Eternal Life - What is it?

Chapter 17 of "Facts and Theories as to the Future State"

F W Grant

 

It will be remembered that the word used in the New Testament for the life that the righteous enter upon as their eternal condition is always the same word. It is not psuche but zoe.

It ought not to be needful to insist upon this again. Gen. Goodwyn, as we have seen, fully admits it, and tries to make capital of it in his own peculiar way. As however Mr. Roberts has made, in his review of my former book, one final effort to overthrow this position, We shall again listen to his own words about it. He says:-

"Just as we speak of the present life under different words, such as life, existence, being, so the future life is variously designated according to the relation in which it is considered. It is either psuche, soul (Matt. xvi 25); zoe, life (Mark x. 30); or heemeis, we [!!] (1 Thess iv. 17), as the line of thought demands; but the hope, in all cases is absolutely one and the same. The saving of the psuche (Heb. x. 39), is the obtaining of eternal zoe, (Matt. xix. 29), by the ‘us' of Paul's discourse (2 Cor. iv. 14)."

I feel as if apology were due to my readers for quoting this or answering. Still as I suppose it seems satisfactory to himself, there may be others also who need the answer. It may be a short one, when the "we" who obtain eternal life are stated to be the life that "we" obtain. But at least, you may say, "the saving of the psuche is the obtaining of eternal zoe," is it not? I should suppose that proved that they were different. For certainly it would not consist with Scripture to speak of "the saving of the zoe" or of the "obtaining of eternal psuche." In Scripture phrase a saved man "keeps his psuche unto everlasting zoe," and these things are never confounded or reversed. Eternal life is never psuche. Mr. Roberts would gladly produce the passage to prove it, if it could be found.

Let it be remembered then that we are speaking of this one word zoe, when we inquire into the meaning of "everlasting life."

And first, what then is "life"? What do we ordinarily mean by it? Mr. Constable raises the same question, and answers it: and he now shall tell what he believes it means. He says (Duration and Nat. of Fut. Punishment): -

"If we were only to ask what was its primary sense, we should have no difficulty. All allow existence to be its primary signification. We will hereafter show that the primary sense of this term is the only one admissible; but here we will not further insist on it. We will here only ask if there was one universal sense attached to this term; so that while there might be to a greater or less extent a variety of senses attached to it in one place or another, still as accepted by all mankind speaking the Grecian tongue, it had only one sense which was every where accepted as a true sense, and by some accepted as the only sense. Here, too, we are able to come to a certain conclusion. That sense of ‘existence,' which is undoubtedly the primary sense, is as undoubtedly a sense accepted by every Grecian speaker as a true sense, and by very many Grecian speakers accepted as its only sense. Our opponents themselves cannot and do not attempt to deny this, ‘The unenlightened heathen,' says Mattison, ‘understood the terms life and death as implying simple existence or nonexistence.'

And Mr. Constable argues therefore that so it must have been understood, and meant to be understood, by the people to whom the gospel was addressed, or if not, the different sense attached to it would have required to be explained to them; and "of such explanation we do not find a trace. Where we do find an inspired writer defining the meaning of ‘life' he defines it exactly as a heathen would do: ‘What is your life?' saith the apostle James. ‘It is even,' he replies, ‘a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.' Life, with St. James, himself a Jew, meant but. what it meant with a heathen, existence."

Mr. Constable is one who, beyond most of his school, claims for himself critical and precise accuracy, and he challenges answer to his arguments. I have therefore so often chosen him as the exponent of the views of his own class of writers. But we have had already many a proof of his in competency as a reasoner. It may be the result of the unhappy system he has taken up, which seems to cloud the intellect, as it certainly enfeebles spiritual perception. Let us examine his statement however.

And here in the first place, it is a little disappointing to turn to the table which he gives us further on in his book, of the meanings of the Greek words which bear upon this question, and to look in vain for this universal meaning attaching to zoe!

His vocabulary is from Liddell and Scott, "allowed to be an authority of the highest order," as he truly says. And moreover, he says, he appends to the words "every meaning attached to them in the ordinary Greek language." After giving it, he says, "we will thank our readers to look carefully at the foregoing table." We have done so, and find as the result: -

"(zoe), 1. a living or property, 2. life as opposed to death, zao
  (zao), 1. to live (spoken of animal life); 2. to be in full life and strength."

This is certainly remarkable. Mr. Constable's primary, universal sense of zoe is not found in a table furnished by himself, and certified to contain "every meaning attached to it in the ordinary Greek language."

But this is not all. Nor can we acquit Mr. Constable of the gravest charge that can be brought against a controversial writer, a lending himself to deception of the worst kind. The primary meaning he gives might indeed awaken suspicion by its strange appearance. Not only is "life, as opposed to death," the secondary meaning, NOT the primary, in his own table; but that primary meaning looks strangely also; "a living or property." What kind of property? and why "living" instead of "life"?

I turn to Liddell and Scott for explanation, and I find as follows: -
"A living, i.e., means of life, goods, property; 2. Att. life, opp. to death."
"A living, i.e., means of life, goods, property": that is the primary meaning. Secondarily, and in the Attic dialect, one of the FIVE dialects of Greek, it means "life, as opposed to death."

How different is the whole statement of the case from that which he has given us. And here I am arguing nothing myself; I am but giving his own authority.

Where is "existence" as the universal meaning of zoe? It is not found as a meaning at all, even in his own vocabulary! And even the meaning of life as opposed to death is neither the primary meaning, nor the universal, but only in the Attic dialect, one division of the Greek tongue out of five. To use no language unnecessarily harsh in the matter, Mr. Constable has mis-stated a very simple matter of fact.

But it is the New Testament use of the term with which we are concerned, and we do not purpose carrying the examination further. For my own part, in the case of a common New Testament word, I am convinced that a Greek concordance (that is, the examination of the word itself as it occurs in Scripture) is of more value to the Bible student than the best dictionary that ever was. The word zoe occurs 134 times in the New Testament. It is in one place rendered "lifetime" (Luke xvi. 25); in every other case it is rendered, as it only could be rendered, "life."

And Mr. Constable may raise the question, if he please, are not existence and life but the same thing? I answer, the question occupying so intently the minds of many in the present day, would have no meaning if it were so. We have already quoted Prof. Nicholson to the effect that "no rigid definition of life appears to be at present possible." I believe from the Scripture point of view indeed something approaching a definition may be possible, but certainly not in the crude way which annihilationists press with the most extraordinary confidence. "Eternal life," says Mr. Roberts, is in the first place life in its primary sense of being." Is that the primary sense? Can nothing "be," but what "lives"? It is not even the sense at all, any more than is existence. Goodwyn contradicts both; he says : - "I am now prepared to add that life does not in Scripture, nor anywhere else, invariably mean mere existence; but is inseparable from a condition or character developed by the action of the mind." If life is existence "inseparable" from a certain "character," then it can never be "mere existence" and so far at least the definition is correct. Let us examine it a little further.

Life manifests itself by action: it is the energy that works the whole machinery, so to speak, of the being in which it dwells. But we may also, and in fact do more frequently speak of it as the motion of the machinery itself. The latter is life phenomenal, what it is as subject to our inspection, a matter of' actual observation and knowledge. The former is life potential, the power behind the movement and unseen.

But then we also speak of life in a still larger way as comprehending the course of this active existence; life as furnishing the individual history. And as connected with this, although distinct, we speak of life as differentiated by its surroundings: English life, American life, and even without an adjective at all, of a young man entering upon life, life in the pregnant sense, implying its full tale of hopes and joys, and cares and sorrows.

1. In the sphere of merely natural things of which alone we are as yet speaking, the life potential, according to Scripture, is the soul, or psuche.
2. The phenomenal, physical, animal life induced by the presence of the soul in the body, is also psuche.
3. The historical life is on the other hand always zoe.* And -
4. Zoe, too, is life in the pregnant sense, implying all that it introduces to.

The first two meanings are connected together and covered by the one word, psuche, as the last two are on the other hand connected, and covered by the one word, zoe.

Of psuche enough has been said already. Zoe used with reference to the natural life† occurs but thirteen times in the New Testament. I give all these occurrences that we may have the subject as fully as possible before us.

1. Life in the historical sense:-
        Luke i. 75 : "all the days of our life."
                 xvi. 25: "thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things."
        Acts viii. 33: "his life is taken from the earth."
                 xvii. 25: "he giveth to all life and breath and all things."
        Rom. viii. 38: "neither death nor life shall separate us."
        1 Cor. iii. 22: "all things are yours, whether life or death."
                   xv. 19: "if in this life only we have hope in Christ."
        Phil. 1. 20: "whether by life or death."
        1 Tim. iv. 8: "having promise of the life that now is."
        Heb. vii. 3: "neither beginning of days, nor end of life."
        James iv. 14: "for what is your life? it is even a vapor."

2. In the pregnant sense; only twice, but distinct:-
        Luke xii. 15: "a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of things."
        1 Pet. iii. 10: "he that will love life, and see good days."

*I leave out of consideration one word, which, although it figures largely in ordinary Greek, occurs but five times in the New Testament in the sense of "life," and here always as a synonym of zoe in the historical sense. Its use lies outside of our present inquiry. The five passages are Luke viii. 14, 1 Tim. ii. 2; 2 Tim. ii. 4; 1 Pet. iv. 3; 1 John ii. 16.

†It is strange that Goodwyn should say (Truth and Tradition, p. 18): "In every instance where zoe is used it is applied to the eternity of God, of the Lord Jesus, and of believers in Him." This is but one of the many careless statements to be found in these writers.

So far then we have been speaking of natural life only. I have been thus particular in speaking of it, because the natural sense is of course the primary, and furnishes the basis of the spiritual sense. We shall find, if I mistake not, by carrying these definitions with us, that they will assist us greatly in the apprehension of what Scripture calls "eternal life," which as a term is used in a precisely similar way, a way which the crude conception of Messrs Constable and Roberts can in no wise harmonize, much less explain.

If life then is not mere "existence" "eternal life" is still less, if possible merely "eternal existence". It is a life begun here and now in those who are nevertheless as mortal as ever, a consideration which at once sets such an explanation of it entirely aside. The wicked who have it not exist "just as much as those who have it, while they do not in this sense "live" at all. Let us examine this closely, for it is the key of the whole position.

"Eternal life" in Scripture is always, as before said, zoe, never psuche. It is presented however in the same four aspects as the natural life. Here the potential life, the soul of this spiritual existence, is Christ Himself. The phenomenal life, the result of His relationship to us, is that which begins with our new and spiritual birth. The historical life is our individual course on earth as children of God. And finally we enter upon life, embark on it in the full and pregnant sense, when we "go into" it in the fast hastening day of the Saviour's coming. We must look at it in each of these different applications.

1. Apart from the illustration, not even Mr. Constable would probably deny the first sense, although he must needs be far from seeing its depth of blessed meaning. Scripture is full of it; but it will suffice to quote but a few passages. Thus the apostle speaks of Him who in the beginning was with God, and was God, that "in Him was life, and the life was the light of men" (John i. 4). In his first epistle similarly, that "the life was manifested; and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show unto you that eternal life which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us, (1 John i. 2). So the record is, "that God hath given unto us eternal life, and this life is in His Son; he that hath the Son hath life, and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life" (ch. v. 11, 12).

Now here to begin with, let me ask, is it eternal existence that was manifested in Christ, and was the light of men? But again, and furthermore, -

2. Not only has "he that hath the Son of God" got life, but he has got it as a present possession and an abiding one. He has no mere pledge and promise of it. It is as possessing it that he is in the spiritual sense a child of God and born of God.

"He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life" (John iii. 36). "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my words, and believeth on Him that sent me HATH everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but IS passed from death unto life" (ch. v. 24).

Is this only "the promise and the pledge"? Nay; for -

"Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood, ye have no life IN you; whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood HATH eternal life" (ch. vi. 53, 54). And again, "We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death. Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer; and ye know that no murderer Hath eternal life ABIDING IN HIM" (1 John iii. 14, 15).

Thus eternal life is "in," and "abideth in" the believer he has no mere pledge and promise of it; it is begun in him already. Listen, and the Lord Himself will define it yet more simply: for - "THIS IS life eternal, that they might know," or better, "that they know,"* "Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent" (John xvii. 3).

*For it is a well known peculiarity of John's to use hina for hoti "in order that" for "that."

Here it is characterized for us, and we know (if we know anything) the life it speaks of. It began in us when faith began. It began with our new birth. It is not then eternal existence, for still we die. It is not existence but a new and blessed energy of good; an activity of holy affections of which Christ now known as Saviour is the spring and soul. This is eternal life, if Scripture is to be believed. The definitions of annihilationists fail hopelessly, therefore, here. Eternal life is not immortality; it is not eternal existence, as they allege. It is the life which we have as spiritually quickened from the dead.

3. The outward historical life necessarily blends with the outward natural life so that they cannot be really separated. The life of' the saint and the life of the man are here but one. For this reason no Scripture can be produced under this head, which might not be fairly challenged.

4. But the pregnant sense is, as we might expect, in fullest use of all; for our life points ever forward to the time when we shall have it in all that it implies. And even as we have said, the Young man "enters upon life," when he enters upon its full activities free from the necessary restraints of immaturity, so we too shall "enter into life," albeit we have it now within us. And who that feels the workings of the life within most fully, but must look forward, too, most simply to that future, and say to himself; without a thought of denying what he has already, that his life is there?

Thus "ye have your fruit unto holiness and the end everlasting life" (Rom vi. 22); "in the world to come eternal life" (Mark x. 30); "in hope of eternal life" (Tit. i. 2); "shall inherit everlasting life" (Matt. xix. 29), and similar expressions, in no wise interfere with the fact asserted quite as plainly, if not as frequently that we have eternal life abiding in us now. These are only the various modes of speech which as we have seen we use with regard to the natural life itself.

Yet these expressions are all that the writers who hold what they call the doctrine of "conditional immortality" can urge against the view that life eternal is what is begun in us in new birth already. Mr. Constable calls this sense of life the "figurative" sense. But it is no more figurative than is the necessary result of using words pertaining to what is natural and applying them to what is spiritual. And this we have always to do if we speak of the spiritual at all. Eternal life belongs not to the sphere of the natural. It is what was manifested in Christ down here, and is ours now in present possession - spiritual not natural life. Hence we use the term as it in must be used; and Mr. Constable cannot use it in his fashion without falsifying Scripture to do so.

He does thus falsify it, when he says, "Scripture represents eternal life as a gift not yet enjoyed by the children of God." He falsifies it when he says that, "while there are no doubt many Scriptures, which describe the believer as now having everlasting life, we are EXPRESSLY TOLD elsewhere that this consists in having God's pledge and promise of that everlasting life; but not its actual possession and enjoyment." This is bold mis-statement. Where is it "expressly told"? Mr. Constable cannot find it. He can find that we are promised it and go into it. He can find that we have it now. He cannot find that the latter only means the former.

Hence, his premises being unsound, his conclusions must be. Eternal life is not eternal existence simply, but something far beyond it, and the wicked, not possessing eternal life, are not thereby proved to lose existence.

There is only one clause of this argument remaining to detain us for a moment. The words of the apostle (Col-iii. 3) are quoted in his own behalf by Mr. Roberts: "Your life is hid with Christ in God." And so General Goodwin:

"Eternity of living dates from the resurrection (John vi. 40 53, 54) and is at present ‘hid with Christ in God.' Nevertheless the child of God ‘hath ‘it now, howbeit it is in safe custody," etc. This is the way in which these men read Scripture! Where is it said that "eternity of living" is hid with Christ in God? It is said "your life is." And where is there a word about its being in "in safe custody"? It is William Cowper, I believe, who sings,

"Your life is hid with Christ in God,
Beyond the reach of harm."

But then that is not Scripture. The Scripture use and purport of the text which Mr. Goodwyn quotes is far otherwise. "Ye are dead" says the apostle," and your life is hid with Christ in God; when Christ our life shall appear, then shall ye also appear with Him in glory." The passage belongs to the first class of texts pointed out, in which our life is identified with its origin. Christ is this life. He is hid in God, and the world sees Him not until the day of His appearing. Our life then is in character a hidden one, we shall not appear till we appear with Him. A life which draws its character from Him who is the soul of it cannot be known by a world which has rejected the Son of God and found no glory in the Lord of glory. With Him then we are dead. Our life is a hidden one, for Christ is hidden. But it is hidden in God and so but waits for the time in which it will shine fully out. Christ is to appear; and then we shall. This has nothing to do with the question of security, or with eternity of living. It is Christ who is hidden, and who is our life. Our life, therefore, is hid with Him. But that is no denial of its being in us here, but implies the very contrary. It is our possession of it that gives us this character and Christ being the soul of it, "the world knoweth us not, because it knew Him not" (1 John iii. 1).

Eternal life is not then mere eternity of living, nor does it date only from the resurrection. It dates for us from that quickening by the Spirit which every child of God has known; and manifests itself'; though the world (and alas, others) have no eyes for it, in every throb and movement of the soul Godward; while we wait yet to enjoy its fulness - "In the world to come- eternal life."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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