This expression is repeatedly used in the inspired testimony of Jesus, and much has been said and written concerning it, both by those who have evidently been led by the Spirit of God in their contemplation of the subject, and by such as manifested no higher appreciation of the sacredly solemn meaning of the expression than what human science might dare attempt to grasp. But while saints and the angelic host are lost in the effort to speak or comprehend the full glory of the inspired expression, it is all revealed in the experience of those who are led by the Holy Spirit into all truth. Blind, stupid and ignorant as the little children in the redeemed family feel themselves, they have an unction from the Holy One, and they “know all things.” – 1 John ii. 20. This anointing abideth in each of them who have received it of God, and teacheth them of all things; and this is truth, and is no lie. This Spirit is the sure and ever present witness by which the saints are assured of their heavenly birth. It can neither be counterfeited by hypocrisy, nor slain by enmity and persecution. It abideth ever in and with every one of the sheep who hear the life-giving voice of the good Shepherd. In thickest darkness and most bewildering mazes of tormenting doubt this light is never extinguished or destroyed; nay, rather, the more severely tested, the more clearly is its genuineness made apparent, as gold tried in the furnace shines with purer lustre as the fire consumes the intermingled dross. Because the witness of the spirit of Christ within them cannot be comprehended by their carnal mind, those who are led by that spirit are bewildered with anxious doubts of their knowledge of the truth; and conferring with flesh and blood in their efforts to make their assurance clear to their own natural reason, they often feel despondent over the failure of all such efforts. The tempter is ever ready to take advantage of this despondency to sustain his suggestion that their hope is all a delusion, and to try them with doubts of their evidence of a personal interest in the salvation which is of God. In these times of trial they are led to look to themselves for evidences of the work of the Spirit, and to forget that their witness is not on earth, but in heaven, their record is not below, but on high. In vain will any saint appeal to the witness of earthly testimony and search the records of self-righteousness for evidence in support of that hope which rests alone in the perfect righteousness of the risen Savior; hopelessly may he resort to earthly records for the record in which is established his right to all his desire, since his only and all sufficient record is on high, where his name is written in heaven, in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. This record is incontestible; it is older than the material creation, and nothing in time can invalidate its testimony. It is attested by the immutable truth of God, that cannot lie; and it is forever settled in heaven in the eternal purpose and divine Word of God, which can never fail, since that Word liveth and abideth forever. How infinitely superior is this living testimony, in comparison with all evidence which our weak sense could conceive in the righteousness of our own works. The love of God has wisely set this assurance of eternal life beyond the reach of creatures and finite beings, beyond the mutations of time, in “his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began.” – 2 Tim. i. 9. In this application Jesus Christ, the eternal Word of God, is the Book of Life, the Heaven, in which are written all the names of his chosen people, who are of him “in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption; that according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.” – 1 Cor. i. 30, 31. Since Jesus is your righteousness, then, dear trembling one, have you any need for further fear on that ground? Is not he already justified in the Spirit and received up into glory? Your names are written in him as the Book of Life; therefore you may rest in the sweet comfort of perfect confidence that not in yourself, but in the Lord, you have righteousness and strength. “To him shall men come.” What men are these? He has told us, John vi. 37, “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” May not some others come? In the same discourse, at the forty-fourth verse, he authoritatively answers, “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him; and I will raise him up at the last day.” This defines expressly the men specified in the text referred to, who shall come to him; “and all that are incensed against him shall be ashamed. In the Lord shall all the seed of Israel be justified, and shall glory.” – Isa. xiv. 24, 25. Appropriately is he called the Book of Life, since all they, and they only, who are chosen in him, and whose names are written in him, have that eternal life which he alone gives. Well may you glory in him dear afflicted and tempest-tossed trembler.
“Your name from the palms of his hands
Eternity shall not erase;
Engraved in his heart it remains
In marks of indelible grace.”
While in this application of the words under consideration there is no possibility of any failure of any of those whose names are written in this Book of Life to be kept by the power of God (and none less than almighty power could keep them) through faith unto salvation, ready to be revealed in the last time, there is another sense in which the same words are used in the divine record of the Scriptures, to which our attention should be seriously directed in rightly dividing the word of truth. As the hidden mystery of the unsearchable riches of the grace of God in the infinitely glorious display of his mighty power in freely justifying sinners, is for our profit recorded in the finite language of man, it is not strange that the very same words are used sometimes to express a meaning used in other portions of the Scriptures. This fact is so evident that it will not be necessary to cite instances for the satisfaction of those who receive the whole record as the testimony of the one Spirit of truth. So the book of life is referred to in some cases where the meaning is without doubt the record of the living in the organized church, as in order, and prepared to enjoy the fellowship and communion of the saints in practical experience. So Paul admonished the saints beloved of God, at Rome, “If ye live after the flesh, ye shall die; but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.” – Rom. viii. 13. This living depends upon the condition stated. In obedience to the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus the saints experience that joy and peace in the answer of a good conscience toward God, which is life; while in following the dictates of their carnal mind they feel the death to all heavenly joy, which is the wages or just consequence of yielding themselves servants to sin. Yet as their eternal life is Christ Jesus, that life cannot depend upon the contingency of what they may or may not do. That life is assured by the irrevocable gift of the unchanging love of God, by whose gracious hand their names are written in the Book of Life, of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world; and that hand forever sustains and keeps them by his grace in their sojourn in time, and giveth them the victory in the end over all opposition through the perfect redemption that is in Christ Jesus. All such passages as that in Exodus xxxii. 32, and in Revelation iii. 5, and xxii. 19, while allusion is made to blotting out the name, or taking away his part out of the book of life, must be understood in such a sense as does not conflict with the plainly declared immutability of the purpose declared immutability of the purpose of the infinite grace of God. Reverence for divine truth, as written by inspiration of God, causes every one who is led by the Spirit of God to revolt at the thought of construing or understanding the record which God has given as embracing statements or inculcating doctrines which do not perfectly harmonize with each other. Indeed, such a blasphemous deduction would subvert the whole truth of revelation; and the irrestistible conclusion resulting from such a monstrous error would be that all inspiration is false, and even the truth itself must be rejected. But such a fearful conclusion is manifestly false, and all the mistaken grounds from which it is deduced are found in the erroneous application made by blind human reason in attempting to grasp the great truth of the mystery of godliness, which is hidden from the wise and prudent, and revealed unto babes. In the light of the revelation of the Spirit there is no darkness at all in the testimony of Jesus; but to the caviling of finite human reason, the perfect light of the knowledge of the glory of God shining in the face of Jesus Christ is as impenetrable darkness, as was the pillar of fire which guarded the hosts of Israel at the Red Sea to the pursuing army of Egyptians; and all the efforts of will-worshiping idolaters to comprehend this truth, which God has hidden in his own refulgent light, will result to themselves in the same hopeless and irretrievable ruin which overwhelmed the impious hosts of Pharaoh on that terrible night when the arm of the Lord was revealed in burying them in the returning waves of the sea.
All the ransomed of the Lord are written in the covenant of the people, which certainly is none other but Jesus. – Isa. xlii. 6. In the Book of this Everlasting Covenant there can be no blot, no erasure, and no change. To doubt this is to destroy the very foundations on which rests the hope of every saint for salvation. But the enjoyment of that life and assurance of hope, in their experience here in time, is dependent upon their obedience, not to the law of Moses, but to the law of Christ. So it is in reference to this effect of disobedience that the fearful declaration is recorded by the command of Jesus, the Faithful and True Witness, for the admonition of his saints to heed and reverence his testimony. “For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, that are written in this book; and if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.” – Rev. xxii. 18, 19.
Experimentally, the cases of David and Peter illustrate this application of the expression. When David’s transgression was visited upon him he said, “The pains of hell gat hold upon me.” And in his joy over the release from that chastening he said, “Great is thy mercy toward me; and thou hast delivered my soul from the lowest hell.” – Psalm cxvi. 3; lxxxvi. 13. And in his bitter weeping when the Lord looked on him in his denying that he knew Jesus, Peter must have felt his part taken out of the book of life. He could not then feel the sweet assurance of the love of the Lord he had so profanely denied. In the lowest hell of conscious guilt and self-condemnation, David could not sing of that sure Rock in which alone was all his salvation and all his desire. Under these chastenings did not these dear saints realize the fearful fulfillment of the judgment spoken by the Lord? In 2 Cor. v. 11, and Heb. x. 31, the same infliction of this chastening rod is alluded to. And the subjects of God’s grace will find the same illustrated in their personal experience from time to time, unless they are enabled to walk more circumspectly than those referred to; and it is doubtful if one who knows the sinfulness of his own heart can be found ready to claim a higher place in this respect than Job, David or Paul. “Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it.” – Heb. iv. 1. See also Heb. ii. 1-4.
To the natural understanding even of those who are enlightened by the faith of Jesus Christ, the figurative expression, “the book of life,” involves the idea that there is need for a written record literally, to guard against the possibility that some should be forgotten or overlooked in the disposing of the blessings provided in love for the redeemed of the Lord. But this important matter is not dependent upon a lifeless record in a literal book, even though that book were kept in the heaven of the eternal God. Infinite love has not merely so written their names in the eternal record, though all that such a record could secure is so figuratively written by inspiration for the comfort and assurance of the saints in their tribulation in the world; but more than this is revealed. Their right might be thus securely recorded in the archives of heaven, and yet there might be a question as to its being forgotten. So, for their comfort, their gracious Redeemer has given the assurance that they are themselves “kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation, ready to be revealed in the last time.” This is in perfect accordance with the truth which declares our precious Christ to be “the power of God and the wisdom of God.” – 1 Cor. i. 24.
The proclamation of this divine truth is the test which discriminates as a witness between such as are led by the Spirit of God and those who have not that Spirit. While the love of God leads its subjects to depart from iniquity, and to long for conformity to the holy example of the Lord, all who have no love to him find in this precious truth only license to continue in their loved element of sin. “In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil; whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother.” – 1 John iii. 10. As this love is the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. v. 22), it is certain that it is found in none but those in whom the Spirit of God dwells. All whom “are sealed unto the day of redemption.” – Eph. iv. 30. This it is to be “written in the Lamb’s book of life.” – Rev. xxi. 27.
In their personal experience, in disobedience to the law of their Lord, the saints know what it is to have their part, in this sense, taken out of the book of life, and to receive the plagues which are written in this book. An illustration is now at hand in the case of one who writes as follows: “I united with the New School Baptists some years ago, and for a time was satisfied, until the truth was revealed to me. AT times I thought I could not give them up, and yet I could not enjoy their preaching. What I suffered I cannot tell. I had no peace night nor day. I tried to make myself believe that there was no God. At times I longed for death; I even thought of taking my own life; but I was not permitted to do so.”
Was not this receiving the plagues which are written in this book? Yet the same writer says: “At last our dear Redeemer revealed to me the truth, and I was made to see my duty. I went to the church, was received and baptized – the brightest and happiest day of my life.”
Thus, while in rebellion the saints feel shut out from the enjoyment of life in Christ, when they are enabled to walk in obedience they find that “The peace of God which passeth all understanding shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” – Phil. iv. 7.
May the abounding grace of our Lord Jesus Christ so rule in each of his redeemed ones that we may be enabled to obey the inspired exhortation, “But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.” – Jude 20, 21. So shall we experience the joy of those who are written in the book of life.
Elder William L. Beebe,
Middletown, N. Y.,
Editorial – Signs of the Times,
Volume 49, No. 22,
November 15, 1881