Faith is the source of love.
The section takes a new turn; the test of the Christian life furnished by the witness of the life itself. This witness is that of the Spirit ( 1 John 5:6 ), identical with that of God ( 1 John 5:9 ), and possessed by every believer ( 1 John 5:10 ). Few passages of Scripture have produced such a mass of widely divergent interpretation.
"And the substance of the internal testimony is this—we are conscious of the Divine gift of eternal life, and this we have in the Son of God." St. John's ζωὴ αἰώνιος is not "everlasting life:" the idea of endlessness may be included in it, but it is not the main one. The distinction between eternity and time is one which the human mind feels to be real and necessary. But we are apt to lose ourselves when we try to think of eternity. We admit that it is not time, that it is the very antithesis of time, and yet we attempt to measure it while we declare it to be immeasurable. We make it simply a very long time. The main idea of "eternal life" in St. John's writings has no direct reference to time. Eternal life is possessed already by believers; it is not a thing of the future ( John 3:36 ; John 5:24 ; John 6:47 , John 6:54 ; John 17:3 ). It is that life in God which includes all blessedness, and which is not broken by physical death ( John 11:25 ). Its opposite is exclusion from God.
The Divine witness subjectively verified.
Connecting link: The main topic is now the witness of God. In the preceding sketch we dwelt upon the witness of God objectively given. Now we have for our topic— The witness of God verified in the individual experience. The apostle gives us this in two forms—the positive and the negative.
I. LET US INQUIRE WHAT THIS INWARD WITNESS IS . "The witness in himself." So far as the expression is concerned, apart front the context, the apostle's words might bear either of two meanings:
1 . God gives man life through Christ, and premises it to all that believe.
2 . Man believes unfeignedly in the testimony God has given of his Son.
3 . Believing in Jesus, he already enjoys the life which God has promised to bestow.
4 . Therefore he has within him an actual verification of God's own faithful Word. He believed the testimony was true, and no he knows it to be so.
II. WHAT IS THE SPECIAL VALUE OF THIS INWARD EVIDENCE ? It has a sevenfold value.
1 . It is a distinctively personal verification of the truth of God's Word concerning his Son. It is emphatically the believer's own, which may be paralleled in the experience of others, but cannot be shared by them. There is first of all a firm and unwavering certitude that he has a life above and beyond that of nature. Then there is the knowledge gained by continuous experience that only by and through Christ has such a life been initiated, nourished, and sustained.
2 . It is an evidence that attends him everywhere. It is always with him. He affirms, "The life I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God." This is what Dr. Chalmers used to call "the portable evidence of Christianity." It can be carried about with a man, go where he will. It takes up no space on the shelves in his library, but ever fills a snug corner of his heart.
3 . It is an evidence which is independent of what man may say. At one time, when the only evidence he knew of was that which is external to the man, he was dependent on what this or that one might say, and his belief would be stronger or weaker according to the speaker's success or failure in argument. But his faith is no longer a traditional one. It is the result of the Spirit's work within him; and if no other advocate for the Saviour should appear, what Christ has done for him and in him would lead him to say from his own experience, "I know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world."
4 . It is an evidence which brings a joy along with it, with which a stranger intermeddleth not. Evidence which merely shows a man the glory of what he ought to believe, and that it is binding on him to believe, may but irritate, and will, if there, be a dislike to the truth. But when a man has God's witness within himself, then he knows whom he has believed, and the knowledge brings a joy unspeakable and full of glory. His may be—yea, is—a life of calm resting in the promise, "Where I am there shall also my servant be."
5 . Such an evidence gives him power as a pleader for God. With what zest can he tell to sinners round what a dear Saviour he has found! He can speak, not from hearsay, not merely out of a book, but of "what he has tasted and handled and felt of the Word of life."
6 . This evidence accumulates in strength with advancing years. The longer his experience of the power and grace of Christ to sustain in him the eternal life, the more he has received from the fullness of the Saviour, and the severer and the more frequent the trials which have thrown him on his Redeemer for sympathy and for strength,—the stronger will this inward evidence become. The value of the testimony, "Not one thing hath failed of all that the Lord hath spoken," must needs increase with the number of the years that such testimony includes.
7 . This is an evidence of which its possessor cannot be deprived. All evidences that are without a man—historical, philosophical, moral—may lose their hold on him, "when mind and memory flee." And besides, of any evidence for which he is dependent on man, by man he can be deprived. An evidence of which man cannot rob us must be an evidence man cannot give us. And here it is: "The witness in himself"—the life within, which, when nature sinks, will rise the higher, and which will enable the believer even in death to shout, "Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory!"
1 . When we summon up before our imagination the thousands and millions of this and of past ages who have known and declared that life in Christ is their certain experience, we see how great the problem which the destructive skeptic has to solve ere he can demolish the evidences of and for Christianity! He might as well try to put out the sun's light! If it were possible (which it is not) for an unbeliever to know all the evidence of Christianity, objective and subjective, he would give up his puny attempts at disproof thereof.
2 . Let those who do not possess this inward witness look at the fact that, unless they arc to disbelieve in, or to regard as fools, the holiest of their friends who speak of the life in Christ as theirs, this evidence, though inward to their friends, is outward to themselves, and as such must be taken into account by them as pertaining to human experience. For it is by no means allowable to claim experience as a basis of evidence, and at the same time to decide a priori what that experience ought to be.
3 . If a man knows that some have an experimental and living faith which he himself lacks, if he feels painfully that religion is as yet something entirely outside him, how great should be his desire to pass from a dead faith which is dependent on man, to a living one imparted and sustained by God!
4 . Let us use the doctrine of the text as the basis of an earnest and loving appeal; and say, "We know what Christ is, for he is our Saviour; we know how freely he forgives, for he has forgiven us; we 'speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen,' we have tried his own words, and have found them true, 'He that believeth on me hath the everlasting life.'"
The fourfold witness to the Divine Sonship of Jesus.
"This is he that came by water and blood," etc. We omit the interpolated clauses, and take the text as it is given in the Revised Version. St. John here states the basis of that faith by means of which the Christian overcomes the world. We have the most convincing testimony that the confidence which is reposed in Jesus Christ as the Son of God is well founded. That testimony is manifold. We have—
I. THE TESTIMONY OF HIS BAPTISM . "This is he that came by water,… even Jesus Christ." The coming here meant is not that of his incarnation, his entrance into this world; but his coming forth from the retirement of Nazareth to enter upon his great redemptive mission. His coming "by water" we regard as referring to his baptism by John. That baptism was:
1 . The inauguration of his great mission. When Jesus went to John for baptism he had finally left his private life, and was just about to enter upon his public ministry, and his baptism was a fitting introduction to that ministry.
2 . An inauguration characterized by supernatural and Divine attestation. Probably it is for this reason that St. John here refers to our Lord's baptism: "Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway from the water: and lo, the heavens were opened unto him," etc. ( Matthew 3:16 , Matthew 3:17 ). And John the Baptist testified, "This is he of whom I said, After me cometh a Man which is become before me: for he was before me. And I knew him not; but that he should be made manifest to Israel," etc. ( John 1:30-34 ).
II. THE TESTIMONY OF HIS CRUCIFIXION . "This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not with the water only, but with the water and with the blood." The reference is to the blood which he shed upon the cross for the redemption of mankind. But how did his death witness to the truth that he was the Son of God?
1 . By the extraordinary phenomena associated with his death. "Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour.… And Jesus yielded up the ghost. And behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom," etc. ( Matthew 27:45 , Matthew 27:50-54 ; Luke 23:1-56 . 47, 48).
2 . By the transcendent moral grandeur expressed in his death. He voluntarily submitted himself to death for the salvation of the lost world. Our Lord said, "Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life that I may take it again. No one taketh it away from me," etc. ( John 10:17 , John 10:18 ); "He gave himself for our sins," etc. ( Galatians 1:4 ); "He gave himself a Ransom for us," etc. ( 1 Timothy 2:6 ); "He gave himself for us," etc. ( Titus 2:14 ); "Christ also suffered for sins once, the Righteous for the unrighteous," etc. ( 1 Peter 3:18 ). He freely surrendered himself to the most painful and shameful death, not for himself, or for his friends, but for sinners and rebels against him and his Father, and in order that they might have eternal life. Such self-sacrifice was more than human, more than angelic,—it was strictly and properly Divine.
"This was compassion like a God,
That when the Saviour knew
The price of pardon was his blood,
His pity ne'er withdrew."
III. THE TESTIMONY OF HIS SPIRIT . "And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is the truth, For there are three who bear witness, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and the three agree in one." Notice:
1 . The nature of the testimony of the Holy Spirit. At our Lord's baptism the Spirit bore witness that he was the Son of God ( Matthew 3:16 , Matthew 3:17 ). Our Lord said, "The Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall bear witness of me" ( John 15:26 ). Again he said, "The Spirit of truth… he shall glorify me; for he shall take of mine, and shall declare it unto you." He bore witness to the Messiahship of Jesus by coming down, according to his promise, upon the apostles, and by making the gospel of Christ which they preached a saving power to thousands of souls ( Acts 2:1-47 ; Acts 4:31 ). And he bears witness for Christ in the hearts of Christians ( John 3:24 ; 1 Corinthians 12:3 ).
2 . The value of the testimony of the Holy Spirit. "The Spirit, is the truth;" "The Spirit of truth" ( John 14:17 ; John 15:26 ); "When he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he shall guide you into all the truth." His testimony is of the utmost value and importance, because it is perfectly free from error or fraud; proceeding from the Spirit of truth, the Spirit who is the truth, it is light without any darkness, truth without any error. And his testimony is that Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of God.
IV. THE TESTIMONY OF HIS BELIEVING PEOPLE . "He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in him.… And the witness is this, that God gave unto us eternal life, and this life is in his Son." "The object of the Divine testimony being," says Alford, "to produce faith in Christ, the apostle takes him in whom it has wrought this its effect, one who habitually believes in the Son of God, and says of such a one that he possesses the testimony in himself." All genuine believers in Jesus Christ have the witness of their own consciousness "that God gave unto us eternal life, and this life is in his Son." They are conscious that the life of love—love to God and. to man—is theirs. "We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren." And we know that this life was quickened within us through the exercise of faith in Christ. To us individually this is the most convincing of all witnesses. "One thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see."
V. THE TESTIMONY OF ALL THE BEFORE - MENTIONED COMBINED . All the foregoing witnesses are united and concurrent in their evidence. "The three agree in one." We may say that the four agree in one. Their testimony is unanimous. There is no contradiction, no discrepancy in their evidence. With one voice they declare, "Rabbi, thou art the Son of God, thou art the King of Israel." "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God."
Notice two points in conclusion:
1 . The claim which this testimony has upon, our acceptance. "if we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater," etc. We receive human testimony, notwithstanding that
(1) The witness may unintentionally be untrue. Human observations and impressions and recollections are not always accurate; hence the witness of men is sometimes undesignedly incorrect. But in the manifold and Divine testimony to the truth that Jesus is the Son of God there cannot be any inaccuracy or imperfection.
2 . The issue involved in type non-acceptance of this testimony. "He that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he hath not believed in the witness that God hath borne concerning his Son." Is any one prepared to discredit God? Will any one implicitly charge him with falsehood? Be it ours to receive his testimony with larger, fuller confidence, and to rest in his Son with deeper, more loving, and more reverent trust - W.J.
Faith and the Divine testimony.
I. FAITH .
1 . A common faith with a common life is the foundation of brotherly love. "Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is begotten of God: and whosoever loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him." A general aspect is given to the truth. Given a person who (according to what John has formerly taught) believes that Jesus is the Christ, it can be said of him that he is begetter, of God, i.e., is the subject of a Divine life. It is implied, but not expressed, that a child of God loves the Author of his life. This love is extended to him that shares with him the same Divine life. There is thus created a brotherhood, with a common source of life and a common stream of life. And shall not all who have a common origin and common movements love one another?
2 . The reality of brotherly love is proved by the activity of obedience. "Hereby we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and do his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments." There is here personal application of the truth. When can we say that we love the children of God? The answer given is (the converse being also true), when we love God. Have we some real love to God? then inseparable from that is love to his children. For along with love to God goes the doing of his commandments, under which is included love to the children of God. This is the love of God in its working, that we are careful about doing the commandments of God. If a child has a sincere love to his parents, and knows that they wish him to be kind to his brothers and sisters, he will not oppose that wish. So if we have love to God, and know that it is his will that we should extend our love to his children, we shall make an endeavour in that direction. Transitional thought. "And his commandments are not grievous." If a parent loves his children, he will not give them all that they are inclined for; but he will lay commandments on them, i.e., he will lay down certain rules for their conduct, lines in which they are to act, which will be for their benefit, and, he hopes, their ultimate emancipation. There is nothing grievous in these commandments; they are the expression, not only of righteousness, but of kindness. So with the Divine commandment. If God had not loved us, he might have left us without directions for our life; but because he loved us, and could not bear to see us straying in devious paths to our destruction, therefore he has commanded and warned us well. There is "line upon line, precept upon precept." So far from these commandments being grievous in their nature, they are beneficial, emancipating. They are the direct roads to our happiness. They are not arbitrarily laid on us, but are thoroughly reasonable and suited to our nature. Is there anything unreasonable or unnatural in our loving the God of our life, and with our whole soul? And, loving the Father, may we not be asked to love also those who share with us the life of God?
3 . The difficulties of obedience which are presented by what the world is are conquered by faith. "For whatsoever is begotten of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that hath overcome the world, even our faith." The apostle's thought is not of the world in its normal state, but as it has been made by sin. The world is that of which the pervading spirit is forgetfulness of God. "The wicked… and all the nations that forget God" ( Psalms 9:17 ). Men may not be all wicked in the highest degree—deliberate and daring in sin; they may be divided against each other; but it is natural to all alike to wish to banish God out of their minds as an unwelcome, disagreeable subject. The world is that of which the pervading spirit is selfishness— the opposite of what is here inculcated. Men may not be all malevolent in the highest degree—devilish, according to the common conception—but it is natural to all alike to hurry on to their own satisfaction, without regard to the claims of others. The world is, further, that in social condition which is formed by following ungodly, selfish tendencies. Take such a social condition as is presented among the Jews. Long ago they took up a wrong position with regard to the Messiah. "His blood be on us, and on our children!" And in their generations, with few exceptions, they have stood to their position. Scattered among the nations, they have not conformed to the creeds of the nations. A common sentiment has pervaded them in many lands. Centuries of neglect and persecution have only served to burn into their minds the conviction that their forefathers were in the right. And now it would seem like a cutting off a right arm to acknowledge the Messiah. Take, again, such a social condition as is presented in the Church of Rome. It is well organized, is restlessly active, has a wonderful power of reaching minds, and yet it is identified with a system which is, to a great extent, in the name of Christ, a flattery of the human heart. Take a quasi-Christian condition of society. Without flagrant irreligiousness and vice, there is a worldly tone prevalent in families, in communities, in trades, in professions, even in Churches. There are views of life and practices that tend to lessen the sense of responsibility, and to divide men. When the world has on its side the influences of early training, of numbers, of dignitaries, of daily example, it is a formidable power to which to be opposed. And, if we look to ourselves, we are entirely at its mercy. But we are not hopeless, for a Divine power can be communicated to us, and all within us that is quickened by the Divine touch overcometh the world. What God does is to impart life; what we have to do is to exercise faith. We lay hold on what is outside of us, and thus we conquer. We lay hold on the infinite satisfaction there is in Christ, and thus we are not clogged, in our battle with the world, with the feeling of guilt. We lay hold on the conquest Christ obtained over the world. There is presented to our faith a God whom we are powerfully impelled to love. Thus situated, the commandments of God are not grievous. We may be said to conquer the world when no longer worldly ideas are influential with us. And when we have taken up the position of faith, the world becomes only the means of our discipline. The world will only be conquered in the fullest sense when the customs of society and influences which permeate it are such as to afford the greatest help to remembering God and living for the good of others. Appeal to experience. "And who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?" "Survey the whole world, and show me even one of whom it can be affirmed with truth that he overcomes the world, who is not a Christian, and endowed with this faith." In the apostle's day there were many who seemed hopelessly involved in heathen customs and traditions; but even out of their heathenism they reached forth the hand of faith to the incarnate Son of God, and conquered, in giving up their heathen life, and living according to Christian rule. It is only condescending love, apprehended by faith, that can break the spell of the world.
II. THE DIVINE TESTIMONY TO THE OBJECT OF FAITH .
1 . Its nature. "This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not with the water only, but with the water and with the blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three who bear witness, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and the three agree in one." The Bible is not so plain in every part that he that runneth can read. Peter found in Paul's writings some things hard to be understood. John uses simple words, but it is not always easy to catch his meaning. The present passage has been very perplexing. The historical basis is obvious. There was water at the commencement of our Lord's ministry; there was blood at its close. He came by water as baptized, he came by blood as crucified. Water signifies life in its purity; blood signifies life in all its purity sacrificed, and so made available for us. He came not with the water only; for his pure life by itself could not be available for us. But he came with the water and with the blood; for it was as sacrificed that his pure life was available for us. The fact that he had a pure life in the midst of sinful humanity testified to his being the Son of God. And so at his baptism there was the voice from heaven, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." The fact that by his death a fountain of life was open for men (significantly there gushed from his pierced side blood and water—first blood, and then water) also testified to his being the Son of God. And so there was the Divine attestation following in his resurrection. That is historical testimony belonging to a distant century. But the Spirit is the ever-present Witness, being the Truth. There are thus three present witnesses. There is the Spirit, placed first; because he witnesses through the water and the blood. There is the water, witnessing in the power of a new life in us. There is the blood, witnessing in redemptive virtue going into us to give us the power of a new life. And the three agree in one; their testimony converges to one point, viz. to the new life in us being the grand proof that Jesus is the Son of God.
2 . Its sufficiency.