Lay Hold On Eternal life
September 7th, 1958 @ 7:30 PM
LAY HOLD ON ETERNAL LIFE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Timothy 6:1-12
9-7-58 7:30 p.m.
I think while I have been gone somebody put some life in that choir up there. I want to make an observation here. I want to show you how it is true. One of our executive leaders recently made a tour through the Soviet Union and extolling the Soviet Union, as some of these dupes do, they go over there and see what the police want them to see and come back and tell us all kinds of glowing reports about the great garden of Eden they have created over there in that land of servitude and slavery. So one of them said this, “Why, the Baptist church in Moscow is filled to overflowing, crowded, cannot get in.” Great city, you know just one Baptist church, as though that were marvelous. Great city, three, four, five million people, one little church, crowded, and then confess it is true that practically all of them were women and children, “But after all,” this good executive leader said, “the congregation in the churches of America are practically all women and children. Well, I have been very sensitive tonight to your presence here, and I want to show you. The thing may be true most of the congregations of American are women and children, not that that’s bad, but the inference is, a real man is not interested in the gospel and in the Lord and in His church. Now the church that I have been preaching to the last four Sundays, most of the congregation in both services each Lord’s Day were women. Now I want to show you something. All of the men and boys in this congregation, I want you to stand straight up high tonight. All the men and boys, in this congregation, now I want you to stay standing up, and I want you to look around; you have a tremendous proportion of this audience here tonight who are men and boys. And that is no small strength of the testimony of the Lord in this holy place. Now thank you, and let us turn to the Book.
First Timothy 6, and we read the first twelve verses, and the text is verse 12: 1 Timothy 6. The last Sunday night that I preached here, we preached through the conclusion of the fifth chapter of 1 Timothy [1 Timothy 5:1-25]. Now the last chapter of 1Timothy, chapter 6, and we read the first twelve verses. Now we all have it? First Timothy 6:1-12. First Timothy 6, almost the end of your Bible, 1 Timothy 6:1-12. Now let us all read it together:
Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honor, that the name of God and His doctrine be not blasphemed.
And they that have believing masters, let them not despise them, because they are brethren; but rather do them service, because they are faithful and beloved, partakers of the benefit. These things teach and exhort.
If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness;
He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings,
Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself.
But godliness with contentment is great gain.
For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.
And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.
But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition.
For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness.
Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses.
[1 Timothy 6:1-12]
And the text is the verse you have just read, “Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life” [1 Timothy 6:12].
Paul’s pen borrows something of the burning fervor and desire of his soul, that he find a worthy successor in this young preacher Timothy. And he writes with that burning pen as he makes this appeal to the young man.
Now, the whole passage that you have read is a sort of preface to this appeal: “Lay hold on eternal life” [1 Timothy 6:12]. He has spoken here in the passage that you have read of three kinds of people who are in that congregation in the city of Ephesus. There are first here, I would call them “social gospelers,” they are political intermeddlers; they feel themselves called to clean out the Augean stables of politics, so they have things to say about servitude, servants under the yoke [1 Timothy 6:1-2]. And they have a great deal to say about social order and social amelioration. I call them “social gospelers.” Practically the entire ministry of America has been swept by those men. It comes down into us: our Sunday school lessons, for example, are very typical of it, trying to build the kingdom of God in this earth by legislation, by political maneuvering, by all kinds of reforms. We’re going to make Sodom and Gomorrah a fine place in which to live.
Paul says to the young man Timothy: “Every man to his own calling, and his own assignment, and his own task, and your calling and your assignment is to lay hold on eternal life” [1 Timothy 6:12]. I could not think a better political mandate than that for any social problem; whether it is civic, in a city; whether it is state or whether it is national. I thought of that so deeply, and to me poignantly, as I walked through some of the parks in Boston. And here and there and yonder, the men that they honor and memorialize are so different from our men in the South. There, those statues, so many of them, are erected to the fanatical abolitionists, so many of whom were preachers back there in the middle of the last century.
And standing there looking at them, I read on those monuments of granite the flaming words that they said, arousing a population to the Civil War! Had it not been for those men, those social intermeddlers, there had never been a Civil War in America. The preaching of the gospel of the Son of God was gradually atrophying servitude and slavery in America. Had they but given them time, there would never have been a bondman in the land of the South, from one side of this oceanic continent to the other, but no, to wait upon God, to believe in the Lord, to trust in the Lord was not the program of those men in New England. So they started crusades, and passed legislation, and worked through the courts, and finally plunged the South into war and drenched the soil of this southern country in our own blood.
I tell you there is nothing in the Book which assigns any minister a prerogative to be the social legislator in any community, or in any government, or among any people. He is to call men to faith in Christ, and any hope that the Word of God ever has for a new social order lies in the power of the preached message of the Son of God! And if we can get our people to Jesus and put in their hearts the faith of the Lord, you’ll have a new man. You’ll have a new home. You’ll have a new society. You’ll have a new government.
But when it comes to the preaching of a social message, you clean up the outside—maybe. You change the periphery—maybe. But you never change people until they are changed in their hearts and in their souls. That is the great ministry of the true pulpit and the true man of God—to address himself to the hearts of the people as Paul makes appeal here, “You leave that question of slavery alone. You leave that question of servitude alone. God will work that out. You lay hold upon eternal life!” [1 Timothy 6:12].
Now, his second group here; he speaks here about the sophists, the metaphysicians who are far more interested in speculation than in revelation. And he speaks of their doting about questions and strifes of words [2 Timothy 6:3-4]. My soul, if Paul could listen to the modern pulpit, how much of preaching is extraneous, peripheral, ornamental? How much of praise is sound and fury? How much of prayer is words? How much of teaching is not Christ? How much of the message is not salvation? However a man says it and however a man preaches it, what does it matter if the people do not lay hold upon God and eternal life? “Lay hold on eternal life” [1 Timothy 6:12].
Then he speaks in this third group here, of these who make godliness gain [2 Timothy 6:5-10]. They put first all of the means of wealth, and achievement, and luxury, food and raiment. “No,” says Paul, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness; and all these other things will be added unto you” [Matthew 6:33]. Don’t strive to be rich as such. If you have a desire to make money, or to be successful, or to build an empire, or to head a great corporation, let the motive be, “By these things can I glorify God. I can do more to help His cause. I can further His name in the earth.” “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil [1 Timothy 6:10]. But thou, O man of God, flee these things. Follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, and meekness… Fight the good fight of faith… Lay hold on eternal life” [1 Timothy 6:10-12].
Now what is eternal life? First, eternal life is a life of God in the soul. We have several lives in this house in which we live. We have an animal life. We share that with all the other of God’s living creation; we have a physical animal life. Then, a man has a reflective life, a contemplative life, a mental life, a cognitive life that lifts him above the plane of the animal [Job 32:8]. Then there is yet another life. That life is as high above the mental contemplative life as the mental life is above the physical life. And that is the life of God in the soul, and that life is a gift of God [Romans 3:23]. No man can create it for himself. Just as in the day of the garden of Eden, the Lord God fashioned a man, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life [Genesis 2:7]. He could not create it, the man. He is a product of the fiat of God [Genesis 5:1-2]. So it is with the life in the soul: a man can’t buy it, you cannot barter carnal things for spiritual rewards; it is something God does for you [Matthew 16:25-27]. You never created your own physical life. You had nothing to do with it. Nor can you create this new life. It is the breath of God in the soul. It comes from Him. There are two great creations. In the beginning, at the start, in Edenic innocence, God created the man in His own image [Genesis 1:27]. Then, in Christ, we who are fallen are re-created in Christ. “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation: old things are gone, everything is new” [2 Corinthians 5:17]. That is the life of God in the soul. It is a gift.
What is eternal life? It is a present possession. You have it now. It commences now. Beyond the grave, there is no open door, no proffer, no invitation. Eternal life is a present possession. We have it now [1 John 5:13]. All of the streets of heaven have their ends right down here close to us. Is there peace with God? We have it now! Is there holiness? We have it now! Is there fellowship? We have it now!
A fellow was asked: “Do you expect to go to heaven?”
He said: “Man, I live in heaven now!”
It is a present, precious possession. “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God” [Romans 5:1]. Peace! Holiness; “There is therefore now no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus” [Romans 8:1]. Communion and fellowship; and our fellowship is with the Father, and with the Son, and with the Holy Spirit [1 John 1:3]. We have it now: “He that believeth on Him hath everlasting life. Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth My words and believeth on Him that sent Me hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed out of death into life” [John 5:24]. Present—he hath got it now, and it never dies! It is unending; it is eternal. The life that we have; an unregenerate man, it shall die; it shall be taken away from him. But the life in God never dies! “I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish” [John 10:28]. And that eternal life is projected into glory. It never perishes, but it grows, and it continues, and finally reaches its incomparably, indescribably glorious consummation on the other side of the river [1 John 3:2].
That eternal life is a new life. It’s a new hope. It’s a new desire. It’s a new interest. It’s a new love. It’s a new commitment. It’s a new world. A man has new eyes to see the invisible. He has new ears to hear the voice of the Lord. He has a new taste; “O taste and see that the Lord is good” [Psalm 34:8]. He has a new ambition. No longer is he consumed with: “What shall I eat? What shall I wear? What shall I drink? Wherewithal shall we be provided for?” But his great commitment now is: “Lord, what wouldst Thou have me to do?” [Acts 9:3-6].
And it continues. It continues. It goes on, and on, and on, beyond the grave. The Lord God is not the God of the dead, but of the living [Matthew 22:32]. And His children can never die! [John 3:16, 10:27-31, 11:25-26]. Eternal life is like a day, it’s in the dawn. It rises to meridian strength. It’s the same day. It’s like a babe. The babe is born. Here is the mature man, but it’s the same life. It’s like a river, beginning so small sometimes, deeper, and broader, and wider, and finally into the expanse, into the expanse of the illimitable sea. So, the man in God never dies. On, and on, and on—and it grows and finally is perfected in glory [1 John 3:2].
What is eternal life, the life of God in a man that can never, never die? How shall I lay hold upon it, lay hold on eternal life? How shall I lay hold upon it? This is how we’re to lay hold upon the life of God in the soul: first, foremost—and the Bible emphasizes it above all things—first, we are to believe that it is. There is such a thing as the life of God in a man’s soul—it’s real! That’s not fantasy. That’s not fancy. That’s not myth or fable or legend. These are not shadows and intangibles. These are great realities. It is! There is such a thing as the life of God in a man’s soul—eternal life! I can believe it. Do you believe, can you, that God can raise a man from the dead? Do you? When Martha spake to the Lord Jesus [John 11:21-22, 24], the Lord replied, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that liveth and believeth in Me shall never, never die. Believest thou this?” [John 11:25-26] And Martha replied, “Lord: I believe” [John 11:27]. That’s it. Do you believe that God can make a new man? Do you believe God can raise you from the tomb? Then you have laid hands upon eternal life! That is the first grasping! I believe! [John 11:27]. And if you can remember some godly mother—she believed it. Can you remember some godly father? He believed it! Can you remember some godly saint? In this moment we tarry, can there pass before your review, some great, good, somebody whom you love and in whom you had confidence and they believed in eternal life?
Man, man, can you believe it? Can you believe it? That’s the first thing. Believe on the Son of God: “Martha, Martha, believest thou this?” [John 11:26] I’m not saying sometimes that’s easy. You look at this context. “Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life” [1 Timothy 6:12]. The Greek of that is an unusual thing. Agōnizō, agōnizō, agōna: You have it, “fight the good fight.” “Agonize the good agony”; that is, the steps of spiritual victory are never easy. You are contested every step of the way. Why, I’ve been a pastor now for thirty years, and there still comes into my heart those awful things that Satan sows down sometimes my mind with, doubts and forebodings: “Could such a thing be true? Am I given to just a wishful fancy, a flightful, intangible, ephemeral, ethereal something? Or do we die after all, just like animals die, and there’s no life of God?” All these things, these things, Satan contests every step of the way. “Fight the good fight of faith” [1 Timothy 6:12].
John said it like this, “This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith” [1 John 5:4]. We’re to believe it; may not understand it; may stagger before the promises; may not see it—but I believe it! And so help me God, here I stand, laying hold on eternal life! You don’t wrestle against flesh and blood [Ephesians 6:12]; if you did, you might seize your enemy and shoot him or cut him down. But you can’t put your hands on those enemies. They are principalities and powers of the darkness of the air, and they assail us in our minds and in our souls [Ephesians 6:12]. And sometimes they nearly destroy us in unbelief, disastrous doubt, and hesitation, and discouragement. We’re to fight the good fight of faith. “This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith” [1 John 5:4]. I believe it, even though I may not be able fully to comprehend or understand it.
To be able to fight a spiritual warfare, you have to be like Achilles, who was dipped in the River Styx, that he might be invulnerable when he went forth to the war against the fiery darts of the enemy. So it is with us: we have to be bathed in the presence and the power of the Spirit of God [Titus 3:5], lest the fiery darts of the wicked one destroy us [Ephesians 6:16]. But we’re to go forth in the name of the Lord, in the faith of the Lord, fighting the good fight of faith [1 Timothy 6:12]—for faith, by faith, “I believe it!” That’s the first step of laying hold upon eternal life: I accept it [John 1:12]. I believe it [John 11:25-27]. There is such a thing—I know it!
Now, the next thing is—having believed it, “I do believe it. There is such a thing”—the next step is to appropriate it, to take it, accept it [John 1:12]. The great preacher Chalmers one time said, “I could not describe the gospel message in a more simple way than this; it is on the one hand Somebody offering; it is on the other hand, somebody taking.”
The Lord God offers eternal life [John 3:16, 10:27-30, 11:25-26], and the man who will take it, can have it, all for the asking. Take Christ! Take Him! Take Him as your substitute; take Him as your Savior; take Him as the One who bore the penalty of your sins [Romans 5:8; 2 Corinthians 5:21], and died for you on the tree [1 Peter 2:24]. Take Him! [Acts 16:31]. Take the Lord Jesus, as you would seize a rope when you were drowning; take Him as you face an ultimate death and dissolution. Take Christ and let Him see you through; let Him be for you Advocate, and Savior, and resurrection from the dead [John 11:25]. Take Christ! Whatever else it is you cling to, let it go! Take Christ! Are you clinging to doubts? Let them go! Are you clinging to selfish, noble appraisement? Let it go! Are you depending upon good works and merit? [Ephesians 2:8-9]. Let them go! What is it you depend on for eternal life? Turn it loose! Let it go—take Christ instead. Take Him! How many times do you see men who are destroyed by the things that they have? Let them go and take Christ!
When I was speaking at the Baptist seminary in Torreon, Old Mexico, in the hotel room there by myself, I picked up a book, and it was the story of General Cortez and his conquest of Montezuma and Mexico City. And in the story—which was so dramatic—in the story, these Spanish conquistadors had seized the palace of Montezuma and had ladened themselves down with gold. And when they were attacked by the Indians, they were overwhelmed by the Aztecs. And those Spanish soldiers sought to escape with Cortez; but the palace was surrounded by moats. And the whole city was interlined with canals. And the history book said, that when those Spanish soldiers sought to cross over the moats, and through the canals, that they sank and drowned because they had rather cling to that gold and die than to give it up and be saved!
And the history book said that had Cortez been assailed after that by the Indians, he would have been overwhelmed and nobody would ever heard about him. But the Indians had a false god and a false religion, and they had to attack when the times were propitious and the gods were pacified. The day of opportunity passed, and Cortez recruited new men and overwhelmed the city. But I thought, isn’t that typical of men? Isn’t that typical of men? Hanging on to something other than Christ; is it money? Is it wealth? Is it merit? Is it good work? Is it doubt? Is it philosophy? Is it speculation? What it is that keeps you from Christ? Man, give it up! Give it up! Take hold on eternal life.
I must haste to close this. “Lay hold on eternal life” [1 Timothy 6:12]—how do you do it? How do you do it? Fellow, put yourself in the way of it! “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” [Romans 10:17]. This is eternal life, that they might know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent” [John 17:3]. Exercise yourself in it. “O man of God, follow righteousness and godliness, faith, love, patience, and meekness. Lay hold on eternal life” [1 Timothy 6:11-12]. Man, it’s for you, and for you, and for you.
I close. We sing the song, and while we sing the song and make this appeal, taking hold of the Lord by faith, would you come? [Romans 10:9-13]. Would you make it now? In this throng, in the balcony round, down these stairwells at the front and the back, would you come tonight? “Tonight I lay hold upon Christ. I will commit my life in faith and trust to Him” [Ephesians 2:8-9]. Would you come, make it now? And on this lower floor of this great throng of people, “I believe in Jesus. I may not be able to understand it. I may be tossed with doubts and fears without and within, but I commit my life to Him just the same. Whatever it is that keeps me away, I give it up, and I come to Jesus. I lay hold by faith upon Him, and here I come. Here I am. And here I stand.” Is there a family you, to come into the church? Is there one somebody you to give his heart in answer to the appeal of Christ? However God would say the word and open the door, would you come and make it now, while we stand and while we sing?