The Threefold Witness.

"For they that bear witness are three, 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: for this is the witness of God which He has witnessed concerning His Son." 1 John 5:8-9.

While recalling, in connection with this passage, the three aspects in which we have found the work and effect of redemption presented in the types of the Old Testament, we would now insist specially on the great truth, that the object of all testimony is CHRIST. It is to Him, not to us, God bears witness, when He would establish our hearts before Himself in the full blessing of the revelation He has made to us. The ground of all divine assurance in the soul is "the witness of God which He has witnessed concerning His Son." Whatever side of the truth may be before us - that which is external, the work done for us, or that which is internal, operated in us by the Spirit of God - the divine "witness" is borne to Christ, and to Him alone. This is important, in order that the believer may be established before God in peace that cannot be shaken or disturbed. If we consider ourselves, nothing is yet perfect even in the most advanced Christian. Paul said, "Not that I have already obtained, or am already perfected; but I pursue, if also I may get possession of it." (Phil. 3:12.) If, then, our practical state were the ground of our assurance, even the blessed apostle himself would not have had it. But he says elsewhere, "I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep for that day the deposit I have entrusted to Him." (2. Tim. 1:12.) Christ was ever the foundation of his confidence towards God.

"In Christ" the Christian enjoys a standing absolutely perfect before God, while he waits for the moment when his knowledge will be perfect also, when he sees Jesus as He is. Everything in Christ is perfect, and His redeeming work is once and for ever completed. Nothing can be added to it, and nothing taken from it. Having died too, He died once for all to sin; but in that He liveth, He liveth to God. He has nothing more to do with sin. Everything connected with it was fully settled before God when He died on the cross, and His precious blood was shed. He rose from among the dead on the third day, and henceforth His life in resurrection represents the perfect position in which God sets all those who by His death have been redeemed and brought to Him in holiness and righteousness.

It is the character of this new position we have now to consider; and surely it is the first thing a heart truly exercised in God's presence feels the need of laying hold of. But let us not forget that it is in Christ we learn it, just as we find that Christ is the key for understanding all the types of the Old Testament. What is then the relationship with God into which we are brought as a direct consequence of the redemption Christ has wrought? God bears witness to what Christ is personally - His Son, and tells us that "He that hath the Son hath life." He sends His Holy Spirit - "the Spirit of His Son" - into the heart of those whom He has brought to Himself in order to make this relationship good in their souls individually. And thus He more than answers the need of the awakened soul. But it is to Christ, not to us, that the witness is borne. It is in Him we learn what it means to be a son of God.

We read in the first chapter of the gospel of John, "To as many as received Him" (that is, Christ), "to them gave He the right to be children of God." And so, too, the first message the Lord Jesus sent to His disciples after His resurrection presents this new relationship as a now accomplished fact, because of His work being finished. He had died and was risen, and says to Mary Magdalene, "Go to my brethren, and say to them, I ascend to my Father and your Father, and to my God and your God." (John 20:17.) He puts them in the position and relationship in which He Himself stood. God takes us to be His children - His "sons and daughters." Christ suffered in order that we might receive the adoption, in order that He might carry out and make true as regards us personally the revelation He brought us from God; that is, that He is THE FATHER. Christ was the Son essentially; but in order that I, a poor, ruined sinner, may know God as the Father, I must be His child, and for that redemption was necessary. God revealed Himself as "the Father" in Christ. The Lord says, "I am come in my Father's name." And again)," If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also." (John 5:43; 14:7.) But He so revealed Himself that we might receive the revelation and be brought personally to enjoy it. Although this testimony is so simple and positive in the word of God, our hearts are very slow to receive it. Like the prodigal son, after he had come to himself and was on his way back to the father's house, we think the position of a hired servant would suit us better than that of a son. Provided God assures to us food for the body and raiment to put on, we would be content and ready, like Jacob at Bethel, to take Him to be our God. That comes from thinking of ourselves rather than of Him. It is what happens when an upright soul is occupied with itself. It can get no relief from itself either, but is overwhelmed with the feeling of its own wretchedness, and never thinks of turning to God to find out what He can do, not for our sakes, but for Christ's sake, and for His own glory. God has other thoughts about us. He will make us His servants, it is true, but first of all He makes us "sons." A servant of God is surely the highest title for a creature as to his activity in this world. Christ was the perfect Servant, a divine Example for all who come to God by Him; but He was so because He was THE SON. And we can only know this kind of service on the condition of enjoying first of all "the adoption."

It is in Christ we learn what it is to be a child of God. Christ manifested as Son of God in this world that eternal life which He came to communicate to us. He was it, and He says, "I am come that they might have life." He brings us into the relationship with the Father, of which He was personally the expression. "No one has seen God at any time; the only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him." "In Him we have contemplated a glory as of an only-begotten with the Father." (John 1:14, 18.) But that is not all. Christ said to His disciples, "I ascend." He has gone up to the Father, and is seated at His right hand, already anointed with the oil of gladness in the presence of God, where is "fulness of joy." And the very same scripture which speaks of this mentions that, being thus crowned, He has "companions" whom God associates with Him. He is above them, of course, but they are associated with Him who is in that place of glory, and consequently they can look on to the time when they too shall be there with Him. They are the "many sons" whom it pleases God to bring unto glory - the children that Christ came to gather out and bring together in one, while awaiting the time when they shall see the Saviour as He is, and be changed into His likeness. (See Heb. 2:9-10; 1:9; John 17:24; Phil. 3:20-21.)

He is "above" His fellows in every sense. He has entered the first into the glory, while they are still in this world witnessing and suffering for Him in the place where He was rejected. But His presence up there as MAN has opened heaven to "men," and already prepared a place in the Father's house for all who believe in Him. It is His presence there as Man in the glory which has prepared the place for them; and He has sent down the Holy Ghost from the Father in order to reveal to us practically what sonship is, and make us enjoy it, giving us to cry, "Abba, Father." The Holy Ghost directs our hearts to Christ, and occupies us with Him, teaching us in His person what sonship is, that we may enjoy individually the "adoption" we have received.

Christ is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation. He is also the first-born from among the dead, and as such He opens to us the door of adoption, that we may participate with Him in the blessings resulting from His finished work. Had He not died, He would have remained alone in His personal glory, and there would have been no possibility of our being associated with Him. Adoption is a consequence of redemption, as we know from Galatians 4:5. It was as risen from the dead that Jesus announced to His disciples the blessed relationship into which His atoning sacrifice had brought them, "My Father and your Father." And when He had gone up into glory, God sent the Holy Spirit to unite us to Christ in the glory. It is "the Spirit of His Son." (Gal. 4:6.) God associates us thus with His own Son, who is the first-born among many brethren, so that His title of "first-born might be given to us with Him, and that we might thus form the assembly of the first-born who are registered in heaven. (Heb. ail. 23.) He makes too His heirs joint-heirs with Christ. This is the fruit of redemption we have already seen in type, when considering the deliverance of the people of Israel from the land of Egypt, and the consecration of the first-born to God. In the type we see the moral principle; in the person of Christ glorified we see the accomplishment of the marvellous work of redemption; and the Holy Spirit, who unites the believer to Christ in the glory, shows us in Him the image, the perfect model after God's own thought, of the redeemed family that God is going to bring to the glory where Christ is already.

"When we see Him as He is we shall be like Him; for as we have borne the image of the one made of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly One." (1 John 3:2; 1 Cor. 15:49.) It is, however, needful that another testimony should complete that which we have just been considering; it is needful for our hearts, and that we may have a good conscience in the presence of God; it is needful also in order that we may enjoy really the witness of the Spirit as to our adoption. For how could we freely and happily take the place of a child in relationship with our Father in heaven, if we had not received from Him a nature which suits His perfect holiness, and if we had not the assurance that all our sins are blotted out? But He gives us this nature, a nature capable of enjoying Him; He gives us this assurance too, and both of them in the person of the CHRIST; for it is to Christ He ever bears witness.

The special testimony of which we speak was given the moment after He had accomplished the work of redemption and yielded up His Spirit to His Father. "This is He that came by water and by blood, Jesus the Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, for the Spirit is truth." (1 John 5:6.) The blood and the water which flowed from the pierced side of a dead Christ are the double witness of the efficacy of His work for us. (John 19:34-35.)

The blood" speaks of divine justification, which God makes ours in virtue of the purification of sins having been already made. He forgives them; for "the blood of Jesus Christ His Son purifies from all sin." He bore our sins in His own body on the tree.

"The water" is the expression of the purifying power of the death of Christ as applied to our hearts and lives by the word of God. We need to have our hearts "purified by faith" (Acts 15:9) in order that we may stand before God in holiness. God places us first of all in a position of absolute holiness in virtue of the sacrifice of Christ (Heb. 10:10, 14); and then the Spirit presents Christ to us in the word, so that we may feed upon Him, and especially on His death, in order to maintain in us practical holiness for the daily walk, and accomplish in us that growth in grace and in the knowledge of God which alone renders this holiness possible, and perfects it in His fear and in communion with Him. (2 Cor. 7:1.) On the one hand we read, that being justified by faith, by the blood of Christ, we have peace with God; on the other, in virtue of redemption it is said that ".both He that sanctifies and those sanctified are all of one;" they are identified in God's sight. (Rom. 5:1, 9; Heb. 2:11.)

Here then are "the three that bear witness, the Spirit and the water and the blood," and we see how they agree in one. The Spirit sets before us the person of the Son of God, and the efficacy of His work. God bears witness to His Son. And therefore he who receives this testimony enjoys solid assurance in his soul, divine certainty that nothing can shake. He has confidence towards God. In the person of the Son of God we see what it is to be a son in Him; we learn practically what sonship means. By His death this relationship has become possible for us, and God in His grace introduces us there even now, while waiting for the glory, giving us a "good conscience" by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ He who believes in Jesus is a child of God. One becomes so in believing. (Gal. 3:26.) But then this relationship is inseparable from the standing of absolute holiness in which the death of Christ places us, and in which we have to "keep the feast with unleavened bread of sincerity and truth" in view of the rest of God which awaits us.

We have to walk with Him in a way that is in harmony with His holiness and righteousness, "worthy of Him who has called us to His own kingdom and glory." Being completely delivered from the burden of our sins through Christ's work, we receive from Him "a good conscience," and the heart is thus made free to enjoy communion with God, and learn that He dwells with us. (Eph. 2:22.) For He Himself assures is that the blood of Christ cleanses from all sin; and He receives us in favour according to the full value in His sight of this precious blood. It is written, "Ye who once were afar off are brought nigh by the blood of Christ;" and again, "His grace wherein He has taken us into favour in the Beloved, in whom we have redemption through His blood." (Eph. 1:7; 2:13.) It is well to add a remark as to the order in which the truths of holiness and righteousness are presented in the Word and applied to us practically. Purification, of which the figure is "water" - that is, the word of God divinely applied to the heart and the conscience - is that which is required by the holiness of God with whom we have to do. Justification, on the other hand, is the pressing need of the awakened soul as soon as it finds itself in God's presence, having been brought there by His grace. Now we are justified by the "blood" of Christ. (Rom. 5:9.) Both of these things are found together in the death of Christ surely; but when we come to the practical teaching of Scripture it is evident that what refers more especially to God must have the first place; that is to say, the sanctification of the person precedes justification. We have found it so in the types we have been considering; and it comes out more remarkably still perhaps in the ordinances for the consecration of the priests. (Lev. 8:6, 30.) They are washed before they receive the sprinkling of the blood of the sacrifice. The washing is the first act; the sprinkling of the blood and oil the last. The epistles teach us the same moral order. (1 Cor. 6:11; 2 Thess. 2:13; 1 Peter 1:2.)

But again, we must not forget to distinguish carefully between the perfect standing God gives us in virtue of the sacrifice of Christ, and the progress in practical holiness every saint makes in growing in the knowledge of God. But this progress is only effectuated in proportion as we lay hold more and more simply and really of the practical application of the death of Christ to our entire being, the Holy Spirit occupying us with Him who is now in the glory, and who is about to come to take us to Himself into the Father's house, where His presence as Man has already prepared us a place. W. J. Lowe.