The Gift of Eternal Life in Christ
by J. J. WEST
Preached on Tuesday evening, May 6th 1862
It is upon these solemn words, my hearers, that I am to preach what we call a sermon. May it be the gospel! May it be the truth! May it be that word of life, the gospel of a sinner's salvation! And I take up these words of the text before me, "This is the record."
Now, mark those words, "This is the record." There is no other. And this is the record, that gives the death-blow to all the Arminianism of the day, and sets forth the truth, the everlasting gospel, of a sinner's salvation. In the Greek it may be thus rendered "This is the declaration of the Divine counsels" of the truth! That is the meaning of the word record here. This is the declaration of the truth, and which every minister of truth does preach, must preach, and shall preach to the poor of the flock, for it is only the poor will receive the gospel. It is emphatically written in the record, "To the poor the gospel is preached." The proud and the rich won't have it; whatever their grade be, whatever their station upon earth, the unhumbled man and woman won't receive and can't receive the truth of the eternal God! This, then, is the record, this is the truth, this is the whole sum and substance of the gospel.
Now what do you know, my hearers, of the record? Is there anything about it recorded in your hearts? Have you been pupils in the school of God? Remember, "all thy children shall be taught of the Lord." (Isa. 54:13) There are not dunces there. A man may be an unlettered man, and yet a great scholar in theology; and it is not great scholars, as such, that can understand the record. Some of them are the greatest enemies that record has. They hate the Gospel. We do not undervalue human learning, mind that. But it is the poor, the fishermen of Galilee, the taught ones of the Lord, who only can grasp the truth! I heard of some man the other day saying it wanted scholarship to understand the Gospel. Did our Lord say so when he summoned the fishermen to be the first bishops in the Church of God? Were they scholars? Were they educated men? "All thy children shall be taught of the Lord;" and whether a man is a peasant or whether he is a peer; whether a man is educated carnally, or uneducated, the Lord will never allow one of his "own elect" not to be taught that which his own Spirit must teach, and shall teach all His own redeemed people, at His own time and in His own way. This is the record, and there is no other.
Well, now, to go on with this text step by step. "This is the record that God hath given" and I am preaching slowly on purpose "God hath given" then it is a gift, what follows? "God hath given to us eternal life." Then it is a gift, and man has no power to ask for it, until the gift is bestowed. The Church of England is sound enough in this, in herself. She echoes the word of God in her Articles, "No man can come to Me except the Father which sent me draw him." No man has any power to believe the record; no man has any power to repent of himself. Never mind what people say, stick to the record. Do in this what one of our most eminent lawyers at the bar does in pleading. Imitate Sir Fitzroy Kelly. I have heard him keep a judge on the bench to the statute, my lord, the statute." So I say, "The record, sinner, the record." As the judge is to mark the statute, so I call upon my fellow sinners to mark the record; and you must not get away from that. "This is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life." And it is only beggars that receive it. The proud Arminian won't receive it, and can't receive it. He fancies he can get it in his own power, but it is not so. Man is powerless in himself. God has said it, "Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? (Matt. 20:15) Has not God a right to dispense His favours as He will? As Dr. Watts says
"For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son;" but if He gave him for man, do you think He gave Him at a peradventure? Do you think that He gave Him to be subject to man's and woman's caprice, whether they would receive Him or not? No such thing. He gave His Son for "His own elect." He gave His Son, alone and only for the portion of sinners for whom He died. Look at the marked distinction between a Cain and an Abel, between an Esau and a Jacob, between a Judas Iscariot and a Peter, and then look into your own hearts well, and ask whether discriminating grace has made you to differ from your fellow-sinners around you, and to differ from what you once were, when you were in the Arminianism and Popery of the flesh. "This is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life." It is all a gift. Look at prophecy: "For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulders." (Isa. 9:6) That is a government that never changes; that is a government that is settled; that is a government that acts according to sovereign decree and covenant arrangement, and which legions of devils can never undermine. And so, my brother, I may quote the words of a good man, "Everything out of Christ is hell and damnation; everything in Him is heaven and salvation." So we come to this, which is, after all, the sum and substance of the Gospel "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the spirit. For the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh" (Rom. 8:1-3) Ah! Do you know the weakness of the flesh? Then look at the provision made for that infirmity,"God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh; that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh but after the spirit." (Rom. 8:3,4)
Now, my hearers, mark, and it is worth marking, and worth hearing, but if God does not mark it in your hearts it won't avail, "This is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life." It is a gift, a free gift. Look at the distribution of it, experimentally and practically, upon Mount Calvary. Look at the reality of eternal life given to one thief and not to the other. There is discriminating grace! They were both felons, and one was as bad as the other; but as Toplady so beautifully expresses it, "Christ detained himself upon earth, he lingered upon the cross till he had stared the one dying blasphemer into repentance; and under the operation of mighty grace, made that dying sinner say, 'Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.'" (Luke 23:42) No sooner had the prayer which grace made, mark! The prayer of grace in the man, no sooner had he uttered that petition, than the promise was poured into his soul: "Today thou shalt be with me in Paradise." Not a word was said to the other thief. He is gone to hell, the other is gone to heaven, because eternal life was given to the one, and not to the other. We must, my hearers, speak plain truth in the pulpit; that is the right way, and the way which every faithful man pursues. As I tell my own hearers at home, you must go away from hearing the Gospel, quite understanding what you have heard, whether it offends you or whether it does not.
Well, now, here is "the record" that I am preaching before you, that God, my adorable and blessed Master, "hath given us eternal life!" I pause now to annotate that pronoun "given us." He has not given it to the world, but he has given it to "us." And here, as far as I can understand the practical path of a child of God, here is where the children of God are brought into the exercise of a Christian experience, to seek earnestly to know whether they are amongst the "us." This I find to be the general experience of the people with whom I have fellowship, and with whom I have communion upon this vast and glorious subject. I believe it is a very few, there are some exceptions, every rule has an exception, but I believe very few of God's saved people are privileged continually to stand on the summit-top of assurance; and I believe that the great body of God's redeemed and purchased people, for whom eternal salvation is certain, are in the valley of doubts and fears about their own personal interest and experience of it. And so I quote here, as I continually do at home to my few there
Listen! The record says, "God has given to us eternal life," but has he given it to me? Has he given it to you? Are you satisfied of your own interest? A great divine now alive, a seceder, I am sorry to say, from my own church, for I wish he was still within her fold, says, and he says it truly and faithfully, (in words to this effect) "Nothing can teach a sinner his interest, but the day-star rising in his heart;" the day-star bringing manifestations, the day-star revealing the secret, the day-star rising amid the darkness in the valley of trials, and fears, and exercises. The Christian is continually exercised to know the point, "Am I one?"
Mr. Hart says
It must be applied with power, my hearers. We have just heard a clap of thunder, did not you hear it in the prayers just now? I saw by that window the flash of lightning. Lightning comes first in the storm, and then the thunder-clap. You saw and you heard that practically just now. So in the experience of the child of God, the lightning flashes first, then comes the clap of thunder, the noise, the storm, the tempest of the soul, the fear, the fright. "It is the glorious God that maketh the thunder," but light, like lightning in the storm, comes first; and then experimentally you undergo and hear the thundering of the storm. "In the world ye shall have tribulation" (John 16:33)confirming the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must, through much tribulation, enter into the kingdom of God." (Acts 14:22)
Now, I say that "God has given to us eternal life", that is, to the Church, and not to another soul. We must be discriminating in the pulpit. The blood of souls stains deep! Woe be to any man who occupies such a place as I now stand in, if he "keeps back part of the price!" Woe be to him, whoever he be, if, for any consideration whatever, be it the fear of man or anything else, he withholds the truth! "Woe be unto you, when all men speak well of you!" (Luke 6:26) I know what it is to be abused and reviled; and every man who preaches the Gospel must be abused, and will be misrepresented and belied. But there is a moment coming when these things shall be cleared up. My hearers, I proclaim upon this pulpit-top that it is only for the "us" that God hath given eternal life. And if I succeed tonight in being a messenger of God to one soul amongst this large mass of people, to one soul that may be now dead in sin; and if the preaching of a discriminating Gospel tonight sets before you the truth that Christ died to redeem the Church, and you are brought by grace to investigate this fact for yourselves in a way you never investigated it before; if I succeed in making you miserable under the preaching of this record, declaring before you that "God hath given unto us eternal life," but that that eternal life is not for all men, that may be the means which Jehovah may take now to bring some poor blind sinner here, by a way he knows not, and to force him to ask himself the solemn question, "Did Christ die for me?"
But what is the thing given? What is the gift bestowed? It is eternal life! Now what is that? Let us define it by this book, "the record." This is the record, this book that I hold up before you. What is eternal life? We are told in the 17th of John, "This is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou has sent." (John 17:3) So that eternal life begins on earth. We don't stay till we get to heaven, eternal life begins here. A saving knowledge of God in a broken heart, that is eternal life. Have you got that? Do you know Him? Look how the apostle speaks of Him: "That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings." (Phil. 3:10) Ah! You must never put out of sight "the fellowship of His sufferings." Every child of God must be made to suffer here. This is not our heaven. This world is not our home. The world are after the things of the world. But is the eye of your heart fixed upon Him whom to know is everlasting life? "This is life eternal, that they might know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent." "This is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life; and this life is in His Son."
Now, my hearers, every man that is brought to investigate this solemn point for himself is brought into trouble of soul. We read in Jeremiah, "Alas! For that day is great, so that none is like it: it is even the time of Jacob's trouble, but he shall be saved out of it." (Jer. 30:7) And there cannot be a sweeter test of the everlasting love of God to a sinner than when that sinner can have the evidence in himself or in herself of trouble about his or her soul. Remember, it is in the valley of Achor the door of hope is given. (Hosea 2:15) I hope and trust that I am not deceived when I feel that I am preaching to many troubled souls here. If I thought you were only mere church comers and mere formalists, I would not come up here to preach to you; but I come because I believe you are a hungry people, I come because I believe you are, generally speaking, a poor people; I come because I do believe, by the drawing out of my soul for you, that you are a people at all events, in trouble about your souls, and this is a great encouragement to a faithful minister, there is nothing like it. The proud, the rich, the great, the noble, the carnal wise, of such the record says, "Not many" of these, but "the poor in spirit" and the broken in heart, whether a man wears a coronet upon his brow, or has not a rag scarcely to put on, all such gladly hear and receive the Gospel. That is what I mean by "the poor." As for mere carnal professors, I hate the name of them. But it is such as are weary, such as are broken-hearted, such as understand this passage, "He that falleth on this stone shall be broken," (that, is the poor man) "but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder" (Matt. 21:44)that is the unhumbled man who hates the Gospel. Now, have you fallen upon this stone? And have you got a broken heart? Are you taught (oh, Londoners! Your snares!) Are you taught, in the midst of all your hurry and business, that only one thing is really needful? What engrosses you? What occupies your heart? I don't say a word against your proper attention to business, but I ask, Who has got your heart, business or God? Satan or the Saviour? You cannot serve two masters. The Scripture rule is, "Use this world as not abusing it." Now, mark that. It is a narrow path. Let the men of business who hear me consider this "Use this world, as not abusing it." You cannot carry it away with you. You want to make a little more money! You are never contented; but you cannot carry it away with you in your coffin. What, after all, is it all really worth? Have you got eternal life? Has Christ left you, (if I may so speak) in his last will and testament, the blood that cleanseth from all sin? Are you washed? Are you justified? Look at what the blood has done! Look at those at Corinth, who had been adulterers, and fornicators, and idolaters, and revilers, and drunkards, everything base, vile, and bad, and filthy, and yet "such were some of you! But ye are washed." This is the record, "But ye are washed." "But ye are sanctified." "But ye are justified." In what? "In the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God." (1 Cor. 6:11)nothing else. You will be eternally condemned if you stand upon anything else than the name of Jesus! It was said of Him before His birth, "Thou shalt call His name Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins." (Matt. 1:21) "From" them! Oh, wondrous, marvellous blood, marvellous blood! To make a sinner clean, to make a sinner perfectly holy, as if he had never sinned at all!
Then another point in the text before me, see how simple the record is if you are only simplified to believe it. But we are so proud. I know that, bear with me, pride is in us still. But it must be dethroned (as it was in Saul of Tarsus.) Till this is done man naturally hates the Gospel, and despises the Gospel, knows nothing about the Gospel; but when grace works in us, when grace abounds in my heart, then "what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ." (Phil. 3:7) "Thou, O God," (the Psalmist says, and let me turn to it and read the word exactly as it stands here,) "Thou, O God, didst send a plentiful rain, whereby thou didst confirm Thine inheritance, when it was weary." (Ps. 68:9) That plentiful rain, that refreshing shower, that general watering, "Thou didst send a plentiful rain, whereby Thou didst confirm Thine inheritance when it was weary." Or, allow me to annotate that, it just occurs to me, and it may be rendered thus: "O God, Thou didst send a plentiful rain, whereby Thou didst confirm it Thine inheritance." Now, does not the doubting soul want that refreshing shower? Are there no fearers here? Then don't you want a plentiful rain to refresh your dried-up soul, you who are almost driven at times to despair, and think, after all, you cannot be a child of God? Don't you want that "plentiful" rain, whereby God will confirm you to be one of His own inheritance. You want this, but only when you are weary. "Come unto me, all that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." (Matt. 11:28) But the proud man does not want the "plentiful rain." Ah! You city people don't see as I do in the country, the effect of a shower after a long time of drought, how the ground is refreshed by it after being parched up with heat. You cannot see it on your pavements; you are artificial waterers to lay the dust in the City; but I see its effect on the dried-up fields at home, when God sends down a shower. So with the poor doubting fearing soul, "the plentiful rain" comes refreshing it when it is weary. "This is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son!" This is the point I am coming to. This is the secret, it is all in Him. You have no life in yourself. Now hear how the Apostle speaks, "Ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God." (Col. 3:3) But are you dead in that sense? My brother, bear with me, "I was alive without the law once." (Rom. 7:9) Are you dead in that sense? "Ye are dead, and your life is with Christ in God." Do you know anything of the treasure hid in a field? Londoners! Listen to me. Do you know that sweet passage in the record here (I was speaking on it to my own hearers the other day) "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath and buyeth that field." (Matt. 13:44) You know something about investments; you are keen enough for that, you City men. You are sharp enough there. "For joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath" and what is that? And what says Solomon, in one of the most remarkable passages in all the Bible, "Buy the truth, and sell it not." (Prov. 23:23) Is it not an old common adage, "Bought experience is the best?" Have you bought the truth in the experimental pathway? You must be content to be cast out of men; you must be content to be hated of men; you must be content to be belied of men; you must be content to be hated of all, for Christ's name sake. Oh! what a purchase, a purchase which death can never deprive you of. "Buy the truth, and sell it not." "This is the record that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son." Do you think it is yours? The life that never dies is in the Son!
Do you know anything of communion with God. The apostle says in the opening of this epistle, "Truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ." Do you know anything of that fellowship? Now listen, if you know anything of that communion and that holy intercourse with God, through the Saviour, it is the effect of everlasting union with Him. You have only communion with Him, because He is in everlasting union with you, and nothing can separate it. And, as I once heard said, "There is no subject so profitable to the people of God to hear preached or spoken of, as the everlasting union between Christ and His Church."
I know, my hearers, it is the fashion to say that there is an improvement in the preaching of the day. But nothing will do for the broken-hearted family of the Saviour but a full Christ, as a good man once said "a full Christ, for empty sinners;" and no one will receive a full Saviour but an emptied sinner. Pride, why we are full of it! Mr. Hart has the remarkable thought
But there is one spot where pride can never come, and it is only there that we can see the everlasting love of God in Christ.
Now, look at the verse in the text which follows: "He that hath the Son hath life; he that hath not the Son of God hath not life." There is no middle way; it is either all one thing or all the other; it is either Christ or Belial; it is either profession or possession; it is either a free grace Gospel, or it is Arminian nonsense. "He that hath the Son hath life; he that hath not the Son of God hath not life." Look at a family, take brothers and sisters that have trod the same nursery floor and sucked the same breast, one a Christian and the other not, one taken and the other left, one taught to hunger and thirst after righteousness and after the Saviour, and the other worldly and hating anything of the sort. How do you account for this? Why it is discriminating grace which makes them to differ. And then nothing humbles a man so much as that. "Who maketh to differ." We are called by the world "proud Calvinists." I very much object to that term; it is a hackneyed term. They who use it know nothing about it or about us. If they did, if they stood in the same position that we do; if they had the same feelings; if they knew the same broken-heartedness; if they could feel the weight of sin as we do, then they would cry to Him "mighty to save: for that life that is in His Son.
Do you feel, as I have feebly attempted to open up this passage before you, that you know anything experimentally about it? I speak to each and I speak to all, do you feel that discriminating grace has made you "to differ?" Remember the two sisters, Ruth and Orpah. Ruth drops on her face and cries, "Why have I found grace in Thine eyes, that Thou shouldest take knowledge of me, seeing I am a stranger?" Her sister ran well for a time like many a professor now, but after a time away she went back to her kindred and her country. That shows what she was, but Ruth remains. Now what do you and I know of that which is stated in the text? I see the time has come for me to stop.
Suppose, my brother, that this is the last sermon that you will ever hear, and the last sermon I shall ever preach. What a solemn thing! What a narrow path! Bear with me. "There are threescore queens, and fourscore concubines, and virgins without number, "these are the whole host of professors, "My dove, my undefiled is one; she is the one of her mother, she is the choice one of her that bare her." (Songs 6:9) And mark, for this church, for this beloved one, what has Christ done? Let me read you these words in the Epistle to the Ephesians, "And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers: for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ." (Eph. 4:11-13) "Unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, "this is what we are given for, for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to that spot where there shall be no disunion, where there shall be no discord, no dissent. Toplady compares the different sections of the Church of God on earth to so many different cornfields, each field, as we see them in the country, divided and separated by a hedge; but in each field grows the corn, and when this corn is gathered into the garner, it wont be asked whether it was grown in that field or in the other. And, though I love my Church above all other forms, yet there is a period coming when Churchmen and Nonconformists shall realize the mighty fact of the everlasting union between Christ and His Church, when we shall dwell together for ever before the throne of Him, God over all, blessed for evermore.
And in the meantime, may "Christ" be formed in us, in you and me, more and more, "the hope of glory." May we grow up into a more distinct understanding of Him; see Him, as the apostle states Him to be, "Made of God unto us, wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption; that, according as it is written, he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord." (1 Cor. 1:30,31) Remember, the time is coming when you and I must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ. "The end of all things is at hand." Some of you have told me that there is no subject more profitable to you from the pulpit than death; as Paul says to the Hebrews, "As it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment." (Heb. 9:27) Is our "life hid with Christ in God," so that, as Paul says, "When Christ, our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with Him in glory? (Col. 3:4) No one can understand the trials, the exercises, the besetments, the feelings of a Christian, but a Christian. The world knows nothing of them; the mere professor knows nothing of them. We are a distinct people; we are different from all other people, my hearers. We have got the fear of God in a broken heart; and, as a godly man has said, "He compares himself to an old horse, who mends his pace as he gets nearer home." Do you understand anything about that? The horse when turned homewards, though he may go sluggishly before, will mend his pace as he goes home; he wont want a spur then, he knows he is going home! Do you know that? Oh, blessed spot! Today in London, what with the bustle and the heat, and the crowds, and the people running here and running there, I have longed to get home again; and what must it be to get home in heaven!
"Home, home; sweet, sweet home."
Now, my hearers, may these words be recorded in your hearts. "This is the record" (may this message be blessed to you)". This is the record that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He that hath the Son hath life, he that hath not the son of God hath not life!" May God bless this record to your heart, through Jesus Christ. Amen.