“This is he that came through water and blood, Jesus Christ; not by (or, in the power of) the water only but by the water and the blood; and it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is the truth. Because three are those that bear witness, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood; and the three agree in one. If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater; because this is the witness of God which he hath witnessed concerning his Son. He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself; he that believeth not God hath made him a liar, because he hath not believed in the witness which God hath witnessed concerning his Son. And this is the witness that God gave to us life eternal, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.”
The verses last before us in the beginning of this chapter indicate both those whom we are to love according to God, and that this love is inseparable from obedience. Divine love in the Christian cannot be without obeying God’s commands. It is not so with natural affection, as this too is entirely independent of obedience. Christian love is the spiritual activity of the new man, and as it goes out to all that are God’s children because they are His, it cannot go out to any apart from subjection to God’s will. Love must take a different shape if dealing with the disobedience of such as are bound to obey God. In every case divine love and divine obedience are supposed to be inseparable in the believer.
Then we learn that there is a present enemy against us in both respects, an enemy which children of God are apt to overlook in its insidious character. The youngest have reason to feel that what is called in scripture “the flesh” is a source of hateful and selfish evil, though alas it is easier to detect its uncomeliness in another than in oneself. Indeed it is part of its deceivable working that we are as quick to discern (if not imagine) its offensiveness in another as we are slow thoroughly to judge it in our own case.
But the world is often a subtler snare. It has its own code of decorum, while it offers many an object which is pleasant to human nature, and to many real Christians; its religion (the worst part of it in God’s sight) has powerful attraction. The world therefore is a far more dangerous enemy than the flesh. An outbreak of the flesh is not only disreputable but humbling and a distress before God, even to a comparatively small measure of spirituality. But the world to a large extent seems respectable, and consequently, where not a saint would fail to discover the ordinary works of the flesh, most are apt to make excuses for the indulgence of the world. Now the world is the direct enemy of the Father, so much so that the love of the Father as such can never have power or be enjoyed where the spirit of the world prevails. It has often been remarked and is evidently true, that in Scripture as the world is opposed to the Father, so the flesh is to the Spirit, and the devil to the Son of God. But opposition of and in this triple evil to the Trinity Satan works for mischief through the world and the flesh; and we have the comfort that God the Father works for good through the Lord Jesus by the Spirit. We may distinguish the different forms of evil, but in fact they often coalesce in practice, and so also it is in the working of the Godhead; and greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world.
This brings before its the testimony of God in the world, which appeals to man and forms His own family. It is therefore through faith in the word which reveals Jesus the Son of God. It is not a matter of reasoning nor of affection, any more than through a rite applied by a special class of men. It is through God’s testimony dealing with the conscience of the sinner, purifying the heart by the faith which rests for atonement on the sacrificial death of the Lord Jesus. “This is He that came through water and blood, Jesus Christ; not by the water only, but by the water and the blood.” For God gives special witnesses in order to act on man under the pressure of uncleanness and guilt, whether believers or unbelievers — unbelievers that they may bow to Him and the truth; believers that they may be purged in conscience, enlarged and strengthened in their faith.
Here then we are led from the person of Christ, which had just been before us, to the work of Christ characterising His person. For His work it is which furnishes the witnesses. God deigns to give us more than sufficient testimony. Two witnesses were required in the things of man with man, two sufficed, three better still. Here God provides fully. He presents to man three witnesses of the greatest conceivable weight for leading into the truth. “This is He that came,” neither by human birth, might, or wisdom, nor yet by divine power or glory. It was not through His incarnation nor through His unequalled ministry. “This is He that came through water and blood, Jesus Christ.” He who was the true God and life eternal came to die as truly as any man, yet as no other could die, He by God made sin to save sinners and wash them, not only purified inwardly but in God’s sight whiter than snow through His blood. Yes He came to die, for His death alone could blot out our sins or glorify God as to sin (John 13:31, 32). The allusion is unquestionably to our Lord on the cross, dead already, pierced by the soldier to make sure of His death, out of whose side flowed blood and water. In the history the blood is that which caught the eye first of course, and so there first named. The water was observed however to flow also. Whoever saw or heard of a fact so extraordinary that blood and water should issue out of the side of a dead man? Yet so they did here.
The Gospel of John (John 19:33-37) had drawn attention to it more than to His most stupendous miracles. “But when they came to Jesus they broke not his legs; but one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and immediately there came out blood and water. And he that hath seen hath witnessed, and his witness is true, and he knoweth that he saith true that ye also may believe.” It was really from the dead Man. God furnished this preternatural sign of a work peculiar to the incarnate Son of God alone; and the Spirit of God thought it so significant for His glory and man’s reconciliation as first to record it signally in the last Gospel, and next to apply it to us in the Epistle before us.
“This is he that came through water and blood.” Adam did not become father of the race till sin entered and death began its work. So our Lord became Head of the new creation when He rose, having borne our sins, the Firstborn of many brethren. Through “death” (not birth, as Puseyites, Irvingites, Rationalists, and other errorists are alike now asserting) He annulled him that had the power of death. Till then the Levitical system with priests, sacrifices and earthly sanctuary had God’s sanction. Then only was the work finished, and Christianity began on the basis of one efficacious offering and a risen Saviour, soon to be glorified in heaven. Hence as Paul, in restating the gospel to the volatile Corinthians, began with Christ dying for our sins according to the Scriptures, so in enforcing God’s testimony the apostle John passes all else by and comes to the Lord’s death for purification and atonement. Here he begins with water, the well-known figure of the cleansing power of the word, as we read among other Scriptures in John 3:5, there the Spirit co-operating, as here “blood” follows. The word of God first deals effectually with souls. God speaks to our conscience thereby, and brings us in guilty. His word, never tradition or any rhetoric of man, proves us deaf, stubborn, sin-defiled in His sight. But how precious it is henceforth, so to speak, as flowing from Him thus!
Consequently the washing of water is from the riven side of Him that died for sinners. This enhances its force immensely. So before He died the Lord laid down, “He that is bathed (i.e., washed all over) needeth not save to wash his feet.” The person receives but one bathing; the feet need to be washed throughout the earthly pilgrimage. Christ’s advocacy is what really meets the daily failures, not the Lord’s Supper (a profane as well as an ignorant misuse of it); and the Holy Spirit applies His word on the ground of His death, whenever the need arises; but there is once only for the Christian “the washing of regeneration.” Nothing but the death of Christ gives us clearance from sin. We may indeed feel and hate the sin, and judge ourselves because of it; but there is no clearance of the soul apart from Christ’s death. “This is he that came,” etc. Such is the grand truth that was before God in Christ’s death. And Christ is here summed up for the testimony of God in His death. How deep the truth! How incomparable the grace which could so speak to us!
But it is not only true that this is the purifying power brought to bear on us from the threshold of Christianity; His death was as absolutely needed on God’s side as on ours. Here of course it was not for cleansing but for expiation. Sin had dislocated and thrown all here below into a moral chaos. The cross established divine order for ever. Without it how could love and light, grace and truth work together? How could love bring to heaven the sinner whom light disclosed to be only fit for hell? If grace pleaded for mercy, what could gainsay the truth that he is a heartless ungodly enemy? In the cross God’s nature and attributes find perfect vindication and harmony. There God is glorified in the Son of man; and it is His righteousness thereby to justify the merest, yea the worst, sinner who truly believes in the Lord Jesus.
Hence it is that He came through “blood,” and it is added, “not by water only, but by water and blood.” God’s majesty, His authority, His word, His holiness, His righteousness, no less than His love, were all concerned. But now in the death of the Son of man all are harmonised and glorified in absolute perfection, as could be in no other way; and if God there rests in everlasting delight, He is working by the Holy Spirit sent forth from heaven to reveal it by His word to all that receive Christ, and His word by faith.
But what did the Lord’s having come (for it was the end of His earthly life) by the water and the blood tell concerning man? The awful truth that man was so utterly bad that even a living and divine Blesser, who deigned to become man in His love to man, did not and could not draw man out of his evil and enmity. It must be a dying Saviour. “Ye will not come to me that ye might have life” (John 5:40); “Except the corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone” (John 12:24) 1, if I be lifted out of the earth, will draw all to me” (John 12:32). Christ’s death is the overwhelming proof of man’s moral death, and now is by grace the basis of the best blessings of God. How it demonstrates that the law of God could only condemn man! It no less proves the total ruin of human nature in every class. Though all the fulness of the Godhead dwelt in Jesus bodily, even it could not deliver man from his sins short of Christ’s death, who thereon risen is the fulness and pattern of the new and heavenly estate of man according to divine counsels of grace.
It is not easy to render adequately the two prepositions in ver. 6, which are nevertheless alike rendered “by” in the Authorised Version. For the first used once (
διὰ) is here given “through,” in order to distinguish it from the second (
ἐν) which has a stronger force expressed fully by “in the power of,” but perhaps sufficiently as “by.” The first, looking symbolically at water and blood as the means of meeting man’s extremity, conveys that the Lord Jesus came to make this good for the believer’s deliverance from defilement and from guilt. In the next and emphatic clause “in” is employed, which here as often would mean “in the power of,” and hence “not in the power of the water only, but in the power of the water and the blood.” So lost was man that Christ come on his behalf, though God and man in one person, was unavailing through anything but death to purify and atone. And so did He in fact come in or by His death in this full power. There was His death infinitely efficacious in itself for the foulest and guiltiest of sinners, even if not a soul had believed. But God’s grace would and did work, so that there should be faith in Him, and hence “by the water and the blood.”
But there is another addition of great moment. “And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is the truth.” All know that the Lord Jesus speaks of Himself as “the truth.” How then is the Spirit also called the truth, though God the Father never is? The word, as the written or verbal answer to Christ, is also so designated, which we can readily understand, the word which the Holy Spirit employs for glorifying Christ to and in His own. But the difference seems to lie in this, that Jesus the Son is the truth objectively before us, the Spirit as the power that works inwardly in the saint to realise and enjoy Christ. Two deep wants must be met in order to be blessed of God. The truth we need from God for conscience, heart and mind; and it is given fully and perfectly in our Lord Jesus, the truth objectively. But there is “sin” in the old nature which resists what condemns; and even when a man is begotten of God, vigilance against its working out is always necessary here below. How is this met? By the Spirit of God, who is therefore the truth as the inward power for bringing home and applying the truth which is found in Christ outside. The Holy Spirit makes the object of faith received and intrinsically prized. He is the appropriating energy to the new man, life in Christ. In this which is a very needed and real thing He too is the truth inwardly, though we cannot quite correctly say subjectively. In simple English, we look on the Lord as set before the eye of faith; and the Spirit is the power within our hearts. As the truth is the revelation of every one and every thing as they are, we can understand why the Son and the Holy Spirit can alike be called the truth, but neither God as such, nor the Father, because in neither is the revealer, though by the Son and the Spirit fully revealed.
If you listen to theology (that is, the attempt to make revealed truth a “science,” as rationalists and ritualists love to do to God’s dishonour and to their own grievous loss), they talk of God as the truth. I remember, years ago, meeting a celebrated but sceptic foreigner of the Romantic school who, though to me he discarded the Voltaires and the Rousseaus, laid his main stress on God being the truth. To a mutual friend he tersely if not reverently reported the difference, in that he saw God for himself, I only “through the spectacles of Jesus Christ.” Yes, he deceived himself that he saw or knew Him in any real way. God in Himself is entirely above creature ken. Man requires a mediator who is man no less than God, in order that we should be enabled by the Spirit to know Him. Thus only can truth be known. God as such is not the revelation of God (nor man’s conscience, nor his reason), but Christ as object, and the Spirit as the inner power for the new nature. How is God revealed? In Christ. Christ is the Revealer outwardly, as the Spirit works inwardly, and the word is the revelation of God or the truth. Christ might be before us every moment of our life, and we no better for it, unless the Holy Spirit co-operated with the word in enabling us to receive it by faith and thenceforward in the new life.
But the apostle had more to say in his few but pregnant words. “For three are those that bear witness: the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and the three agree in one.” It will be noticed that the order is here reversed. Historically it was the blood, the water, and the Spirit sent from heaven in honour of Christ’s redemption, to give the saints the abiding Paraclete, and to spread the glad tidings universally in God’s power, not in man’s, though working through man. God gives three testifiers, which agree in one testimony; but in spiritual fact the order is, “the Spirit, and the water, and the blood.” Of course, literally speaking, the personal witness is the Holy Ghost, and He too is the present living power. The water and the blood are but figuratively called witnesses, and so are personified. But the Holy Spirit is a true person in the Godhead; and one of His special functions, like the Son’s, is to bear witness on earth, He of Christ, as Christ of God and the Father. “And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is the truth.”
But the text here has suffered, whether by inadvertence or by design. Be it said briefly that from “in heaven” in ver. 7 to “on earth” in ver. 8 is not scripture but an interpolation. It may have been at first a mere marginal note, copied afterwards as the text by men that did not understand the truth. The history of the case has been fully and minutely traced, the result of which is that the same grounds which make the New Testament text certain elsewhere prove this insertion as certainly to be a human accretion. Let me however show that any Christian who does not know one Greek word ought to be satisfied that it is spurious. Such a one requires neither men of learning nor even the fruit of their researches to decide the question for himself. The word of God itself is amply sufficient and perfectly conclusive.
First, what is the meaning of bearing witness “in heaven”? When you weigh the thought, is it not (I will not say unscriptural only, but) rather folly? How could there be such a need or fact as to “bear witness in heaven”? The natural denizens in heaven are angels who never needed witness borne to them. They were elect and holy. In their case witness is superfluous. The fallen angels are irreparably lost, having left their first estate, some delivered to chains of darkness, others as yet allowed, like Satan, to accuse the saints whom they tempt, and to deceive the whole inhabited earth. Neither is witness for them. The spirits of the saints gone to be with Christ, what possible witness can they require?18 It is on earth that witness is needed and is given by God’s grace, because men are steeped in darkness and lack the truth. Pilate only expressed the ignorance of all the world in his question, What is truth? He was otiose, and like most waited not for the sure answer. None could find it exit unless God gave competent witnesses; and here they are, His three witnesses, “The Spirit, the water, and the blood.”
By the way, it may be well to advertise any limited to the English Bible, that the “record” is the same thing as the “witness.” Both mean God’s testimony to man; as in John 5:22, 23, the same word rightly rendered “judgment” appears wrongly as “condemnation” and “damnation.” It is a loss that the word was not, especially in the same context, translated in the same way, because it leads people to fancy there must he some difference, as indicated by two or even three English words. “Three19 are those that bear witness,” but without “on earth,” the last words of the interpolation. These words were unnecessary, because only there does God give His witnesses; and the object is to present the truth to those who do not know it. Thanksgiving and praise characterise heaven, not witnessing. But here, if we receive the witness of God ourselves, the love of Christ constrains us to bear witness to others who are still sinners as we were.
Now let us come to what the Spirit wrote. There is nothing but the truth there.
It has been already shown. how right the order is in verse 6, which puts the Spirit last, because the presence of the Spirit as the divine witness on earth not only followed Christ’s work on the cross, but also is given individually since on the faith of the word of truth, the gospel of our salvation. Consequently the water and the blood preceded, as in fact so in the dealing of grace with the believer. Is it not so that one receives the truth of the gospel? First the word of truth enters through an awakened conscience, and one comes to God as a sinner in the name of the Saviour. Then the blood of Christ is privately presented or publicly preached to him as the perfect sacrifice to meet his case; and, if he submit to God’s righteousness instead of his seeking to establish his own, the Holy Spirit is given as a Spirit of liberty and communion. This last he could not have without resting on the all-cleansing blood of Christ. Thus the order in the soul’s blessing by grace answers to the water, and the blood, and the Spirit, just as in the terms laid down in verse 6. So in the consecration of the sons of Aaron, the priests, first came the washing with water; then the blood of the ram of consecration put on the right ear, on the right thumb, and on the right toe (the organs of reception, of work, and of walk); and in the last place the anointing oil with blood from the altar sprinkled on them and their garments. What believer can fail to see how the type conforms to the New Testament reality in Christians now constituted a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices, the only priests and the only sacrifices in worship on earth now acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.
But we come now to the witnesses looked at in the order not of God’s dealings historically but of the operation in the Christian. individually. Now when we speak of three as bearing witness, the Spirit necessarily comes first, because He it is who not only has His crowning place but makes known in power the water and the blood for the soul’s blessing. That is the reason of the difference in the next verse. “For three are those that bear witness, the Spirit, and the water and the blood, and the three agree in one” — three witnesses, jut for one united testimony. “If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater.” May I recall the divine relief and deliverance these words gave more than sixty years ago to a soul converted but harassed and deeply exercised through sense of sin which clouded his soul’s rest on Jesus? These words chased away all doubt, and made him ashamed to question God’s witness. It became God’s application of the truth to him and no longer his applying it to himself, though not at all doubting the intrinsic worth of Christ’s death for the sinner. It is not my seeing as I ought the efficacy of the blood, but resting by faith on God’s seeing it, and God’s valuing it as it deserves.
What then is God’s witness spoken of in the beginning of verse 9? The answer is, “Because this is the witness of God which he hath witnessed concerning his Son.” The troubled spirit just because no longer dead is intensely anxious for His witness about itself; and this agitation hinders it from hearing God about His Son. But this is the whole matter when one has given up oneself as good for nothing before God, a mere and lost sinner. Christ thus received on God’s witness enables me to have done with myself altogether. What Christ is and has done gives peace. The Lord’s death is the best proof that there is no life in the first man or his race. From Cain to the cross, bad as fallen man is elsewhere, his worst is when he professes religion and makes it his dependence and boast; as from the blood of Abel to the infinitely precious blood of Jesus we learn man’s hatred to the grace and truth of God in Christ. But all becomes clear, though not always at once, to faith. “He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself; he that believeth not God hath made Him a liar, because he hath not believed in the witness which God hath witnessed concerning His Son.” Can any witness be simpler, clearer, stronger than God’s in these few and plain words? Are they not meant for anyone brought to feel his need of such mercy? Oh the unbelief of calling faith presumption! of doubting that one is entitled by God’s word to take Him at His word, to own Him true and faithful in receiving His witness concerning His Son! Can any seek a more thorough proof that man, however religious after the flesh, believes Satan and disbelieves God? Ordinarily nobody would think of doubting a grave man’s witness. Everybody just as ordinarily doubts God’s witness for himself, and runs down the believer as presumptuous if not a hypocrite.
How foolish too to listen to the enemy’s whisper that you are too great a sinner for Christ to save. He came to save the lost: can you be worse than “lost “? What does not “lost” include? Think of the Samaritan; of the sinful woman in a city; of Mary of Magdala: all desperate cases, each different from the other; all saved, and given to know it; and all recorded that you too may believe and be saved. They were each saved “by grace,” God’s grace and not theirs, and “through faith,” not feelings, or love, or service, or sacraments. The apostle thanked God that he had baptised few of the many Corinthians that believed and were baptised. Christ, he said, sent him, the apostle, not to baptise but to preach the gospel. It was in Christ that he begot them through the gospel, not through baptism, excellent for its own end as it is. But baptism never gave life to a single soul; Christ is the life-giver to all who believe, working in each individually by His word and Spirit, as He will judge all who reject Him to their ruin. What will He say to those who mike void His word through a tradition, and in place of believing God, put a rite to give life to His deep dishonour and to magnify their own office, as if they were mediators between the living and the dead? This is the real presumption, not faith which gives God the glory.
Eternal life is in the Son of God, the Second man. Such is the prime doctrine of the Epistle. To this we come round once more after the very striking use made of the blood and water from out of the dead Christ, with the gift of the Holy Spirit given in consequence, to the chief characteristic of the Epistle — eternal life in the Son of God. It is indeed one of the greatest truths in all Scripture, and of capital importance for the saints in our day. We have learnt by experience the mischief done by such as lapsed into undermining or obscuring it, under the vain pretext of new truth, while it was no better than old trash revived, a frequent device of Satan to accomplish his malicious purposes.
Well then, “If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater.” — What is so good, and wise, and sure? what so satisfying as God’s witness? He knows all truth, and as the God of all grace has given His Son both to declare it and to make us capable of receiving it in a new life; and further, after redemption His Spirit is divine power both to enjoy it and make it known to our fellows. Therefore one can understand the weight of such a word as “the witness of God,” greater than all difficulties.
And this triple witness of God is first of death written on all mankind by Him who drank the cup to the dregs, but His death issuing in a life without sin for us, though this for Him was always needless. That eternal life did not require any work for itself. It was our state of sin and death that needed His death for victory over all evil to God’s glory.
“For this is the witness of God [which] he hath witnessed concerning his Son. He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself.” “Ye receive not our witness,” said the Lord to Nicodemus. Man must be born anew; he is incapable otherwise of learning according to God. Faith in God’s word alone leads to being taught of God. The church ought to have been, like the Lord, a faithful and true witness But its state had already become such as to make it untrustworthy. What unfailing comfort then especially for the believer to have the witness, God’s witness “in himself!”
But here, where was absolute need, and where by grace we have “the witness of God,” how barefaced and faithless it is to call any soul to “hear the church”! Nay, the same word of God, which shows what the church was called to be in the world, equally shows that the church was to fall into all sorts of disorder. And remarkable it is in the two Epistles to Timothy that these two views are given: in the first Epistle the church in order, “the pillar and pedestal of the truth”; in the second Epistle, the church in a state of sad disorder. But the church is not the truth which the Christian is bound to hear and receive, though the corporate witness to it, as the Christian is the individual witness. Both the church and the Christian are called to hear as the truth nothing but the authoritative word of God. In 2 Timothy we learn that the Christian profession has become like a great house full of vessels to honour and dishonour. Therefore when the leaven was accepted and enforced instead of being purged out (1 Cor. 5), it became a question of purging oneself out from these radically settled evils, in order to be a vessel unto honour. Yet it is not for isolation, but “with those that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.”
But so far is Scripture from allowing such a claim that we learn from its final book, the Revelation, that each faithful soul is charged to hear, not what the church says, but “what the Spirit saith to the churches,” and this expressly in each of the Lord’s messages to all the seven churches. Can anything be conceived more opposed to the Lord’s mind than such an assumption, as Christendom sinks into ruin?
But whatever be the state of Christendom the word of God remains ever true and applicable to the Christian, “He that believeth . . . hath the witness in himself.” Were the believer in a land where he could enjoy no fellowship with saints, where he had no opportunity to hear a Christian teacher, where he knew of not a single brother in the Lord, the Son of God on whom he believes remains just the same; and he has the witness in himself as surely as if surrounded with every Christian privilege possible on earth. He is not dependent on any one under the sun; he has the Son. How profoundly wise and gracious is this witness on God’s part! For in such a case how many might cry out, What audacious presumption! But “he that believeth hath the witness in himself,” says God Himself. The audacity is in the infidelity which rejects it: “He that believeth not God hath made Him a liar, because he hath not believed the witness which God hath witnessed concerning His Son.” What could be worse than that? It is bad enough to lie about oneself, like a full-blown Brahmin saying that he had not sinned, though it gives the lie to the word. It is worse, not negatively only but positively, to make God a liar, and this every one does who rejects God’s witness to Christ His Son.
“And this is the witness that God hath given to us life eternal; and this life is in His Son” (ver. 11). Can anything be more plain or precise? “God hath given to us,” to every Christian, “life eternal; and this life is in His Son.” Even an infidel, hardened as he is, cannot hear without emotion the calm and bright assurance which this faith and confession impart. He knows his own misery if he thinks at all. The believer’s peace turns wholly on having God’s Son, and life eternal in Him. Some of late have made much of life being said to be “in His Son” and not in us. They seem pleased with the idea, because they draw from it the desired inference that the Christian has not life eternal. Why this should make them happy it is hard to understand without remembering the blinding power of the enemy; and, sad to say, I do not forget when their joy seemed to be in the truth they now deny. Is it not horrible to pervert one Scripture into the contradiction of another? Here it is written that this “life is in His Son;” because the Spirit would comfort the believer with its security independently of himself and every other creature. In the Son is this life, where no evil can reach, no danger approach. It is his joy to know his life, the life eternal, in Him who is not only its unfailing spring but its divine preservative against all the wiles of Satan; and yet more, that he is in fellowship with God the Father, the object of his love and honour more than ever since redemption.
But John 5:24 equally assures us that we have this life, and that God has given it to us here; as a crowd of Scriptures show that with redemption it is essentially ours as the only life which the Spirit finds suitable to work on and in. The natural life may help to explain. Life acts from the crown of the head to the extremity of the fingers and toes. But they are not the seat of life, nor even an arm or a leg, which may be removed without injury to that seat. Only in Christ there is no such loss. There the new life rises far above the natural. Christ is the central seat of life eternal; but even the babes have it most truly, and shall never perish. Our blessedness lies in the certainty that the life is in God’s Son. This maintains it in all the confidence it inspires for every believer; but to turn it into a proof that the believer has not now eternal life is not only to evince personal unbelief but misuse of the word of God.
“He that hath the Son hath the life.” It is inseparable from the Son. None can have the life unless he has the Son, who is the way, the truth, and the life. Not only is He God to give it, but as the glorifier of God, the Son of man who was also the Son of God. And God witnesses it of Him and of none else. The believer honours the Son by believing, and receives life eternal. The unbeliever dishonours Him and rejects the gift of life to his own perdition, but must bow when he is raised for judgment. Could life have been detached from the Son of God, so as to be in us only and not in the Son, it might conceivably be injured or decay; but inasmuch as it is in the Son, it abides holy and imperishable; and so it is that we have it, and know that we have it on His word. Every good work, every right affection, all true service, and acceptable worship, flow from eternal life in the power of the Spirit. It is impossible that the Christian could please the God and Father of the Lord Jesus without the action of life eternal; for now that life is come in the person of the Son of God, the Father too delights in our having this life and repudiates any other; for this life has its joy in knowing, serving, and worshipping the Father and the Son, as led by the Holy Ghost.
But let none forget the other and solemn side. “He that hath not the Son of God hath not life.” If you who read these words be an unbeliever, beware, I beseech you. Why perish everlastingly? Why reject the love of God in giving and sending His Son? Why reject Him who tasted death for you? Yet He never did you anything but good, and what have you ever shown to His name but neglect, dislike, and despite as far as you could? Oh believe what God tells you of His Son. If you believe on Him, you have Him. It is impossible to have the Son of God and not have eternal life; but “he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.” This is no less true than terrible: the unbeliever “shall not see life.” “The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things in his hand. He that believeth on the Son hath life eternal; and he that disobeyeth (or, disbelieveth) the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him” (John 3:35, 36).
Before closing let me remark two things of interest and moment. The first is the care to present life eternal objectively in the Word of life, the Son of God, in the first chapter. The apostle had freely given in the Gospel the Lord as giving life eternal to the believer in John 3, 5, 6, 10; but here he begins with the Word Himself as that life without one hint as yet about its communication to us. Yet it had been known as a truth familiarly before this Epistle was written. There was therefore a blessedly divine purpose to serve by saying not a word here about ourselves receiving, though the writer and the saints knew it already. Here then the aim seems to be to present Him as an object, so that we might delight our souls in Himself as the eternal life in divine being with the Father, and manifested in its perfection when manifested to us here below as Man among men. How immense the loss if there had not been in fact this objective manifestation of eternal life, the peculiar charm through the Gospel of John! So doctrinally there would have been in this Epistle if Christ had not been the starting-point and basis. And it is very gradually that we come to the open treatment of the communication of life eternal to us; in fact, it is only explicitly handled in 1 John 5 before us, the close of its teaching, as its objectivity in Christ was the beginning.
The second point appears also very suggestive. If there be any part of Scripture more than all the rest devoted to unfolding life eternal in Christ, and in those that are His by grace, it surely is the Gospel and the First Epistle of John. Yet Christian baptism is as absent as the Lord’s supper from both. They are occupied with life eternal in all its fulness and power in Jesus the Son of God beyond all other Gospels and Epistles; and more than all they bear witness to its communication to the believer. Yet neither one nor other speaks of that Christian institution to which the declension from the truth in East and West, in ancients and moderns, in Episcopalians and Presbyterians, attributes it. The only shade of difference in Presbyterians from the rest is that their code of doctrine makes the life-giving efficacy of baptism contingent on election, but equally with the rest depending by divine appointment on baptism. The Scotch statement is as distinct as Calvin’s for the Reformed abroad; and of course Luther went as far or farther.
But if Christian baptism be really, as tradition has taught wide and long, the means of quickening souls, how comes it that the Scriptures which are the fullest on life eternal and life-giving never notice it, and dwell exclusively on its being In immediately divine operation by the Spirit’s using the word to reveal Christ to the believer? For it must be said plainly that it is as glaring a mistake to foist baptism into the “water” of John 3:5 as into “the water” of 1 John 5:6, 8. The apostle absolutely leaves institutions to dwell on truth vital and of everlasting consequence, and only alludes passingly to the baptism of the disciples during the days of our Lord’s ministry in John 4:1, 2, with the careful comment that He Himself did not baptise, He, though quickener of the dead. And the baptism before His death and resurrection was so distinct from what He commissioned after He rose, that persons so baptised were baptised in the Christian way even by the great apostle (Acts 19:5), who thanked God that he baptised but few in Corinth, avowed that Christ sent him not to baptise, but to preach the gospel (1 Cor. 1:14, 17), and declared that in Christ Jesus he begot them through the gospel. Christian baptism is really to Christ’s death, as Rom. 6 clearly teaches, and if we believe God’s word; it has nothing to do with the impartation of life to the soul dead in sins.
18 There is another internal proof that the three who bear witness in heaven is human error, and not the revealed truth of God. No inspired man ever wrote, “The Father, the Word.” They are not correlative terms. In scripture we have the “Word” with “God,” and the “Son” with the “Father.” The editors of the Complutensian Polyglot first printed the unauthorised words from some recent MS. of no account, even if not written since printing came into use, and perhaps to authenticate the Latin Vulgate for Romanists use against its old and best MSS. One of the Greek MSS. represents it in such bad Greek as only an ignorant and non-Hellenist can have written, omitting the article where required.
19 It was a blundering idea after all to make six witnesses, three for heaven and three for earth. It supposes the Spirit in heaven answering to the Spirit in earth. It is as awkward to conceive the Holy Spirit an earthly witness also, as to imagine Spirit in the second triad to mean another, as some defenders of the importation contended. But it is needless to say more than that the Codex Ravianus as well as one of the Wolfenbüttel copies (in Berlin), is an evident forgery which Copies the Complutensian Polyglot in its misprints and the peculiar letters. The Codex Regius Neapolitanus (173 in Scholz’ list) confirms the true text, and gives the clause in a correct shape only in the margin. The other two (Cod. Ottob. or Vat. 298, and Cod. Montfort. or Trin. Coll. Dubl. G. 97) grossly omit the article and are otherwise quite in error.