By C. H. Spurgeon
“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Romans 6:23
…….. And now I am glad to pass into liberty and joy while I speak on the second subject: ETERNAL LIFE IS THE GIFT OF GOD.
Note well the change: death is a wage, but life is a gift. Sin brings its natural consequences with it; but eternal life is not the purchase of human merit, but the free gift of the love of God. The abounding goodness of the Most High alone grants life to those who are dead by sin. It is with clear intent to teach us the doctrine of the grace of God that the apostle altered the word here from wages to gift. Naturally he would have said, “The wages of sin is death, but the wages of righteousness is eternal life.” But he wished to show us that life comes upon quite a different principle from that upon which death comes. In salvation all is of free gift: in damnation everything is of justice and desert. When a man is lost, he has earned it; when a man is saved, it is given him.
Let us notice, first, that eternal life is imparted by grace through faith. When it first enters the soul it comes as God’s free gift. The dead cannot earn life; the very supposition is absurd. Eternal life enjoyed on earth comes to us as a gift. “What!” says one, “do you mean to say that eternal life comes into the soul here?” I say yes, here, or else never. Eternal life must be our possession now; for if we die without it; it will never be our possession in the world to come, which is not the state of probation, but of fixed and settled reward. When the flame of eternal life first drops into a man’s heart, it is not as the result of any good works of his which preceded it, for there were none; nor as the result of any feelings of his, for good feelings were not there until the life came. Both good works and good feelings are the fruit of the heavenly life which enters the heart, and makes us conscious of its entrance by working in us repentance and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. “Eternal life is the gift of God in Jesus Christ.” By faith we come consciously into Christ. We trust him, we rest upon him, we become one with him, and thus eternal life manifests itself. Has he not said, “I give unto my sheep eternal life”; and again, “He that believes in him has everlasting life”?
O beloved, you that have been quickened by the Spirit of God, I am sure you trace that first quickening to the grace of God. Whatever your doctrinal views may be, you are all agreed in the experimental acknowledgment that by the grace of God you are what you are. How could you, being dead, give yourself life? How could you, being the slave of sin, set yourself free? But the Lord in mercy visited you as surely as the Lord Jesus Christ visited the tomb of Lazarus; and he spoke with his almighty voice, and bade you come to life, and you arose and came to life at his bidding. You remember well the change that came upon you. If any man here could have been literally dead, and then could have been made to live, what a wonderful experience his would have been! We should go a long way to hear the story of a man who had been dead, and then was made alive again.
But I tell you, his experience, if he could tell it, would not be any more wonderful than our experience as quickened from death in sin; for we have suffered the pains that come through the entrance of life into the soul, and we know the joys which afterwards come of it. We have seen the light that life brings to the spiritual eye; we have felt the emotions that life brings to the quickened heart; we have known the joys which life, and only life, can bring to the entire man. We can tell you something about these things; but if you want to know them to the full, you must feel them for yourselves. “You must be born again.” We bear our witness that eternal life within our spirit is not of our earning, but the gift of God.
Beloved, since we received eternal life, we have gone on to grow, and we have made great advances in the divine life; our little trembling faith has now grown to be full assurance; that zeal of ours which burned so low that we hardly dared to attempt anything for Jesus has now flamed up into full consecration, so that we live to his praise. From where has this growth come? Is it not still a free gift? Have you received an increase of life by the law, or has it come to you as the free gift of God? I know what you will say; and if any of you have so grown in grace that you have become ripe Christians; if any of you have been taught of God so that you can teach others; if any of you have been led by the Holy Spirit so that your sanctification is known unto all men, and you have become saintly men and women; I am sure that your holiness and maturity are still gifts received, and not wages earned. I will put the question to you again: Did this abundant life come to you by the works of the law, or by grace through faith which is in Christ Jesus? Your instantaneous answer is, “It is all of grace, in the latter as well as in the earlier stages.” Yes, in every degree the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus.
Yes; and when we get to heaven, and the eternal life shall there be developed as a bud opens into a full-blown rose; when our life shall embrace God’s life, and God’s life shall encompass ours; when we shall be abundantly alive to everything that is holy, divine, heavenly, blessed, and eternally glorious; oh, then we shall confess that our life was all of the grace of God, the free gift of God in Jesus Christ our Lord! I am sure that our heavenly education will only make us know more and more fully that while death is the well-earned wages of sin, eternal life is from beginning to end the gift of infinite grace.
Beloved, observe gratefully what a wonderful gift this is, – “the gift of God,” – the gift which Jesus bestows upon every believer; for “to as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to as many as believed on his name; which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” How express is our Lord’s statement: “He that believes on the Son has everlasting life: and he that believes not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abides in him “! What a life this is! It must be of a wonderful sort, because it is called “life” par excellence, emphatically “life,” true life, real life, essential life. This does not mean mere existence, as some vainly talk. There never was a greater blunder than to confound life with existence, or death with non-existence; these are two totally different and distinct ideas. The life of man means the existence of man as he ought to exist – in union with God, and consequently in holiness, purity, health, and happiness. Man, as God intended him to be, is man enjoying life – man, as sin makes men, is man abiding in death. All that man can receive of joy and honor the Lord gives to man to constitute life eternal in the world to come. What a life is this! The life that is imparted to us in regeneration is God’s own life, brought into us by “the living and incorruptible seed which lives and abides for ever.” We are akin to God by the new birth, and by loving union with his Son Jesus Christ. What must life mean in God’s sense of it?
Moreover, we have life eternal, too, never ending. Whatever else may end, this never can. It can neither be killed by temptation, nor destroyed by trial, nor quenched by death, nor worn out by the ages. The gift of the eternal God is eternal life. Those who talk about a man having everlasting life, and losing it, do not know the force of language. If a man has eternal life, it is eternal, and cannot therefore end or be lost. If it be everlasting, it is “everlasting”; to lose it would prove that it was not everlasting. No, if you have eternal life, you can never perish; if God has bestowed it upon you, it will not be recalled, “for the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.” This eternal life is evidently a free gift; for how could any man obtain it in any other way? It is too precious to be bought, too divine to be made by man. If it had to be earned, how could you have earned it? You, I mean, who have already earned death. The wage due to you already was death, and by that wage you were effectually shut out from all possibility of ever earning life. Indeed, the earning of life seems to me to be from the beginning out of the question. It has come to us as a free gift; it could not come in any other way.
Furthermore, remember that it is life in Jesus; the “through” of our version is “in” in the original. We are in everlasting union with the blessed Person of the Son of God, and therefore we live. To be in Christ is a mystery of bliss. The apostle felt that this was an occasion for again rehearsing our blessed Master’s names and titles of honor – “in Jesus Christ our Lord.” I noted to you on a former occasion how, at certain seasons, the various honors and titles of great men are proclaimed by heralds with becoming state, and so here, to the praise of the Lord Jesus, Paul writes his full degree – “Eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord.”
He writes at large the august name before which every knee shall bow, and he links our life therewith. Here we read the cheering and precious name of Jesus. By that name he is nearest to man; when he was born into our nature he was named Jesus, “for he shall save his people from their sins.” The life which comes in connection with him is salvation from sin. In this Savior is life. The next name is “Christ,” or anointed, by which name he is nearest to God being sent forth and anointed of God to treat with us on God’s behalf. He is the Lord’s Christ, and our Jesus. Next he is called “Our Lord.” Herein lies the glory of our anointed Savior: we through grace becoming servants participate in the life and glory of our Lord. He reigns as our Lord, and by his reigning power he shows himself to be the Lord and giver of life. “All live unto him.” Our Lord has life in himself, and breathes it into us. What a life this is, – a life saved from sin, a life anointed of the Holy Spirit, a life in union with him who is Lord of all. This is the life which is peculiarly the gift of God.
Thus I have set forth this doctrine, and I desire to apply it by adding a little more of practical importance. First, let us come at this time, one and all, and receive this divine life as a gift in Christ Jesus. If any of you have been working for it by going about to establish your own righteousness, I urge you to end the foolish labor by submitting yourselves to the righteousness of God. It you have been trying to feel so much, or to pray so much, or to mourn so much, stop from thus offering a price, and come and receive life as a free gift from your God. Pull down the idol of your pride, and humbly sue for pardoning grace on the plea of mercy. Believe and live. You are not called upon to earn life, but to receive it; receive it as freely as your lungs take in the air you breathe. If you are dead in sin at this moment, yet the gospel of life has come near unto you. With that gospel there comes the life-giving wind of the eternal Spirit.
He can call you out of your ruin, and wreckage, and death, and make you live. This is his word, “Awake, you that sleep, and rise from the dead, and Christ shall give you life.” Will you have it as a gift? If there be any true life in you, your answer will be quick and hearty. You will be lost if you do not receive this gift. Your earnings will be paid into your bosom, and dread will be the death which will settle down upon you. The acceptance of a free gift would not be difficult if we were not proud. Accept it – God help you to accept it at once! Even that acceptance will be God’s gift; for the will to live is life; and all true life, from beginning to end, is entirely of the Lord.
Beloved, have we accepted that free gift of eternal life? Let us abide in it. Let us never be tempted to try the law of merit; let us never attempt to live by our earnings. No doubt eternal life is a reward in one sense, but it is always a reward of grace, not a reward of debt. The Lord shall give us a crown of life at last as a reward; but even then we shall confess that he first gave us the work by which the crown was won. The Lord first gives us good works, and then rewards us for them. The labor of love is in itself a gift of love.
Grace reigns all along; not only in removing sin, but in working virtue. Finally, are we now abiding in eternal life, trusting in the Son of God, and clinging to his skirts? then let us live to his glory. Do we know that because he lives, we shall live also? If so, let us show by our gratitude how greatly we prize this gift. We dwell in a world where death is everywhere manifesting itself in various forms of corruption – therefore let us see from what the Lord has delivered us. Let no man boast in his heart that he is not subject to the vile influences which hold the world in its corruption. Let no pride because of our new life ever cross our spirit. Chase every such thought as that away with detestation. If our life be of grace, there is no room for boasting, but much space for soul-humbling. When you walk the streets, and hear the groans of the dead in the form of oaths and blasphemies, thank the Lord that you have been taught a more living language. Think of drunkenness and lust as the worms that are bred of the putridity of the death which comes of sin. You are disgusted and horrified, my brothers; but these things would have been in you also but for the grace of God. We are like living men shut up in a charnel-house; wherever we turn we see the dreary works of death; but all this should make us grateful to the sacred power which has brought us out of death into spiritual life.
As for others, let us anxiously ask the question – “Can these dry bones live? “Then let us be obedient to the heavenly vision when the divine word says to us, “Son of man, prophesy upon these bones.” We must cherish the faith which will enable us to do this. Moreover, a sight of the universal death of unrenewed nature should drive us to prayer, so that we cry, “Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” This prayer being offered, we should live in hopeful expectancy that the Lord will open the graves of his people, and cause them to come forth and live by his Spirit. Oh for grace to prophesy believingly upon these bones, and say, “O you dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.
Thus says the Lord God unto these bones, Behold I will cause breath to enter into you, and you shall live.” Beloved, we shall yet see them stand up an exceeding great army, quickened of the Lord our God. He delights to burst the bonds of death. Resurrection is one of his chief glories. He heralds resurrection, work with trumpets, and angels, and a glorious high throne, because he delights in it. The living Jehovah rejoices to give life, and especially to give it to the dead. Corruption flies before him, grave clothes are cut, and sepulchers are broken open. “I am the resurrection, and the life,” says Jesus; and so he is even at this hour. O God, save this congregation to the praise of the glory of your grace, wherein you have made us to live, and to be accepted in your well-beloved Son.
Amen and Amen.