[B36] The Apostles' Creed: Life Everlasting

Eternal life contains a great deal more than the two words, life plus eternity. Eternal life is not merely endless existence. It means endless life in its highest possible state of existence. It means that all that is piecemeal and temporary has passed away forever. It means that the absolutely perfect has come, that life has reached its highest altitude. It means that all the fulness and richness that this human vessel can receive of the goodness of God has been made ours.

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36. Life Everlasting

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to all inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. — 1 Pet. 1:3—5.

The Apostles’ Creed closes with a shout of victory. We are not yet in full possession of all the fruits of the victory, but it is ours nevertheless. Life everlasting is God’s gift. All that it means we shall never know till we step across the portal, and experience it in God’s presence. But that it is prepared for us we are just as sure as we are that God lives, and is a faithful God. And eternal life has begun in us already. It is working in our souls and all our members. We shall never lose it save by willful rejection.

You know the story of Bunyan’s pilgrim. He started out floundering through the slough of despondency, bearing his ever-pressing burden. He was constantly meeting with difficulties and discouragements. There were many battles to be fought, privations to be endured, wounds to be suffered. But finally, as he climbed the detectable mountains, the old, wearisome burden fell from his back. He was as a new man in a new world. A picture, this, of your life, and mine. We are God’s children. A great change has been wrought in us. The great remedy, the blood of Jesus Christ, has washed away our sins. And it is at work to effect a perfect cure of all our ills. And no power on earth, or in hell, outside of ourselves, can keep it from succeeding. But in the meanwhile there is much to impede the progress of the remedy. There is much feebleness to be overcome. There is much faulty vision which obscures the beauties that might otherwise be seen, and magnifies and makes more terrifying the threatening evils. But the remedy is working. One of these days the feeble knees shall be made strong, the bleared eyes shall be given full orbed vision. And we shall stand, clothed in the white robes of the saints, with palms of victory in our hands, with the great throng around the throne of the Lamb, crying: “Alleluia, for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth. Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honor to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready.” This is the eternal life in the faith and foretaste of which we constantly make confession in the closing words of the Apostles’ Creed, and of which we shall speak this morning.

1. The Nature Of Everlasting Life

Let us first of all inquire as to the nature of that existence we call life everlasting.

We are so constituted that we like to know. It is a God-implanted thirst. There are substitutes for knowledge which drive away the thirst, but do not meet the needs of which the thirst is only the indication. Let us beware of their deadly effects. On the other hand, let us be careful to avoid mere speculation. Of this there is a great deal with respect to eternal life. Let us not allow speculation to supplant revelation.

Eternal life! O heaven high, heaven wide subject! How it fascinates the devout imagination. How it grips the souls of God’s children. But there is little of detail which we can say about it. The Scriptures indicate that human mind is incapable of comprehending more than the mere outline of what heaven is, just as human vision, in its present state, can not endure the undiminished rays of Christ’s Divine brightness. And we find that human language is an inadequate vehicle for conveying even the partial revelations of the glories of the life in God’s presence. But we are not by any means left in the dark on this great subject. Voyagers tell us that in certain tropic, or semi-tropic regions, long before land is in sight, or seen only in dim, shadowy outline, the balmy breezes bear to them the odor of the sweet spices which grow there in luxuriance. The voyager from this experience would not be able to give an accurate description of the land he approaches, but he knows something about it. He knows it is a land of beauty and fragrance. He knows there are many things to entrance the spirit of those sensitive to beauty. So is it with us with respect to heaven, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him” (1 Cor. 2:9). But the breath of God’s Spirit hath blown from that celestial shore, bearing to the responsive soul visions and odors of that ravishing land of pure delight.

Much of the description of life eternal is by way of what we shall not then experience. So much of the present life is filled with burdens and tribulations, that our fondest dreams have to do with an existence freed from them. The inspired writers accommodate themselves to this condition. St. Paul expresses his hope thus, “The Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto His heavenly Kingdom” (2 Tim. 4:18). And the Revelator, in his matchless description of the future state, expresses it thus, “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain; for the former things are passed away” (Rev. 21:4). As the mother takes her sick, or injured, child to her bosom, consoles it, and dries its tears, so God will do for us, only more effectually, for that which causes these troubles will be forever removed.

But the description which God gives us of that which is to be is not all negative. Jesus, in his high-priestly prayer, says: “Father, I will that they also, whom Thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory” (St. John 17:24). We shall be with Jesus. That which our weak eyes are not now able to behold in all its fullness of brightness will then be our constant contemplation. There will be a realization of the faith of the man of God who strengthened himself with the thought that “in his flesh he should see God.”

Even this is not all. We children of God shall not only see His glory, but be partakers of His glory. In this same prayer Jesus says, “The glory which Thou gavest me I have given them.” Elsewhere He tells us that in our future home we shall be like the angels in heaven (St Mark 12:25). Just what this means is beyond our reach, but it is enough to fill us with joy and gladness. But there is something even better than this. St. John, recognizing the fragmentary character of our knowledge of this great truth, says: “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be; but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him” (1 Jn. 3:2). Like Christ. That is too much for our comprehension. But it satisfies every one who has anything like an adequate understanding of the transcendent beauty of Christ’s life. Like Christ. Is that not enough to arm us for every conflict? to cheer us in every dark night of trial?

Eternal life contains a great deal more than the two words, life plus eternity. Eternal life is not merely endless existence. It means endless life in its highest possible state of existence. It means that all that is piecemeal and temporary has passed away forever. It means that the absolutely perfect has come, that life has reached its highest altitude. It means that all the fulness and richness that this human vessel can receive of the goodness of God has been made ours.

And, let us remember, that of this glorious, blessed state there shall be no end. At the right hand of God these joys are to be experienced for evermore (Ps. 16:11). Our text tells us that it is an inheritance which is incorruptible, and unfading. And not only is it in its own nature imperishable, but there is no power in the universe which can destroy it, or take it from us (St. Jn. 16:22). As our text says, the strong arm of God’s power is thrown around us for our protection. What a thought for our meditation is this! Rightly understood and appreciated how it supports us in our present trials. How it nerves men, who have grasp it, for more heroic effort.

2. The Ground of Certainty

It will be profitable for us to inquire into the nature of the ground of our certainty as to the existence of this eternal life.

“I believe in … the life everlasting.” Is this a found dream which human imagination has conjured up as a palliative for our many ills? A dream which we have fooled ourselves into believing is the truth? Not so, not so. This is one of the fundamental articles of the Christian faith. If this be not well founded then all the rest is of minor importance. The moral teaching of Christianity would still be good, but it would be but a temporary good if not followed by eternal life. And the more perfect and glorious the picture of this future life, the more terrible the disappointment if it is an unfounded dream. But it is not a delusion. There is no truth better attested.

It is true, Christian people are not the only ones who entertain the hope of a future existence. Practically all men, of every degree of culture, and lack of culture, have some kind of conception of a future life. This is a faint recollection, sometimes an inarticulate throbbing, of the deathless nature which God breathed out of His own fullness of life, and which became the inmost essence of man’s nature. But this indwelling testimony of the human soul is not the only, nor yet the chief, ground on which we Christians base our hope, our certainty, of a future, an eternal life. If we built only on this feeling we would be fluctuating between the widest extremes. Today we would be in the seventh heaven of hope, tomorrow probably in the darkest hell of despondency.

We Christians have been taught to say, I believe in the life everlasting, in the light of God’s revelation. Our faith is built on the rock, the rock of God’s truth. We are more certain of eternal life than we are of any demonstration of any mere earthly thing, however absolute it may claim to be. We know what awaits us because God has told us. It was revealed to the people of the Old Testament. Job, David, and the prophets received the revelation, and proclaimed it to the world. And I need not tell you that the New Testament is full of this truth. The Gospel record starts out by telling us that God so loved the world, that He gave He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him might have eternal life. Jesus says, My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and give unto them eternal life. But more than this, Jesus Christ has demonstrated that there is a life beyond the grave. He did it by raising the dead to life. Above all, He did it by Himself coming forth triumphantly from the dead. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to His abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you.” This is our faith. It is not built on human feeling, or speculation. It is not founded on analogies found in nature. We may use all these things as illustrations and corroborations; but as a truth on which to securely build, flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto us; but our Father which is in heaven.

This promise of eternal life is one of which not only the Church in general may be certain, but you and I, as individuals, may be equally certain of it. God does not call men as multitudes, but as individuals. Salvation is given to individuals. And eternal life, which is the specific name of salvation beyond the resurrection, is given to individuals. And we do not need to wait for the experience of the Judgment day for this certainty. We say, in the explanation of the Third Article, I believe that God will give unto me, and all believers in Christ, eternal life. It is fanaticism to be certain of something for which we have no Divine promise. It is distrust of God not to be certain of that which He has clearly promised. If one condition is met we can be absolutely certain of this greatest of all blessings. If Christ is our Saviour then eternal life is certain. “I give unto my sheep eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand” (John 10:28). We are kept by the power of God. Indeed, those who believe in Christ now have working in them the active principle the consummation of which is perfected eternal life. “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life” (John 3:36).

Our explanation of each of the three articles of the Creed ends with this sentence, “This is most certainly true.” Is this your individual confession? Then with what calmness we should bear our temporary ills; with what courage and strength we should take up the duties of life. Let us keep our eyes on the glory that is set before us.

3. Where?

A word yet as to the place where this life eternal is to be spent.

Eternity is to be spent by God’s children in heaven. Much has been said of this place which is nothing but speculation. We are not going to speculate. The Scriptures generally speak of heaven as above. This is very appropriate. Everything beautiful, pure, noble we speak of as exalted. But the locality is not given. And, for my part, I am not much concerned about the locality. Knowing what I do about its character, I am content for the locality of heaven to come as a discovery. There is plenty of room in infinite space for heaven.

One erroneous idea we need to guard against. Heaven is not merely a condition. It is a place. We are not going to be eternal wanderers. Man wants a home, and he is going to have it. Jesus said, I go to prepare a place for you, that where I am there ye may be also. He tells us again that when He comes for us to take us home, He is going to come visibly, that every eye shall see Him. And unquestionably, in the light of the evidence, we shall continue to see Him. He is going to be visibly present with his people.

To the children of God some fore-gleams and foretastes of heaven are vouchsafed even in this world. Wherever Jesus comes to place His hand in blessing on one of his children’s brow, and breath His word of pardon and peace, there a little corner of heaven has come down to earth. You have walked, may be, in some little garden of delights here below; a garden of flowers, singing birds, and sweet companionships; peace brooded on the perfume-laden air; the rich, red blood of health coursed through your veins; fortune smiled on you; friends were true; and every prospect gladdened. If God was in your heart this was a little vision of heaven. But after all only a glimmering ray of heaven’s light penetrating the leafy forests of human ills to to cheer us on the way; a prophecy of the beauties and blessings awaiting us beyond the river.

“And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away. And I John saw the holy city New Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God Himself shall be with them, and be their God. And one of the seven angels carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descended out of heaven from God. And I saw no temple therein; for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it. And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it; for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof. And the nations of them which are saved shall walk in the light of it, and the kings of the earth do bring their glory and honor into it.”

By God's grace, each week LutheranLibrary.org will present a new message on the basics of the Evangelical Christian Faith. Our guide is the Small Catechism, as expounded by Traditional Pastor Robert Golladay. May this series bless and inspire you.

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Luther's Small Catechism: Series B – The Apostles' Creed

Publication Information

  • Author: “Golladay, Robert Emory”
  • Title: “The Apostles’ Creed”
  • Originally Published: 1917 by Lutheran Book Concern, Columbus, Ohio.
  • Lutheran Library Edition: 2020
  • Copyright: CC BY 4.0

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