–eternal life the gift of Jesus Christ. We are immortal whether we will or no. We cannot stamp out life by any suicide. But eternal life we can refuse. It is a gift, and we can spurn the gift: “Ye will not come to me that ye might have life.” “This day,” said Jesus to the dying thief, “This day thou shalt be with me in paradise.” Brought into living touch with Jesus Christ, he had won the secret of eternal life. Both malefactors had immortal souls, and both would live forever although crucified, but only for the one was there a paradise with the Lord walking there among the lilies.
Now perhaps we shall understand that deep distinction best by touching on what we notice every day. It is the difference between mere existence and living in the true sense of the world. I take it that for all of us there are periods when we just exist. We rise and sleep; we eat and do our work, but we are dull and heavy and inert. There is no gladness when the morning comes; there is no swift response to our environment, and it is always upon that response that the wealth or poverty of life is based. And then what happens? Something like this happens. There comes to us an hour when all is changed. Sorrow may do it–some great call may do it–the mystical touch of a great love may do it. And everyone we meet is different now, and every sound has got a different music, and yesterday we existed like the beasts, and today, in that deepening, we live. Something like that, as I conceive it, is the difference between immortality and life eternal. I mean they are not different in kind. I mean they are different in degree. Eternal life is but our immortality quickened into its fullness by the Christ, touched by His love, wakened by His call, into a glory that is life indeed. You must exist or you could never live. It is the one that makes the other possible. The one is the harp of life–and then comes love, and with its masterhand draws out the music. So up and down the chords of immortality there moves the hand that was once pierced for us, and then, and only then, there sounds the music which is eternal life. Deep down below the special gift of Christ there is the universal gift of God. He is the God of Abraham and of Isaac. He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. And then comes Christ, and by His love and passion, and by the breathing of the Holy Ghost, He deepens–heightens–brightens immortality into the splendor of eternal life.
Eternal Life Means a Different Quality of Life, Not Quantity
Put in another way that just means this, that Christ is thinking of quality, not quantity. Life is eternal in virtue of its quality, rather than in virtue of duration. You can never measure life by its duration. The two are not commensurate at all. We take the equal hours that the clock gives, and we mould them in the matrix of the heart. And one shall seem to us to be unending, it is so weighted with a leaden sorrow; and another shall have but flashed upon us when it has passed away, and that forever. There have been hours for you when you have lived more than in the passage of a hundred days. There have been moments when you have seen more deeply than in the groupings of all a heavy winter. Life mocks at time. Life will not recognize it. Life tramples in disdain upon the calendar. Life’s truest measurement is never quantity. Life’s truest measurement is quality. Do you think that because two men have lived till seventy, the one life must be equal to the other? Do you think that Christ, who died at thirty-three, had not lived more than many a man of seventy? It is not length of years that makes the different. It is the depth of it. It is the quality. The question is not how long a man may live; the question is how much. It was of that, that Christ was thinking when He spoke of life eternal. Not even He could lengthen out its span, for God had made it immortal at the start. He was not thinking of the flight of years. He was thinking of the depth of being. He was thinking of a life so full and deep that the very thought of time has passed away. When a river is dry and shallow in the summertime, you see the rocks that rise within its bed. And they obstruct the stream and make it chafe and fret it as it journeys to the ocean. But when the rains have come and the river is in flood, it covers up the rocks in its great volume, and in the silence of a mighty tide flows to its last home within the sea. It is not longer than it was before. It is only deeper than it was before. Measure it by miles, it is unchanged. Measure it by volume and how different! So with the life that is the gift of Jesus. It is not longer than God’s immortality. It is only that same river deepened gloriously, till death itself is hidden in the deeps. Knowledge is perfected in open vision; love is crowned in an unbroken fellowship; service at least shall be a thing of beauty, fired by the vision of the God we serve. That is eternal life, and that alone. That is its difference from immortality. That is the gift of the Lord Jesus Christ to the immortal spirit of mankind.
Eternal Life Is Continuous–It Begins Here and Never Ends
In closing, I should like you to observe that in the eyes of Jesus all that life was one. There was no break in it. It was continuous. It carried over the first into the last. He that believeth hath everlasting life–it is not something we are still to get. “He that believeth in me shall never die”–death is an incident in continuity. Wonderful as life beyond shall be and exquisite beyond our wildest dream, remember that at the heart of it, it will not differ from the life we know. Take the parable of the talents. Do you remember what the Master promised? “Because thou hast been faithful over few things, I will make thee ruler over many things.” That was the joy and that was the reward; not singing praises in a heaven of idleness, but carrying on in an unbroken service with all the capacity that earth had shaped. Nothing that we have fought for will be lost. Nothing that we have striven for ignored. Every battle we have fought in secret will make the life beyond a grander thing. Every task that we have quietly done, when there were none to see and none to praise, will give us a heaven which is a sweeter place and a service nearer the feet of the Eternal. I don’t know how it is with you, but I know certainly how it is with me. No other thought of the beyond appeals to me. No other thought inspires me as does that. And of this I am sure, if I am sure of anything, that that is what Christ meant by life eternal. God grant us faith in Him that we may have it!