The Three Who are Witnessing: "The Spirit, and the water, and the blood."

1 John 5:6-21

J. N. Darby.

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In the preceding verses the question between God and the world is brought to an issue; for the Son of God having been seen in the world, and in the world and by the world crucified - thus putting the world to the test - God could do nothing in the world in the hope of finding good in it, after it had crucified His Son. Jesus had to say, "O righteous Father, the world hath not known thee." Having hung God's Son on the cross, it is plain that this act cut the world off from all possible association with God, and thus the world has become a thing to be overcome by the saint, as the apostle says (v. 5), "Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?" But he then adds, "This is he that came by water and blood."

That is, he now presents the character and value of the cross, "He came by water and blood." The water and the blood are as a witness on God's part, or the testimony that God gives; for it should be observed that the words, "witness," "record," and "testimony," are all the same word in the original.

You may remark here, that "This is the witness, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son." This is the thing witnessed. This is the record (or testimony) that God has given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. It is not in the first Adam, but in His Son; not in man, nor by his works, nor by any means whatever, but it is God's gift. "He hath given," and though we possess the life, it is not properly and intrinsically in us, but IN HIS SON. When we are quickened, the life is not looked at as in us; for Christ says, "Because I live, ye shall live also." It is therefore immutable. If Christ's life, indeed, can in any way be annulled or set aside, then can the life in us be so likewise, and not otherwise. If Christ can die, so can we; but if death has no more dominion over Him, no more has it over us. And this it is that gives the amazing value and most blessed character of this life, namely, that its spring and source is in Christ. It is given to the Son to have life in Himself; John 5:26. And thus He becomes, through grace, our life. For example, my finger has life, my natural life, flowing through it; but the seat of life is not there. My finger may be cut off, though I am not here supposing that a member of Christ can be cut off (which is impossible); but if my finger be cut off, the life still remains in my body, the seat of life not being in my finger. My finger was as much alive as the rest of my body, but the seat of life was not there. The seat of life is in Christ. "Our life is hid with Christ in God." Hence all the character of the life and all the communion flows from the blessed truth - "in his Son." The character of this life is nearness to God. Christ Himself is my life. It is of the last importance for the strength and comfort of our souls, and for all blessed delight in God, clearly to understand what our life is; for our thoughts on regeneration are necessarily altogether imperfect until we apprehend that it is a real life which we have, a life associating us with God's Son, a life not possessed before, and in virtue of which we get communion with the Father, who has given us eternal life - not in us, but "in his Son."

295 We get brought out in various testimonies what Christ is to us, as in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, where the apostle, speaking of the offscouring of the earth, says, "Such were some of you, but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God." And so here we get a corresponding testimony brought out in these three witnesses, the water, the blood, and the Spirit.

In John 19:34 it is recorded that "one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water." The blood and the water flowed from a dead Christ. Hence we see how manifestly the link between the natural man and God is broken, and broken for ever! For "in that he died, he died unto sin once." All that Christ could have blessed in nature is now entirely and for ever gone; and if there is to be any blessing now, it must be in a new nature, and through a dead Christ; as also all connection and association with God. Expiation, purity, life, can alone be had through a dead Christ. It is a dead Christ that must purify me if I am to be purified; for it was from a dead Christ that the water (the symbol of cleansing) flowed. Until the death of Christ, God was dealing with nature, to see (or rather to teach us, for He knew what it was) if any good thing could come out of nature. But the cross proved - God's rejected Son proved - that it was not possible that any good thing could come out of nature. Man is not merely a sinner driven out of paradise, as we know Adam was; but man's state now results not only from his being turned out of God's presence because of sin, but from the will and energy of his evil nature, which has cast God out of His own world.

296 The cross shews that man's nature is utterly incapable of being acted on by any motive whatever which could set it right. This is very humbling, yet very blessed. Heaven will not do; earth will not do; the law will not do. I have yet one thing in heaven - My beloved Son: I will send Him. It may be they will reverence Him when they see Him. But no. The determination of man's will is to have the world without God. This is what man wants. He will not have God in any sense. Here it is brought to a climax; and the very worst display of Christendom will be just this. If any of you should be seeking pleasure in the world, you know you do not want to find God there; for if you did, it would upset it all. Thus are you saying in spirit, "Let us kill the heir, and the inheritance shall be ours." You may not have lifted up your hand to slay God's Son, but you have turned Him out of your heart. Man's great abilities will be much more developed in the day that is just approaching than they have ever yet been, in trying to make the world go on thoroughly well without God. When was there ever a time when everything was going on so well, as men speak, such unity among nations as now, or such drawing out of resources? The cry is, "Peace, peace," - by the energies and working of man's will without God. Man looks for progress in the philosophy, commerce, politics, and comfort of this world, but still there is in his heart a dread of the consequences of the progress of this self-will. Thus is fulfilled the apparent paradox of Scripture, the cry of peace combined with "men's hearts failing them for fear." Now men would say this is a contradiction, but it is not; for while men are building up commerce and arts and science in the energy of self-will, who is there among them that would undertake to answer for the state of any nation in three years' time, or for even a much shorter period? Man is afraid of the working of self-will in his neighbour, though he likes to exert it in himself. But the Christian has learned that the question as to the world is settled in the rejection of Christ. At that moment it was all over with the world.

297 The question between God and man is settled as to man himself; for not only is man turned out of paradise, but when God's Son came, they crucified Him, and now grace comes in; and the Christian goes outside the world to get, in God's rejected Son, the life which is to be had in Him alone. This is God's record that He has given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. Amidst all this turmoil and trouble where shall I get peace? The moment I see a pierced Christ, I have that which expiates and purifies. All this is not a theory, not a doctrine merely, but a reality; for the moment my conscience begins to work, I find that by nature I am separate from God; that my carnal mind is enmity against God; that it is not only the world that has crucified God's Son, but my sins pierced Him. This is an individual thing, for this is how individual souls are brought into the blessing. When I have real faith in what God's word tells me about my own evil, then the question arises, What am I to do? All that which makes me a mere moral man declares that I could have nothing to do with God; but through a pierced Christ I have three witnesses that I can have to do with God. The highest act of insolence that it was possible for man to do against God brought out the very thing that put guilt away, even the blood and water flowing from Christ's pierced side. Suppose it was but yesterday that I wielded the spear against Jesus, the very act that brought out my enmity brought that which put it away. I cannot estimate sin aright until I see the water and blood flowing out of the pierced side of Christ, putting it away. But then I must be brought to the consciousness that I in spirit was there; my enmity to God did it; my sins pierced Him. It was thus God addressed the Jews, telling them that they had killed the heir; that is, their hearts had consented to it. Those Jews whom Peter addressed, saying, "Ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain," had not actually murdered the Prince of life. They had not held the spear any more than you did; but in the same spirit they refused Christ a place in their hearts; and it is thus God deals with the world. His question with the world is, "What have you done with my Son?" As with Cain, "Where is Abel thy brother?" And the only answer they can give is, "We have slain him."

The moment the Messiah was rejected, that moment all title to the promises was lost to the Jews. All hope of salvation - everything is now gone from them as a people; and now, if they would get blessing, they must come in as sinners, and have their sins put away by the blood that flowed from the pierced side of their Messiah. Now then, as all title on the part of man to anything is gone, God is giving eternal life. God must direct the heart away from itself (except to the sense of its sinfulness) to Christ. Have I estimated my own sin as the murderer of Christ? Well, the blood has put the sin away; for the blood has cleansed the man who held the spear that pierced His side. We are nothing but sin; well, Christ was made sin for us, and through a dead Christ we get the blood as a witness that our sins are all put away; the blood being a witness of the perfect expiation of all sin. Christ "hath put away sin by the sacrifice of himself." Here, however, it is not looking at the part man took in it, but at what Christ came into the world for, and which He accomplished.

298 There is, however, the water as well as the blood, and what is that? The water cleanses as the blood expiates: "that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word." While the blood expiates, the water cleanses. The water bears witness to the same life-giving power. "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." The Spirit of God is the source of life and the power of the word, and gives life. Practically the word is the instrument, the incorruptible seed; and it is also a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart; and it is that by which God's thoughts are communicated to us. And it is out of the pierced side of Christ that these testimonies of God flow, thus writing death upon every production of nature. For it is not a modifying of the nature which now exists that the cross brings in, but the counting everything outside Christ to be dead, as there is not a thought, lust, or desire about the world upon which Christ does not write death; and thus it is that we get altogether new affections, "dead unto sin, but alive unto God," through the life in His Son. And the real character of purifying is this writing death upon everything that flows not from a pierced Christ. The water is the purification, but the purification is through a dead Christ. Christ all His life through was the pattern in man of what man ought to be; but our participating in this could only be by the cleansing of His death.

But there is a third thing - we have not only the blood which expiates, and the water which purifies, through which we are dead to sin, but He has obtained for us the Spirit, the presence of the Holy Ghost, as the power of the word. It may, perhaps, be objected, I do not find myself thus dead to sin and purified. But you have a hatred to sin, which is a proof of your having died to it. And "In that Christ died, he died unto sin once, so likewise RECKON ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin"; for God ever treats us according to what He has really given us, treating us as though we had realised it all. So in John, the Lord says, "and whither I go ye know, and the way ye know." Now they did know HIM who was truly the way to the Father, yet Thomas objected and said, "We know not the way," because they had never realised it. The instant I believe in Jesus, I am called on to reckon myself dead. I am never told to die, but I am told to mortify my members that are upon the earth. But I am never told to die. A man under the law will be trying to die with all his might, but he will never succeed. A Christian is dead, and his life is hid with Christ in God, and therefore he mortifies his members which are upon the earth, as living in the power of the life he has in the Son of God.

299 Observe, he does not speak of our life being on the earth, for that is above with Christ in God; therefore he treats us as dead, but our members which are upon the earth we are to mortify. He never tells us to kill ourselves, but faith takes God's testimony as true, therefore I say I am dead, and because I am dead, I have to mortify my members, being as dead to the earth as Christ was, for I have God telling me that I am dead through believing. This is most practical as to peace of soul, for the moment I believe in Christ, I am delivered from all these things. I am not seeking to die, for I have the secret of power, and count myself dead. There is a practical difficulty as to the water, for how can I say I am washed, if I still find myself to be dirty? But I can say I am dead with Christ, for I shall never succeed in killing myself. The moment that I believe in Christ, all that He has done as a Saviour is mine, and God appropriates and applies it to me. I may have failed to realise it, but the treasure is put into my possession.

Some souls often say, I believe all the value and efficacy of Christ's work, but I cannot apply it. And who asks you to do so? It is God who applies it, and He has applied it to you, if you believe in its value and efficacy. The moment we believe in Christ we have the Holy Ghost as bearing witness, "He shall take of mine and shew it unto you." Just as the Son came down to do God's will, and then ascended up again into heaven, so, at the Son's ascension, the Holy Ghost came down as a Person on the earth; for the Holy Ghost is always spoken of as being now on earth, and it is this which gives the true and peculiar character of the church of God. And here we get the third witness in the Spirit of truth coming down to earth. The moment I believe, I am scaled with that Holy Spirit of promise. All that I can produce of God's good fruits as a Christian is in consequence of being sealed by the Holy Ghost. Redemption being perfectly accomplished, then the Holy Ghost comes down in Person, so that the position of the church on earth is between these two things, the redemption made, and the glory in prospect, as the Holy Ghost comes down between the church's redemption and the church's glory.

300 The knowledge of being dead with Christ gives me a pure heart as being myself dead to nature, sin, the world, and law. By the blood I get perfect peace and a good conscience; and then the Holy Ghost comes down from God; thus we have perfect peace with God, having God's own witness. Well, then, I have left the whole scene; I have done with nature altogether; my sins are all gone, the blood has put them away, and I am now dead unto sin and alive unto God. The cross, the wounds of Christ, are the door by which I entered, and the presence of the Holy Ghost is the power by which I enjoy the fruits of it. As we have seen, the witnesses of God on the earth are three - the Spirit, the water, and the blood, and these three agree in one; "for this is the witness of God which he hath testified of his Son."

The heart is constantly looking for God to give it a testimony about itself; but God is giving a testimony about His Son, and not about what we are; if God were to give a testimony about us, it must be about our sin and unbelief of heart. But no; and it is of great importance in this day of infidelity to see that if God gives a testimony, it is about His Son, and what He is to the sinner. If you believe that, you will get peace.

If I am going about to get a standing before God on the ground of my holiness, this would be self-righteousness, and of course I shall not get a witness from God as to that. But if my soul takes its stand with God, on the testimony God has given to His Son, then I get the witness in myself: when I have got this faith, I have got the thing in my own soul. For instance, look at Paul before Agrippa: "I would to God that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were both almost and altogether such as I am, except these bonds." He was so thoroughly conscious that the Christ in his soul was the Christ in heaven, and he was so happy in this consciousness, that he wished the whole company were like himself (except the bonds), having Christ, and a well of water springing up within. That which makes heaven to be a heaven to the saint is just this, that he finds the same Christ in heaven that he has in his own soul; and all the subtleties of infidelity cannot touch the soul that possesses Christ thus within. No reasoning of an infidel can shake my confidence if I am happy in Christ; for if a man came to tell me there was no Christ, when my soul was happy in Him, I should not believe him. There may be no intellectual or logical proof on my part, but there will be, to a certain extent, a moral testimony in the happiness of my soul, and the warmth of my affections being centred in Christ. I have often found how much it tells with men of all conditions to assure them that I am perfectly happy in Christ, and quite sure of going to heaven. Are you so? they say; I only wish I could say it. It would not be a proof to an infidel, his merely seeing you were happy; but it comes home to the heart of man, as there is a craving in man's heart that will never be met till he gets Christ there; for man is never happy without Christ, whatever he may say.

301 "He that believeth not God, hath made him a liar." The sin of men is in making God a liar, when they do not believe the record God has given of His Son; for men do quarrel with you when you tell them you know that you are saved. They say, How can you know that? which is just as much as saying that God is not capable of communicating any blessing to man. It is calling God's wisdom in question, as well as His power, in the testimony of His mercy and grace. This is what I have felt in the great question about the Bible. It is not whether it is the people's right to have the Bible, but it is questioning God's right in giving it. The treason is in keeping away God's message from His servants. It is not merely the servants' right to have the message, but it is God's right in giving it that is called in question, as it is interfering with God's right of communicating His thoughts in His word. Whenever God gives a revelation, man is responsible to receive it. God has given a witness in which He reveals the glory of His Son; and when man calls in question that word, he is disputing with God in the testimony of His grace as to what He is.

302 Who can explain the riddle of this miserable world without Christ? Go into the alleys and lanes of this vast city, and see the woe and degradation even in this best and most civilised of countries, and learn there what sin does. In the drawing-room you may philosophise about it, but it is not in a drawing-room that you will learn what the world is. But when you tell me that it was because of all this sin and wretchedness that God's Son came down into this world to put the sin away, then I can understand it; and God gives eternal life, not life for a moment, or a life we can sin away, as Adam's, but eternal life, which is above and beyond sin altogether; being in His Son, and therefore as near to God as can be. "This life is in his Son," who was ever the subject of His Father's delight; for when down here God could not be silent in His expression of joy, "This is my beloved Son."

And God, in giving me eternal life, has also given me a nature and capacity to enjoy Him for ever. I am brought into an association with God, a relationship to God, and an enjoyment of God, which the angels know not, although holy in their nature, and exalted. We are thus brought near that we might know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge, that ye may be "filled with all the fulness of God."

In what a wondrous place we are set, if we could but be purged, not from gross sins, but from the vanity and earthliness that fills our minds, to enter into all our blessedness, and the association which we have thus with God, the very same which Christ has! He has borne the wrath of God for our sins, that this full cup of blessing might be given to us. In all this God would have simplicity of heart. A man may talk about many things, but knowledge apart from Christ will never do; but if we possess Christ within, Satan can never touch us; and if he comes, he will find Christ there, who has overcome him. It is a sweet and blessed thing, that any saint, though born but yesterday, has all in Christ that I have. And if one says, But I am such a great sinner, well, the blood has put that away, and settled that question for ever.

303 "And this is the confidence we have in him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us." There is a confidence in God that applies itself to all the details of life through which I may be called to pass. This is the confidence we have in Him: His ear being ever open to us, we have what we ask for, when we ask according to God's will. How wondrous is this, that God's ear is ever open to us, for surely we should not desire to ask for anything contrary to His will! "And if we know that he hears us whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him." I am so made to know the love that, if I ask, I shall have. If I am really in earnest to do God's will, to preach the gospel, for instance, and there are hindrances in the way - Satan in the way - I have only to ask, and I have all God's power at my disposal, His ear being open to me. If you know what conflict and difficulty are, what a blessing is this, to have God's ear open to you, and to know, if you are doing God's will, you will always succeed in doing His will.

"There is a sin unto death, I do not say ye shall pray for it." Temporal death is here intended as chastening in the way of God's government. "There is a sin not unto death." And if there be real intercession, God will forgive us; James 5:14, 15. If you ask me what the sin unto death is, it may be. any sin; it may be the telling of a lie, as in the case of Ananias and Sapphira. (Peter does not pray for them.) See also the case of Stephen, when he said, "Lay not this sin to their charge." And in Corinthians, "For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep." The horribly confused state of the church causes the government to be kept more in the hands of God; and from the saints' incompetency to walk in the power of the Spirit, they are necessarily more thrown on the Lord, whose faithfulness to us will not allow our sins to go unjudged. "He withdraweth not his eye from the righteous."

May we be so walking in the power of holiness, that we may not be struggling with sin under His correcting hand; may we be walking in full communion with His grace! Amen.