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THE GIFT OF ABUNDANT LIFE.
“I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”
OUR Lord here declares the great end for which He came into the world, that we “might have life.” He had already said this oftentimes before; as to Nicodemus; “God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Again at Capernaum: “The bread of God is He which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world;” and “Ye will not come to Me, that ye might have life.”7979 St. John iii. 16 , vi. 33; v. 40.
But here He speaks with a still greater fulness of meaning. He does not only say, “I am come that they might have life;” but still more, “and that they might have it more abundantly;” promising 160some great endowment, some greater gift of God than man had ever before received. This is the great grace of the Gospel, the abundant gift of life. Let us endeavour, by His help “who our Life,” to understand the depth and blessedness of this promise.
It may be thought that the words “more abundantly” are not intended as a measure of comparison with any other previous gift of God; but that they signify, as is the undoubted usage of the original as well as of other languages, only the largeness and fulness of the grace of life, which is in Christ. But, after all, it comes to the same; for, in such modes of speech, there is always some comparison involved, though it may be remotely, and in human speakers almost unconsciously, intended. In His words, who is Truth and the Wisdom of the Father, it is something more than error to suppose such a manner of speaking. Though He humbled Himself to use our speech, “never man spake like this Man.”8080 St. John vii. 46. There is a pure, divine, and perfect truth in every word of the Son of God. When He said, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly,” He intended, we must believe, that the gift of life through Himself should be in a fulness never given to man before. And it will not 161need many thoughts to shew us how graciously this promise is fulfilled.
St. John has in part led us into the right understanding of these words, by saying, “The law was given by Moses; but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ:”8181 St. John i. 17. and our Lord Himself still more fully, when He said, “Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die.”8282 St. John vi. 49, 50. Life was given under, though not by, the law; and yet, not as it was to be given afterwards by Jesus Christ. Before He came, it was given in secret and in measure; after He came, openly and in abundance. But these words contain a deeper meaning than simply to say, that the Gospel of Christ is fuller of life than the law of Moses. In one word, they mean nothing less than this, that the gift of life, which is by Jesus Christ, is more abundant than was ever given, not only under the law, or before the law; not only to saints, prophets, patriarchs; but more abundant than in the grace of creation, and in the gift of life with which Adam was endowed in Paradise. “I am come that they might have life,” in measure more abundant, in manner more divine, in continuance more abiding, than was ever yet revealed.162
This declares to us the great gift of indwelling life, which is now bestowed upon us by the Son of God through the Holy Ghost.
First, then, the gift or spirit of life dwells in those who are united to Christ, in a fulness more abundant than was ever revealed before.
When God made man in His own image and likeness, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, he became “a living soul:” he was perfect in body and soul, endowed with the grace of God, sinless and immortal. We may ask, What more, as man, could he be? St. Paul gives us an inspired answer: “The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit.” And again, “The first man is of the earth, earthy; the second man is the Lord from heaven.”8383 1 Cor. xv. 45, 47. Now, what does he intend by these words? He teaches us that Adam was a mere man, made of the earth, endowed with life as a gift of God; but that Christ, who is God and man, is a man Divine, possessing life in Himself. The life possessed by Adam was in the measure of his own infirmity; the life which is in Christ is in the fulness of a Divine manhood. Adam was united to God only by God’s grace and power. Christ is God made man. The humanity of Adam was only human; in Christ the manhood is become divine. The 163union of the Godhead with the manhood endowed it with a substantial grace, whereby it was deified. And it was from the miraculous conception filled with the fulness of all grace. His very manhood became the fountain, a great deep of all grace. Therefore He said, “As the Father hath life in Himself, so hath He given to the Son,” both as God and as man, “to have life in Himself.”8484 St. John v. 26. “As the Father raiseth up the dead and quickeneth them, even so the Son quickeneth whom He will.”8585 Ib. 21. This was the prophecy of St. John Baptist: “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance; but He that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire.”8686 St. Matt. iii. 11. And it was His own promise, “If any man thirst, let him come unto Me, and drink. He that believeth on Me, as the Scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. (But this spake He of the Spirit, which they that believe on Him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified,)”8787 St. John vii. 37-39. And, after He had entered into His glory, St. John bare witness that this promise had been fulfilled: “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His 164glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” “And of His fulness have all we received, and grace for grace:”8888 St. John i. 14, 16. that is to say, the anointing which was upon Him has flowed down to us. The Spirit which descended upon our Head hath run down to the least member of His body, even “to the skirts of His clothing.” When the Lord Jesus Christ ascended into heaven, He “received gifts for men;” that is, the full dispensation of grace was committed unto the second Adam. The Spirit which proceedeth from the Father and the Son descends upon us through Him. Wherefore “He breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost.” The third Person of the ever-blessed Trinity, eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son, proceeds unto us through the Word made flesh. The Incarnation is the channel of His influence, of His presence. He dwells in man as He never dwelt before: by unity of substance with the Word, by very presence through the Word in us. This is the interior life and reality of the True Vine. “It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you.”8989 Ch. xvi. 7. My outward, visible, and local presence shall, through His coming, be inward, invisible, universal. 165“If I depart, I will send Him unto you.” From My Father’s throne He shall proceed from Me to you. He shall “abide with you for ever. Even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth Him not, neither knoweth Him: but ye know Him; for He dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.”9090 St. John xiv. 16, 17. To this end God “hath put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the Church, which is His body, the fulness of Him that filleth all in all.”9191 Ephes. i. 22. For all His members are “an holy temple in the Lord: in whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.”9292 Ephes. ii. 21, 22. “For by one Spirit we are all baptized into one body.”9393 1 Cor. xii. 13. “Your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost, which is in you.” “He that is joined to the Lord is one spirit.”9494 Ch. vi. 19, 17.
These passages, which might easily be multiplied, teach us that the great gift of Christ is life, given to us by the indwelling of the Holy Ghost. Throughout the Old Testament, and especially the prophets, as Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Joel,9595 Isaiah xliv. 4; Jerem. xxxi. 33; Joel ii. 28, 29. the outpouring of the Spirit is foretold as the great grace of the Messiah who was to come; and these prophecies, as St. Peter teaches, had 166 their opening fulfilment on the day of Pentecost. They are fulfilling now, and shall be ever fulfilling until the end of the world. The great gift of life has been bestowed upon a world dead in sin: not by measure, nor by gifts shed abroad, nor in saints scattered up and down in the earth from age to age; but first, in the gift of the Word made flesh, in the Divine manhood of the Son, in whom dwelt “all the fulness of the Godhead bodily;”9696 Col. ii. 9. and then, by the Holy Ghost, “the Lord and Giver of life,” who, through the Incarnation, has descended into us, to dwell in us, not only by outward gifts, and accidental endowments of grace, but by an inward and abiding inhabitation in our whole personal nature. If we may speak of heavenly things by earthly, we may say that, as our natural life, which is whole in all our being, is whole in every part, so the Spirit of Christ, which is in all His mystical body, or rather as the finite is in the infinite, in which His mystical body wholly is,—that same fulness of spiritual life is in every member of the same; in each one of us the Spirit dwells, not by division, or mere emanation, or effect, but by personal presence, inhabitation, and life. We have it then not as men, but as members of Christ, as partakers of His humanity in whom all fulness dwells.9797 Ib. i. 19. 167And the gift of life is not a power, a principle, but a very and true Person dwelling in us. This is the regeneration for which all ages waited till the Word was made flesh—the new birth of water and of the Spirit, of which the Baptism of Christ is the ordained sacrament. Here, then, we see a part of this great promise. In one word, it is the fulness of life given to us by the personal indwelling of the Holy Ghost, which Christ, by His Incarnation, has bestowed upon us.
2. And besides this, the gift of life is abundant, not only in its fulness, but in its continuance. To Adam God said, “In the day thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die.” He sinned once, and died. “By one man”—and by one sin of that one man—“sin entered into the world, and death by sin.” Not only did he die, but we in him. The head died, and the members with the head; “so death passed upon all men.” We died before we came into the world: we came dead into life; born of a family, the head of which died on the threshold of creation. The life of God departed from him, and from us, who were summed up in him. The endowments of grace, which were also gifts of life, reverted to God who gave them. The earth returned “to the dust as it was.” Divine and just severity; severe and Divine justice! The gift of life departed from 168him, and from all for whom he had received it. This free and sovereign gift, which was never ours by right, nor his until freely given, and given upon a Divine and declared law of obedience, reverted to the Giver. Nay, more, what is the fall of man but the knowledge of good and evil? and what is his misery and his sorrow, what are the griefs and the thorns of life, but that knowledge which God forbade on pain of death? To know it, is to die. God did not more forbid sin than death itself. But he chose death, and took it as his portion. Life departed, because he chose to die. Such was man’s first estate, and such was our estate in him. All that we had of God was stored up in him when he made shipwreck of himself and us. We were in the power and in the probation of another; of a man weak and frail as ourselves.
But in this the gift of life, which is by the Spirit of Christ, has more abundantly restored our original loss. By the regeneration of the Holy Ghost we are engrafted into the second Adam, very man, not frail and weak, but also very God, changeless and almighty. We are gathered under a Head which cannot fail; and are members of Him who hath revealed His own Divine Name: “I am—the Life.” He has overcome both sin and death for us: sin in the wilderness and upon the Cross, death in hell and in 169 the grave; and He is gone up on high, above all created life, Creator Himself of all. Our Head, the second Adam, is in the throne of God, and Himself is God. We are consubstantial with the manhood of Him, who is consubstantial with the Godhead of the Father and of the Holy Ghost. We are united to God by a direct participation of Him who is both God and man; and are thereby “made partakers of the Divine nature.”9898 2 St. Peter i. 4.
In this, again, we see the abundance of the life which He has given us. We cannot die in our Head, because He is Life eternal; nor can we die in ourselves, except we cast out the Giver of life, who is in us. Our first head fell, and drew us with him into the grave; our second Head is in heaven, and “our life is hid with Him in God.” We can die no more by any federal death, but only by our own several and personal death. If sinners die eternally, they die one by one, of their own free choice, even as Adam. And we now die no more by single acts of disobedience; but only by a resolved and deliberate career of sinning. This reveals to us the wonderful love and miraculous longsuffering of Christ and of the Spirit who dwells in us. When once He enters, there He abides with Divine endurance. What, alas! is the life of the whole visible body of Christ, of 170 every member, every baptized soul, but a strife of sin against the Spirit? Even the holiest, even they who are sanctified from childhood, and perhaps they more sorrowfully than all, confess this. And yet the Spirit of life abides in us, bears with us, will not give us up. Though we slight Him, though we grieve Him, though our slights and grievings rise into resistance, and issue in acts, even in habits of rebellion; though sins, even deadly sins, defile His dwelling, and spurn His Presence, and that for years, through boyhood into youth, and youth into manhood, aye, into age and grey hairs, yet He does not depart. He will still abide, plead, convince, alarm us, day by day, and year by year, until that dread time known before the secret tribunal in Christ’s righteous kingdom, when the regenerate soul can no more be renewed unto repentance. But how long that time is in coming, we must every one of us fully know. If it were not as far off as the end of God’s longsuffering, it would have come upon us long ago. We should long since have died eternally. One sin,—and death fell on Adam. Sins, as the sand on the sea-shore, are upon our heads; and yet we live. What makes this balance hang so unevenly in our behalf? The Blood of the Son of God. The abundant gift of life through the Holy Ghost dwelling in us. What a revelation 171of the Divine patience is the visible Church, in which the Spirit of abundant life these eighteen hundred years has dwelt, ruling, enlightening, inspiring, guiding, cleansing, enduring with endless longsuffering the wayward wills of men. What a miracle of patience is the indefectibility of the Church of Christ. “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” This is the foundation of our strength. We know that “the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.”9999 Rom. xi. 29. He will not revoke them till we have cast them away. On this patient love we have rested unawares until this day. He has borne with us, and upheld us even against ourselves; and we know, that if we will hold fast by Him, He will never let us go. We may stay our weakness upon His strength, our mortality upon the Giver of life. In Him we already partake of the eternal world, and are lifted above the power of death. “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth My word, and believeth on Him that sent Me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.”100100 St. John v. 24. “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and he that liveth and believeth in Me shall never die.”101101 Ib. xi. 25, 26. Out of His fulness we are filled; 172by His Divine Incarnation we are upheld; by His indwelling Spirit we live in the midst of death, in the heart of a world dead in sin, in the atmosphere of death, which is the very breath of our natural life: so that now death itself is no more death, but sleep; a kindly change, loosening the grave-clothes, which swathe the true life He has bestowed upon us; and setting us at large, to live in the freedom and fulness of the Spirit, and to wait for Him who is “the Resurrection and the Life” of the kingdom of God. For what destiny of bliss Adam was created, is not revealed. All that we read is of his felicity in a Paradise on earth. And though we may believe that he would have been, in due time, translated to a nearer access to the vision of God, yet it is only through the Incarnation that the eternal indwelling of God in man, and of man in God, is assured to us. In this we see the perfection of the Divine kingdom, which ascends in a scale of infinite perfection. The redemption is not a mere restoration of the fall of man; but a deeper mystery of love, carrying the works both of the wisdom and of the power of God upward in the order of bliss. This, then, is the meaning of His great promise, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”
Let us draw from what has been said one or 173two practical truths of great importance in our daily life.
1. And first, we hereby know that in all our acts there is a Presence higher than our own natural and moral powers. We were united to Christ by the presence of the Holy Spirit from our Baptism. There has never been a moment from the first dawn of consciousness, from the first twilight of reason, and the first motions of the will, when the Spirit of life has not been present with us. He has created in us the first dispositions to truth and holiness; every good desire was from Him. He has prevented us in all good intentions, restrained us in all evil. He has, as it were, beset our whole spiritual nature, and encompassed us on all sides, guiding us into the will of God. From the Spirit of Christ we received not our will,—for that was in our nature,—but every good inclination. By our fallen state, the will is of itself inclined to evil. It is in bondage to its own evil. It can no more release itself than water can stand as a wall, or a dry rod shoot with blossoms. The law of its fallen nature is to incline to evil, as the law of fire is to ascend in flame. By nature, then, our will is both free, and not free; freely enslaved, and yet without power to unchain itself. And this the Spirit of Christ does for us. He makes sin fearful, terrible, bitter, and hateful, till the will 174shrinks from it, as we draw back from a searing fire. He reveals in our soul, the hideousness and deadliness of evil, till we tremble at it, and are willing to tear ourselves away from its allurements. But this willingness, in itself, is impotent. Left to ourselves we should be in bondage still. The sin that dwells in us belongs to our very nature, because it is fallen; so that when we have received a better will, we need the power to be free. We have power to bind ourselves, but not to loose; for when we have put on the fetter, there is another hand which turns the bolt, and by ourselves we can loose it no more. But the Spirit who gave us our new birth is God. Before Him all bonds fall off. If only we yield our will to Him, His power shall be ours: and, by His help, every sin of the soul is broken through, and we are set free; not by our own power, not by our own will; though it be still with our own act, willingly and freely. This is the office of the Holy Spirit in all our sanctification. He first inspires thoughts, inclinations, desires, intentions of holiness. He goes before, leading the way; winning us on by soft inward persuasions and by a sweet sense of God’s will; giving us, with a holy will, also a power above our own. The working of the Spirit is, so to speak, co-extensive with our whole moral being. He presides over all the springs of thought, word, 175and deed: by His gracious Presence endowing us with power and will to mortify sin, and to live in holiness. And this gift of the Spirit of holiness is itself the gift of life. “For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. . . . But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His. . . . But if the Spirit of Him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, He that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by His Spirit that dwelleth in you.”102102 Rom. viii. 6, 9, 11. What, then, is our life but the presence of the Spirit dwelling in us?
2. Another plain and practical truth is, that this Presence works in us according to the revealed and fixed laws of our probation. Because there is some apparent difficulty of reconciling these two revealed facts, many have chosen to believe either the one or the other, but refused to believe in both. As if they could be inconsistent. As if God were the author of confusion, the revealer of contradictions. There may, indeed, be mystery, but can be no discord. In the kingdom of God there must be agencies so diverse as to surpass our knowledge. How is it with things nearest to our sense? Who can tell how the material brain is the instrument 176of thought, or how the whole bodily frame obeys the complex motions of the will, how the hand answers to every creation of the mind? What is the point of contact between intellectual and animal life? When we can lay down this as a basis, it will be time to build upon it the further knowledge,—what is the point of contact between the Divine life and our spiritual life. Nevertheless, there is less of difficulty than some would have us believe. If we may reverently take as an example the Person of the Son of God, we shall see that the Divine and the human wills in Him, though ever two, as the two natures were ever perfect, were also in action ever one by a free perfect harmony. So is it, in a manner, with us, who are regenerate by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The Divine will is ever present with our personal will, presiding, restraining, persuading us. We may, indeed, wholly and finally resist it: for we have the power, if we have the will; because the power of resistance is the sinful will itself; as our Lord has said; “Ye will not come to Me, that ye might have life.” And as our resistance, so is His persuasion: the force by which our will is changed from evil to good, from resistance to compliance, is a moral force. If it were any other, it would defeat itself. The force of constraint multiplies unwillingness: only moral suasions win 177the will to free assent. And these moral suasions, drawn from all depths of love and fear, from life and death, from heaven and hell, from sin and from the Cross, are perpetually pressing upon the regenerate will. They bear upon it with the pressure of the Divine presence, which reveals them in us; as a water-flood presses with the whole weight of its stream upon a bolted wheel, waiting till it give way. The wheel may resist, but it cannot move alone. So with the persuasions of the Divine Spirit. They do not overbear and carry away before them the fragments of our moral nature, but wait upon them, and move them according to their own natural laws. For who is He that persuades but the same who made us? He knows the creature of His hands, and is come not to destroy, but to fulfil; to heal and create anew what sin has corrupted. His persuasions are by illuminations of truth and inspirations of holiness; and these are powers which act not by force, but like the lights and dews of Heaven, by a piercing virtue, infusing new gifts of fruitfulness and power into the works of God. What we receive of the Divine Spirit is so given to us as to become our own, and as our own we use it with a perfect freedom of the will.
3. Lastly, we may learn that the union of this Divine Presence with us in our probation, issues 178in the last and crowning grace of this life, the gift of perseverance. “Being confident,” St. Paul says to the Philippians, “. . . that He which hath begun a good work in you will perfect the same unto the day of Jesus Christ.”103103 Phil. i. 6. “Faithful is He that calleth you, who also will do it.”104104 1 Thess. v. 24.
If any sincere Christian cast himself with his whole will upon the Divine Presence which dwells within him, he shall he kept safe unto the end. This is the spiritual union and mutual knowledge ok which our Lord speaks when He says: “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me:” then conies the promise of perseverance: “I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand.”105105 St. John x. 27, 28. What is it that makes us unable t( persevere? Is it want of strength? By no means We have with us the strength of the Holy Spirit When did we ever set ourselves sincerely to any work according to the will of God, and fail for want of strength? It was not that strength failed the will, but that the will failed first. There is the seat of all our weakness, the source of all in stability. If we could but embrace the Divine will with the whole love of ours; cleaving to it and holding fast by it, we should be borne along 179as upon “the river of the water of life.” And what is it that hinders us? I am not now speaking of those who indulge in wilful sin; but of those who desire to persevere in the love of God—what is it hinders us? It is the remains of unsubdued faults of mind, such as impatience, stubbornness, wilfulness; or of indolence, sloth, and coldness; or it is the conscious want of holy affections, of thankfulness, praise, love, grace, devotion; and, therefore, of endurance and self-denial for Christ’s sake. These are the things which make our hold of the Divine will so loose and slack. We feel it to be a high and severe blessedness, for which our hearts are too feeble and earthward. And therefore we open only certain chambers of our will to the influence of the Divine will. We are afraid of being wholly absorbed into it; lest, if I may so say, “the Spirit of the Lord” should take us “up, and cast us upon some mountain, or into some valley,”106106 2 Kings ii. 16. far from all joys, consolations, friends, and home. And yet, if we would have peace, we must be altogether united to Him. For unless we be wholly conformed to His will, we shall never attain the gift of perseverance; or at least, we shall always doubt and fear of our holding out; and when perseverance is doubtful, there can be no true peace.180
Let us, then, endeavour so to embrace the gift of life which is in us, that nothing may separate us from Him; that no choice, no intent, no affection, no permitted motion of our will, may cast a shadow between us and His presence. And then let us fear nothing. We need fear no temptations; for He will either turn them aside, or carry us through: we need not be dismayed at the stubborn strength of the sins against which we are contending; for He will cast them all out at last: we need not be out of heart, even at our sensible coldness, slackness of intention, impotence of will; for He will kindle the love of God within us; and give us, in His own time, the zeal and energy of a fervent repentance. We have but one thing to make sure, and He will provide all the rest. If His will be our will, He will quicken and cleanse, kindle and sanctify us in body, and soul, and spirit. It is not for us to look back, except in repentance, or to look on, except in hope. The past is no longer ours; the future is His. Now is our probation: to trust, to believe His love, to be prompt, compliant to the guidance of His inspirations. His Presence is in us, leading us to rest. Our safety and our peace is to abide under its shadow. Therein can enter nothing that defileth; nothing savouring of death. If the memory of past sin makes you afraid, ask of the Spirit which is in 181you the gift of sorrow; if the proved instability of your will makes you almost despair, ask of Him ‘the gift of perseverance. He is in you as a fountain of life, deep as Eternity, inexhaustible as God. The rivers of His strength, healing, consolation, are never stayed, except in hearts barren and dry. In the humble, hoping, loving, trustful heart, the waters of life pour forth in an exuberant flood. “When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue faileth for thirst, I the Lord will hear them; I the God of Israel will not forsake them. I will open rivers in high places, and fountains in the midst of the valleys: I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water.”107107 Isaiah xli. 17, 18. This is the gift of the “Spirit in the soul of man; and the source of it has been revealed from heaven. “And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb.” “The Spirit and the Bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.”108108 Rev. xxii. 1, 17.182
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