Address given by Arend Remmers at Canterbury Conference 2011
“And Jehovah Elohim formed Man, dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and Man became a living soul.” (Genesis 2:7)
“Lord, by these things men live, and in all these things is the life of my spirit; and thou hast recovered me, and made me to live. Behold, instead of peace I had bitterness upon bitterness; but thou hast in love delivered my soul from the pit of destruction; for thou hast cast all my sins behind thy back.” (Isaiah 38:16-17)
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believes on him may not perish, but have life eternal.” (John 3:16)
1. Natural Life
The three short passages which we have read show us three different aspects of life. The first thing we have read is that man when he was created became a living soul. The same expression is used in the first chapter of Genesis when God created the animals, they too became living souls; and how could they become living souls? How could man become a living soul? Only because there was One who was life in Himself – God.
We read in the Bible the expression “the living God.” This does not only distinguish God from all the dead, man-made idols, (for every idol, every god beside the only true and Living God is a man-made god); but also, and it is far deeper thought, He is the Living God because He is life and the source of all life. Where does life come from? The Bible is the only book that tells us. People try to explain it without God, but they must postulate a miracle in the beginning. The “big bang” and the origin of life is, in evolutionary theory, a miracle which cannot be explained. In the Bible it is also a miracle that life has been created, but it is explained, for there is a Living God, the God who is life in Himself who created all living beings, including man; but still there is a great difference between the creation of all other living beings, living souls, and man, because God breathed into man's nostrils the breath of life .
So from the beginning man was not only a creature of divine origin but he received a breath of life which distinguishes him from every other creature. No other creature has a conscience, no other creature has a spirit which enables it to get in contact with its Creator, only man – because God breathed His own spirit in this natural created man to make him a living soul. But probably very shortly after having been created by God man fell into sin; man disobeyed his Creator. He obeyed Satan and thereby became a sinner. And as God had predicted, as soon as man ate of the forbidden tree (the tree of the knowledge of good and evil) he died. Death was introduced and it ended, as it were, this wonderful natural life of man in the Garden of Eden.
It seems contradictory that in the second chapter of Genesis God says to man, “for in the day that thou eatest of it thou shalt certainly die” (v. 17), but in the third chapter, “And Jehovah Elohim said, Behold, Man is become as one of us, to know good and evil. And now, lest he stretch out his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever ...!” (v. 22). How can this be? If God had predicted they would die how could man as it were thwart the decision of God by eating of the tree of life and live forever? For this tree is really the tree of life, and it would have been thwarting God's decision if he would have eaten of that tree and have lived eternally as a sinner in this world. This was prevented by God by sending man out of the Garden of Eden. And since that time of the fall man with his natural life, given by God, is inwardly far from God; he is an enemy of God by nature, by the sin that has entered into his life, and therefore (this is not revealed in the Old Testament, but in the New) it is said, man in the eyes of God is dead, although he is living naturally. We were dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2). Why is this? Because the life which God had given was deteriorated by sin so that there was no echo in man any more to the appeals of the word of God. On the contrary, from the moment of the fall, this existence, (like so many other things only revealed in the New Testament, though true all through the Old Testament), the mind of flesh, is enmity against God. We read this and other important things in Romans 7 and 8.
In Romans 7:18 the man who is in that situation says, “For I know that in me, that is in my flesh, good does not dwell”. This is the consequence of sin for man. The world does not see this, only a person who has come into the light of God, who has been enlightened by God and who has been born anew (this is already our second subject) can see that in him dwells no good thing. This is a very important point.
In chapter 8 the writer goes even further. It is very important to understand why natural man in his natural condition can never get into contact, into communion with God. There is no good in man; but God is the supreme good. How can man approach God? Romans 8:6 says, “For the mind of the flesh is death.” It is not only that his natural life is subject to death, but even his mind (his thoughts and feelings), as expressed in Ephesians 2:1, is dead in trespasses and sins, it is directed towards death. Romans 8:8 says, “And they that are in the flesh (i.e. the natural man) cannot please God.” This shows us it is not possible for the human being to get into contact with God, because he is not in a condition to do so. Therefore we find the second point in Isaiah 38, expressed by King Hezekiah that there is new life by new birth from God.
2. New Life
This is a very important thing because without new life no Old Testament believer could approach God. He could outwardly approach the altar in the Tabernacle and later in the Temple, but in his heart he could be far away from Him. So God opened the way for man to get into fellowship with Himself by new life, which is given by new birth. Many of us have asked the question, How could Old Testament believers get into communion with God? The answer is that they had life. That is what is expressed by Hezekiah in Isaiah 38, where we find another thought also that is important in our context.
Hezekiah sings in verse 16, “Lord, by these things men live and in all these things is the life of my spirit .” This is not outward bodily life, but new life, life given by God to the spirit of man. The reason we find in the end of verse 17, “for Thou hast cast all my sins behind Thy back.” There we find the thing that is so important, which was known by every believer in the Old Testament, and is here expressed by Hezekiah, My spirit has got life – “because Thou hast thrown all my sins behind Thy back.” This is forgiveness, and this is new life. The Lord Jesus says in Matthew 10:28, “and be not afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul, but fear rather Him [that is God] who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” Here we see clearly that the natural, bodily life in man that is connected with the body, will come to an end. There is no doubt about it. But this does not mean that the soul, the inward life of man, ends at the grave – a belief which is now very common among people of Western Europe. It is not true. There may be such as mentioned here, those who become martyrs, to whom the Lord says, “Don't be afraid of those that kill the body.” How many believers have had their bodies killed? But their souls cannot be killed. Man has an immortal soul. The soul cannot be killed because it is immortal. But the key point is, In what state is the soul after death? Is it in a state where He who created man, as Judge, must destroy the soul and the body in hell, or is he or she by faith in a state where God will accept him or her in His glory? By faith Hezekiah knew, just as Job, “I know that my Redeemer liveth” [Note: Destruction does not mean annihilation, but eternal destructive punishment].
That is a wonderful thing, although (and this is a subject in itself), all these things were not so clearly revealed in the Old Testament as in the New. There were believers, but for them it was not so easy as for us. They had no gospel preachers who said “Believe in the Lord Jesus and thou shalt be saved”. There were no preachers and there was not yet a Saviour. This is why all these things, including new life, life of the spirit from, and of, God, were things known by many, but not in a doctrinal way. That is very important. But what kind of life was it that these believers had? It was life divine. Why did they need it? Because their natural state was enmity against God. How can somebody who is an enemy of God get into heaven? He must become a friend of God. And this is true from the beginning of the world, from Abel (who is the first one to be called a believer in Hebrews 11, although I have no doubt that Adam and Eve also were believers) up to the last person who will believe in the millennium. They all have life divine, life for the soul and life for the spirit eternally – in this sense, eternal life – which will never end.
3. Eternal Life
I say this because if we use this term “eternal life” we have should be aware of the two senses of this term. The first is never-ending, and this should also include never- beginning , because the eternal God not only does not have an end but is without a beginning, whereas we as creatures are without an end, for the soul cannot be killed, it will exist eternally, the question is only where and how; but we have a beginning. So eternal life in what I shall call the simplest sense means life without end. Every believer has not only life without end, but a life with God without end. Every unbeliever has – I would not like to call it life but – an eternal existence, far from God and His presence, in the extreme darkness where there is gnashing of teeth, where there is a fire that is never quenched and where there is unceasing wailing – all speaking of never-ending torments of those who have said during their lifetime, I do not need God. A terrible eternity! But all who have believed and do believe in God, from the beginning of creation to the end of the millennium, when this world will be burnt up and new heavens and a new earth will come, all have new life because natural man is not fit for the presence of God. An old brother told me, long ago, that for an unbeliever heaven would be hell, for his heart would be far away from God, his heart hates God. What would it be for him to be eternally with Him whom he has hated all through his life, even if he had been only indifferent, for indifference does not really exist. A man is either for God or against Him; an indifferent man refuses Him too. I think this is very important if we want to understand what was the character of Old Testament saints. They were believers, but to be a believer means to have new life, for to be only a professing believer does not help.
Then the time of the Old Testament ended, and the time came in which we live, the time after the appearance of the Lord Jesus, the Son of God. And of Him it is said that He is eternal life. Here we see the distinction of which I said a moment ago that in one sense eternal life is life without end, but when we read in 1 John 5:20, “And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us an understanding that we should know Him that is true; and we are in Him that is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.” From this verse it is very clear that this expression, eternal life, has taken quite a different meaning from never-ending life. Here it is the Person of the Son of God who is especially presented to us in the writings of the Apostle John. Here it is said that this Person has come to give us an understanding, the understanding of who God really is, the truth of the Trinity, the Triune God – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit – which was not revealed in the Old Testament.
Before turning again to other passages, go to the beginning of 1 John, where we read in verse 1 “That which was from the beginning, that which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes; that which we contemplated, and our hands handled, concerning the word of life; (and the life has been manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and report to you the eternal life, which was with the Father, and has been manifested to us:) ”. The Lord Jesus, the eternal Son of God, is not only the eternal life, but by Him eternal life has been manifested, has been seen, has been heard, has even been touched by the twelve disciples. Now we see that the expression “eternal life” in John, and we can also say in the other epistles of the New Testament, has taken for us as to revelation an entire new sense, because here we see it is not only a kind of existence, but it is a Person. And that is not all. The Son of God, the Lord Jesus, is called the eternal life. This shows the immense depth and expanse of that expression. I am thankful that I have eternal life. Paul says He is our life. Although, and this is a well-known fact that I just mention in passing, all the other epistles of the New Testament mostly speak of eternal life in the future sense. The Word of eternal life was manifested and seen and reported or testified, but where did He come from? From heaven. In John 4 the Lord was sitting at the well of Sychar speaking to a poor woman, who was far away from Him, but she went away as a believer. The Lord says in verse 14, “but whosoever drinks of the water which I shall give him shall never thirst for ever, but the water which I shall give him shall become in him a fountain of water, springing up into eternal life.” What does that mean? It cannot only mean life without end. But in the context of the two passages we have read in 1 John it shows us that life in the believer has a living connection to the Source of life in heaven. This is not in a future sense that something will be coming, but it means that the believer in this world, now believing in the Lord Jesus, by the Spirit, has a living connection with the Source of eternal life in heaven; the fountain springs up into eternal life. These are some of the thoughts, some of the connotations, that are linked to the expression “eternal life”, but by no means all.
We have seen that the Lord Jesus, the Son of God Himself, is eternal life. And when Paul says “Christ, our life” he is speaking of that eternal life, ‘He who is now glorified in heaven is my life'. It is not an idea only, it is a Person, the Lord Jesus. This life, John says, we have in Him. If it would be in us , in a certain sense, it would be in a very dangerous position. It is said in 1 John 5:11 (and this shows us how precisely we have to read these verses and expressions to get the understanding) “And this is the witness, that God has given to us eternal life”. God has given eternal life (John 3:16) to those who believe in the Lord Jesus. And then John says we have this life “in His Son”. It does not say in us, even though we have it, and in a way we could say we have it in ourselves, because Christ is in us, the hope of the glory, but rather it says “in His Son”. One brother explained this long ago very clearly, by using the image of our own body. If we consider our fingers we could say they have life, they move, the blood flows through them, but we could not say our fingers are living fingers; they take life from the body. The life is in the body and the finger being part of the body takes life from the body. The life is not in the finger, as it were, but it is in the body. That is the sense, more or less, that we have here. We have life, but this life is not in ourselves, we are not the source or seat of life, or even a dependent life source, but the life remains ever in the Person of the Son of God. But it is our life, we can say “Christ, our life”. What a wonderful thing.
So we see, beloved ones, this is eternal life, as it is presented in the New Testament. We have similar expressions twice in the Old Testament, in Daniel 12 (“eternal life”) and in Psalm 133 (not so clear, “life forever more”). There it is more the eternal existence of divine life. But here we have the distinction that it is not only life in eternity but it is a life with, may I say, a quality, which the new life in the Old Testament could not possess, because they neither did nor could, know the Lord Jesus. To understand Scripture correctly this is important.
There are many Christians who say that all believers in all ages have the same kind of life. In a certain way it is true, but to say this in a general way would be contradicting Scripture. In John's Gospel chapter 10 we read of The Good Shepherd who says in verse 10, “I am come that they [the sheep, the believers] might have life, and might have it abundantly.” Have you ever thought about the fact that as a believer in the Lord Jesus you have life abundantly? Elijah once said to the sons of the prophets “Put the great pot on the fire”, the biggest you have. This is what God gives us. We are not poor as Christians, we are not poor people, we are the richest people in this world. But our riches are not the visible riches of this world, and let us beware of thinking that it is a great blessing from God for us to be rich in this world. It is not. It only enhances our responsibility. We can be thankful for eating and drinking and so forth, but let us never lose sight of the true riches we have, because in this way we see that we have life in abundance, because we have the source in the Lord Jesus, and nothing can compare with this life which is the Son of God, who loves us, and gave Himself for us; and not only that, but He gave everything He is. Do we know who He is? Do we know who hung on the cross for us? The True God and Eternal Life come down as Man, revealing God in all His fulness, for the fulness of the Godhead dwelt, and dwells, bodily in Him. He gave Himself for us. God gave His Son – the greatest gift ever. Why did He do that? Because God is love. So when thinking of eternal life, beloved ones, we see before us the Lord Jesus, the Eternal Son of God, revealed, manifested in this world in grace and holiness and obedience, and His life consecrated only to His Father. There was no self-will in Him. This Person, beloved ones, is our life – the Lord Jesus. When the apostle says to the fathers in faith that they have known Him who is from the beginning, that is not God. God is not from the beginning. He was in the beginning, and the Word of God, the Son of God, was in the beginning. Neither is “from the beginning” creation, it is the beginning of God's dealings with this world in sending His Son. This is the beginning. He who is “from the beginning” is the Lord manifested in this world and going to the cross of Calvary. These fathers in Christ, mature Christians, had seen everything and said ‘There is nobody and nothing comparable to the Lord Jesus.' They had known Him who is from the beginning.
Another point is that when the Lord Jesus came to the disciples in John 20:22, it is said, “And having said this, he breathed into them, and says to them, Receive the Holy Spirit.” At the beginning of our meditation we read that God, when He had created man as a natural being, breathed into man's nostrils. Now, after the Lord Jesus had first manifested God and served Him and glorified Him, He did another thing, the most important thing, He died upon the cross. God is light, God is love. This was manifested on the cross. That means that everybody who believes in the Lord Jesus receives eternal life (John 3:16). God gives this eternal life. The Lord Jesus says “I give eternal life.” There is no difference. But faith is not founded on the Lord Jesus coming into this world, but on His work of Calvary: a known salvation. So, firstly, the revelation of God in Christ was unknown to the Old Testament believers. The knowledge of the most wonderful Person in the universe was unknown to every believer in the Old Testament. Secondly, I know that my sins are forgiven. This security, I dare say, no believer in the Old Testament had. They had no foundation for so doing, although their practical faith was sometimes stronger than ours who have the full divine revelation.
Imagine that – we have the revelation that the Lord Jesus died for our sins on the cross, and yet doubt after doubt. There were Old Testament saints who could not look at a work of accomplished salvation, who did not know a personal Saviour, and still they had a faith like Job – “I know that my redeemer liveth” (Job 19:25). He did not know that the Lord Jesus was his Redeemer. We may apply this today, but he knew no redeemer in this sense, although he had a faith in God that God would be this Redeemer. How – he did not know. Abraham believed in the resurrection. He had never seen anybody raised from the dead, had not even heard of anybody being raised from the dead. But it says he believed it in Hebrews 11. I mention this just to explain the strength of faith these believers had. Abraham judged that God would be able to raise Isaac from the dead. Judged . And this judgment was the result of an unshakable faith that God would be faithful and not untrue to a believer. That was the same kind of faith that Job had when he said “I know that my redeemer liveth.” But how much more have we who know the Eternal Life, an accomplished salvation and redemption? We know that all our sins are forgiven. We look at Calvary where He who is the eternal life died for us as Man. We know that the Lord Jesus was raised from the dead and more than that, He is at the right hand of God in the glory. That is what Paul speaks of when he speaks of Christ, our life, at the right hand of God. That is the riches of the eternal life in our day. It is the revelation of the Person and the work of the Lord Jesus in all its fulness.
And the consequence was the giving of the Holy Spirit – “Receive ye the Holy Spirit” in John 20 when He breathed into them. He did not give them the Holy Spirit as a Person, for then the apostles would have received Him twice, because the Holy Spirit came down on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2. What happened in John 20 when the Lord Jesus breathed into them just as God breathed the natural life into the nostrils of Adam is that after His work was accomplished, He gave them this eternal life which they could not have before because eternal life is based on the work of Christ on Calvary. So “Holy Spirit” is here without the article in the J.N.Darby translations in English, German and French, and this is very important to note. It is not the Holy Spirit, the Person; it is the life which is characterised by that Person. Are we aware of the fact that a divine Person is dwelling in us? “I send you another Comforter,” part of the eternal life, the eternal life, the life of God as manifested in the Person of the Son and connected with all the fulness of the Godhead. We are the children of the Father, we have the Holy Spirit in ourselves and we possess the Lord Jesus as the eternal life. This life is ours. A gift of God.
This is what filled the heart and mind of John that he did not know in the beginning. When he became a disciple, he was called a son of thunder. It was not a very nice compliment to be called a “son of thunder” – Boanerges. Both he and Andrew his brother were given this name. But the Lord changed them. And He wants to change everybody. And we, too, are sons of thunder (or even worse), not better – for this does not exist, the mind of the flesh is always enmity against God. We can become disciples who love the proximity of the Lord Jesus. John leaned against the breast of his Saviour. That was the place he preferred, and the place in which we know John. He was the one whom the Lord loved. Did He love him more? No. But he was the one who was aware of this love. Are we? Am I? He was not loved more than the others (at least the other ten – and even Judas received the love from the Lord). But John was the one who even in a time when the eternal life was manifest livingly in this world knew He was the One he needed, the One he wanted, and the One who satisfied him. He enjoyed eternal life.
I have tried to explain a little of this vast subject – eternal life. But to enjoy it is another thing. May this conference help us that our enjoyment of eternal life, the Person of the Lord in all His glory, may be enhanced. “This is eternal life”, says the apostle, “that they know Thee (the Father) and Him whom Thou hast sent (Jesus Christ)”. The greatest riches are at our disposal. We have this life, beloved ones, eternal life in Christ. May we not only wait until eternity to enjoy it there in all its fulness, but may it be our aim to enjoy Him who is the eternal life in our lives in the present time.