HAVE we life or have we not? is a question which is not
fully clear in the minds and hearts of many a believer. In the first flush
of faith we cling to the great truth that we have eonian life
(Rom.6:22), we get hold of life eonian (1 Tim.6:12), and enjoy the
certainty of life during the eons of the eons. Later, when we begin to
realize that we are not yet enjoying the fullness of life which will be
ours in resurrection, and read of the expectation of eonian life (Titus
1:2), which God promises, the question arises, do we now actually enjoy
eonian life, or is it a future experience?
The great stress laid upon having "eternal" life, in
evangelical circles, the small place given to the resurrection, and the
almost total lack of light upon vivification, has led to much confusion in
the minds and hearts of thoughtful believers. They ask themselves, If I
have "eternal" life, why should I die at all? How can it be "eternal" if
it is interrupted by death? If one with "eternal" life dies once, what
will hinder him from dying again? What will keep him from the second
death? There must be something radically wrong in our understanding of
these truths when they are so contradictory. "Everlasting" or eonian life
must not allow death in any form, if it is what its name implies. As
commonly taught it is not "everlasting" at all until the resurrection.
We hope to help the saints to see clearly on this
subject, and clear away the contradiction of "having everlasting life" and
then descending into death as if we had nothing of the kind. The worst
feature of this confusion is that it has thrown a thick fog over the
Scriptures, it encourages the blind acceptance of tradition, and
investigation. For many years I was troubled about this matter, but feared
to bring it up lest I be accused of rejecting God's Word. Almost all
saints simply accept it without realizing how contradictory it is. If they
are aware of this in some measure, they put credulity in place of faith,
and believe it because it is the teaching of the great in Christendom. It
is astonishing how much "faith" is placed in the teaching of the
evangelical church rather than the Word of God.
There is a distinction to be observed between having
and enjoying. It is possible to possess riches of which we can make no
use at the time. We may have eonian life, yet not partake of its
benefits until our vivification at the presence of Christ. In this sense
all believer have eonian life. There is no question as to their
partaking of life in its fullest form when they receive immortality or
incorruptibility at the return of Christ. Perhaps all are clear as to
this, so we will take it for granted.
Furthermore, in contrast to the unbeliever, who is also
raised from the dead for a brief period during the eons, at the great
white throne, it refers to life in a superlative sense. We shall not only
live during the eons as the unbeliever during his judging, but have a
super-abundance of vitality which brings with it power and glory and joy.
In order to express this the Scriptures use a forceful figure. Not the
living, but the dead, stand before the great white throne. In contrast
to this, it is the resurrection of life which ushers the saints into
their eonian allotment. All resurrection must be accompanied by life, but
incorruption does not accompany that of the unbeliever. His is a
resurrection of death, the saint's of life. Making alive, or
vivification, includes deathlessness, immortality.
But the question still remains, do we enjoy this life
now, and, if so, how can we die? Eonian life lasts for the eons. There can
be no interruption by death. This applies, not only to the body of Christ,
but to all saints, for all "have" life eonian. The stern realities of our
present path, the weakness, the corruption, and even death, of true
believers makes it impossible for us to teach that the resurrection is
past already, and that we are now in full enjoyment of life eonian, beyond
the reach of death. Yet we should not base our faith (or lack of faith) on
our experience, but on revelation.
On the other hand, our lives have been transformed by
the power of faith, so that we really do enter into the enjoyment of a
minute measure of vital blessing. We do not merely live on as we did
before we believed. Our spirits, and, as a result, our souls, are vitally
affected, so that there is a foretaste of the coming bliss. This, indeed,
does not extend to our flesh, but it marks us out as alive, in contrast to
the dead unbelievers about us.
The solution to our problem seems to be found in the
passage quoted at the beginning. We are enjoyers, in expectation, of
the allotment of eonian life (Titus 3:7). We have it and we enjoy the
prospect of realizing it. It is ours, and the certainty of the future
experience operates in us powerfully, in anticipation. Besides this, we
have an earnest of the spirit (not the body) which will be ours then,
and, this imparts a foretaste of the life. So that our question demands a
double answer. We not only have eonian life, but enjoy it in
expectation. It is more than a mere promise. It is a vital force in our
present path. We already have the consummation, eonian life (Rom.6:22).
It is God's gracious gift.
So it is that he who sows for the spirit, from the
spirit shall be reaping eonian life, yet he who is sowing for his own
flesh, from the flesh shall be reaping corruption (Gal.6:8). This refers
to the believer. The amount of eonian life he enjoys depends on the amount
of spirit he sows. This does not concern his future life, for in this
passage corruption is the antithesis of eonian life. The less corruption
we have the more life. The very fact that we can reap corruption shows
that this is confined to the present. In the future we shall put on
incorruption. So it comes also that the one who has this eonian life can
die. The life is only in his spirit, not in his flesh.
God's Word brings future realities very close to us by
means of marvelous figures of speech. We are a new creation. This is
confined to our spirits, but who can deny the power of it in our lives?
And so, in spirit, we already enjoy that which cannot be ours in flesh
so long as we are mortals. The flesh must wait until the future. And so it
is with eonian life. Though we possess it and enjoy it in our spirits,
that does not imply that the resurrection has already occurred (2
Tim.2:18), or that we will not die in order that it can occur, in case the
Lord does not come before. We will not enjoy eonian life in fact until
our expectation has been fulfilled, and our mortal bodies have put on
RESURRECTION NOT PAST
Does not this explain why some claim that the
resurrection is past already, or that there is no death for the believer
today? They apply to flesh what belongs to spirit. They take figures as if
they were facts. They say the spirit is life, forgetting that, in the
same sense, the body is dead (Rom.8:10). And, if we are to be literal,
then we are not alive, for the body is the essential basis of
humanity. When Paul uses literal language he refers to his own death
(Phil.1:20) and the fact that Epaphroditus was near death
(Phil.2:27,30). If our present life precluded death, how could he
denounce those who taught that the resurrection was already past (2
Neither let us confuse life with consciousness.
They are quite distinct. We all have life throughout our careers, but most
of us are unconscious in sleep for a third of the time. Even if the
literal life of the believer continued in death (for which there is only
figurative evidence) the very figure used is that of sleep, or unconscious
life. Figuratively, the believer lives on in unconsciousness until the
resurrection, for that corresponds with the experience he will undergo.
Death will seem to him like a sleep, from which resurrection rouses him.
There is no conscious life, even in figurative death. There is no life
whatever in literal death.
VIVIFICATION NOW AND IN THE FUTURE
Reasoning is ruinous when applied to figures of speech,
especially when the literal and the figurative are mixed or compared with
one another. As such an abstract statement may not be easy for our friends
to grasp, we will seek to illustrate it by an example. We will choose one
which, I am told, is seriously proposed, as being the very acme of
spiritual understanding, such as is beyond most of us. It must seem very
attractive to those who desire the very highest for themselves, and who do
not see the fallacy of comparing figurative things with literal.
The basic statement on which this argument rests is
that God "vivifies us together in Christ" and "rouses us together and
seats us together among the celestials, in Christ Jesus" (Eph.2:6). From
this it is deduced that, for us, there is no death, no coming of Christ
where some are dead and some are still living. We are now vivified, hence
cannot die at all, or be raised from the dead. Future resurrection, we are
told, does not apply to the body of Christ. The fact that Paul considered
the possibility of dying (Phil.1:14), is countered in two ways. Some deny
that Paul belonged to the body, while others would not acknowledge
Philippians as written concerning, us.
First, let us note that Ephesians speaks of the
rousing of the soul and the vivification of the spirit, but not
of the raising of the body, whereas this is what is emphasized in
First Thessalonians. The subjects under discussion are quite different.
Our thoughts and feelings are uppermost in Ephesians, while our
bodies are brought before us in Thessalonians. We are never said to be
raised with Christ. Even in a figurative sense, the resurrection of the
body is carefully excluded from Ephesians when we are represented as being
in heaven, but when our walk on earth comes into view, then we should rise
from among the dead (Eph.5:14). So that, in Ephesians, we are both dead
Now, if we are literally vivified, why do we
deteriorate with disease and die? If we have deathless life, mortality is
not only unnecessary, but contrary to the truth, even if our life is hid
with Christ in God. Moreover, if this is literal, and we are seated among
the celestials, why are we running about on earth? Here is a much greater
inconsistency than can possibly, exist between Ephesians and
Thessalonians, which treat of distinct themes. How can the same person be
seated above yet be toiling on earth? If anyone really is at rest in
heaven, what shall we think of him leaving that for such a scene as this?
Far be it from me to deny the marvelous truth that, in
spirit, our place is to rest in our celestial allotment. I have enjoyed
the grace of this for nearly half a century. That I am entitled to
immortality has been my joy for all this time. That its power has operated
in me to some extent by the indwelling of God's spirit is a matter of
experience. But that I have been literally removed from earth to the
celestial spheres has never occurred to me any more than it did to Paul,
nor that I am in the full possession of deathlessness. The stern facts of
our existence forbid our harboring any such illusive delusions.
TOGETHER, TOGETHER, TOGETHER
But let us really seek to discover what is taught in
the second of Ephesians. Paul is not speaking of the individual saint, but
of two classes, you and we, believers among the nations and Paul's
nation, the Uncircumcision and Circumcision. These two are vivified,
roused and seated together. And it is all in Christ. When Christ was
made alive, and roused and seated literally, then this was true of all
the members of His figurative body figuratively, but not literally.
Most of them were not yet born at that time. Not one of them has ever
experienced the sensations accompanying these great realities, for it must
be true of all, not individually, but together.
In fact, the main point in Ephesians is not that we, as
individuals, are vivified, but that these two classes receive this grace
together in Christ. It is not in ourselves, but in Him. The literal
presence of Christ, and our actual resurrection is not in conflict with
this truth, but the necessary and indispensable complement of it.
Suppose we seek to deceive ourselves and say, "We are vivified, roused and
seated, so our present lot is the highest that can come to us. We are
fully satisfied(!) Why should we expect more?" No sane saint could hold to
such a position long, for we are not satisfied without the presence and
power of Christ in a manner altogether beyond what we now experience.
The game of discovering "contradictions" between
various groups of Paul's epistles should be carried out more thoroughly,
and extended to each epistle within itself. For instance, in the early
chapters of Ephesians the saint is seated. In the later chapters he
stands (6:14), or even walks (5:8). Each is a figure, one of spiritual
position, the other of attitude, the other of conduct. Only
figuratively can we sit, stand and walk, all at the same time! So it
will not be necessary to cut off a part of the epistle because it is not
in harmony with the rest. Of this nature are most of the things sometimes
set over against each other in Paul's epistles. They are all true, each in
their own sphere. It is simply false cutting, a dislocating of the word of
Literal vivification takes place only at the presence
of Christ (1 Cor.15:22). It includes those who are living, as well as
those who are dead. They will be changed. This mortal, or dying body, will
put on immortality (1 Cor.15:53). If we already were vivified, this would
be impossible. The very saints who have been vivified together in Christ
in figure (Eph.2:5), will then be vivified in fact. So that vivification,
which gives us eonian life, is in perfect agreement with it. It is ours,
but we do not yet enjoy it, except in expectation. Twice we are the
subjects of figurative vivification in the past: In Christ, when He was
made alive (Eph.2:5), before we were born. In the present, our mortal
bodies (Rom.8:1). Once will we be vivified literally in the future. It is
not till then that we actually enjoy or experience eonian life. Till then
we enjoy the expectation.
Let us then rejoice that, in figure, we are graced with
much which will be ours in fact in the future. Now we are vivified and
seated in Christ. Our bodies are still mortal and on earth. Then,
however, they will be immortal and in the heavens. We will have
vivification in fact and in ourselves, including our bodies as well as
our spirits. Just as we, were saved in expectation (Rom.8:24), and look
for the deliverance of our body, so we are enjoyers of eonian life, in
expectation, until the body also partakes of it in the resurrection.