CHAPTER IV THE LIFE OF THE AGES TO COME
THE life that is not life is the portion of the many. The life that is life is the heritage of the few. True life, with its strange, rich secrets, both of joy and sadness, is but little known—nay, hardly so much as conceived of in this region of the dead.
Men do not think of living, but only of enjoying existence. To have life unfolded from within them by a heavenly agency, as the leaf and blossom are drawn in beauty out of the tree by the sun and air, is beyond their very widest ideas of life. Yet what is a man’s true life but the developing of his powers and affections—the bringing forth of his whole being into fullest exercise by the energy of the Holy Ghost? It is not the external circumstances in which he moves, nor the points in which he comes into contact with men and things around him, that make up life, so that, in summing up his days of business, or his nights of pleasure, he might say, “I have lived,” or “I live:” it is the springing, budding, blossoming of the MAN—the very man himself as God made him—that alone can be counted LIFE.
How few live, or even think of living!
Life to most is an unexplored continent. They do not know, nor do they care to know, what its features or its treasures are. They only cruise along its rocky sea-board, and think that narrow strip of sand and shells which their eye takes in to be all of life that can be known. To penetrate the vast interior, with its streams, and lakes, and woods, and groves, and vales, and fields, and happy dwellings, where the sun does not smite by day, nor the moon by night, is what they have never yet proposed to themselves, and have only shrunk from when proposed to them by others.
But though life is an undiscovered region to most, it is not so to all. Some, though few, have found and known it. They have found that, without the conscious friendship of the God that made them, there is no life. “In his favour is life.” The possession of this favour is the one thing that distinguishes existence from life. The former they always had; the latter they “only began to have when they became acquainted with God.”
This life came down to them freely, like the manna which Israel partook of in the desert. They did not buy nor earn it. It cost them only what the manna cost Israel—the gathering it up as it lay around. It cost them only what their food costs the ravens; or what their clothing costs the lilies. They were labouring hard for what they thought to be life, digging into the earth and trying to wring out from it something that might at least be called life,—when, looking upward, they saw the true life, like fresh rain, coming down plentifully on every side. They saw the vanity of their toil, and were content from that moment to be receivers of the life-giving shower. They opened their parched lips to the abundant rain, and they were filled. Happy men! In toiling hard for life, they failed to get it. In ceasing to toil, and consenting to let God fill them with it, they got it at once! The unbought love of God came pouring in upon them, and they found that “in his favour was LIFE,” and that “with him was the fountain of life.” A “well of water springing up into everlasting life” was now opened within them; and they drank of the fountain of the water of life freely.
This life is, while here, but partial and feeble. Like all other kinds of life in this dying world, it has to maintain a ceaseless struggle with death; for neither climate nor soil are congenial, and no length of time nor care of culture can acclimatise a plant so entirely heavenly in its nature. Yet, though imperfect in some respects, it is above all price,—“far above rubies.”
1. It is no empty life.
It fills and satiates the soul. It leaves no part unreplenished. It is real and true. It makes the man feel that he has reached the resting-place. He does not any longer need to crave, or to complain, or to wonder, or to guess, or to say, “Who will shew me any good?” He has found the good thing, and he is satisfied.
2. It is no uncertain life.
It roots itself within us, and there it remains. There is no fickleness nor caprice in its motions nor in its results. It is stable and unwavering, so that he who has it knows what he has, and knows that it will not change nor pass into a shadow or a vapour.
3. It is no narrow life.
It is large and wide, like him out of whose bosom it came. It diffuses itself through our whole being; nay, it expands that being, in order to get fuller room for its own unfolding. It does not straiten nor wither up the soul, but enlarges it in every part.
4. It is no selfish life.
It does not turn the soul in upon itself till it becomes wholly engrossed with its own concerns. It goes out to others liberally, desiring to make all men partakers of its health and gladness. It looks around upon the needy, hungry spirits that are feeding on the world’s poor husks, and it longs to invite them to its own richer fare.
5. It is no useless life.
It is by the very necessity of its being incapable of lying idle. As the beam must shine, so must this life be useful. “He that believeth on me, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.” It is most actively and unweariedly communicative. Its hands are full of blessing; and it is not in its nature to be passive, or heedless, or unwilling to dispense.
6. It is no gloomy life.
“Joy unspeakable and full of glory,” is the portion of those in whom it dwells. The “fountain of life” pours itself into a “river of pleasure,” and there is no drying up nor discolouring of its waters. It has never saddened one human spirit; but it has gladdened multitudes that no man can number.
Yet, after all, how little of this life is tasted here! A few of the leaves of the tree have been dropped upon us from above, and we have found them full of life and healing; but the tree itself is above, and the time of our sitting under it has not yet come.
But it shall come ere long, and He who has “shewn us here the path of life,” will lead us to that tree of life, that we may partake, not merely of its leaves or of its shadow, but of its fruit, on which we shall feed unhindered. “When he who is our life shall appear,” then shall the fulness of the life be known. We know him as our life even now, for through him, and on him, and in him, we live; but still all this is little; for what is the small inland lake, however clear deep, in comparison with the boundless ocean? To be able to, say, “I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God,” is much; but it will be infinitely more to say, when the day has dawned at last, “In thy presence is fulness of joy, and at thy right hand there are pleasures forevermore.” “He that hath the Son hath life;”—we know this, and are glad.
But how much more fully shall we understand hereafter what it is to “have the Son,” and to “have life!”—nay, and how much more blessed shall this make us, when we actually see as we are seen, and know as we are known—when we reach the fountain itself, and drink life out of life’s deepest well! Nay more, if “the life of Christ be manifested in these mortal bodies” (2 Cor. 4:10), that is, if this life of Christ gets such full scope and vent to itself in quickening and invigorating us even here in our mortality, what will its manifestation be hereafter, when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and mortality shall be swallowed up of life! (2 Cor. 5:4.) Instead of being, as here, a continual strife between life and death, whereby life is obscured and hindered, nay oftentimes made to seem as if but halt conqueror, it shall be the complete and unchecked manifestation of glorious life, the life of the Living One—of him who has yet in reserve for us uncounted stores of life, which, in order to be seen and appreciated, will require to be spread out over a whole eternity.
All the things written in Scripture, in connection with this life, are everlasting. There is no change, no end, no decay.
1. There is the life itself.
It is everlasting. Many times over is this name given to it, and many are the ways in which this eternity of the life is affirmed to us, as if God would assure and re-assure us of this truth, beyond the possibility either of doubting or mistake.
2. There is He from whom it comes.
He is everlasting—the same yesterday, today, and forever. It is written, “In him was life” (John 1:4). Nay, he is called the eternal life itself,—“This is the true God and eternal life” (1 John 5:20). How truly, then, must our life be everlasting! He cannot die, neither can we, for he is our life.
3. There is the joy connected with this life.
It is everlasting (Ps. 16:11). The life and the joy are linked together inseparably, forming one double star of wondrous beauty. Life and joy!—who or what can sunder them? Nothing in this world: nothing in the world to come.
4. There is the crown of life.
It is everlasting. It is sometimes called the “crown of life” (Jas. 1:12), sometimes the “crown of righteousness” (2 Tim. 4:8), sometimes the “incorruptible crown” (1 Cor. 9:25), sometimes the “crown of glory” (1 Pet. 5:4). But, whatever name it gets, there is no intimation given that it shall grow dim, or fall from our head. It “fadeth not away.” The weight of its exceeding glory is “eternal” (2 Cor. 4:17). Instead of lessening, it will increase both in weight and in brightness. It will “wear well,” as men speak, even though worn forever.
5. There is the tree of life.
It fades not throughout the ages of ages, but is eternally green, bearing its fruit every month. Under it shall we sit down with great delight, and find even its shadow blessed; and, whilst enjoying the evergreen foliage, we shall find its “fruit sweet to our taste.” Within the region where it springs, what trace of death or sickliness can be found? It fills the whole region with life and health, so that there the inhabitant shall not say, “I am sick.” Disease, whether of soul or body, shall then be impossible. Our youth, renewed like the eagle’s, shall remain undecaying.
6. There is the water of life.
Sometimes it is called a “fountain,” and sometimes a “river;” but in both aspects, it is everlasting. It is “the fountain of the water of life;” it is “a pure river, clear as crystal;” it “proceedeth out of the throne of God and of the Lamb.” It is no longer merely the water from the smitten rock, following us in our desert march: it is the river whose streams make glad the city of our God, bursting forth from the celestial throne.
Such are some of the aspects in which the everlasting life is set before us. Each of them has gladness in it, and is the assurance to us, that over that land which is to he our heritage, no shadow of death shall ever hover. Life in its completeness—life in its fulness—life in its incorruptible excellency—only life is there! Yes; “the gift of God is eternal life.” It is that “eternal life which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began” (Tit. 1:2).
This life is sometimes spoken of as a possession, and sometimes as a hope; for it is both. We have it; for it is written, “He that believeth hath everlasting life:” and we shall have it; for it is written that, “being justified by his grace, we are made heirs, according to the hope of eternal life” (Tit. 3:7). On the one hand, we do possess it, when we receive God’s record concerning it; and on the other, we look for it as a thing yet future and unenjoyed.
And how welcome is this hope of it! for have we are beset with so many dangers, that we seem ever on the point of losing it. We know, indeed, that we cannot lose it, for we shall never perish nor be plucked out of the Deliverer’s hands: but still we find such diffculty in retaining it; we have to battle so sorely each hour with death; we have to seek shelter so continually from the storm which threatens to extinguish it—that we feel at times as if it were almost gone, and can well understand why the righteous are said to be “scarcely saved.” But when the hope arrives, then all this is over: the perils of the rough voyage are past, and the shore is gained. Then the eternal life is no longer a thing disputed between us and our enemies, with a hard strife to maintain for it; but a quiet and undisturbed possession. It shall compass us about with an atmosphere of health, and joy, and beauty, which shall make us feel how completely, in every sense of the figure, “death has been swallowed up of victory.”
The Lord’s own words respecting himself, point to something great and blessed,—“I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). His errand was not the mere relighting of the spark which our first father had quenched; it was to be the kindling of a light such as neither earth nor heaven had seen before. His death was to be, not simply the ransom of our life, but the purchase-money of a life far nobler than that which Adam lost. It was as the “Prince of life” that he died; and the giving up of life by the “Prince of life” could not but issue in results surpassingly glorious. What wonder, then, that “more abundant life” should be the fruit of such a death?
This more abundant life is our hope. It is waiting to unfold itself; and when once the unfolding is begun, it must go on without check, or stint, or termination, throughout the unmeasured hours of the eternal day. “Our life is hid with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3). Thus hidden, thus guarded, it awaits the time when it shall come forth into manifestation. Then shall we know what a treasure it was that was thus, during our day of danger, so carefully “hidden”—hidden so as to be beyond the reach of injury, either from ourselves or others; hidden “with Christ,” and so, hidden “in God;”—doubly hidden, doubly safe, being hidden with him who is in the bosom of the Father.
The preparation for that time of the eternal living, is said by the apostle to be our “sowing to the Spirit” (Gal. 6:8). Just as sowing to the flesh issues in “corruption,” so our sowing to the Spirit has, as its harvest, “life everlasting.” With the hope of such an harvest, how anxious should be the preparation! for according to our sowing shall be our reaping. How there can be degrees in this everlasting life, so that one may have it more largely than another, we do not inquire. The apostle’s statement does seem to intimate this. And what a motive to diligent sowing! How watchful should we be against sowing to the flesh! how careful in sowing to the Spirit!
When we indulge in worldliness, and immerse ourselves even in the lawful business of this world, that is sowing to the flesh. When we “live in pleasure on the earth and are wanton,” that is sowing to the flesh. When we take our ease and please ourselves, instead of being self-denied and ungrudging, either in labour or in sacrifice, we sow to the flesh. When we “love the world,” and seek its friendships, and walk “according to its course,” we sow to the flesh.
How often do we find ourselves doing so, thereby not only losing sight of our calling, but forgetting that “corruption” can be the only fruit of such a sowing!
Then God steps in to remind us of our folly. He smites us in a way such as rouses us, and makes us feel the evil of our flesh-pleasing. Nor does he cease, till he has made his meaning plain, and shewed us that this sin is not more hateful to him than injurious to ourselves. The vanity of this sowing to the flesh then appears, and we turn anew to the better sowing, in the assurance that the harvest shall be everlasting life.
Let us, then, take heed to our sowing. Each day’s sowing tells upon the coming harvest. Shall that harvest be scanty or abundant? The question is not, Shall there be one at all? we take for granted that there shall be; but it is, Shall it be a plentiful one? Shall our barns overflow with the store? Shall we have an entrance administered unto us abundantly into the kingdom, or shall it be bare admission? Shall it be the mere gleaning of a few withered ears, or shall it be a harvest of rich plenty?
Let us sow to the Spirit, bringing forth his fruits more ripely and more bountifully, knowing that “he who soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.” The connexion between such a sowing and such a reaping is no fancied one, but sure and real. Each day’s living here tells upon the endless living hereafter. What diligence, what carefulness in sowing, should be ours, so that though we “go forth weeping, bearing the precious seed, we may come again with rejoicing, bringing our sheaves with us!”
Sons of God, and heirs of the life to come! Lose not sight of that eternal harvest—no, not for an hour! Grudge no toil or cost in sowing. “In the morning sow your seed, and in the evening with-hold not your hand.” Redouble your diligence, your earnestness, your self-denial, as ye see the evil days surrounding you, and the coming of the Lord drawing nigh.
Horatius Bonar, The Eternal Day, (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1854), 60–79.