This is life eternal, that they may know thee, the only and true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent. John 17:3
Eternal life. It is a boon unspeakably good. But just what is it? How is it to be described or defined? Is it heavenly felicity? Is it to be identified with holiness, with purity of heart? Ghrist says that to know God is eternal life. Mark you, not to know about Him but to know Him is life eternal. It is a knowing that springs from experiencing His power to save from sin, to deliver from the power of sin, to conform such who by nature are children of the devil, according to the image of His Son. The carnal seed in the church, the children of disobedience, who keep not His covenant, know about Him, about His power to save; for the Gospel is preached also to them. They, too, together with God’s believing people, are come unto Mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. They, too, behold, in a glass, the glory of the Lord. They are even enlightened, and are perhaps tasting the heavenly gift, and are being made partakers of the Holy Spirit and may be tasting the good Word of God, and the powers of the world to come. Yet they do not actually know God, as they have never experienced that power of His by which He quickens the dead, sanctifies the unholy, that power through the exercise of which He causes the vile yet elect sinner to partake of His divine nature. Hence, though they know much about God and about His redeeming power, they know not God. They are like one who, though well informed respecting the competence of a certain famed physician in the treatment of bodily disease, has never himself experienced that competence.
But it is not sufficient to say that to know God is to experience His redeeming power. Consider, that, according to Scripture, this power, as exercised, is the power of His love, so that to be saved by Him forms the certain evidence of being His beloved. Scripture lays much stress on this. “But God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8). But God, Who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ (Eph. 2:4, 5). And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given Himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet smelling savor (Eph. 51). Even as Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for it; that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word (Eph. 25, 26). “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God…. (1 John 3:1). Hereby we perceive the love of God, because he laid down his life for us (1 John 3:16). But that he loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:10). Unto Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and the Father (Rev. 1:5).”
It is worthy of note that nowhere in Holy Writ do we come upon a statement that reads, “But God, for His great love wherewith He loved us, causes His sun to rise over us, sends us rain, causes our land to yield abundantly, and blesses us with bodily health.” The reason is that the certain evidence of God’s love of His people is not His prospering them in a material sense but His redeeming them from all their sins. God’s sending His people prosperity is no surer or greater indication that He loves them than His sending them adversity. He sends them the one as well as the other in His love. From this it follows that by itself material prosperity is no sign and pledge of God’s love (the contention of the exponents of common grace). The pledge of His love is a new heart. And if so, then the certain indication of His hatred of some, is His determination not to save them. And as to material riches, they are gifts of love only if the recipient be a believer. If it were true that such riches as enjoyed by the wicked betoken God’s love, it would have to be considered strange that not one statement to this effect can be found in all the Scriptures. So far is Holy Writ from teaching that God prospers materially the wicked in His love, that it teaches the very opposite, to wit, that to the wicked prosperity is a slippery place on which He sets them.
It is altogether understandable that God’s bestowing upon His people the gift of salvation should be the pledge of the love which He bears them, that the power by which He saves is the power of His love. Consider what His saving His people means. It means that He washes them in the blood of His only begotten Son, thus making them to partake of His divine nature, that He takes them into His house and to His heart as His children that they may everlastingly dwell with Him and be satisfied by His likeness. How then could His saving them not be the expression of His love.
And so it is likewise understandable that God’s bestowing upon the wicked material riches is a doing- expressive not of His love but of His wrath. This is understandable. For so far are such riches the means by which God softens the hearts of wicked men, that the more He prospers them, the more they taunt Him, the more vehemently they say, “Who is the Lord,” the more determined they become in their resisting Him. And as he determinedly willed this sinful reaction, the contention that also the prosperity of the wicked is to be regarded as the expression and the undoubted testimony of God’s love, is grounded neither in Scripture nor in reason.
Now if the power by which God saves is the power of His love, it follows that ‘knowing God is experiencing His love. However, knowing God is more than experiencing the power of His love in the sense of unconsciously undergoing its benign operations. Knowing, it is to be considered, is always an act of man’s conscious soul. If a person, who is critically ill, is not conscious of his undergoing a successful operation, he does not know and is thus not rejoicing in the prospect of a speedy recovery. So it is in the sphere of grace. To know God’s love is to consciously experience, and thus to taste, its power. It is thus of necessity knowing oneself as forgiven and saved unto God, and as possessing in Christ the right to draw near unto Him. Now whereas this knowledge is the fruitage of an act of Christ’s Spirit which consists in His testifying with the spirit of God’s believing people that they are God’s children and are thus vested with Christ’s righteousness and washed in His blood from their sins, and whereas the Spirit is so active in the hearts of believers only when they, by God’s mercy, are forsaking their sins and turning more and more to Him the living God, it follows that to know God is to walk before His face in newness of life. A believer, who is living in sin, does not, while unrepentant, know God. The more earnestly believing people mortify their members which are upon the earth—fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry—and the more diligent they are in putting off anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of their mouth and in putting on the new man, which is renewed in the knowledge after the image of him that created him, the more vividly do they know God, and thus know that they are God’s children. And the less diligently they are in this respect, the less vividly do they know God.
Now if knowing God is undergoing the operation of the power of His love, it is it once a tasting that God is gracious, lovely, glorious. God being the inclusion of all perfection and virtue, is gracious, lovely, glorious. And in His love, He also beautifies His chosen people, by nature ugly, through cleansing them from sin in Christ’s blood, conforming them according to Christ’s image and everlastingly causing the heavenly fullness that dwells in Christ and of which God is the eternal fountain, to abound in them. And they know themselves as saved, do His people, as God’s Spirit testifies with their spirits that they are His children. Thus a heavenly gladness fills their souls. Now this joyful awareness of what they are in Christ—kings and priests unto their God—is their tasting that God is good. Still all has not been said. Knowing God is also beholding Him with a sanctified and heavenly organ of perception, and, as so beholding, a being satisfied by the spiritual beauty of His nature as revealed in Christ.
So, to know God is to be like Him and thus to love and delight in Him. It is to stand in His presence in the consciousness of being the objects of His delight. It is, in a word, having fellowship with Him.
Now to so know God is life eternal. If so, it follows that eternal life is more than mere existence. It is heavenly perfection, joy and peace. It is the gladness that springs from the consciousness of being God’s son in Christ. It is to see the heart of Christ’s God. It is therefore even something better than the blissful existence of Adam in the state of integrity. Adam, too, during the duration of his sinless state knew and walked with God. But he did not pray, “Bless the Lord, o my soul, and forget not all His benefits: Who forgiveth all thy iniquities; Who healeth all thy diseases; Who redeemeth thy life from destruction.” He therefore was not tasting the pardoning, saving, love of God. He saw not God as He is, as he saw Him not in the face of Christ. And the glory of his existence was earthy. God’s believing people, on the other hand, are new creatures. Their glory is heavenly, as they bear the image of the Lord from heaven. And they see God as He is, as they behold Him in the face of Christ. And they have life eternal, life everlasting and heavenly. For they know God, the only true God.
It is solely because God is only and true that knowing Him is life eternal. He is the only God. In distinction from the creature, He is the foundation of His own being and the well-spring of His own existence. He is thus in and of Himself and in respect to the creature, the fountain of all life and goodness, so that the goodness of His people—their love and holiness and wisdom—is His goodness shed abroad in their hearts. Hence, He is truly God and none else. Beside Him, the righteous One, there is no righteousness; beside Him Who is love, there is no love; beside Him, the mighty One, there is no might, strength, power, so that not to Know Him is to know and be unrighteous, unholy, unlovely, foolish, vain. Thus not to know Him, the only God, is death with all its concomitants: damnation, curse, hell.
Being the only God, He is the true God. He is all that a being must be in order to be God. He thus stands opposed to falseness, unrealness, vanity. He is the true, eternal, simple, immutable essence. As compared with Him the creature is nothing. He is the highest essence, truth, good. He is pure being. He possesses not but is truth, righteousness, love, wisdom, might, power. And between His being and the revelation of it in word and deed, there is perfect agreement, so that to know His word is to know Him. He thus also stands over against lying and falsehood. He is not a man, that He should lie; neither the son of man, that He should repent: He hath said, and shall do. He hath spoken and shall make it good (Num. 23:19). He is true God over against error. His knowing is determinative. He therefore, knows all things as they are and all things are as He knows them. His knowing is consequently correct and unchangeable. It is living and absolute. It is essential in God and thus precedes all things. It is one with His being. His Word, law, Gospel is therefore pure truth. He is the original truth; the fountain of all truth, the truth in all truth; the ground of the truth, of the true being of all things, of their capability of being known and thought; the ideal of all truth, of all ethical being, of all rule and law, according to which the being and revelation of all things must be appraised; the fountain and origin of all knowledge of truth in every sphere the light wherein we alone can see light, the sun of spirits.
Being the true God, He is the rock. Through His unchangeable firmness, He is the eternal support of His people, their shield, their defense, their fortress. As true God, He is the faithful One, keeping covenant trust, the faithful and dependable resort of His people. So, to know Him is life eternal.
However, God is known, in the sense described above, only in and through Christ. “This is eternal life, that they may know thee—and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.” And the reasons? Firstly, in Him dwells all the fullness bodily—the fullness of grace and truth of which Christ’s God is the eternal fountain. So the Father willed—willed that of this fullness of which He, the Christ, was to be the meritorial source, He should also be the eternal seat and channel. And this He is. Thus He is everlastingly the true bread of His people, their living water, the true vine in whom they everlastingly abide and as so abiding bear fruit, the head of the church, the chief cornerstone of God’s temple, their truth and light, and thus their very life.
He is their light. He sustains to them the relation of light source, so that knowing Him, they walk not in darkness but have the light of life. They are not merely outwardly illuminated. There is such an outward illumination. It consists in being enlightened by the truth without being made to love the light. That Christ is the light of His people means that in Him they are light, and thus have life abiding in them—the life that is light, truth, love, holiness.
Being their life and light and truth, He is their way to the Father, the triune Jehovah. He is the only way. Hence, no man cometh unto the Father but by Him. No man can know the Father except in and through Him. He, therefore, who is pitted against Christ knows not God, is shut out from the presence of the Father, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, thus the God of mercy and grace. Such a one is thus unloved and unblessed.
If Christ is light and life, the seat and channel of the grace and truth that is the portion of God’s people, it follows that He is also the radiance, of the Father’s glory, thus the face in which the redeemed see and know God. God has a face. If He had not, the believers would never be seeing Him. And that they shall see Him, the God and Father of Christ, is promised them. Said Christ, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” The believers will see Him, not, to be sure, His essence, which is invisible, but His face and thus Him. For His face is radiant with the beauty of His infinite perfection, with the glory of His invisible Self, so that, beholding His face, believers see Him, God, His very heart, the love of His heart, by the power of which they were saved. And God’s face is Christ Jesus. For He is the Father, and the Father is in Him, and the words that He speaks, He speaks not of Himself: but the Father that dwelleth in Him, He doeth the works.
God’s face is Christ—the Christ as He brings Himself forward for all that He is. And He is the Lamb of God, who took away the sins of the world by His suffering and death; the way, the truth, and the life; the resurrection and the life; the Christ with whom God’s believing people were crucified, buried, and raised up together and made to sit in heavenly places in Him; the Christ Who ascended info heaven, was crowned there with power and glory and Who now gathers His church and rules His people by His Spirit and His Word; the Christ, Who can pray for His people and save them to the uttermost, because He is the Lamb, “as it had been slain” and because in Him now dwelleth all fullness bodily; the Christ, finally, Who shall roll up the heavens as a scroll and cause the elements to burn, that the new heavens and the new earth may appear and that His people with Him may appear in glory. This Christ is the face of God. Beholding Him, the redeemed see God. Knowing Him, they know God. Loving Him, they love God. Dwelling with Him, they dwell with God. For His love is the love of God. His beauty is God’s glory. Where He is, there is God. Of the fullness that dwelleth in Him, God, the triune Jehovah, is the creative fountain, so that the Father is in Him. He therefore is in the absolute sense God’s Christ and as such the Christ of His people.
However, God’s face, which is Christ, God’s people in this life see through or in a glass. And this glass is the Scripture. Hence in this life, God’s believing people stand not before God’s very face but before this face as reflected by the Scriptures. It is for this reason that believers feel themselves attracted to the Word. It is in the Word that they behold the face of God whose grace they are ever being made to experience. But the reflection of God’s face in the Scriptures is dark. “For now we see through a glass, darkly” (1 Cor. 13:12). This can be explained. Objectively by the circumstance that the language of Scripture is earthy as are also the symbols through which Christ in His Word speaks to His people of the glory of His Father and of Himself. In the Scriptures Christ appears as the true bread, the living water, wine, milk, as the door and the way, as the lamb and the altar, as the morning-star, as the sun that shines in our heaven. It is thus in a speech that is earthy, that the Scriptures were written. The Scriptures being earthy, believers behold an earthy image of God’s heavenly face, which is Christ. Thus as compared with God’s very face, this image, this glory of God as reflected by the earthy Scriptures is, must be, dark. And it is well that it is thus. For how could believers now in this life have God’s face as the direct object of their vision? The dazzling radiance of that face would destroy them. In this life then, the believers do not see God as He is, as they do not see Him face to face. But the promise is that they shall. And by this promise they live. For they want to see His face directly, behold with pure and heavenly eyes His glory. Their desire shall be granted. They shall see Him face to face. Then they shall know as they are known. And their joy will be full. And in heavenly language they shall everlastingly cry out His praises. For they will then be like Him, their God. He, Himself, has said it. “And we shall see Him as He is, for we shall be like Him.” It is not the ideal of essential likeness that is here promised, (but a likeness that will consist in believers’ being holy, as He is holy.
“This is eternal life that they may know thee. . . . and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.” It is the Christ whom God has sent, that must be known, if God is to be known—this Christ and none other, the Christ whom He sent into the world, into our grief and hell and whom He raised unto our justification. In His name only is their salvation.