The Three Witnesses;

or, The Spirit, the Water and the Blood.

John Alfred Trench.

Article 19 of 19 from 'Truth for Believers' Volume 1.

(New and Enlarged Edition 1906.)

I desire to place before you the way the Word puts some things that deeply affect the enjoyment and power of all that is made ours in Christ.

We must ever distinguish between the place of (1) the Spirit and (2) the water and (3) the blood in our blessing. These are the three witnesses presented together in 1 John 5 of how all is absolutely conferred upon us in Christ the last Adam, instead of coming through the first. It is God's gift to us in His Son. Now blood and water both flowed from the pierced side of the Lord Jesus when His death was accomplished. Yet, strange to say, this water is almost dropped out of the faith of Christendom, though occupying quite as large a place in the Word, both in doctrine and in type, as the blood — the last for propitiation, the first for purification. The blood is the ground of all before God, and therefore put first in John 19:34. In 1 John 5:8 the order is that of their application to us. The Spirit, bringing home the water of the Word in power to our consciences by which we are born of God, opens our eyes to the value of the blood, and then takes up His dwelling-place in us as the power of our enjoyment of all we have been brought into by both water and blood. To be clear in the respective place of each helps greatly as to our own relationship with God, as well as the communion that flows from it, and which is its deepest and richest privilege. It will help us too in leading others on.

The difficulty is the immense range connected with each in the word of God, so that I hardly know how to place clearly before you what I believe you would find blessing and profit in the understanding of. The place of the blood must be learned, I think, chiefly from such scriptures as Romans 3:25, where it is the key to — being the antitype of — the wonderful figures presented to us on the great day of atonement (Lev. 16), when the blood was brought in and sprinkled on the mercy-seat. The word "propitiation" in this verse (Rom. 3:25) is that used for mercy-seat all through the Greek translation of the Old Testament, and so translated in Hebrews 9:5. It is the blood that meets all the need of God's glory as to sin. It brings out His holiness and righteousness against sin, as well as all His love to the sinner, as it never had been brought out before. Thus laying the righteous ground for God to justify us, as well as for the accomplishment of God's everlasting counsels as to us in Christ, though this last aspect of the cross is not developed in Romans.

On the ground of the blood thus presented to God, in which every question of sin has been gone into and settled for God's glory, we have declared the blessedness of the man to whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity; and upon which He can challenge all the ingenuity of Satan to bring one single thing to our charge, as He does in Romans 8. In Hebrews also (Heb. 9) we find the perfection of the work of the cross in itself; and chapter 10 its application to us — the doctrine again founded on the type of Leviticus 16. It is beautiful in this last (Heb. 10) to see how the will of God the Father, the work of the Son, and the witness of the Holy Ghost, are all brought out — the whole Godhead in activity, to give us a perfect conscience as to every question of sin in the presence of God.

Now when we examine the testimony that the Holy Ghost bears to the work of the Son of God, we find three great points in it. First, it satisfies God as the blood of bulls and goats never could; secondly, it leaves us no more conscience of sins; and thirdly, we have boldness of access into the holiest — the immediate presence of God, the veil being rent. Without the second we could not have the third, and both rest upon the infinite perfection of the work in itself satisfying God perfectly. As to the second point, you will find it is in direct contrast with the blood of bulls and goats that needed to be constantly applied, bringing sins constantly to remembrance in being so applied, because their blood never could put away sins. There was nothing in the blood of a bull or of a goat adequate to the enormity of our sins; there is in the blood of the Son of God. The whole glory of God has been made good as to sin in His blood-shedding, so that the moment we believe God's testimony to the infinite value He finds in it, we have no more conscience of sins for blood to be applied to. And in contrast to the priests standing daily (ver. 11), we have the Lord Jesus sat down continuously or uninterruptedly (it is not the ordinary word for "for ever," but that translated "continually" in ver. 1) "for by one offering he hath perfected uninterruptedly" (same word) "them that are sanctified."

The thought of a continuing application of the blood of Christ, is to put dishonour upon His work, lowering it to what was but its shadow, and it is the direct denial of the truth brought out in Hebrews 10. Besides, it separates the offering from the infinite suffering that gave it all its value. (Heb. 9:25-26) If He had continually to present His blood for us, as the High Priest for Israel, it says He would have often to suffer. See also verse 22, where it does not say, without application of blood, but without shedding of it there is no remission. The blood-shedding purged our sins (see Heb. 1:3), and the testimony of God to its value, when we believe it, purges and perfects our consciences for ever, as to every question of them.

But now I come to what meets our need as to the defilement we are liable to contract in passing through this defiled and defiling scene, that is, the cleansing of water by the Word. That water means the Word we know from Ephesians 5:26. But this too is founded on an application of the Word, that being once done, is done for ever.

Both are found, put each in its place in John 13:10, two words being used, one for the washing that could never be repeated, and another for that which needs constantly to be, according to their defined use in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, already referred to (known as the Septuagint, and used often by the Lord and the apostles, as current at the time even more than the Hebrew, in the Holy Land).

If you refer to Leviticus 8 you will find the priests were washed with water, as to their whole persons, on the day of their consecration.

From Ex. 30:18-21 we see they washed their hands and their feet when they went into the tabernacle.

These are the two words, never interchanged, that the Lord uses to Peter, answering beautifully to the type. For as the priests were bathed first, and this was never repeated, so as the basis of all purification we have been "born of water and of the Spirit," as in John 3. We know, from James 1:18 and 1 Peter 1:23, that this is by the Word applied to our souls in power by the Spirit. Thus we have received the nature of God, being made "partakers of the divine nature," and in it we are clean every whit, and need not save to wash (using the other word) our feet.

It is deeply important to see that in thus being "born of God," and receiving the divine nature, there can alone be any true purification. There can be none of the flesh — "that which is born of the flesh is flesh," religious, amiable, cultivated it may be, but flesh still. And "the end of all flesh has come before God." All God can do is to make an end of it, either for faith, as at the cross, or for unbelief in the lake of fire. No wonder that all our weary efforts with it come to nought. But blessed it is to bow to God's total judgment of it that the Word by which we are born carries with it, and to see that same judgment totally executed in the cross of Christ. So though the flesh is in us, and Romans 7 describes the needed learning in our own souls of its incurable evil, yet when we have bowed to that judgment, "knowing that our old man has been crucified with Christ," we see that we are no longer in the flesh, but have passed by His death and resurrection, and the power of the Spirit of God, given to dwell in us, into a wholly new state and place in Christ risen from the dead, where there is no condemnation for us. (Rom. 8:1) And this is looked at from the side of the delivering power of the good in verse 2, and from that of the total condemnation of the evil in verse 3. God has condemned sin in the flesh — that is, the root that produced all the guilty fruit of our sins — and when we know it we are no longer under the power of sin (Rom. 6:14), or under law which was the strength of sin. (Rom. 7:6 and 1 Cor. 15:56) But this blessed deliverance is realised from moment to moment by the faith that reckons true of us what God says, and is true before Him, that is, we are dead to sin, as having died with Christ. (Rom. 6:11) Thus we see how the flesh is disposed of under God's judgment and for faith, and how the life and nature we have received from God is set free from its dominion, to enjoy the blessed things of that nature that are revealed to us by His Spirit. "They that are after the Spirit mind the things of the Spirit." (Rom. 8:5)

But this is not all. John 13 presents to us in figure the loving service, so suited to our need, that the Lord is carrying on for us in the glory now, in order that we may have communion with Him (ver. 8), and that it may be restored when it is broken.

We have to go through the world, out of which He has had to depart utterly to the Father (ver. 1), where "all that is in it is not of the Father." (1 John 2:16) He loves us with an unchangeable love. Blessed assurance that He gives us! But then love delights to serve its object, and so He takes in wondrous grace the place of the servant of our need in the glory. We have no excuse for ever sinning again, yet how liable to it as long as the root of the flesh is in us in all its old, unchanged, incurable evil, though, as we have seen, we are no longer in it before God. If we say that it is not — that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, "and the truth is not in us." Even the thought of foolishness is sin, and absolutely breaks communion with God. John writes to us in his epistle of these blessed things, of the divine nature and eternal life we possess, with its wonderful privileges of fellowship with the Father and the Son, and joy to the full — he writes, I say, of these things, that we sin not; but if, alas! we have done so — and here comes in the service of John 13 — we have an Advocate with the Father, who is there in all the perfections of His Person, and unchangeable value of His work, and for us, so that there can be no question of the sin being imputed to us. But we have sinned against cloudless light, against infinite love, against the relationship of children with the Father, in which we stand, and we have to be brought to feel it as such and judge it, so that the communion may be restored. He applies His Word as in John 13 (a service too that He gives us to have part in towards each other, ver. 15), searches our consciences and hearts by it, and brings it all out in confession, that we may receive the Father's forgiveness, know the removal of His chastening hand, and be once again in communion with Him.

The question of the righteousness in which we stand — "justified from all things," without possibility of imputation — is never raised. And just because of this it resolves itself into the deeper one of holiness, and what is fitting and essential to the infinitely holy presence into which we have been brought. Jesus, the Son of God, has to stoop to wash our feet that we have gone and defiled, and this He does by the water of His Word, and not by blood.

Thus, in that remarkable ordinance of the Book of Numbers — the book of the wilderness — it is the water of purification, not blood, that is sprinkled upon him that becomes unclean by contact with what defiles. (Num. 19) The ashes put into water are the memorial of the sin having met its judgment in the death of the victim whose ashes they were. The infidel has dared to suggest it was a mistake, this isolated sacrifice being found in Numbers. The believer sees how perfect its place is in the book of the wilderness, as connected with the scene where we are liable to contract defilement. In Psalm 119:9 the cleansing of the way is referred to the same instrument, the Word — that word whichever tells of the infinite agonies in which through His blood-shedding the sin was taken away as guilt. And the heart ever turns back there and sees sin in its true character (though it be but an idle word) in what it cost Him to put it away. But then there is more in the Word that makes it such an infinitely perfect and precious means of cleansing from day to day. It is not only that Christ ministers it to us according to the marvellous grace of John 13, but it is the revelation of Himself. In John 17:19 we learn that He has set Himself apart in the glory of God, that we may be set apart by the truth — that is, by the revelation of all that He is there as the source, measure, character and power of our separation to Him.

The immense power of Christ being so presented to us is seen in 2 Corinthians 3:18. We can behold in perfect peace the glory of God revealed and shining on the face of Jesus without a veil. This is in contrast to Israel, who could not look on the face of Moses, for the reflection of the glory on his face was connected with the still unsettled claims of the law he held in his hand. But the glory we see on the face of Jesus is the proof He Himself appealed to, that every question of broken law and outraged holiness of God has been settled for ever. (See John 13:32) What face can we gaze into as we can into His who loved us and gave Himself for us? Beholding, it says, the glory of the Lord, we are changed from glory into glory in the same image. The bright shining down of all that Christ is in glory into our hearts, now free to be occupied with Him, transforms us morally more and more into His image, in tone and ways, in separation from the world, in the whole character, spring, motive, object of our walk here. We know we shall be perfectly like Him only when we see Him as He is; but this becomes an incentive now to purifying ourselves, even as He is pure. (1 John 3:2-3) So we must look at Him to get the measure of all practical purity, and as we look we find the power too.

Thus also in Hebrews 12, if we are exhorted to lay aside every weight and sin which does so easily beset, and to run with patience, it is in looking unto Jesus that we find the power.

Thus generally we find the answer to the double question of Job 25:4 in the blood for propitiation, which is the righteous ground of our perfect justification, and in the water of the Word, in the one first application of it that can never be repeated, by which we are born of God, and the constant application of it to the practical cleansing of our ways. In point of view of application to our souls the Word comes first, for it was thus we found out our sins and need of the blood. Then the moment we believed God's testimony to the blood for the forgiveness of our sins, we received God the Holy Ghost, who had wrought on us in our natural state to quicken our souls, but who now comes to dwell within us, making our bodies the tabernacles of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19), shedding abroad the love of God in our hearts. (Rom. 5:5) He is the Spirit of adoption, too, by which we cry, "Abba, Father" (Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6), the seal of God upon us marking us as His — the earnest of all that is before us in the glory (2 Cor. 1:22; Eph. 1:13) — thus completing the christian position, and becoming the immense power in us of all our blessing and our joy.

Only let us not grieve that blessed indwelling Spirit by whom we are sealed to the day of redemption. (Eph. 4:30) For leave us He never will, nor could, according to the definite promise of John 14:16. He abides with us for ever. He it is who takes of the things of Christ and shows them to us (John 16:14-15), that the new man, finding all the qualities it loves in the Person that it loves, may be formed morally like Him.

After all, I have given but the poorest outline of what scripture presents on the three great parts of our blessing that go to make up our full christian position and state.