The Pursuit of Life

One of the most splendid achievements of modern scholarship is the light which is being thrown upon the religious thought of the world in the early days of Christianity. In that age men were turning away with impatience from the great gods of Greece and Rome. They paid respect to the altars of a State faith, but kept their devotion for cults in which Hellenic and Oriental ideas were strangely mingled. These cults are known as 'the Mystery Religions.' They were so called from the fact that their deepest secrets were reserved for those who had been specially prepared by abstinence and fasting and ritual cleansing. In connection with these faiths religious brotherhoods were formed throughout the Empire, and especially at the great seaports. In these societies distinctions of nationality and of social status counted for little. The aim common to them all was the desire to rise beyond material things to the possession of an immortal life by union with the Divine. Men desired to be saved from demonic influences and the weight of a ruthless fate. They sought a regenerated and a deified life.

It was impossible for the first preachers of Christianity to proclaim their message without coming into contact with these ideas. St Paul uses some of the terms common to the mysteries, and one can sometimes perceive a background of mystery ideas in his teachings. It was natural for this to be so. There can be no doubt that many of the first Gentile converts, especially at Corinth, had been members of the cult-brotherhoods. They had been seeking fullness of life; and though they had not found it in Cybele, Isis or Serapis, yet, in the providence of God, these faiths prepared the way, so that when the Christ of Life was preached they said: "This is something we have been seeking all the time."

Before we consider the text in relation to our own times, let us look more closely at the writer's thought.

The idea of life, and in particular 'eternal life'---to use the fuller expression---is one of the leading conceptions of the Fourth Gospel. To the Evangelist 'eternal life' is intimate experimental knowledge of God. 'This is life eternal, that they should know the the only true God, and him whom thou didst send, even Jesus Christ!' This life is everlasting, but it is a present boon, and not merely a future possession. It is everything that life can mean carried to the full. Anything dwarfed, mean, incomplete, is alien to it. Where it is found the mind responds to every noble thought, and the heart thrills with joy unspeakable. It is both the satisfaction of our deepest craving and the fulfilment of our highest aspiration.

It is the essence of the writer's message that he finds this life in Jesus Christ. Looking back to the days of his own companionship with Jesus, and interpreting them in terms of his experience, and then since, he writes: 'In him was life.' To know Him was to know God; to see Him was to see the Father. It was to be introduced to a new way of living, a new tone of life. It meant that life was full of a glory and a meaning which it never had before. It meant a new joy, a new hope, a new service. All this the writer had found through union with Christ.

But what of today? Has this message lost anything of its spell or potency? Does it meet the need of men still?

Surely it does meet that need. The heart of man has always its longing and desire; in the twenty-first, as well as in the first century men want the life of life.

The characteristic preoccupation of our time is the pursuit of life; but the tragedy of it is that so many of us mistake both the character and the quality of the life that we are craving for. The life we are really seeking lies deeper than we are aware of. It is in the Person of our ord Jesus Christ that need is completely met, for in Him is 'Life.'

How, then, shall we make this life our own? How shall we find it in Christ? Must it not be by a spiritual appropriation of the Christ?

This means that we respond to His teaching and make it the guiding principle of our life. But it means more than that. It means that we give Christ the heart's loving devotion. Into every soul that surrenders itself to the control of the spirit of Jesus Christ there flows a current of joy and vigor, of peace and power, that satisfies utterly and makes all things new. And in bearing witness to this, both he who wrote this Gospel and the latest to find his way to Christ are at one. It has been continuous and a never-failing experience. If you surrender your will so that this influence comes to you freely, all is changed---the people, even the common scenes about you. Life has become a thing of such surpassing beauty that a minute of it is worth ten thousand lifetimes without it. That, in effect, has been the testimony of the saints through all the Christian centuries.

In Christ, timothy. maranatha