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Eternal Life

by John Ritchie (1853-1930)

John RitchieMan's natural state is one of spiritual death. He exists, but he is without "life." "Dead in trespasses and sins" (Eph. 2:1). "Alienated from the life of God" (Eph. 4:18). "Dead while she liveth" (1 Tim. 5:6). "Ye have no life in you" (John 6:53). Such are the words used to describe the condition of the unconverted on earth. In eternity the unbeliever will still exist, but he "shall not see life" (John 3:36). "He that hath not the Son of God hath not life" (1 John 5:12).

Life — as used in these Scriptures — is more than mere existence. The paper of this book exists, but it has no life. The lost will exist in endless woe, yet they "shall not see life." Endless existence belongs to saved and unsaved alike; eternal life is the portion of those who are in Christ alone. Wherever we read "hath eternal [or everlasting] life," it has reference to a condition of spiritual blessedness; wherever the lack of it is recorded, it involves separation from God and conscious misery. There is a natural life and there is a spiritual life, so likewise there is a natural death and there is a spiritual death. All the time that the prodigal was away from his father's house, he was regarded by his father as "dead," yet terribly alive in sin. His return and restoration is described as being made "alive again " (Luke 15:32). Spiritual death is the state of all the unregenerate: they are "alienated from the life of God" (Eph. 4:18). They abide in death (1 John 3:14) at enmity with God. At conversion the believer passes "from death unto life" (John 5:24), "from the power of Satan unto God" (Acts 26:18).

The Source of Life.

"The living God" (1 Tim. 4:10). "With Thee is the fountain of life" (Psalm 36:9). "The Father hath life in Himself " (John 5:26). The fountain was there, but no stream had yet come forth. "No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him" (John 1:18). It remained for the Son to come forth and show unto us "that eternal life which was with the Father" (1 John 1:2).

Eternal Life Manifested.

"The life was manifested, and we have seen it" (1 John 1:2). "In Him was life; and the life was the light of men" (John 1:4). "God was manifest in the flesh" (1 Tim. 3:16). From the manger of Bethlehem to the Cross of Calvary, "the life" was manifested: in all spheres, among friends and foes, the life Divine shone forth, and at the close of that wondrous pathway the living One laid down His life for the sheep (John 10:15). "This is the true God and eternal life (1 John 5:20).

Jesus was the "Prince of life." He took flesh and blood: He "was made in the likeness of men," yet He was different from all. "In Him there was no sin." He was not in that state of death, or separation from God, in which sin had placed all Adam's posterity. "As the Father hath life in Himself; so hath He given to the Son to have life in Himself" (John 5:26). Yet He could not share that life with others apart from death. His own words are, "Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit" (John 12:24). Let those who make great pretensions to be admirers of the life of Jesus of Nazareth, but who reject His atoning death, or regard it as unnecessary, remember this: Like as the rock in the desert of old had to be smitten ere the stream could flow to quench the thirst of the needy host of Israel, so Christ must be "stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted" (Isaiah 53:4): He must die the sinner's death before He could make him a sharer of eternal life now, and eternal glory hereafter.

Eternal Life Imparted.

"I am come that they might have life" (John 10:10). "The Son quickeneth whom He will" (John 5:21). "Believing ye might have life through His name" (John 20:31). "the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Rom. 6:23). When the sinner believes on Christ, he receives everlasting life (John 3:16). When the Gospel is "put away" by the unbeliever, he judges himself unworthy of everlasting life (Acts 13:46), and abides in death. Although the full manifestation of that life awaits a future day, its present possession is the portion of all believers. The "babe" and the "father" in Christ alike share it. There may be varied stages of growth, but the life is essentially the same in all. It is eternal life: it cannot be lost: it will not perish. It is received by faith. "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life" (John 3:36). It is not communicated through sacraments; neither baptism nor the Lord's Supper have anything whatever to do with the communication of life. They are for the living, not for the dead. The way of life is plain and clear. The Lord Jesus says, "He that heareth My Word, and believeth on Him that sent Me, hath everlasting life" (John 5:24). "They that hear shall live" (John 5:25). He, and He only, is the Live-giver; He does not delegate this to priest or parson. To Him, therefore, the sinner must go; there is "life" in no other. His Word to the unbeliever is, "Ye will not come to Me, that ye might have life" (John 5:40). Many go, to "Church" and "Sacrament" who have never been to Christ.

Eternal Life Possessed.

"He that hath the Son hath life" (1 John 5:12). "I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish" (John 10:28). "These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life" (1 John 5:13). These Scriptures, and many others give definite testimony that the believer is already in possession of eternal life, and at no future period will he be without it, otherwise it would not be "eternal." "God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son" (1 John 5:11). "Your life is hid with Christ in God" (Col. 3:3). It cannot be touched by men or demons: its source is beyond their reach. The unscriptural theory that a saint may lose eternal life and finally perish can have no place where this is received as the truth of God. To make life dependent on the believer is to dishonour the Life-giver, and to make man his own preserver.

Eternal Life Exhibited.

As to its manifestation, this life is in the believer. He is called to manifest the "life of Jesus" in his mortal body (2 Cor. 4:10), and no longer the "old man." No more I that live, "but Christ liveth in me" (Gal. 2:20), ought to be practically, as it is judicially, the expression of the believer's experience. The treasure is yet in an "earthen vessel " — not as it yet shall be, in a glorified body — but this need not hinder it from being manifest. Men looking on may take knowledge that a new power dominates the man, although his place and surroundings among them remain unchanged. The body is the same. The members are as they formerly were, but a new power rules them. They are no longer the tools of sin, but, the instruments of righteousness unto God. The "spirit" that formerly energized them, when they were "children of disobedience" (Eph. 2:2), ceases to have control. It has been superseded by the "Spirit of God" who now indwells the bodies of saints. An illustration may help us here. There was in time past a certain house of rather questionable repute in a public part of this city. By-and-bye it changed owners. The new proprietor had the place gutted out and thoroughly cleaned, and in a few days we saw a large placard fixed in the window with the words "WILL BE OPENED UNDER ENTIRELY NEW MANAGEMENT." The old place stood outwardly as before, but a new kind of business, under a new manager, was henceforth carried on there. The body of the converted man is as it was in former days. His earthly calling, his home and surroundings may be the same, but he is now under new management. Divine life is in his mortal body, and the Spirit of God now guides and controls him.

Eternal Life in Prospect.

"The end everlasting life" (Rom. 6:22). "In hope of eternal life" (Titus 1:2). "Looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life" (Jude 21). These passages view eternal life in its finality. In resurrection the believer will enter upon life in a new sphere, in a body fitted for its full enjoyment. Here it dwells in mortal flesh, groaning for deliverance; there it will be at home in a "spiritual body," a vessel suited to its full and perfect manifestation, in that glory to which its possessor is even now called (1 Peter 5:10). The "life" will be the same then as now, but in the resurrection state it will be in other surroundings. There will be nothing to hinder it there as there is here. The saints will reign in life with Christ, and instead of sin and death, and the unceasing groan of a burdened creation, there will be the "all things new," "the river of the water of life" unceasingly flowing, the "tree of life" continuously bearing its fruits, and "no more death" in that "land of the living."

From Foundation Truths of the Gospel by John Ritchie. 2nd ed. Kilmarnock: Office of "The Believer's Magazine," [1904].

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