Reading: John 1; 4; 5:26; 6:57; 17:2; 1 John 5:11-13; Rev. 1:17-18.
These passages from the Gospel by John state explicitly that the Lord Jesus was by the will and gift of the Father in possession of a life, a secret life. "In him was life..." "As the Father hath life in himself, even so gave he to the Son also to have life in himself" "As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father..."
Two statements are there made. One is the declared fact that He possessed this life: "In him was life" the Father gave to Him to have life in Himself; the other that that life was the basis of a relationship: "I live because of the Father..." the relationship was the relationship of life.
It is our need to understand more fully the meaning and value of this life as bound up for us with a relationship with Christ risen. With a view to such understanding we go back to these passages and allow ourselves to be led by them into a fuller unveiling of what this life is.
As to the Lord Jesus, then, this life, this specific, peculiar life to which He referred, was one of the distinguishing factors. It gave a peculiar meaning to His presence here on this earth, that is, it marked a difference between Him and the rest of men. It made Him unique as a Man on this earth. There was not another like Him, and the thing which constituted the difference between Christ and every other was, in the main at least, the possession of this life. It represented a very great difference, a difference which was recognized, felt, registered by all others, but never explained, never defined, never understood. Men made attempts at explaining this difference, but they went very wide of the mark, and very often their attempt became an utter failure.
They looked in various directions for the explanation. The realm of nature was examined, but they found no explanation there of the problem which confronted them. Sometimes they would launch out into the realm of supernatural things, and try to account for it on the ground of the Devil: "He hath a devil..." "He casteth out demons by BeeIzebub, the prince of the demons." But whatever their attempt was, they were never able to get to the root of the matter. When we say that they looked in the direction of nature and were completely foiled, we have in mind the bewilderment betrayed by their own reasonings: "Whence hath this man these words, never having learned?" That makes it clear that they had considered the question of education, and saw full well that education could not account for the difference. They looked to His upbringing, His training at home, His environment, His domestic life, and exclaimed: "Whence hath this man this wisdom, and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter's son?" His family is well known to us, and the kind of upbringing He has had, the home He was born into, and has lived in, and there is nothing there to account for this! And the difference was clear to all. Everywhere it was seen that there was that about Him which in its quality was altogether superior even to the scribes: "He spake as one having authority, and not as the scribes." The difference was marked, but never understood. It was not natural: it could not be accounted for on any natural grounds of birth, upbringing, home training, education, or any of these things; it was spiritual. But when we say that, it is necessary to define what is meant, and as we look for the explanation of this spiritual superiority which gave Him this distinctiveness, we find we have no alternative but to attribute it to the life which was in Him by the Spirit of God.
Now I want you to follow very, very closely the implications of such a fact. The life that was in Him by the Spirit of God - that Divine life which is never separate nor divorced from the Divine Person, and of which we do not speak as something in itself, recognizing the link, the bond, the oneness between the life and the Person - this life by the Spirit energized every part of His being.
The Mind, Heart, and Will Energized by Divine Life
It energized His mind. Do you wonder at the mind of Christ? It is something to be wondered at. Well might they say, "Whence hath this man these words?" See His ability to go further than the wisest, and the most witty of His opponents! When having had their conferences, and arranged their plan of attack, these muster their resources, and wit, and cunning, and ingenuity to lead Him into a trap, knowing it all, He can calmly look on without so much as a moment's concern. Are you going to put that down to Deity? Christ is very God, it is true, but in the days of His flesh He is seen living as a dependent Man, and not acting directly as God. All this superior wisdom, this ascendency of mind in the realm of knowledge and of understanding, of interpretation, of insight, of discernment, of perception, of answer is the fruit of a mind energized by Divine life, by the Spirit of life. And the same Spirit of life, that same life by the Spirit, can take the most ignorant, illiterate man and cause wisdom to be found in him such as all the wise men cannot gainsay or resist. Men beheld the Apostles that they were ignorant and unlearned, or artless, men, but they could not question the reality of the wisdom by which they spake. And what are we to say of this? It is the Spirit of life, life by the Spirit, energizing the mind beyond the natural ability. This, then, was a secret resource of the Lord Jesus as Man. He possessed a life which others did not possess.
For His heart the same thing held good. What accounts for His infinite long-suffering, His amazing tenderness, His unspeakable compassion? How is His sympathy to be explained? Surely if ever human patience could be exhausted those disciples were capable of exhausting it. Surely had all been merely on a natural level of things, at the end of more than three years of patient effort, patient forbearance, instruction, helpfulness, application and devotion to them, when every one of them broke down so ignominiously, and denied Him, belying all that He had said, there would have been a repudiation of them with strong feeling: You are hopeless men! I give you up! But not so with Christ: "Having loved His own which were in the world he loved them unto the end," or unto the uttermost. In every realm, save the realm of positive, deliberate, prejudiced resistance of Himself in what he represented, He showed the most infinite kindness and patience, but where that resistance was met with there was revealed in Him the wrath of God, the wrath of the Lamb.
What, then, was it that enabled His heart thus to go out to others, and that unceasingly? For look again, and watch Him in the midst of long and exacting labours, so exacting that there is not even time for Him and His disciples to take their necessary food. He bids them come aside with Himself for rest, and they depart for a quiet place by ship privately, only to find when they have crossed the lake that their intention has been anticipated and the multitudes have gathered there beforehand. Do we hear an impatient outburst from him? What a nuisance these crowds are! I did so want a time of quiet, and a little rest and renewal. Not so! Seeing the multitude He was moved with compassion, and at once commenced to work again. What is it that maintains His heart in such compassion and sympathy? It is this life, life by the Spirit energizing the heart unto compassion and sympathy in the midst of such trial, testing, sorrow, and pressure as no other ever had to endure.
You see the same characteristic manifested in Apostles afterward, do you not? We leave that with but a glance however. You have only to read the second letter to the Corinthians in the light of what the first letter reveals to see the same grace at work in Paul.
Then we come to the will, and here we see the energizing of His will to do, and to keep on doing, all that the Father willed - "My Father worketh even until now, and I work" (John 5:17). What a Worker! What a going on! Days of toil followed by nights of prayer. We are going to be thoroughly ashamed of ourselves before we get much further. We shall feel ourselves less than the dust as we look at this. Remember that the same resource is available to us. See the abandon of Christ! Never is there a thought of trying to spare Himself. Is He wearied? Yes, but a woman needs saving, and so, forgetting Himself, He gathers up all His energies to concentrate upon that woman's salvation, and not much of a woman at that. But see the patience, the care, the application, the persistence that you find in chapter 4 of John's Gospel. He is going to win. It is always like that with Him: willing, working, doing in fellowship with the Father; never going beyond the Father, even in doing. He was just as capable of ceasing from work as of working. His was a marvellously energized will to act or not to act, to speak or not to speak. It may take just as much Divine grace and strength sometimes to refrain from doing a thing as to do it. But constraint and restraint alike have their explanation in the dictates of this life that is in Him.
Mind, heart, will; spirit, soul and body, all were energized by this life. "In him was life..." the Father gave to the Son to have life in Himself. It was on the basis of this life within that the Apostles were to be witnesses unto Him. Luke tells us at the commencement of his narrative, in what is known to us as the Acts of the Apostles, that by the space of forty days He showed Himself alive by many proofs. The word "proofs" there is a strong word, which has led to the addition in the Authorised Version of the word "infallible," though, being an addition, it is omitted from the Revised Version. Put all the emphasis and stress upon the word that is its due. You will not be guilty of exaggeration if you put all the emphasis that is possible upon it, and then you will be on the way to the meaning of the forty days. What is the explanation of His tarrying forty days after His resurrection? One reason surely is that He would have them without the shadow of a doubt that He was alive, that He was risen. He was giving them overwhelming proof that He was alive. The forty days, then, were to establish the fact of His resurrection in their hearts and minds. The fortieth day was to mark His return to glory to receive the promise of the Father which was to make this that He had been demonstrating in their midst an inward reality for themselves. Thus on the fiftieth day the Spirit came, and the purpose was fulfilled. It was in relation to the significance of this whole period that the Lord Jesus uttered the words recorded in the first chapter of Acts: "Ye shall be witnesses unto me..." Witnesses are not firstly men who talk. Witness is not in the first place a matter of words, but of power. "Ye shall receive power, the Holy Ghost coming upon you, and ye shall be witnesses unto me" (Acts 1:8). What was the power? It was the power of the Holy Ghost. Yes, but what do you mean by that as regards the effect, the outworking? It is the power of the Spirit of life.
Divine Life of the Church
On the Day of Pentecost that life which was in Him was deposited in them by and in the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus. And the power of witness is not the power of word in the first place, it is the power of life. So in their case the secret of their witness lay in what they now were, rather than in what they now spake. As a result of their being energized by the risen Lord words followed, declarations were made, but it was not in itself a question of words or utterance, but of the power in and back of all. "With great power gave the apostles witness..." not with many wonderful words in the first place, but with great power. What was the registration? It was the registration of life, life was manifesting itself in them just as it had manifested itself in Him.
We observe again the feature of an energized mind. Do you notice that at Pentecost the hearers were all amazed. What is amazement? It is mental defeat. Your mind is overpowered when you are amazed, and you say: Well, I cannot explain that! Explanation is gone; definition is ruled out; the mind is beaten. Here is an energized mind which defeats every attempt at explanation.
As with the minds so also is it with the hearts of these men. Listen to Peter as he speaks to the multitude, and note the change of tone, the change of accent, the mingling of warning, pleading, and of entreaty. His heart is going out to them. You find that was true of the Apostles from this time onward. One great mark of the Apostle Paul was a heart energized by Divine life. It is a Divine energy, a Divine power, a Divine strength that is manifesting itself. Words are the vessels of something, they are not things in themselves. These words are the vehicles of Divine energy, Divine life. Is not this what the Lord Himself had said: "The words that I speak unto you they are spirit and they are life" (John 6:63). He was not just giving them words, ideas, metaphysical conceptions. There was something in what He was saying capable of making a tremendous change. Spirit and life! Creative, constructive, corrective, illuminating, empowering! You not only receive a command, an instruction, but with it an energy to do what you cannot do otherwise.
When the Word of God comes to our hearts it is not just a precept to be hung upon the wall and looked at, and of which we say, That is very beautiful! I believe that! It is something which has in it the power that will energise us if we step out upon it. It is the Word of a King, and with the Word of a King there is power. Thus we are witnesses.
Do you see why we spent so much time in our opening meditation in pointing out the tremendous difference between New Testament truth systematized and the Word in life, and the danger of systematizing truth and thinking that when you have New Testament truth all beautifully arranged, organized, pigeon-holed, that you are going to have a New Testament state of things. It does not necessarily follow. Truth has to be entered into, and has to enter into us as life, if it is to produce its own order. It is the life that is the primary thing, the Word, not the letter.
This and not His superiority as a Man amongst men was the distinguishing feature in Christ, the thing which made the difference; or, rather, let us say that it was one of the distinguishing features. There were others, but we are not dealing with them, we are dwelling upon this one thing.
The Ministration of Life
We pass to the second point, namely, the ministry of life. In the fourth verse of the first chapter of John's Gospel we read: "In him was life, and the life was the light of men." Mark the words of the second half of the verse: "the life was the light of men." The life was the light! That is the ministry of life. We might very well in this connection re-read that difficult passage from Acts 26:22-23.
"Having therefore obtained the help that is from God, I stand unto this day testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses did say should come; how that the Christ must suffer, and how that he first by the resurrection of the dead should proclaim light both to the people and to the Gentiles."
It is the closing statement that is so significant - "that he first by the resurrection of the dead should proclaim light..." The first proclaimer of light was Christ, and the ground upon which He proclaimed light was resurrection. That is but a different way of expressing the second half of John 1:4 "the life was the light." The resurrection is the basis of light.
The point to be noted is that the life expresses itself in a certain way. It is seen to do so as light. If you follow through John's Gospel you will note other things: for instance, the life expresses itself in liberty: "If the son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed" (John 8:36). But here the inclusive thought is that life has its own ministry, and that ministry is a matter of life. As we have said, ministry is not first in word, but is firstly a question of life through the word: it is not doctrine. Ministry is not merely the imparting of truth, but the imparting of Christ through the truth. If the truth does not minister Christ then it is dead, it is valueless. All truth, all doctrine, teaching, must be a ministration of the living Christ, and not a ministration of information about Him. The test of everything is as to how far it ministers Christ in a living way. When any given bit of ministry has been concluded, the question is not as to whether it was interesting, edifying or instructive, not whether it was beautiful to contemplate, not whether it was orthodox - those may be important factors, but they are altogether apart from the issue - when all is finished the vital question is, Am I standing possessed of a further measure of Christ? Has Christ in a fuller measure livingly become available to me through that ministry? Am I confronted with the question of Christ as my life in a way that has not been so before? That is the test of ministry. Christ may come to us through explanations, through definitions, through truth, but when these things remain something in themselves then that is not true ministry. All must minister Christ, and that ministry is not just the ministry of certain individuals called ministers. The whole Church is called into the ministry or ministration of Christ. All the members are to minister Christ to one another, and when believers are gathered together it ought to mean life to all who are present. That place ought to be a place of life. Going to that gathering of the Lord's people such as are feeling spiritually, mentally, or even physically spent ought to go away saying, I feel wonderfully better! That has been life to me! This life we have in His Son.
You see what the ministry is. Is it not a very blessed thing that when the Lord has a company of His Own children gathered together in Himself and many of them come in tired, discouraged, disheartened, worn out physically, spiritually baffled, mentally bruised, and feeling they have no more resource to go on, He is able in the fellowship to minister life, which is a ministration of Christ, so that such go away lifted up and refreshed. It is wonderful to come together for that alone, apart altogether from expositions and addresses. And that is ministry. When the Lord's people are really together in living relationship with Him as the risen One they do fulfil ministry though perhaps in large measure unconsciously. Others coming in go away saying: Well, it was not what was said, but there was life! I do not understand the teaching, but I am better for being there! That is the ministry, and we are all in that together. Do not think of the ministry as something that is carried out from the platform all the time. You are all in the ministry, and it depends entirely upon whether the Lord's people are living upon the basis of this life as to how far they will fulfil ministry. The life was the light!
The Conflict of Life
We are very well aware that there is a conflict, and that the conflict relates to life. We judge of that by the evident fact that the enemy's aim in the conflict is to bring us down, to rob us of our life, despoil us. The heart of all spiritual conflict and challenge is Christ risen. The historical fact was challenged. No sooner was Christ in the tomb than with an unusual spurt of memory as to things that He said, as though by the uncanny reminder of the Devil, His enemies said: "We remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I rise again" (Matthew 27:63). And they took precautions, asked for a guard, and to have the tomb sealed. The Devil has started his campaign of seeking to counter the resurrection, and he has never given it up. It was the one thing which disturbed and upset him whenever it was mentioned.
But not only was the historic fact challenged, the spiritual issue of that fact even more has been withstood all the way through. The means and methods of the enemy are innumerable, and of an endless variety. It would be quite impossible to attempt to catalogue Satan's means and methods of trying to counter the truth of Christ risen as a spiritual fact in the lives of His people. We may, however, note the bounds of it.
On the one extremity there is the naked assault of spiritual death; not through means or instrumentalities but nakedly as in the atmosphere. You come up against the spirit of death. It cannot be explained on any natural ground, though you look everywhere for an explanation. You look to your own physical condition, you look to the physical condition of other people, and you begin to look around everywhere to find where it is that this thing has its occasion, but you can never find it. Yet there it is, as real and devilish as anything can be, a power of spiritual death, the naked invasion of forces of death in the very atmosphere, suffocating, pressing upon mind, and body and seeming to get right into your very being, so that you cannot draw a line between yourself and this thing; you think it is yourself, and yet you can find no real cause when you seek for it.
At the other extreme there is beautifully dressed up truth. The truth of God's Word marvellously arranged and ordered and presented with the most perfect diction, and yet as dead as ever Lazarus was before he was raised. Truth beautifully ordered and arranged and presented can be a deadly thing. It can accomplish the Devil's work, and delude people into thinking that it is living truth because it is beautiful, because it is true, because it is orthodox and presented in such a masterly way. No! The test is whether Christ risen is ministered to an increase of Himself in us; not beautiful presentation of truth, but the measure of Christ in us in a living way.
Between these two extremes there are innumerable and endless varieties of death's challenges to the Testimony of Christ risen, even to that of false life, that which people call life because there is a great deal of action, a great deal of what is sensational, emotional, of high feeling, high tension, stimulus, all couched in evangelical terms, and yet all the while is false life. The enemy is capable of that. He will contrive anything to lead away or keep away from, or to destroy the truth of Christ risen. These are our perils. These are the perils of a teaching ministry. Such a ministry has ever its perils of becoming a teaching, of resolving itself into a work of accumulating matter. Every bit has to be kept abreast of life.
That is why it is necessary, in order to maintain everything in life, that the Lord should keep experience abreast of teaching. To this end He takes us constantly into depths, and does not allow us to go long without something in our experience which brings us, in a new way, up against living issues. The challenge, the conflict of life, is a tremendous thing. We find it in the realm of spirit, in the realm of soul, and in the realm of body. Very often in the experience of the Lord's children a physical condition is due to a direct assault upon the body, and is not to be accounted for on the mere ground that the believer in question is not well today. If the Lord's children were clearly to recognize that, they would not in the conflict so often fall into the trap of always accepting a natural explanation, and leaving the matter there. I am not saying that we shall never in a natural way be unwell if we are energised by Divine life, but I do know in my own experience that assaults upon the body are very often directly devilish, and that you can feel downright ill without nature really being accountable. The proof that this is so is that when you rise up in the Name of the Lord and take Him as Your life you are better, and the issue has become a spiritual one, and not merely a natural, physical one. There is a wonderful redemption in Christ Jesus from those physical effects of the assault of spiritual death, and we must prove all things. In such circumstances, let us ask: What is the nature of this? Does the Lord want me to accept this? Am I to be always like this? There must be no sitting down and taking it for granted that it is so, and is always so; we are in a battle. If the enemy can trap us along any of these lines he will, and the Lord is losing in ministry when the enemy succeeds in this way. We must remember that the resurrection of Christ completed the great victory over the spirits of death. There is for us, therefore, a heritage in resurrection, and we have to take it. Our inheritance in the resurrection of Christ is victory over the spirits of death.
of Life is Faith
(1) Faith in co-operation with the fact
First of all faith in the fact. We have anticipated this somewhat. We have seen that in Christ is life, and that it is a life which has conquered death, and swallowed it up victoriously. Now the fact with which we have to do is that that life is in Him for you and for me. There is the fact. It may be objective to begin with, but it is a fact. In Christ there is life for me. Do you believe that?
With faith in the fact, our further issue is of an active attitude toward it, rather than a passive. This is a question of the state of our spirit in relation to God's fact in Christ. I do not want to get anybody into difficulties, or put anybody into a false position, or mislead any of you. Understand me. I am not saying that your relationship to Christ risen is going to mean that you will never know weakness, meet with sickness, or know what it is to be laid aside. But my point is that when you or I find ourselves laid aside in weakness or sickness, or in any other way under an assault of spiritual death that is registering itself in some part of our being, your spirit and mine must be in an active state toward the Lord with regard to it. Do not go to bed and say, Well, I will stay here until I am better! You may find that the enemy does not let you get better very quickly, with the result that you stay there a long time. Or you may find that though you do come round sooner or later and get up and go on, yet you have gained nothing spiritually, and there has been no fruit for the Lord. If, therefore, you are forced to go to bed, go to bed positive in spirit toward God's fact. If you are obliged to pass through this experience, whether it be of a physical character or of any other kind, enter it and be found in it with your spirit toward God's fact in this positive way which says: Lord, I am only here until Your purpose is fulfilled, and when that purpose is fulfilled then I expect a quickening, I stand for a quickening, and I wait for it; my spirit is open and reaching out to Thee that when the still small voice says it is time to get up I shall not wait for feelings which will help me, or for the whole thing to pass away, but I shall say, The Lord's time has come, I put forth faith in this matter! In so doing you will find life coming in, and ability to do what you could not do apart from life.
It is a question of the state, the attitude of our spirit. It will be found to be true that we do not get up until our spirit is quickened. If we do so apart from this it will be a miserable sort of existence, it will not be life. But do you stand strongly in spirit in a way that allows for such quickening? You may not be able to pray, and the question asked is not, Do you continue in prayer? You may not be able to read the Word, and I am not saying that you should be able to. There are times when saints get to such a state that they cannot pray, in that accepted sense of prayer, of pouring themselves out in prayer. There are times when the reading of the Word is not possible and definite spiritual exercise is beyond them. But that does not necessarily mean that in spirit they cannot be holding on to God; inarticulate may be, yet holding on, waiting for God, even though the mind is a blank, feelings are dead, and God has seemingly gone out of His universe, while the Devil for his part is suggesting you are abandoned, and that nothing but death awaits you. It is a case of faith being positively linked with God's fact, and the spirit still Godward; not turning toward our circumstances nor toward our own state, but Godward.
If you cannot follow that, if that is too abstruse for you, take the principle. The principle is this, that faith in God's fact must be of a co-operating kind rather than of a passive kind.
(2) Faith in a Person and not in an abstract element
That is surely the challenge of John 11. The Bethany sisters went round and round in a circle on the question of death and resurrection, and were looking at the whole matter in the abstract. What had now overtaken their brother was to them the inevitable fact of death, and as to resurrection that, of course, was a thing of "the last day." But all was changed when they were confronted with the statement, "I am the resurrection and the life." That is not a time matter, not something confined to the last day. That is universal, that is ever present, that is timeless. "I Am!" That can mean anything at any moment.
So we end with Revelation 1:17-18: "I am... the Living One..." May the Lord take hold of all this, and make it life to us, a real ministration of Himself.