The Meaning of Divine Life
by T. Austin-Sparks
Chapter 1 - The Life of the New Creation in Christ
"In him was life; and the life was the light of men... And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us..." John 1:4,14.
"Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit... Ye must be born anew (or, from above)... whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." John 3:5-7,16.
"If thou knewest the gift of God... thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water... from whence then hast thou that living water? ...The water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life. John 4:10,11,14.
"For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them; even so the Son quickeneth whom he will... The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live. For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself... Ye search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life." John 5:21,25-26,39-40.
"There is a lad here, which hath five barley loaves... So they gathered them up, and filled twelve baskets with broken pieces from the five barley loaves... Work not for the meat which perisheth, but for the meat which abideth unto eternal life... They said therefore unto him, Lord, evermore give us this bread... I am the bread of life... This is the will of my Father, that every one that beholdeth the Son, and believeth on him, should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day... He that believeth on me hath eternal life. I am the bread of life... He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath eternal life: and I will raise him up at the last day... As the living Father hath sent me, and I live because of the Father; so he that eateth me, even he also shall live because of me. This is that bread which came down out of heaven... he that eateth this bread shall live for ever." John 6:9,13,27,34-35,40,47-48,54,57-58.
"If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me... out of him shall flow rivers of living water" John 7:37-38.
We will confine ourselves to the third chapter of John for the present, and that which is brought before us in this chapter is undoubtedly the life of the new creation, and that life is Christ. The concern of Nicodemus is evidently the concern about the kingdom of God. He does not use the phrase, nor mention the kingdom so far as is recorded, but the Lord Jesus quite clearly saw what Nicodemus was interested in, and that was the kingdom of God, as would be the case with every true Israelite. So the Lord Jesus, reading his heart, and knowing his mind, immediately took up the whole question of seeing and entering the kingdom of God, and proceeded to point out to Nicodemus that this was not a kingdom into which anyone could be born by nature, not even though he were of the stock of Israel, and a ruler in Israel at that.
Natural Birth Cannot Confer Eternal Life
That natural birth, even though it might be into surroundings where the kingdom of God is the one interest, never brings into it. No one can come into the kingdom of God by natural birth. One may be born into a Christian family, and into the midst of Christianity as a religious system, or what is called the Christian Church, but no one is in the kingdom of God on account of such birth. This is another kingdom altogether, wholly other than the kingdom of nature, even though it may be religious nature; and this, being a new kingdom, and a wholly other kingdom, requires a new and wholly other life. It is a Divine kingdom; it is the kingdom of God, and therefore it requires a Divine life, a life which is God's life. "As the Father hath life in himself, so hath he given the Son to have life in himself". Thus, in the whole universe, the Father and the Son alone have that life in themselves. It is important that we should know that, even when we have received eternal life, we do not have it in ourselves. We will speak further of that presently. "God hath given unto us eternal life, and this life is in his Son". It remains in Him. "He that hath the Son hath life". It is never parted from Him.
The point is that, being a Divine kingdom, this requires a Divine life, and that means, as the Word so fully and clearly shows, that we cannot live according to God, and according to Divine things, by natural life. We cannot get through to God with any natural resource, the resource of our natural mind. We shall beat ourselves against the gates of the kingdom of heaven, and never get through, if it is the natural mind which is making the attempt.
We can never get through to God and His kingdom with the natural heart. We may have all the emotion, all the desire, all the passion, all the zeal; we may work ourselves up to a high tension of emotional concern, and never get through. No one has ever yet been intellectualized into the kingdom of God, or been brought into it by emotionalism.
This is true also of the natural will. "Nor", says the Word, "by the will of the flesh, but of God". We cannot will ourselves into the kingdom of God. We cannot get through to the things of God by the strength of our own natural will, however much we may make up our will, determine, try, work, and resolve. Our will can never take us through. No one has ever yet been "volitionalized" into the kingdom of God; that is, so appealed to in their wills to make decision, and to determine to be in the kingdom of God, as by the strength of that decision and that determination to have got through. It cannot be done.
A great deal of mistake has been made in that connection, and an entirely false position has been brought about for multitudes of people because the effort has been made along those lines, and they have been appealed to along those lines to exercise their own reason, and their own feelings, and their own wills, as though that would regenerate them.
Thus interest and activity in Christianity is one thing, but being in the kingdom is quite another. Multitudes of good-meaning people are interested in Christianity, and are active in Christianity. They see the value of the Christian standard of life, and Christian teaching, and have thought, if only it could be applied, how different the world would be. So they have become busy in Christianity, and have thought they were in the kingdom of God. Not at all! You can have all the interest in Christianity without being in the kingdom.
This is what the Lord Jesus said, in effect, and in other and more concise words, to Nicodemus. The only way in is by our receiving Divine life as a gift through faith in Jesus Christ, and that becomes the new basis of the new creation, the basis upon which everything begins and is carried through, the basis of Divine life. That life has in it all the qualities and energies of the new creation. It constitutes our being in what is called the kingdom of God.
Every Kingdom Governed by its Own Life
It is hardly necessary to remind you that every kingdom is governed by its own life. In the vegetable kingdom there is life, and the vegetable kingdom is governed entirely by that kind of life. That life may be very wonderful in that kingdom, and capable of doing very wonderful things, as we see all around us; we see the variety, the magnificence, the beauty and strength of life in the vegetable kingdom. But it has its limitations; an end is reached. Between the end of the life of the vegetable kingdom and the point at which the life of the animal kingdom begins there is a gap, and there is no bridging of that division.
In the animal kingdom there is a wonderful variety, a wonderful manifestation of life. Look at all that animal life can produce! But then again you come to the end of that kingdom, and there is an unbridgable gap, as in the former case. While man may find friends amongst animals, and there may be a kind of companionship, there is not that intelligent, understanding fellowship and communion between a man and a beast that is between man and man. They live in two different worlds.
In the kingdom of human life the range of possibility, of value, of variety is very great. To what a height human life can reach! But it has its limitations, and here again an end is reached. Between the natural-life kingdom and the Divine-life kingdom there is a gap which cannot be bridged.
For the vegetable to become an animal it must become a new creation, with a new life in it. For the animal to become a man, despite what evolutionists may say, it must become another creation, with another life in it. And for a man to become a child of God, an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven, he has to become a new creation, possessed of an entirely different and other life. It is another kingdom.
So that the natural man is totally incapable of having intercourse with the things of the Spirit of God; the two things belong to two different kingdoms. Divine life is essential, and that is the thing upon which Christ is placing His finger of emphasis all the time, as recorded in the third chapter of John, in His dealings with Nicodemus.
Divine Life Must Direct the Whole Course
What is the next step? Having received Divine life as a gift of God through faith in Jesus Christ, the obligation, the necessity, and the blessing of the believer is to live by faith on this new basis. It is the obligation which rests upon him; he must. He is obliged to live by faith on this new basis of Divine life, otherwise he misses all that for which life has been given. He has to live by faith in it. It will not just proceed automatically. It will proceed as there is a deliberate and definite attitude taken toward it, to live on that basis. It is necessary for the believer to do that, and it is the privilege and blessing of the believer to live by faith on the basis of Divine life.
It is an entirely new and different basis of life for the believer than the life of nature, or the basis of the life of nature. This life is not in ourselves, even when we have received it. It is in Christ. It remains in Christ; but then Christ is represented as being in us by the Holy Spirit through faith. "That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith..." Christ within possesses this life, but keeps it in Himself.
Can you grasp the meaning of this if we use a double technical word? If you can it will be a great help. This new life becomes subjective-objective. If we could grasp that we should be saved from introspection, which is a misapprehension of truth. Introspection is looking into ourselves for something, trying to find something in ourselves. But in the case of the Divine life, while the life is in us, if true believers, yet it is not in ourselves, but in Christ who is in us; while truly within, it yet remains apart from us. You and I are never to look into ourselves for the resources God has provided for the Christian life, but into Christ, not alone as in heaven outside of ourselves, but as dwelling within. We must always keep that division, otherwise we shall become that morbid type of person, who is always trying to find in himself what is not there, and realising all the time he is not finding in himself what he is looking for. That is a condition of great wretchedness. But to know that Christ is there as our sufficiency, and looking to Him as within, is deliverance from self altogether, and we are delivered into Christ. We have neither to produce Divine things, nor the result of Divine things, in ourselves. We have not to work ourselves up to be what we think we ought to be, as though we could produce it. We have not to seek to draw upon ourselves for the Christian life, for the things of God in life and in service. It is not so, and it is fatal to try to produce it as out from ourselves. It is not effort of any kind that is required in relation to God. Listen to that, and underline it. It is not effort of any kind that is required in relation to God and His things, but positive faith in the Lord Jesus as within us. If we say it is active faith, that is not contradicting the statement we have just made, that it is not effort. Active faith means that we proceed upon the basis we have stated, taking it, assuming it, and proceeding accordingly. There is all the difference between active faith which proceeds upon a basis, and that effort which is trying to produce something to proceed upon.
Divine Life for Man's Entire Being
Having said that, we can go the next step, and that is, that this life in Christ in us is for the whole man, spirit, soul and body. It begins in his spirit, where it makes him alive unto God, who is a Spirit. For intelligent, understanding fellowship with what is spiritual you must be spiritual, and you must be alive in that kingdom which is spiritual. Man by nature is not alive to God; his spirit is not alive to God, who is a Spirit. Everything in the kingdom of God is spiritual, and we know that this does not mean that it is unreal, ethereal, or abstract. Sometimes it can be far more real than what is material and temporal. This Divine life begins, then, in man's spirit, where it makes him alive unto God, and all that is of God, to God's kingdom which is spiritual.
Then it is for his soul. Far from setting the soul aside, and ruling it out as though it were a forbidden thing, the Divine life quickens and energises the soul. The soul has now been brought under the government of the Spirit of life, the Spirit of God, and is no longer under the government of the spirit of the world, of Satan; and now under the government of the Holy Spirit, the soul is to be energised by the Spirit of life. The mind is one part of the soul, and has to be quickened thus. This is a part of the inheritance in life, to have the quickened, illumined, energised mind, and a mind quickened and energised by the life of God outstrips the natural mind by a universe as to knowledge and understanding. It opens an entirely new world and kingdom, and it is not only impossible to communicate concerning that with the natural man, but foolish to try. It is useless to talk to the natural man about the things of the Spirit of God.
Herein is the foolishness of preaching, so far as we are concerned. It is at one and the same time a hopeless thing to talk to the natural man of the things of the Spirit of God, and yet not hopeless; but it means that we are cast upon the Spirit of God to carry those things home with effect, with power. For ourselves it is a blessed thing to have a Divinely quickened and enlightened understanding. We have a new world. How important this is for the child of God. The Lord's desire for His own, and the Lord's need in His own, is that they should have spiritual understanding, and a mind quickened, energised, illumined as to Himself, His ways, His things.
If this were recognized there would be fewer tragedies of deception, delusion, error, and misleading. All such things are the result of judging according to the natural mind, and coming to a conclusion that certain things are quite good and right because they appear to be so. The language of certain persons may seem to be quite sound, their arguments to be quite right, their ways to be the proper ways, and to the natural mind everything appears all right; there is no capacity for seeing beyond, and into, and through. Then those concerned are carried away into deception. They are deceptions because they are so closely counterfeiting the things of God, and the enemy knows quite well that, if he can put up a close counterfeit, an imitation, there are enough Christians without spiritual understanding to fall into his trap. So he produces vast productions, counting upon this very thing, because he knows of the existence of this state of affairs, this lack of spiritual understanding in the people of God. This Divine life is for the understanding, which in the natural mind, the Word says, is darkened, but which in the kingdom of God is delivered from the kingdom of darkness, translated, and then quickened. This Divine life is for the mind.
Then it is for the heart; a life to energise and maintain desire, to govern the affections, to use in a right way the emotions. Emotion is not a sinful thing in itself, but if we think that natural emotion is of value in Divine things that is where we go wrong. It is emotion of a right kind, affection and feeling governed by the Spirit, and energised by Divine Life, which is a feature in that humanity which remains God's thought. Humanity is a Divine thought. Humanity is an eternal thought. We are not going to be disembodied spirits floating about in the air throughout eternity; we are going to be human beings, but after God's mind. This humanity is in heaven now, in the person of the Son of Man, Who revealed Himself to John in Patmos. John says, "I turned to see", and the designation used concerning the One Who appeared to him was "the Son of Man". There is a humanity after God's original thought in heaven now, and to that it is that you and I are going to be conformed. All the holy, pure and right emotions and affections of the Son of Man are to be found in us. This Divine life produces them, saves them from that realm into which they have gone, which is both false and futile.
The will is another part of the soul, and comes into the same realm of Divine activity. The will is to be energised by Divine life. On the one hand, we may be will-less in ourselves, suffering perhaps because of the weaknesses and debilities of the physical life, or for some other cause our wills have lost their strength, and we cannot do. Now the Divine life energises the will, and works in us as God to will and to do of His good pleasure. On the other hand, let us remember that it has to be a Divinely energised will to achieve Divine ends. It is no more a matter of the will of the flesh in doing the work of God, than it is in being born again: "...which were born, not of the will of the flesh..." If that is not true of the birth, it cannot be true of anything that follows afterwards. So we can produce no Divine fruits, achieve no Divine purpose, accomplish no Divine work in the natural will, however strong it is. The natural strength has to come under the mastery of the Spirit of God.
Then this Divine life is for the body. We know that it is in this direction and realm of things that many mistakes have been made, and much confusion and contradiction wrought amongst the Lord's people. When a position is taken which is said to be a true doctrinal position, and there is contradiction in history and experience, the Lord's honour is involved, and a great deal is brought against the Lord by a false position. When we speak of Divine life for the body we are not affirming that this necessarily means that the whole of our physical infirmity and weakness, and the mortal element in our bodies is destroyed, or set aside. It means nothing of the kind. Of course, that ought to go without saying, because, if that were so (and some people have taken that extreme position, with disastrous consequences to their doctrine and to the faith of others, and to the honour of the Lord), then we should be in our resurrection bodies now; it would be true of us now that this mortal has put on immortality. Who would be prepared to say that? Divine life does not destroy the infirmity, and weakness, and mortality of this body, but it energises over against all these. Paul is a very clear example. Infirmity was always with him. To a very late hour in his life he was almost dead through a sickness. Weakness was his constant companion. He said much in his letters about "this mortal flesh", and yet over against that he went forward on his course until he himself could just pour his life out as a drink offering to the Lord, laying it down for His sake, and saying, "The hour of my departure is at hand". He did not say, The hour has come when I shall have to surrender to death working in my mortal body, when I shall have to admit that I am beaten by disease and infirmity. He went through to the end, when from every natural standpoint death should have claimed him long before.
It is a testimony to this great truth that, while there may be infirmity, and mortality, and weakness, and even disease, Divine life may be there all the time, energising over against those things, until God's work is done. Such an end is not one of defeat; it is a rounded-off ministry, so far as this present life is concerned.
Thus the whole man becomes a spiritual testimony to Christ in His risen life, and that is what we are here for.
That takes us back to what we said earlier. It is the obligation, and the necessity, as well as the privilege of the believer, to live by faith on this basis. It does not work automically, but we recall that it is written, "the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son Of God..." It is a case of living on Him by faith, taking His life by faith for spirit, soul, and body in the will of God.
Prisoners of the Lord
We have to govern all that with something else which we must needs remember, and which in some sense qualifies what has been said. When you and I live upon a basis of Divine life, and seek to exercise faith for that life to be made good in us for spirit, soul and body, we have to be utterly the prisoners of the Lord, we cannot do as we like. If you and I begin to exercise and interest ourselves in things outside of God's permission, the life cannot work, and will not work, and it will be death. If, in claiming Divine life for your body, you begin to use your physical energies outside of the will of God, Divine life will not sustain you, will not support you. Your body has to come within the limits of Divine permission, and when you over-step you will find the Lord does not go with you in Divine life, and then you have a reaction, something goes wrong physically or nervously.
It is the same in every other way. Divine life moves within the compass of Divine interests and purposes, is always in the direction of God's ends, and we shall find life as we keep in that direction. We may have life as we abide in Christ, but if in interest, in thought, in occupation we get outside of that which is meant by Christ, there we can neither count upon Divine life, nor draw upon it. Remember that, lest you go off and say, I may count on the Lord's life now! and begin to presume upon that life. It only operates within the compass of the Divine will.
That does not necessarily mean that we are going to be cut off from numberless things. The Lord can give added blessedness to many things which in no way contradict His mind, but it is when things come in to conflict with some interest of His, and we begin to be occupied with them, that we lose the operation of life. So all the time our attitude has to be one of inquiry, and of willingness in the direction of the Lord's will. Would the Lord have this? Is this today in the Lord's will, or are there interests of the Lord's which require that this shall be left? Would this run counter to some interest of the Lord? It is a matter of life and death all the time.
This is Nicodemus, who is unable to go through to the kingdom of God. The Lord said to him, "Art thou a ruler in Israel, and knowest not these things? If I have spoken to you earthly things and you have not understood how will you understand if I speak heavenly things?" The Lord was speaking of His illustrations, "the wind bloweth where it listeth... " of being "born anew". Nicodemus was in a fog. He did not understand the Lord even when He spoke in parabolic form. In effect he said, I do not understand what you are talking about. Well, Nicodemus, if I have come down to that level of presenting things to you, and you cannot understand, where will you be if I try to open up to you, and really present, the bare, intrinsic, heavenly realities? It is impossible for the natural man to get through even to the simplicities of the things of God, and therefore there is the necessity for even such an one as Nicodemus to have another life.
Thus the Lord Jesus constantly brings things back to Himself, and tells Nicodemus life is bound up with the Son of Man, bound up with the Son of God. "God so loved... that he gave his only begotten Son..." When you look through John 3 and observe the personal references to Christ, you will see that what the Lord was really saying to Nicodemus was this: Nicodemus, what you need is the Son of God in order to come into the kingdom of God, for "he that hath the Son hath the life; he that hath not the Son of God hath not the life." Now, Nicodemus, you are a representative in Israel, and you see how Israel is rejecting the Son, and is therefore in death. Israel now can never come into the kingdom of God until Israel is born again. That is the issue for you, Nicodemus, as a representative of Israel, whether you will accept the Son of God and live, and so come into the kingdom.
Thus it is all brought back to the person; not to a thing, but a person; eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord.