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Hector MacKinnon, A Memoir
The Life that is Life Indeed


A young gentleman once visited Jesus, and put to Him an important question. The question was—" What shall I do to inherit eternal life? " He possessed everything usually regarded as going to make life worth living. He was rich, at least according to the standards of his time. He had a good position in society, being a ruler of the synagogue, and thus a magistrate in the community. He was exemplary in his conduct, for when the principal commandments were enunciated in his hearing he was able to look calmly into the face of Him who was the embodiment of Eternal Goodness and to assert that he had kept these from his earliest days. He was religious, too, and we cannot affirm that his religiousness was a mere pretence, for according to the narrative which describes his interview with the Saviour, it was reverent, orthodox, and earnest. Withal he was so amiable in disposition and so attractive in demeanour that the heart of the Lord warmed towards him in the very conversation which they carried on with each other.

And yet there was a deficiency in his life which required to be dealt with, as Christ was compelled to point out to him. Indeed, he himself was conscious of a lack. He felt that there was something present in the life of Jesus which was absent from his, and which it would make all things new for him to obtain. That is why he came to the Lord presenting the problem which has just been referred to, and it was because of his conviction that "this Man" with whom he conferred was able to enlighten him with regard to what was wanting that he sought a conference with Him at all.

There is one point which may be remarked upon in passing, because it is so positively settled by the case of this young man. We live in a time when the acquisition of material substance and the improvement of one's social circumstances are looked upon as the things to be coveted above all else. The millennium will be ushered in, we are told, when all men become well to do. Righteousness and purity, peace and brotherhood and joy will become the common heritage of the race when its members generally become each the owner of a goodly share of this world's goods. But here was a man and there have been and are many like him, whom worldly circumstances highly favoured, and upon whom fortune had always smiled, and he is farther from happiness than many who had not a single shekel to call their own. If circumstances could make a man content, then indeed he ought to have been content. But he was not content. On the contrary, discontent was consuming his soul ; and his experience knocks the bottom out of every theory of living which makes contentment contingent upon the things which this world can supply. We grudge no man his heritage in the earth and all that it contains, but we contend that joy —abiding joy—must come from a quarter which is supra- mundane, and we base our contention upon a consideration of this youth's spiritual condition, and of the spiritual condition of thousands besides.

It was eternal life he was after—life on the plane of the infinite. Life on the plane of the finite was already his in all fullness. But he had come to the conclusion—was forced to the conclusion—that this was not life in its widest range and highest possibility, and hence his anxiety to come by that life which a great apostle has accurately termed "the life which is life indeed."

Herbert Spencer has defined life for us. He calls it the "correspondence of an organism with its environment," and, as Henry Drummond has observed, eternal life in that case would be the perfect correspondence of an organism with its environment. If we regard man as the organism and God as the environment, as in this connection we are bound to do, then a perfect correspondence on the part of man with God constitutes eternal life, or at least the condition on which eternal life may be obtained. Our Lord Himself in the great intercessory prayer of the 17th of John expresses the same truth, although not in terms of science— "This is eternal life, that they might know Thee the only true God and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent." It is interesting that the Greek construction in this verse in the original version of the New Testament indicates that the latter clause states the condition upon which the contents of the first clause become real in experience. "That they might know Thee, etc.," is that condition. To know God—that is to say, to be on terms of acquaintance, friendship, intimacy, with God—is to correspond with God, and this knowledge is the necessary condition of eternal life according to Jesus ; so that there is here a coincidence between evangelical doctrine and scientific statement which is very helpful to us in our consideration of this subject. What the young man of whom we are speaking stood in need of accordingly was the establishment between him and God of a perfect correspondence, heart to heart and will to will. Proper adjustment to the ultimate Reality of existence was what his spirit yearned for, and neither his wealth nor his position, neither his morality nor his religiousness was capable of effecting this.

How, then, was this correspondence, this adjustment, to be brought about? Our Lord explains, "Sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me." Did Christ mean him to understand the former part of this exhortation in a literal sense, and did He expect him to act upon such an understanding? Most undoubtedly He did. What was wrong with this good young fellow was that his wealth had so entwined itself about his heart that with all his morality and all his piety he was not right with God, and could not be right until the stumbling- block of his riches was taken out of the way entirely. An act of renunciation was one part—the negative, but not the less necessary part of the condition which Jesus imposes. He must surrender that which he treasured most fondly if he was ever to breathe the exhilarating air for which, it is no exaggeration to say, his soul was panting.

There was, however, a positive side as well, for our Lord adds, " Come, follow Me." It was a significant command viewed with other commands which our Lord gave in the course of His ministry, and it casts a flood of light for unprejudiced minds upon the consciousness and personality of Jesus. It was a command which distinctly implied that in this matter of eternal life Christ was the Mediator, the only Mediator between God and man. In short, to follow Him was to be reconciled to God. Only in Jesus Christ, but in Jesus Christ very really, God and man can meet on terms of correspondence and friendship. He is the Daysman between the Divine and the human, who can put His hand upon both. The practical import of the command as far as this young ruler was concerned was that he must submit to a control to be exercised by Jesus—a control which, despite all his goods and goodness, he had not yet acknowledged in any practical way.

Did he sell and did he follow? We are left in the dark as to this, but the importance of our Lord's words is not touched by our ignorance on this point ; for these words were not only pertinent to the spiritual condition and needs of the youth whose photograph the Gospels so effectively set before us, but are also pertinent to the spiritual condition and needs of every man, young or old, who ever desired to inherit "the life of the ages." Let me go over the matter briefly in its bearing upon all who may read the article that I am now writing. How can you and I inherit eternal life ? Only by the ready fulfilment of the two-sided condition which we have just been considering. There must take place on our part a great and definite renunciation. It may not be material substance that has captivated our minds and gained possession of the citadel of our souls; but something else has done it— perhaps our cleverness, perhaps our pedigree, perhaps fashion, or dress, or pleasure, or popularity. What is that upon which we most often congratulate ourselves, upon which our minds chiefly dote? That thing we must cease to take pride and put our confidence in. We must pluck out the right eye if need be, or cut off the right arm, for "he that will save his life shall lose it; and he that will lose his life shall find it." Do you consider this hard? Do not overlook the compensation, "Thou shalt have treasure in heaven " ; nor yet the words of Jesus to Peter and the disciples immediately after the young man had taken his departure, " Verily I say unto you, there is no man that hath left house or parents or brethren or wife or children for the Kingdom of God's sake, who shall not receive manifold more in this present time, and in the world to come life everlasting." The principle here set forth is that whatever loss we suffer for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven and eternal life will be more than made up for even here and rewarded a thousandfold in the great hereafter.

And we must submit to control. What we need above anything at the centre of our souls is to take upon ourselves the yoke of Jesus Christ—to accept from Him a control which will so co-ordinate and unify the disordered elements of our spiritual nature that these co-operate one with another and each with all towards the destiny which in His ineffable goodness He has set before us. This control, be it noticed, brings into prominence the kingship of our Lord ; and that is as it should be, for His kingship is in danger of dropping nowadays out of the sight of even His own people. It is interesting to recall that in His birth and in His death His kingship was held aloft. "Where is He that is born King? " " This is Jesus the King of the Jews." He is a King without question, and our salvation and all the blessings which salvation brings depend in the last resort upon our standing in a right relationship to His kingship. His kingship includes everything—Saviourhood and all. The way of salvation is still the way set by St. Paul before the jailer at Philippi, to whom he said, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved." The man who forsakes all to choose Him for his master has by that forsaking and choice become adjusted to the Infinite Environment, fellowship with which causes eternal life to permeate the soul. We need some king—our nature is so constituted as to demand direction and control. Whom shall we make our king if not Jesus Christ ? Do the annals of the world speak of any other entitled to take His place? Is there any other name than His at which we feel that we can bow? If not, let us place that name above every name in our thinking and acting. Let us each say with intention, as William Law would say, "Thou art the King of Glory, O Christ. I accept Thee as my King. I give up everything for Thy sake. In my life Thou wilt ever have the pre-eminence." If we say this we already feel in our hearts the pulsations of eternal life, and our souls have been linked to the powers of the world to come.


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