Great Texts of the Bible
The Wages and the Gift
For the wages of sin is death; but the free gilt of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.—Romans 6:23.
1. The whole Gospel is summed up in this contrast. What we are by nature; what we should have come to, if we had been let alone; what we shall come to if we let ourselves alone: on the other hand, what we are by grace; what God has done for us, and in whom; and where it is to be sought, and how it may be found: all these things are contained in this brief verse.
2. Paul delights in contrasts. In these words there are three contrasts, and these may be looked at briefly in the light in which modern thought more clearly displays them.
(1) There is a Contrast of Character—God and Sin. While in the preceding passage Paul has personified sin and righteousness, he here retains only the personification of sin, and gives us, instead of the personification of righteousness, a personality. This is significant. Although the writers of the New Testament do recognize and assert the existence and the activity of a personality whose being and whose work is wholly evil, yet it would be the contradiction of a theistic position consistent with itself to contrast God and Satan in a passage such as this. The ideal of righteousness is necessarily and eternally personal. But as evil has no ideal, so it is the negation and extinction of personality. As Lotze has truly and nobly argued, God alone is perfect personality; and men become truly and fully personalities as they approach to God. Personality is self-consciousness, self-control, and self-completeness; and good alone can have these marks. Evil constant, consistent, complete, is deception, division, and despair; and the being in whom evil is altogether divorced from good must be impersonal. It may have intelligence, desire, and purpose of a sort, but not such as constitute true personality. Accordingly, although it would be an anachronism to ascribe to Paul any such reasoning, yet it is very significant that here he does not contrast God and Satan, a contrast that would have been rhetorically more complete, but doctrinally less comprehensible.
(2) There is a Contrast of Connexion—Wages and Gift. The former term suggests desert, necessity, inevitableness; the latter generosity, spontaneity, initiative. Sin’s result is according to law: God’s act is of grace. The death in which bad men find their desert is necessary, inevitable, under moral law; but the life wherewith good men are blessed is not the wages of their goodness, but a generous and spontaneous expression of God’s grace. Man’s conscience does undoubtedly testify that there is this necessary and inevitable connexion between sin and death; and man’s religious consciousness as clearly testifies that it is no necessary, inevitable consequence of his deeds that brings the good man perfection and blessedness. The ethical inquiry of the present century confirms the Apostle’s conviction of the inevitableness of the consequences of sin. Modern fiction lays stress on hereditary transmission of evil, on the fixity of evil habits, on the certainty of social retribution, and the irresistible and inevitable process of moral deterioration. Then, on the other hand, more cautious thinkers and exponents of the evolutionary process are led to recognize that the higher stages are inexplicable by the lower. Matter does not account for life, nor life for mind. Progress demands at various stages a divine initiative. This is what religious experience lays stress upon. The higher life of perfection and blessedness is not explicable by man’s intellectual, emotional, moral faculties and attainments. It is the gift of God. This stage in man’s progress demands a divine initiative to explain and account for it. Thus the process of moral deterioration does not demand the divine intervention, does not require for its explanation a personal action; whereas the progress of moral development does demand the divine initiative, is explicable only as the act of God.
(3) There is a Contrast of Condition—Life and Death. This contrast is not merely in the physical sphere; eternal life and eternal death do include physical life and physical death, but their significance is not exhausted thereby. To those who believe that the physical is but preparatory for, symbolical of, the spiritual, there will be no difficulty in realizing and asserting that physical life and physical death are spiritually significant, prophetic, and interpretative. But the physical is only of subordinate significance. The essential characteristics of eternal life and eternal death are spiritual. And here religious thought is richly illustrated, and assuredly confirmed, by biological research. We are learning constantly that the disuse or abuse of any organ results in its deterioration, and finally in its, if not total extinction, yet reduction to impotent, rudimentary form; while the exercise of an organ is the condition of its development. Eternal death may then be regarded as the atrophy or abortion of man’s spiritual faculties; while eternal life is their development in perfection by their normal exercise. Thus the thought of the Apostle is no rhetorical conclusion of an argument, but is a truth that is being proved, by the advance of man’s knowledge and the growth of his thought, ever more significant and valid.
The Wages of Sin is Death
1. The word here rendered “wages” is the same as is used in Scripture for a soldier’s pay. “Be content with your wages” (Luke 3:14), was the charge of John the Baptist to the soldiers who asked of him their duty. “Who goeth a warfare at any time at his own wages?” (1 Corinthians 9:7), that is, for pay furnished by himself, was St. Paul’s question to those who would grudge to a minister of the Gospel his right to “live of the Gospel.” But, whether in its application to the pay of a soldier or to the wages of a servant, the whole point of the expression lies in this, that certain work done has a right to certain remuneration.
Love wore a threadbare dress of grey
And toiled upon the road all day.
Love wielded pick and carried pack
And bent to heavy loads the back.
Though meagre fed and sorely tasked,
One only wage love ever asked—
A child’s white face to kiss at night,
A woman’s smile by candlelight.
This is wages—the wages of love. The wages of sin, in like manner, will be the remuneration which sin gives for work done in its service.
2. Sin is an employer of labour—the most extensive employer which the world contains. He pays wages, is bound by strong law to pay wages, to every one who works for him. It is true he does not pay in full as the work goes on. He does not clear off the whole debt, as it stands, at the end of the week or month or year. The kind of wages is unfavourable to this. Nevertheless, employer and employed are strictly upon the wages system. Every hour of labour becomes a debt of the master, and is kept record of, and will be recompensed by him in due course if the system holds as between the worker and him. He means to be just; he has no thought of evading the wages law. But he only pays enough, meanwhile, to assert the principle of connexion between his servants and him—small instalments, petty sums of earnest-money, which are of the nature of wages, and are part of the wages—till all the work is done. Done? Well; when the earthly phase of the bargain has passed, when the sun of mortal life has set and the night of the day of time has come, he then reckons with his workers.
A certain tyrant sent for one of his subjects, and said to him, “What is your employment?” He said, “I am a blacksmith.” “Go home, and make me a chain of such a length.” He went home: it occupied him several months; and he had no wages all the time he was making it. Then he brought it to the monarch, who said, “Go and make it twice as long.” He brought it up again; and the monarch said, “Go and make it longer still.” Each time he brought it, there was nothing but the command to make it longer still; and, when he brought it back at last, the monarch said, “Take it, and bind him hand and foot with it, and cast him into the furnace of fire.” These were the wages of making the chain.1 [Note: D. L. Moody.]
3. But the very instalments Sin pays even now—do these convey no hint of the kind of recompense he engages to give in the end? What is he openly paying at this hour? When he is generous in his present payments, it is no winsome recompense that goes from his hand; it is disorder, loss, calamity, disease, sorrow, fear, discontent, hatred, treachery, remorse, rapid running down of moral tone. Even when he is least profuse in his present payments, what are his workers receiving?—uneasy forebodings of the future, unanswered achings of the soul, mockings of the spirit with the chaff of sense and time, the heart shut dark against the sunshine of God’s fatherliness.
Shall I ever forget a visit which I paid to a drunkard’s home, a man who had sunk from an honourable position in the State and the Church? There he was, a wreck of his former self. In vain I pleaded with him to give up the drink. “No,” he said, “not if it means bell.” “I cannot,” he added, “I have not the power. I am not my own master.” As I entreated him to be manly, to put his trust in God, and seek to conquer his passion, his daughter entered the room—a beautiful girl. “Man,” I said, “you are a coward. If you will not give up drink for your own sake, give it up for your child’s.” “I cannot,” he answered, “I cannot.” As I left him I realized the truth of the Apostle’s words, “The wages of sin is death,” and resolved, by God’s grace, to speak without fear concerning the power and penalty of evil.1 [Note: C. E. Walters.]
1. Sin is a word of wide import. We can all assent to the truth of the statement before us, if it be restricted to the case of great excesses of wrongdoing; to the case of the dishonest, the intemperate, the grossly profligate, who reap the fruit of their evil deeds in bodily disease or in civil punishment. Great cause indeed have such persons to say to themselves, “In serving Sin, I have served a very just master.” For each one of my dishonest acts, for each one of my sinful lusts, Sin, my master, has given me a definite and a very exact equivalent. I squandered my money in riotous living, and I have come to penury. I neglected my health, I despised the warning of the physician, I deemed myself exempted from the common conditions of the bodily frame; and I am now a wreck of what I was, every organ disarranged, and my whole existence a burden and a curse.
2. But, though less obviously, it is not less really true, in reference to cases far short of criminal excess. We see it in the way in which Sin pays in kind. A man neglects prayer, neglects his Bible, neglects the Sunday, once: that is sin; it is a contradiction of the known will of God. He supposes himself free to resume any of these intermitted habits when he will: he is his own master, he thinks, and what he has to-day willed one way, he may to-morrow will the other. But Sin is standing over him, and mocking his vain calculations. He has done a piece of work for Sin to-day, and Sin will pay him his wages in inclining him to do the same to-morrow. To-morrow the voice of inclination will be stronger and the voice of conscience weaker, and thus he will do again as he has done once, and find it far less difficult and at the time feel far less remorseful.
3. Paul does not say, the wages of great sins, or the wages of some sins, or the wages of certain sins; he simply says: “The wages of sin,” of any sin, of all sins, of the least sin, “is death.” A single sin, however insignificant it may appear, brings guilt of death; as St. James writes: “Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.” The man who has broken one link in the chain of the commandments is guilty of breaking the chain.
I was in the offices of the Southern Pacific Railway in San Francisco, when the General Passenger Agent asked me if I had seen the big trees of California. I informed him that I had seen them as I looked from the car window the day before, and smiling he said, “Then you have not seen them, for they must be studied to be appreciated.” Calling for his secretary, he stretched out before me a measuring line. On the one side was his affidavit in which he said, “I have measured one of the big trees of California. Its circumference is 105 feet, its diameter 35 feet, and the height was to me so amazing that I hesitate here even to suggest it.” Then he said to me, “How large would you think the seed of a big tree might be?” and when I suggested that it ought to be of enormous size, he poured out into the palm of his hand a number of these little seeds, and they were smaller than a lettuce seed. So it is with sin. An evil imagination encouraged, an impure thought harboured, an unholy ambition controlling us, and the work is begun, but the end no human tongue is able to describe.1 [Note: J. W. Chapman.]
1. “The wages of sin is death.” This is true in every sense in which the word death is used in Scripture.
(1) It is true of natural death. Though not the wages of individual sin in all who undergo it, yet even natural death, the death of the body, is the consequence of sin. But for sin, there would not have been death, at any rate as we are acquainted with it. Every funeral which passes us in our streets, every loss which occurs in our families, should remind us of sin; and, though it be not the punishment of the particular sin of him who dies, yet it should awaken in our hearts the remembrance of sin generally, and of our own individual participation in that universal defilement.
(2) But natural death is the least part of sin’s wages. Natural death, if that were all, might be for us, as it has been, we believe, for countless thousands, the gate of life. It is otherwise with the second kind of death, spiritual death; the death of the soul. If the life of the soul be union with God, the death of the soul is separation from God.
(3) The full payment is a third kind of death mentioned in Scripture; what is there called the second death (Revelation 2:11; Revelation 20:6; Revelation 20:14; Revelation 21:8). It would be presumptuous, as well as most painful, to dilate upon that which is thus described. But many hold that it is the consummation, the certain and inevitable consummation, of a life spent on earth either in sin or without God; the state into which entrance is given by the reunion of a dead soul with its reanimated body; the state of one who would not have God for his Father, and died in that refusal, and whose day of grace has at last issued in darkness.
We know but little of the meaning which must fill this word so full of all that is calamitous. Our minds cannot compass the dark dimensions of the word as they appear to the omniscient Mind who here and elsewhere gives abundant sanction to its use as a vivid figure of speech. For we may need to remember that the death of what is mortal (as we say) is scarcely more than the metaphor of Death—is little else than the most fitting symbol of Death, the most characteristic step in the dreary march of Death, that our ignorance permits us to know. And we see that this death of what is mortal, this mere symbol, is the most terrible thing within our earthly experience. We acknowledge it to be the thing which casts the deepest of all our shadows. We can tell that the gloom of this shadow is a gloom of tears, of unavailing prayers, of bitter partings, of a confronting universe of mysteries and dreads. We can recall the shock which thrills us like an earthquake when it leaps with sudden grasp upon a brother-man at our side. And when it approaches with slowest step, it seems to leave the prints of its feet upon our memories as if it had trodden over them with brandings of fire:—the chamber of hushed voices and anxious ministries, the nights of watching, the pain you cannot soothe, the conflict you can only witness, the closed eyes from which the light has gone out, the wending funeral, the stricken home. Such are the marks of death, as it is known even to the living.1 [Note: J. A. Kerr Bain.]
2. To make the antithesis in this verse more striking and evident, St. Paul has left out the verb in each clause of it. Perhaps you may think that if our translators supplied a verb, they might as well have put it in the future tense as in the present. They might have said, “The wages of Sin will be Death,” not “is Death.” “The gift of God will be Life,” not “is Life.” I suspect they were quite right. They would have destroyed the force of the words, and their connexion with those which precede them, if they had given this form to their version. And what is more, they would have destroyed the connexion between the Apostle’s language and our own daily experience. St. Paul is not telling us of some time when the Righteous God will call us to account for the sins which we have committed, and will inflict death as the punishment of them. He is contemplating the subject from a point of view altogether different. He says that every man has two masters, either of whom he may serve, but one of whom he must serve. He may be the servant of Sin; then he must take its wages. They are slavery and death. He may be the servant of Righteousness; then he will have all the freedom, energy, life, he is capable of.2 [Note: F. D. Maurice.]
Again and again, in my ministry, I have witnessed the misery which comes to the mere pleasure-seeker, to those who sow their wild oats and reap a terrible harvest. With all the strength God has given me I warn the young men and women who are listening to me, against making pleasure their god. As I speak, there comes to me the memory of one of the world’s victims, whom by God’s grace I was able to help. I happened to be preaching in one of the halls of the West London Mission, when I was impressed by the sad and cynical face of a young man in my congregation. At the close of the service, I made my way to the door, determining, if possible, to speak to him. When I did so, he answered me somewhat rudely. I told him I was glad he was at the service. “I didn’t come here to listen to you preaching,” was the answer. “I came because it was raining.” “Oh,” I said, “I don’t mind why you came.” “If you knew the kind of fellow I am,” said he, “you would kick me out of the hall.” “No,” I answered, “we do not usually dismiss the congregation in that fashion.” The hardened look went. My words had not failed. He came into my private room and told me a pitiable story. The son of godly parents, he had come to London, like so many, determined, above all else, to enjoy himself. He had indulged in pleasure of the lowest kind. He was shattered in mind and body. “Don’t talk to me about hell,” he said, “I have been there.” And he was only twenty-three years of age.1 [Note: C. E. Walters.]
The Free Gift of God is Eternal Life in Christ Jesus our Lord
i. Free Gift
1. God does not give wages. He gives something far better: for who has made God his debtor? When we have done all that is commanded us—and when will that be, for any man?—at last we must say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which it was our duty to do (Luke 17:10). God has a right to our entire obedience: if ever it were entire, still there would be nothing over; no room for claims of merit, or for rewards of extra service.
2. Just in the same way as Paul, who had no other means of support, was compelled, like most of us, to earn a wage if he was to live, so the soul by nature is compelled, for lack of spiritual resource, to serve sin, for its wage of death. Man must serve; his only choice being which of two masters he will serve, Satan or God—sin or righteousness—he cannot serve both, as is plainly taught throughout this sixth chapter of Romans. And just as the loving gift of the Philippians released Paul from this necessity to work for the tent-maker’s wage, and set him at liberty to give himself up entirely to the preaching of the Gospel, so acceptance by man of the gift of eternal life in Christ Jesus, which God freely offers to all, alone liberates him from the bondage of serving sin, and, at the same time, gives him strength to serve God, wherever he goes, by preaching the Gospel from the living epistle of a regenerate life.
3. The word used by the Apostle (charisma) means more than “gift”; every gift is not a charisma; a charisma is a “free gift,” a “gift of grace,” a gift in which all merit on the part of the receiver is unthought of, and only the free, spontaneous love of the giver is revealed. And it is so, Paul declares, that the eternal life, “the life which is life indeed,” comes from God to man. The Gospel was to Paul—to borrow a convenient distinction—not good advice, but good news; it told, first of all, not of something to do, but of something done. No word indicates more clearly the whole drift of Paul’s thinking on this matter than the word “grace.” By “grace” are we saved; and “grace” speaks not of the doing of man, but of the giving of God. Salvation is not a hard-won wage paid by the just Overseer of life; it is the bounty of love, the gift of grace.
If there is one truth which God has of late helped me to see for myself it is this. Of course, I have always believed in what we call salvation by grace, as distinguished from salvation by works; but never until the last few months has the truth really lived for me. For years, like so much, alas! of one’s theology, it has lain—to use the words of a great writer—in that “dim twilight land that surrounds every living faith; the land not of death, but of the shadow of death—the land of the unrealized and the inoperative.” And now that it is beginning to emerge from the darkness I want others to stand by my side, that, if possible, we may see together the truth that made glad the heart of Paul. I do not speak as a theologian, but as a Christian man to Christian men, eager with them to know the blessedness of eternal life.1 [Note: George Jackson.]
4. Not at the outset of the regenerate life only, and not only when it issues into the heavenly ocean, but all along the course, the life eternal is still “the free gift of God.” Let us now, to-day, to-morrow, and always, open the lips of surrendering and obedient faith, and drink it in, abundantly, and yet more abundantly. And let us use it for the Giver.
I heard a well-known preacher relate his experience. For long years he had prayed that he might realize abundant life in Christ. He had often agonized and sought this gift from God, but without avail. One day, as he travelled in a railway train, he was thinking about this wonderful gift. It happened that there was, as he journeyed, a great downfall of rain, the rain beating ceaselessly against the carriage windows. He said, “I looked out of the window, and as we passed a farmhouse I noticed a number of vessels placed outside to receive the welcome rain. Some were large, others were small; but both large and small received the rain. I said to myself, ‘The gift of life has been outpoured by God. When Jesus ascended on high He granted gifts unto men. I may receive that gift, unworthy as I am, even as the noblest and most saintly may receive it.’ ”1 [Note: C. E. Walters.]
5. What are the advantages of receiving eternal life as a free gift?
(1) One advantage is the Gladness that accompanies it. Why is it that so many of us have so little gladness in our Christian life? Is it not just for this very reason that we have put self instead of God at the centre of it? We have talked and lived as if the whole responsibility of our salvation rested on our own weak shoulders. And since, naturally enough, we doubt our own strength, we are never sure, never at rest; even our joy has the worm of fear busy at the heart of it. “I am persuaded that I am able to keep——” We dare not say that; and as we never knew the Apostle’s noble faith, “He is able to keep,” we are without any “persuasion” at all; and instead of a ringing certainty, we have only a ghastly fear or, at best, a tremulous hope.
You have seen the little engraving that adorns the title-page of Dora Greenwell’s beautiful books: a hand grasping a cross, and about it this motto, Et teneo et teneor, “I both hold and am held.” Alas! that so many of us have rent the motto in twain. We remember that we must hold, but we forget that we are also held, held of God. Let us speak no more as if ours were a religion without God; let us remember that when we have not strength even to cling, He still holds us; let us dare to believe that Jesus meant what He said when of His sheep He declared, “No one shall snatch them out of my hand.”
Let me no more my comfort draw
From my frail hold of Thee,
In this alone rejoice with awe
Thy mighty grasp of me.1 [Note: G. Jackson.]
May nevermore a selfish wish of mine
Grow to a deed, unless a greater care
For others’ welfare in the incitement share.
O Nature, let my purposes combine,
Henceforth, in conscious unison with thine,—
To spread abroad God’s gladness, and declare
In living form what is for ever fair—
Meekly to labour in thy great design,
Oh, let my little life be given whole!
If so, by action or by suffering,
Joy to my fellow-creatures I may bring,
Or, in the lowly likeness of my soul,
To beautiful creation’s countless store
One form of beauty may be added more.2 [Note: George M‘Knight.]
(2) Another advantage is that it opens the way to Progress. Why is it, again, that we make so little progress in the Christian life? Why is our love, our trust, so dwarfed and stunted? Again, is not the answer the same? Self is at the centre where only God should be. But the soul never grows by the contemplation of itself. Love cannot be forced like some hot-house plant. It must be set in the light and sunshine of love; then it springs up of itself. Trust grows in the presence of the wholly trustworthy. Therefore, “Look unto me, and be ye saved,” must be the law of all our life.
Lord of the howling wastes of life,
Where evils watch for prey,
And many a sacred gleam of good
In shadow dies away,
Borne on by Thee in paths unknown,
Well may we trust Thy hand alone,
And suffer angels of Thy own
To shield us as they may.
Revealer of a heaven encamped
Where’er Thy servants go,
By ministries of love to each,
That none beside may know,—
By wings at many a pass outspread,
By winning joy and warning dread,
We learn the word which Thou hast said,
The truth which Thou wilt show.1 [Note: A. L. Waring.]
1. How un-Jewish it is to say that the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus! The characteristic of the God of Judaism was the fact that He was incommunicable. He was self-existent, self-contained, absolutely self-sufficient. He dwelt in a region apart. His deepest nature had never been revealed to mortal eye; no man could see Him and live. The essential feature of His relation to humanity was the vastness of His distance from it. He could speak to man only through the medium of imperative command; and His communications required to be conveyed through the agency of intermediate intelligences. Such a view of God left no room for a conception which implied the communication of the Divine to the human. It would have repudiated the Pauline idea that God could present a gift of Himself, could make His own creatures the sharers in His essential life. Such a thought was the very antithesis of Judaism; yet it is the leading thought of the passage before us.
2. If eternal life is a gift of God it is not a work of man. According to St. Paul, eternal life is not a refinement; it is a renaissance. It is not the product of discipline, but the issue of birth. It is not an upper standard, but a regenerated order. Nowhere can you find a suggestion of a gradient leading by perceptible stages from the human to the Divine. There is no sloping stair, whose topmost step brings us to “the shining tableland, to which our God Himself is moon and sun.” The man who has eternal life, and the man who has it not, occupy two different planes, and the passage from one to the other is by a process not of gradual consummation, but of immediate re-creation.
That we can be schooled and cultured into eternal life is certainly the basis and trend of many men’s reasoning. Life to them, in all its human range, would be imaged in a column of Aberdeen granite which stands in the museum of the University of Edinburgh. The column is of one unbroken piece, but it is arranged in ascending sections to represent the different processes and stages through which the granite passes, from the quarry to the polished issue. The pedestal is rough, jagged, and primitive, just as it left the quarry, bearing all the marks of the blasting. And then follow layer upon layer, each succeeding one being subjected to a more rigid discipline than its predecessor, until every uncouthness is left behind, and all its wealthy and exquisite veins are discovered in the refined and shining issue. And that, I say, is how many people reason about eternal life. Eternal life is just common life perfected. Common life is the rough-hewn block; eternal life is the same block, chastened and refined. The two do not represent a change of substance, they represent differences effected by labour and culture.1 [Note: J. H. Jowett.]
iii. Eternal Life
There are many words with which we have been so long and so intimately familiar that we never pause to ask ourselves what we mean by them. They form the basis of our reasoning, but, like the foundations of a building, we do not notice their depth or structure; nay, for this very cause that they do underlie our common discourse, we cannot without a special effort gain any true idea of them. Now “life” is such a word as this. We all use it and argue about it, but can we explain it?
Think for one moment of the infinite chasm between life and nothingness. On this side there is the glow of health, the consciousness of bodily vigour, the full exuberance of strength and spirits: on that a dreary void. On this side there is the keen sense of the countless joys with which the earth is filled, the glad delight in sunshine and beauty, the rich treasures of a creative mind: on that a dreary void. On this side there is a marvellous power of traversing the whole world in a moment, of holding communion with all the noblest and the best of men, of rising with the chorus of angels even to the throne of God: on that still the same dreary void. Whichever way we turn we see within us a crowd of powers and feelings which minister to our happiness and quicken our susceptibility; and the sum of these—this treasure beyond all treasures—we call “life.”2 [Note: B. F. Westcott.]
1. The life which we have in Christ is eternal life. That word “eternal” answers to some idea fixed in each of our souls, and we need not try to define it. It is enough that our own experience teaches us how vain it is to measure hope and joy, fear and sorrow, by days and years, and not by the intensity of their working. And so Holy Scripture tells us of no change, no succession, no time, in the world to come. The sun and moon and stars—the measures of our earthly periods—shall have passed away, and all shall exist at once in the immediate presence of God.
Wherever there is eternal life there is some apprehension of God: perhaps I should have expressed it better had I said there is some appreciation of God, some “awareness” of His all-encompassing Presence. When our Saviour says, “This is life eternal, to know Thee!”—I do not think the primary content of the word is mental illumination, although that will most assuredly be in the shining train; but it fundamentally refers to the intelligence of sympathy, the correspondence of kinship, if you will, the telepathic communion of spirits, attuned to the same key.1 [Note: J. H. Jowett.]
2. Life eternal is so to be developed hereafter that Scripture speaks of it often as if it began hereafter; but it really begins here, and develops here, and is already “abundant” (John 10:10) here. It is not merely the manifold delights with which the New Jerusalem shall be filled—those streets of gold and songs of angels and deep visions of the universe. If we truly live, these will be ours: but we must gain life first. The sun would shed no gladness on a corpse. Music would wake no echo in the dead. And this is Life Eternal, that we may know the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom He has sent—God has quickened us together with Christ—Christ is the Life, and they who are in Him shall live for ever.
There was one who said to me a little while ago, concerning a loved one who had been brought back to him after a long and troubled absence: “Even when I am at my desk, and immersed in my labour, there’s a singing consciousness at the back of it all that she is in the home again!” That singing apprehension of a presence, in absorbing labours and in relaxing hours, is symbolic of the apprehension which is theirs who know the Lord. “This is life eternal, to know Thee,” to appreciate Thee, to have a singing consciousness that everywhere, in spheres of labour and rest, the Lord is in the house! “Because he is at my right hand!” That is the apprehension of God. “When I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no ill, for thou art with me.” That is the apprehension of God; the singing basal consciousness that the Lover is in the house! It is “deep calling unto deep”; it is the sympathetic vibration of those who partake of the same nature, and that nature is Divine.1 [Note: J. H. Jowett.]
It will not meet us where the shadows fall
Beside the sea that bounds the Evening Land;
It will not greet us with its first clear call
When Death has borne us to the farther strand.
It is not something yet to be revealed—
The everlasting life—’tis here and now;
Passing unseen because our eyes are sealed
With blindness for the pride upon our brow.
It calls us ’mid the traffic of the street,
And calls in vain, because our ears are lent
To these poor babblements of praise that cheat
The soul of heaven’s truth, with earth’s content.
It dwells not in innumerable years;
It is the breath of God in timeless things—
The strong, divine persistence that inheres
In love’s red pulses and in faith’s white wings.
It is the power whereby low lives aspire
Unto the doing of a selfless deed,
Unto the slaying of a soft desire,
In service of the high, unworldly creed.
It is the treasure that is ours to hold
Secure, while all things else are turned to dust;
That priceless and imperishable gold
Beyond the scathe of robber and of rust.
It is a clarion when the sun is high,
The touch of greatness in the toil for bread,
The nameless comfort of the Western sky,
The healing silence where we lay our dead.
And if we feel it not amid our strife,
In all our toiling and in all our pain—
This rhythmic pulsing of immortal life—
Then do we work and suffer here in vain.2 [Note: P. C. Ainsworth, Poems and Sonnets, 9.]
iv. In Christ Jesus our Lord
“The free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” That is where we are to seek and find the inheritance, “in Christ Jesus our Lord.” And this is the reasoning of the sacred word, that eternal life is in the Son. The life that was in Jesus was of the eternal order, and of that sort of life the risen Lord is the reservoir and fountain. Get the music of these three great passages: “In him was life”; “I am the life”; “He that hath the Son hath life.” So what we have got to do in order to get our legacy is to get the legator Himself. “He that hath the Son hath life.” The “free gift” is “in Christ Jesus our Lord.” We need trouble about nothing else except to become one with the Lord. “Having him we possess all things.” If we become one with Him, His life becomes ours.
1. The gift from God of eternal life is not merely through Christ Jesus (as in the Authorized Version), it is in Christ Jesus. What a mystery is this, that we, poor and weak and sinful as we are, can ever be incorporated into Christ—that in Him we can, again, be made living souls inspired by God’s Spirit; and more wonderful still that while we are yet on earth this mighty change can be realized. But it is so written for our learning, and let us rejoice with all reverence while we believe that we may live in Christ as very members of His body; that we may claim as ours the righteousness which He has wrought, the sorrow which He has suffered. At the same time, we must remember that there is a fearful contrast to all this. The Christian has eternal life now only so far as he is one with Christ, and to be cut off from Him, to be without Him, to know Him not, that is real death—death more terrible than our darkened minds can understand at present.
Is it a matter of indifference whether we say “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus” or “through Christ Jesus”? To me, I confess, it makes a fundamental difference in the whole conception of Christianity whether we regard life as something which Christ has won for us apart from Himself, or something which is absolutely bound up with Himself, and realized only in vital fellowship with Him. And I shall hold ten years of life well spent [as one of the Revisers] if I have been enabled to help in any degree in bringing this thought home to English-speaking people in years to come. The phrase represents, if you please, a Hebrew idiom—a Hebrew mode of conception. What then? It was the mode of conception which God was pleased to choose for conveying His truth to the world. Let it, then, be carefully guarded. Let it be faithfully rendered. Let it be offered to our common people, that they may, by patient reflexion, grasp the fulness of the lesson.1 [Note: B. F. Westcott.]
Christ, the Wisdom and the Power!
From our labour’s fleeting hour
To that timeless age of bliss
Which shall crown the toil of this,
Grant that all our life may be
Hidden and revealed “in Thee.”
That our work may be divine
Seek we not our own but Thine;
Lost to self and found “in Thee,”
Find we sweet Humility,
Zeal by reverent Love refined,
True Devotion’s single mind.
So “in Thee” we shall be strong,
Seem the labour light or long;
And, though clouds of self and sin
Darken round us and within,
So not dimly shall we see
Light to lighten all “in Thee.”2 [Note: S. J. Stone, Poems and Hymns, 262.]
2. What is required of us that we may receive the gift in Christ?
(1) Belief. And what is belief? It is not the suppression of reason. Belief is the exaltation of the noblest hypotheses to the throne of the life. To believe in Christ is to take the sublimest assumptions and make them the principles of our soul. To believe in Christ is to take the highest we know and to allow it to govern all that we do. To believe in Christ is to venture our life on the assumptions of Christ. Do you know anything higher, nobler, more glorious, than the assumptions of Christ? To believe is to accept them, to venture on them, and to venture in the assurance that the highest is always the truest and best. He claims to be able to convert destructive remorse into a constructive penitence. He claims to be able to take the virus out of a poisoning guilt. He claims to be able to put dynamic into feeble and struggling virtue. He claims to be able to weld the complexities of life into unity, and to convert its discords into harmony. He claims to be able to take the alienated and embattled individuals of the race, and out of the scattered and hostile fragments to create a brotherhood. This is what our Saviour claims to do. To believe is to let Him do it, and to offer one’s life for the sacred experiment!
(2) Obedience. Belief involves obedience. In these high regions no one can become free without first becoming a slave. But the servitude is not irksome; it is sweetened and glorified by its issue. We must die to self if we would live to God! That is where so many of us fail. We are seeking kinship with the Divine, and we will not surrender ourselves to its blessed ministry.
I lived for myself, I thought for myself,
For myself, and none beside;
Just as if Jesus had never lived,
As if He had never died.
3. And what do belief and obedience bring us?
(1) They bring us power. We share the Divine power—power over sin, and strength to lead a holy life. He—Jesus—was absolutely pure in a world of darkness. In Christ we may conquer sin.
If we study the lives and writings of the highest types of Christian men we shall find that they are characterized by two things. One is the depth of their sense of sin. St. Paul, St. Augustine, the author of “The Imitation,” John Bunyan, Samuel Rutherford. This note characterizes them all. But there is another. It is their sense of the all-sufficiency of Christ as a Saviour from sin. When, again, we study the life of Christ we find that it is characterized by two things—His consciousness of His own sinlessness; and His sense of His power to take away the sin of others.1 [Note: W. Martin.]
(2) They bring us the calm assurance of life everlasting. “I am the Resurrection and the Life,” said Jesus; “he that believeth on me, though he die, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth and believeth on me shall never die” (John 11:25). In Jesus, death is robbed of its horror, and the grave of its victory. We fall asleep just as a weary man, who, harassed by business and daily cares, flings himself on the bed at night and sleeps; and as he awakens with new energy to the new life of the morrow, so we, worn-out and tired, or called to a higher service, fall asleep in death, to awaken to the morning of a never-ending day. Ah! how glorious is this truth when, with sad hearts, we stand by the open grave in which we have laid a loved one to rest. Then we are able to say:—
And with the morn those angel faces smile
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile.
If I were told that I must die to-morrow,
That the next sun
Which sinks should bear me past all fear and sorrow
For any one,
All the fight fought, and all the short journey through,
What should I do?
I do not think that I would shrink or falter,
But just go on
Doing my work, nor change, nor seek to alter
Aught that is gone;
But rise and move, and smile, and pray
For one more day.
And lying down at night for a last sleeping,
Say in that ear
Which hearkens ever, “Lord, within Thy keeping
How should I fear?
And when to-morrow brings Thee nearer still,
Do Thou Thy will.”
I might not sleep for awe, but peaceful, tender,
My soul would lie
All night long; and when the morning splendour
Flashed o’er the sky,
I think that I could smile, could calmly say,
“Welcome His day.”
But if a wondrous band from the blue yonder
Held out a scroll,
Upon which my life was writ, and I with wonder
To a long century’s end its mystic clue,
What should I do?
What could I do, O blessed Guide and Master,
Other than this—
Still to go on as now, not slower, faster,
Nor fear to miss
The road, although so very long it be,
While led by Thee?
Step by step, feeling Thee close behind me,
Through thorns, through flowers, whether the tempest hide Thee
Or heaven’s serene,
Assured Thy faithfulness cannot betray—
Thy love decay.
I may not know, my God; no hand revealeth
Thy counsels wise,
Along the path no deepening shadow stealeth,
No voice replies
To all my questioning thought, the time to tell,
And it is well.
Let me keep on, abiding and unfearing
That will always,
Through a long century’s ripening fruition,
Or a short day’s.
Thou canst not come too soon, and I can wait
If Thou come late.
The Wages and the Gift
Armstrong (W.), Five-Minute Sermons to Children, 63.
Arnold (T. K.), Sermons preached in a Country Village, 112.
Bain (J. A. Kerr), For Heart and Life, 121.
Bowen (W. E.), Parochial Sermons, 38.
Campbell (R. J.), New Theology Sermons, 112.
Chapman (J. W.), Another Mile, 33.
Grimley (H. N.), The Temple of Humanity, 139.
Jackson (G.), Table-Talk of Jesus, 99.
Kuegele (F.), Country Sermons, i. 262.
Maurice (F. D.), Lincoln’s Inn Sermons, ii. 194.
Patton (W. J.), Pardon and Assurance, 58.
Smellie (A.), In the Secret Place, 311.
Tyng (S. H.), The People’s Pulpit, New Ser., iv. 269.
Vaughan (C. J.), Epiphany, Lent, and Easter, 405.
Vaughan (J.), Sermons (Brighton Pulpit), x. No. 802.
Walters (C. Ensor), The Deserted Christ, 61.
Westcott (B. F.), Village Sermons, 250.
Christian World Pulpit, lii. 182 (Antram); lxxviii. 262 (Martin).
Churchman’s Pulpit, pt. ii. 332; pt. xxvii. 478, 486, 490, 495, 500; pt. lxxix. 315.
Clergyman’s Magazine, New Ser., ii. 52 (De Teissier); 3rd Ser., xi. 305 (Irving).
Examiner, April 5, 1906 (Jowett).
Expository Times, v. 428 (Garvie).