“Heard, ... seen, ... handled”

W. J. Lowe, November 1890.
Published: Ealing, A. J. Cowell, 1890 Nov. 1899 2nd edn enlarged.

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled of the Word of life; for the life was manifested...” (1 John 1:1, 2.)

That Christ is our life, no Christian can for a moment question, any more than that He gives life. “The Son quickens whom He will.” He gives His sheep eternal life. He communicates or gives life, but beside that, He is the life. Both are true. He said, “I am the resurrection and the life.”

God, be it remembered, is self-existent. The name He revealed to Moses was “I AM THAT I AM”. (Ex. 3:14). “His name is JAH” (Ps. 68:4). Again, He says, “I AM HE ... I lift up my hands to heaven and say, I live for ever.” (Deut. 33:39, 40). This last passage is all the more remarkable, as its from implies the Speaker to be on earth. The Name of Jesus, as born here below, is Emmanuel, God with us”; so given in Matthew. It belongs to God to say “I AM”; and therefore Christ could say “I AM THE LIFE.” No one who is not “the true God” could be “the eternal life,” But it is written of Jesus, “He is the true God and eternal life.” In this sense deity and life are inseparable; they cannot be dissociated without assailing the glory of His Person. But in saying this, we do not state or imply that in communicating life to us, He communicates deity. No one whose soul is abiding in the truth would or could suppose such a thing. No believer can say, “I am the life”; I cannot have it apart from Him, or I should be an irresponsible self-existent being. Thank God, that can never be. In giving, He does not give “as the world gives”; He does not give away. The recipient is ever dependent upon the gracious Giver, and, being made alive, enjoys the life in communion with Him, who is both Life-giver and Life-sustainer.

When we think or speak of life practically, everyone will own that we do not mean by it merely the fact that we are alive. What is live to a criminal confined in a solitary cell? It is true he is as much alive as if he were free, and in the bosom of his family; but in the practical sense, is his “life” the same? Would he not describe his prison life as a living death? Now as to the Christian it is written, “He that will love life and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile: let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and His ears are open unto their prayers; but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil” (1 Peter 3:10-13).

In a true conception of life, righteousness is as inseparable from it as is the joy of heart which is from God; and besides that, there is relationship with others who have it. All this is dealt with in detail in the 1st Epistle of John. But in the first place, we read “Whose keepeth his word, in him verily the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in Him. He that saith he abideth in Him ought himself also so to walk, even as He walked” (1 John 2:5, 6).

Now the question is, what should I think of when the subject of “life” comes before me? For we own that it is of the mere fact that I am alive; and we are not now speaking of the natural life we have as born into this world, but of spiritual life, or the new life. “God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ” (Eph. 2:5). Our present point is not as to how we get life (Scripture is plain as to this but as to how it is presented to our minds by the Holy Ghost. “Eternal live is God’s gift: it is not earned by law-keeping. (Gal. 3:21). When ‘law’ is treated of, we find the word ‘life’ (Gal. 3:12), but in this connection the Scripture takes care never to say ‘eternal life’; for this is a gift of God: it is Christ Himself.” (JND C.W. 7.) I repeat, then, when I think of “life” practically, what am I to think of if not of Christ? Why is it that there is so much effort now made to turn away the thoughts from Christ to something else, such as our “blessedness”?

Take, for instance, a sentence constantly repeated of late, “Christ is eternal life, but eternal life is not Christ.” Or again, a parallel instituted to deny that eternal life is Christ: it will not hold. It is this: we say “God is love,” but you cannot Love is God. True; that would make an idol called “love.” By inverting the order of the words in the original Greek, “The Light thereof is the Lamb,” the One so known, familiar indeed to every adoring heart. All Scripture speaks of Him; there is no other. Nor is there any difficulty as to the order of the words.

Some, basing their arguments on the folly and ignorance, real or supposed, which has spoken of eternal life as a “title” of the Lord Jesus, endeavour to show its inapplicability, so as to deny by implication that “eternal life” can be spoken of as “Christ.” I need not say that “life”, which is expressive of an essential quality, cannot be a “title.” But how readily, alas, does the enemy succeed in effacing the latter half of John 17:3 from the thoughts of Christians. Present relationship with the Father is implied in the revelation of Himself; but it can only be really known to the soul as set forth in Him who has revealed Him, that is, in Jesus Christ, “whom He has sent, “and who said, “I am ... the life.”

Others, again, will tell you that you cannot say ‘Eternal life is Christ,’ because He is more than Eternal life. This is but a miserable worn-out sophism, confounding what He is Himself with divine attributes, or which relationships into which He may enter in grace, or with His power as a “quickening Spirit.” What is not Christ for my soul? not only for me, or for His people, but for God; and He is God; I worship Him. But the argument as to what you can or cannot say, in cases like these, simply depends upon the subject of the sentence and what is stated or predicated about it; and you must know all about both subject and predicate in order to speak of it correctly. In this, Scripture is the only guide. Mere words are used in different senses. Paul says, in one place, he is “in the flesh,” in another that he is “not in the flesh.” There is no difficulty to a simple reader, for the passage makes clear that “in the flesh” is used literally with the meaning “in the body, alive in the world,” and it is used morally to mean the condition of an unsaved soul.

We need waste no time over the argument as to Christ and eternal life not being “interchangeable expressions:” it has no weight with a serious person; for we know that the term “Eternal life” is used in different connections, and conveys a meaning modified according to the conditions which characterise it in various passages. It is applied to earthly blessing in Ps. 133, and to heavenly in Mark 10:30; 2 Timothy 4:18. The righteous go away into it. (Matt. 25:46). It is the goal before the soul of those who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and incorruptibility. (Rom. 2:7; 1 Tim. 6:12). All this is incontestable; but we desire now to look at it in the sense of its “manifestation,” as spoken of in 1 John 1:1, 2, — a most blessed and practical thing for a Christian, in order that his soul may be established on a solid foundation, and be definitely exercised before God as to what life is, and as to how it can be manifested in this world, so that he may bring forth the fruits of divine life that the Father looks for from him.

It has frequently been contended that “manifestation” has a spiritual meaning, and John 14:21 is quoted in support of this. It is so there; the passage itself states it. The Lord is speaking of the presence and operation of the Holy Ghost, that “other comforter,” who was to come after Jesus had gone to the Father. But even that provokes from Judas the question, “Lord, how is it that Thou wilt manifest Thyself to us and not unto the world”? His question, however little entering into what the Lord was saying, showed, at least, how Judas understood the “manifestation,” and that is our point now: he did not think it possible that there could be a manifestation to them, that would not be at the same time a manifestation to the world. At that time Jesus was in the world, and all were responsible to receive Him; for He Himself said to the Jews, “Ye also have seen me and believe not.” (John 6:36.)

When Jesus was here, though truly Man, visible to mortal eyes, faith alone could really apprehend who He was. Apart from some divine communication, either direct or in the written Word, — which they had, and thus were responsible, — no human heart was disposed to receive Him. Even John the Baptist, the greatest born of women, filled with the Holy Ghost from his mother’s womb, — and the like is said of no other man, — had twice to declare, “I knew Him not.” (John 1:31, 33). Of himself, he was unable to define anything as to His Person apart from the revelation made to him: “He that sent me to baptise with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, the same is He which baptiseth with the Holy Ghost. And I saw, and bear record that this is the Son of God.” (John 1:33, 34). The testimony heard carried what John saw down into his inmost soul, and made it a matter of faith, and consequently of power in his heart, so that he “bare record.” On the same principle, his ministry in Israel would be blessed to those who received it; for he had come baptising that Jesus “might be made manifest to Israel.” There can be a true apprehension of Jesus only where there is Faith, and that is necessarily accompanied by a sense of need in the soul. Now “faith comes by hearing.” The works of Jesus left everyone without excuse, but His words went further; He was altogether what He said, and thus, by His words, He made known who He was, as in the case of the man born blind: “Jesus said unto him, Dost thou believe on the Son of God? He answered and said, Who is He, Lord, that I might believe on him? Jesus said unto him, Thou hast both seen him, and it is He that talketh with thee. And he said, Lord, I believe. And he worshipped Him.” (John 9:35-38). What marvellous grace and tender condescension in Him, who, though He had put forth divine power in a way never yet heard of “since the world began,” was as yet only distinctly known to that poor man’s soul as “a Man that is called Jesus.”*

{*It is of the deepest interest to note that the more the unbelieving hostility of the Jews compelled him to speak of Jesus, the more his heart warmed into a deepening apprehension of what He was. Occupation with Him produced its effect, even before the full revelation was made by Jesus Himself. Such is simple faith!}

There are thus three condition or degrees of apprehension, where faith exists: —
1) When Jesus was on earth, there was sight, accompanied by the inward perception of faith, depending on some divine communication; but the Holy Ghost had not yet come, — not even when the disciples were gladdened by seeing Jesus risen (John 20:20).
2) Now that Jesus is on high: there is the inward perception of faith; and that is accompanied by the teaching of the Spirit and a power for knowledge (though it be only in part), through the Holy Ghost given to the “blessed,” who have “not seen,” but yet “have believed” (John 20:29).
3) When Jesus comes, there will be sight again, and full knowledge through the Holy Ghost’s power and unhindered operation. We shall see Jesus as He is, and be like Him, and know as we are known.

In the case of the natural man, devoid of faith: —
1) Jesus was seen, but only to be rejected and hated, and at length crucified.
2) The world cannot receive the Spirit, for “it seeth him not, neither knoweth him” (John 14:17).
3) When the Son Man comes, He will be seen for a moment, and known in the execution of judgment by those who would not receive the gospel of salvation preached during His absence (2 Thess. 1:9). “Every eye shall see Him.”

But in whatever degree Jesus nay have been spiritually apprehended, His “manifestation” was complete in itself when He was here, though it was not in dazzling power; for He had “not come to judge.” But “the LIFE was manifested”; and that is our present subject. The disciples favoured as they where, really apprehended far less than they thought while Jesus was with them: they had not received the Holy Ghost. It is quite false to say they “saw Him to be the eternal life”; there is no scriptural authority for such an assertion. On the very night on which He was betrayed, the Lord said to Philip, “Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me”? To limit the “manifestation” to the effect produced on eye witnesses, merely betrays a heart occupied with man, rather than with Christ. That the life was manifested is the absolute statement of Scripture. Christ was incarnate. The Word had become flesh, and dwelt here on earth. Thank God it was so!

The doctrine of non-manifestation to the world is a direct contradiction of John 6:40, — “this is the will of Him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on Him, may have everlasting life.” Such a doctrine necessarily implies that there was no manifestation to any who did not believe, and consequently that none did, nor could, believe by seeing Him. But the “Word” that spoke of Him was already in their hands; and they had had John’s testimony, to which the Lord appeals in the most formal way (Matt. 21:23-27; Luke 7:24-30). Moreover, in John 5, the Lord gives no less than five witnesses as to who and what He was: — John, the “works,” the Father, the Scriptures, and Moses. Jesus does not speak of His own “words” here except to show the impossibility of believing them, if they did not believe the writings of Moses. This point, if quietly weighed, will, I believe, expose the system, and show how completely the “life” is separated from the Person of the Lord in the minds of those who have been caught by it.

The “eyes” spoken of in 1 John 1:1 are, then, human, natural eyes; and the “hands” spoken of are human hands. Can there be a doubt, any more than when the Greeks said, “Sirs, we would see Jesus”? The word “see” cannot have there precisely the same sense as in Hebrews 2, where we read, “Now we see Jesus.” In the first case it is the natural eye, in the second the eye of faith. The question, “What was it? It was Jesus Christ, the sent One of the Father, who said, “I am... the life.” (John 5:20). He is the only begotten Son, and if God has given to us eternal life, it is in the Son we have it. “The dead hear the voice of the Son of God.” The Son quickens. He died for me, and He is my life.

If we now consider briefly “life” in the sense of what a soul has or possesses: is it Christ that I have received, or merely truth about Him? The Apostle answers, “Christ.” (Col. 2:6). “As ye have received Christ Jesus the Lord so walk ye in HIM, rooted, etc.” “To me to live is Christ.” “Christ lives in me.” Elsewhere, “I in you” “At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in Me, and I in you.” (John 14:20.) “And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:26)

In the same way, believing on His name is described as the reception of Him: “To as many as received Him to them gave He power [or, the right] to become children of God, even to them that believe on His name.” (John 1:12). Jesus did not commit Himself to those who only believed through the evidence of miracles they witnessed and could not deny, and which they could own to be “miracles,” judging of them by their natural intelligence. (John 2:23; and compare John 10:41). “Believing in His name” might be a mere effect of the unregenerate mind, not wrought by the operation of the Spirit of God. But the Gospel was written not only that we might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, but that believing we might have life through His name (John 20:31).

Can any humble Christian, reading 1 John 1:1-2, deny that “the Eternal life” spoken of, and thus personally presented, is Christ? Thank God, He is such for my soul. Thus I think of the life, I am not occupied with my being alive, or with my blessedness, but with Himself. But while I speak of Christ personally as the Eternal life, how does that possibly deny His being set forth in various relations as Messiah, Shepherd, Saviour, Lord, Friend, Head, of the Body, and so on? He was God known; and He is Himself the Word of Life to my soul, that is, I find out in Him what God means when He speaks to me about eternal life as manifested among men in this world; and that is the important thing for my heart and conscience.

 ——————

It may be asked, How was the life manifested? We answer that it could not but reveal itself, for Jesus was it. If we trace out in the Gospel of John the way in which its prominent characteristics, as given in the Epistle, are spoken of, it may help us to a clearer understanding. Faith, love, holiness, obedience, dependence, righteousness, knowledge of the Father, prevailing prayer, are some of the marks of eternal life. Did He not publicly appeal to the Scriptures, and constantly quote them? Did He not speak of the Father to the unbelieving Jews? Was it not to them that He said, “I know Him, and keep His saying,” and again, “I do always those things that please Him”? Yet had He to say, “If ye believe not that I am He, ye shall die in your sins”; and more, “I have many things to say and to judge of you; but He that sent me is true, and I speak to the world those things which I have heard of Him . . . I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things; and He that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone.” (John 8:24, 26, 28, 29, 55). To those that murmured He said, “No man can come unto me except the Father which hath sent me draw him.” (John 6:44) Did Jesus hide the fact that the Father who had sent Him was ever further aggravated by His marvellous words of grace: “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work”; and He even adds, “The Son can do nothing of himself but what he seeth the Father do; for what things for the Father loveth the Son, and showeth him all things that himself doeth” (v 17-20). To whom did He say, and where, “Ye both know me, and ye know whence I am: and I am not come of myself; but he that sent me is true, whom ye know mot; but I know him, for I am from him, and he hath sent me”? Those who heard it sought to take Him, but in vain (John 7:8-30). Was it not to those unbelievers that He asked the question, “Which of you convinceth me of sin”? (John 8:46). Did He not even pray in public? (John 12:27-29) And, on another occasion (John 11:41), using the very words which the Holy Ghost in the Epistle of John (v. 15) appropriates to faith: “Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me, and I know that thou hearest me always” And He adds, “But because of the people which stand by, I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me.” These words are a proof that the more part at least did not believe before those words were uttered; and the Scripture carefully states, a little further down, that “many”, after seeing the miracle — the raising of Lazarus — did believe; but that “some” went and told the Pharisees, — those bitter enemies of Jesus, — who at once gathered the council to plot against His life. Furthermore, when the high priest asked Jesus of His disciples and of His doctrines, did not the Lord refer him to those who had heard His public discourses in the synagogues and the temple? “In secret”, He says, “I have said nothing” (John 18:19-21). But where shall we stop in following the footsteps of his blessed, divine, yet human life? No where was His love and obedience more marked than at the cross; and Himself presents it as an example to us (John 12:24-26, compare 1 John 3:16). Yet, so far from its being hidden from the world, Jesus expressly said, “That the world may know that I love the Father, and as the Father gave me commandment, even so I do” (John 14:31). Everywhere the Scripture shows that He was so manifested as that the world might take knowledge of His life.

The new theology ignores all this. It boldly states that the eternal life was not manifested to the world. Unconscious as its advocates may be of it, they in effect separate eternal life both from the Godhead and the Manhood of Jesus, so that it becomes a question whether “eternal life”, as it is explained to mean, was ever on earth at all, for it is presented to us a mystical thing “in heaven.” As to the Manhood we have already spoken; the paltry plea advanced as to the Godhead is that it is not communicated nor communicable. Everyone agrees as to that. What but reasoning self-occupation could have invented such an argument to becloud the simplicity of Scripture? Christ is my life, and Christ is God; but that does not make me God. The Holy Ghost has written, “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him” (John 1:18); and again, “No man hath seen God at any time; if we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and His love is perfected in us.” (1 John 4:12) Shall we trust our reason on such holy ground, or simply believe the Scripture, thanking God for its fulness? Let us put off our shoes and worship that blessed One to whom it all refers.

But unbelief has dared to go further. In explaining the word “handled” in 1 John 1:1, not only has it been sought to restrict its application to the passage in Luke 24, as if it had nothing to do with the Lord’s life before the cross; but it has been boldly that “it is as the risen and glorified Man He is said to be the true God and eternal life.” Now no one doubts that the blessed Lord was in heaven when the Apostle John was moved by the Holy Ghost to write his Epistle. Can it be that such a sentence could have been based on so superficial an argument? Yet it seems to be the only excuse for it. But is it true? Does the Apostle “speak” of Jesus “risen and glorified” in the passage? On the contrary, he speaks of the One who “is come.” Come where? Is it to the heavenly glory, or to this poor world? The Spirit answers, “He came by water and by blood.” He came to be a man, and die for poor lost sinners, and lay in death the foundation both of life and righteousness for them. “THAT WHICH WAS FROM THE BEGINNING:” Is not the “beginning” here spoken of the manifestation of the life IN THIS WORLD? He who is now in the glory is the One who was heard, seen, handled as Man during His blessed life down here. “He is the true God and Eternal life”. The Lord preserve my reader from speculative analysis of that blessed Person whom “no man knoweth,” separating what God has presented as one and indivisible, and denaturalising the eternal life, which was manifested in all that He was here: for He was it, and wherever He was, He could not be other than Himself.

How can those who accept this mysticism have any sense left in their souls of that grace which, in divine power, and in communion with the Father, could adapt itself to every circumstance of human need? And that is a practical side of the life which is specially to characterise the Christian. When Paul speaks to Timothy of the great mystery of godliness, he was directing him how he ought to behave himself in the house of God. And he sets Christ positively before his soul, “God manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the nations, believed on in the world, received up into glory” (1 Tim. 3:15, 16). Eternal life, in its full fruition, will assuredly be in heavenly glory; no one questions that. Our Lord’s “will” is to have us with Himself. He has been “received up into glory,” and is “with the Father” (John 14:28; John 16:28; 1 John 1:2). That being so the power of the life in communion with Him is now to be realised by us through the Holy Ghost’s taking of His things and showing them to us. We have the life now, here in this world where it was “manifested,” and we have to walk with Him as he walked here, taking His yoke upon us, and learning of Him.

Some have objected that “life” is an abstraction. This is only another device of Satan for getting rid of the Person of Christ.

In the Old Testament, when God was not revealed, the point insisted on by Moses was that they had seen no form — only heard a voice. In Christ, God is revealed, and more, revealed as the Father of only begotten Son (John 1:18). The first truth of the mystery of godliness — (of godliness, mark, that is, what is practical for our souls, the secret of our behaviour in the house of God) — is “God manifest in the flesh.”

Is it merely a thing, an abstraction that is spoken of in the 1st Epistle of John, “as seen with our eyes, hear, handled, and looked upon”? Is there no “from” before the soul, called up by the words of Jesus: “I am the Living Bread, which came down from heaven, if any man eat of this bread he shall live for ever”? It is the same blessed One, who as risen, said, “Why are ye troubled? and why do thoughts arise in your hearts? Behold my hands and my feet that it is I myself: handle me and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones as ye see me have” (Luke 24:39). We do well also not to forget that it was God’s mind that even the Spirit should once be visible to human eyes: for it is expressly stated that “the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon Him” (Luke 3:22). Again, on the day of Pentecost, He came upon the gathered disciples as “cloven tongues of fire.” But God the Father is unseen and unknown except as revealed by the Son (Matt. 11:27).

If we open John’s Gospel, we find this blessed Person, the Eternal Word, who was God, and who became flesh, — became Man, — and dwelt amongst us full of grace and truth. He came into this world, and the world knew Him not — Himself, the Light. Furthermore, John 8 sets forth His words which were rejected by men — words which presented Himself as being “the truth” — as He said, “Altogether that which I also say to you,” and closing with this: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, before Abraham was I AM.” He was the Light of Life. In John 9, His works set forth what He is, and what God is. They are equally rejected, and the favoured object of His sovereign grace is cast out of the synagogue. The “works of God” were manifested in the blind man notwithstanding; for Jesus said, “I must work the works of Him that send Me while it is day; the night is coming when no man can work. As long as I am in the world I am the light of the world.” These two things are taken up by the Lord in the end of John 15. His words (verse 22) — “If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloke for their sin.” His works (verse 24) — “If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin”: and He adds, “But now have they both seen and hated both Me and My Father.”

In presence of these Scriptures, and the end of John 12 from verse 42 (verses 49, 50 especially), I am bold to say that the present effort to deny that the Eternal life was Christ, and consequently to limit the manifestation of it to a certain class of persons, is a work of the enemy, a perversion of Scripture which will spread as a gangrene, and eat away the vitals of everyone who tampers with it.

Dear reader, let not the enemy deprive our souls of Christ. He said, “I am the life,” so that now when I think of life I think of Him. He is, as it were, the embodiment of it for my soul. With Him I have to walk in learning of Him. He is the food of life, my sustenance and joy. I think of that Blessed One who talked with the Samaritan woman at Sychar’s well, and won her sin-stained soul to God, — of Him who fed the multitude, and who laid down His life for the sheep, — of Him who opened the blind man’s eyes that he might see the Son of God and talk with Him, and who said to Peter, Lovest thou me? — I think of Him, and I say, He is my life, Oh to know more of those divine affections and energies ever displayed in this poor world by Him who said, “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.” We know Him as now in the glory, where we shall soon see Him. And we learn in His death the judgment and the end of self, and of all that is of man, so that we may reckon ourselves dead to sin and alive unto God in Christ Jesus our Lord. “This is life eternal that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.”

Christian reader, do you “love life”? and if you do in the best sense of it, how are your desires to be realised but in feeding upon Christ, and living in communion with Him who died for you and is coming to fetch you home to be Himself for ever? Meanwhile, may we walk as He walked!

November 1890