Do We Live by Life or by Death

Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? So, every sound tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears evil fruit. A sound tree cannot bear evil fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits.

Not every one who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?” And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.” (Matt. 7:13-23)

In his blog post, Is Your “Justice” Really Just Revenge, Micah Bales indirectly raised a very important question: “Do we live by death or do we live by life?” You can read his post by following the link above, but I want to explore further the implications inherent in this question.

Live-by-death strategies may enable one to make some outward changes; the greater your willpower the larger the change. But in spite of those changes, there remains an unyielding core of death within. Our encounters with that inward death and our inability to produce life are a continual source of frustration. Often someone will try to appease those frustrations with such statements as “The blood of Jesus, shed for us on the cross, has the power to take away the sins of the world.

This has been the approach of much of Christendom throughout history and is exemplified by current Protestant and Catholic theology. I can think of three things wrong with this live-by-death statement. First it leaves the adherent without the necessary power to know and do the will of the Father. Second, the blood Jesus shed on the cross is an historic event that reaches neither forward nor backward through time. And third, the sin of the world, not sins of the world, that Jesus takes away is not what their statement implies. Where mankind is in sin they are in a state of death and are trying to come to life through their own effort. Even Jesus’ death is not a remedy for mankind’s inward deadness. That condition can only be cured by life.

In his Preface to The Scattered Sheep Sought After (Works of Isaac Penington, Vol. I, pp.102-104), Isaac Penington made the following statements:

“My people have committed two great evils; they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.” This was ever and anon the complaint of the Lord concerning Israel…The Lord did delight to beget, nourish, and bring up that people for himself; but they were almost continually revolting from him, and rebelling against him…In plain terms, they got what knowledge they could from him into their own vessels, and then they would set up for themselves, live of themselves, without fresh bubblings-up of life from the spring, from whence their knowledge came…they lived upon such things as once came from the life; but, being separated from the spring, were dead, and nourished but the dead part in them…though their professions were great, and they multiplied prayers, sacrifices, and fasts, and drew nigh to God with their lips, yet their hearts were far from him. They had forsaken the fountain; they drank not of the waters of the spring, of the rock that followed them; but they drank of the waters of their own cisterns. They set up that knowledge of the law for their light which they had hewed out with the tools of their own understanding, without the spirit that wrote it…they drank very zealously of the waters of the law; but they drank it not from the spring, but out of the cisterns which themselves had hewed.

…The Christian Israel hath been always backsliding…still getting what they could from him to live of themselves, but refusing to live on him: getting what knowledge they could from the scriptures without him; getting what they could from their exercises and experiences; but neglecting the spring of their life…For though they speak great words of their God; yet they themselves are but as the heathen…unacquainted with the virtue and power of life like them; always striving against sin in that which cannot conquer…

…how hath the spirit of the Lord mourned after his people, often reproving them for their backslidings! but they have been…justifying themselves, and complaining against the witnesses of God…who from the Lord testify against them. And it cannot be otherwise; for the dead waters in Israel’s hewn cisterns will never agree with the waters of the living fountain, but will withstand their testimony.[emphasis added]

When the scripture speaks of the blood of Christ, the reference is to his life. The resurrection, the triumph of Jesus’ life over death, is the death shattering event that does reach throughout history. This life is being poured out and is available continually, bubbling up like springs of living water. Jesus told his disciples,

The flesh profits nothing, it is the spirit that gives life. The words I am speaking/have spoken to you, these are spirit, these are life. (See John 6:63)

So, what must we do? We must come to hear and follow this voice, speaking life within us, if we are to escape that unyielding core of death within. The writer of the book of John stated: “In the beginning was the Word…In him was life and the life was the light of men.” (John 1:1,4) This is the narrow gate, to live in this light and by the word Jesus speaks to us. It is quite different than reading the Bible and trying to do what it says.

George Fox stated the difference thus:

The Lord had said unto me, ‘If but one man or woman were raised by his power, to stand and live in the same spirit that the prophets and apostles were in who gave forth the scriptures, that man or woman should shake all the country in their profession for ten miles round.’ For people had the scriptures, but were not in the same light, power, and spirit, which those were in who gave forth the scriptures: so they neither knew God, Christ, nor the scriptures aright; nor had they unity one with another, being out of the power and spirit of God. (Works of Fox, Vol. I, p.140)

The early Quakers exemplified live-by-life. Edward Burrough, writing of the rise of the Quakers in the north of England, stated,

And by this light of Christ in us were we led out of all false ways, and false preachings, and from false ministers, and we met together often, and waited upon the Lord in pure silence from our own words, and all men’s words, and hearkened to the voice of the Lord, and felt his word in our hearts, to burn up and beat down all that was contrary to God… (Works of Fox, Vol. 3, p.13)

And when Stephen Crisp decided that it was not possible for him to control his wandering mind during worship, he determined to give up. He rose to leave, whereupon the voice of God thundered within him, “That which is weary must die.” (Crisp’s Works, p. 30)

It is we that must die to the ways of this world, to the ways of self, that we may live by the voice of Christ alone. We must experience the voice of the Lord and feel His word in our hearts burning up and beating down all that is contrary to God. Again quoting from Edward Burrough,

And in all things we found the light which we were enlightened withal, (which is Christ,) to be alone and only sufficient to bring to life and eternal salvation; and that all who did own the light in them which Christ hath enlightened every man withal, they needed no man to teach them, but the Lord was their teacher, by his light in their own consciences, and they received the holy anointing. (Works of Fox, Vol.III, pp. 12-13)

The holy anointing Burrough wrote about is not an outward application of oil, but receiving the gift of Christ’s life within such that they became living beings. No longer was there that unyielding core of death that accused them before the living God.

When we have come to this, we experience within ourselves the Teacher who teaches us the Father’s will, we find within the willingness to receive the power of Christ that enables us to live according to that will. By this process we are remade into the image of God and are set free from the image of the serpent. It is an inward work of God that we must not grow weary of, but wait in the hope that He will bring it to conclusion as we yield to what He requires of us. In that willingness, we will find possible what we had known to be impossible before.

About Ellis Hein

I am a woodturner and the author of The Woodturner's Project Book. I have a life-long interest in the gospel preached by George Fox and the early Quakers. You can see some of my material on that subject at
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