I am going to ask you to look with me at quite a number of
fragments in the first Letter of John.
"And this is the message which we have heard from Him, and
announce unto you" (1 John 1:5).
"And this is the promise which He promised us, even the life
eternal" (1 John 2:25).
"And this is His commandment, that we should believe in the
name of His Son Jesus Christ" (1 John 3:23).
"If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is
greater; for the witness of God is this, that he hath borne
witness concerning His Son. He that believeth on the Son hath
the witness in him; that believeth not God hath made Him a liar,
because he hath not believed in the witness that God hath borne
concerning His Son. And the witness is this, that God gave unto
us eternal life, and this life is in His Son" (1 John
"For whatsoever is begotten of God overcometh the world; and
this is the victory that hath overcome the world, even our faith"
(1 John 5:4).
"And this is the boldness which we have toward Him" (1
"And every spirit which confesseth not Jesus is not of God;
and this is the spirit of the antichrist" (1 John 4:3).
"This is He that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ"
(1 John 5:6).
"And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an
understanding, that we know Him that is true, even in His Son
Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life" (1 John
Let us put all those fragments together:
"This is the message... this is the promise... this is the
commandment... this is the record... this is the love of God... this is
the victory... this is the confidence... this is the spirit of
antichrist... this is He that came... this is the true God".
I do not know what that conveys to you. In a very brief letter, a
letter which you can read through in about ten minutes, you have
this tenfold reiteration: "This is...". Surely it very clearly
indicates that the writer, the apostle John, was wanting and
intending really to pinpoint the great factors of the Christian
life and the Christian faith. It is impressive; it is instructive;
it is very challenging.
It all comes out of the first words in the letter: "That which
was from the beginning, that which we have heard, that which we
have seen with our eyes, that which we beheld, and our hands
handled, concerning the Word of life" (1 John 1:1).
Everything springs out of that. That is the sum of all that the
apostle is going to say: "That which we heard from Him".
So John is here in this letter recapitulating what came with
Christ and which he with other apostles had seen and heard and
beheld and handled. He has very serious business on hand. Indeed,
John in all his writings had a burden, a burden which amounted to
a passion. You will have noted perhaps that in every one of these
ten "pinpointings", as we have called them, there is in some way
one governing issue. There is one governing issue to the whole ten
of these "This is..." statements. And that governing issue, related
to every one, is:-
Take note of that. Go and look at it again. The issue bound up
with "this" is Life. And "this is..." and the issue bound up with
"this" is Life. And so it continues right the way through, to the
final summary: "This is the true God and eternal life" (1
And it is in repeating that so strongly, emphasising that, that
John brings us to the issue of the whole battle of
Christianity. For true spiritual Christianity is a terrific
battle. When you come into this kind of relationship with the Lord
Jesus, which is in Life, which is living, you are precipitated
into a tremendous conflict. You discover that sooner or later.
And it was in that very context that John wrote: he wrote his
Gospel; he wrote his three letters; and he wrote the Book of the
Revelation. He wrote them all very much about the same time and no
one who knows anything about these writings of John has any doubt
whatever that they are set in the realm of a tremendous spiritual
Can you recall his Gospel and all that we have there about the
Lord Jesus, in teaching and in work, is compassed by an atmosphere
of intense antagonism. How many times did the Jewish rulers
counsel together to kill Him because of the things which He said?
Until at last they did it. But all the way through that Gospel, if
you look again, you will find that He is moving in this atmosphere
of intense spiritual antagonism. And John wrote the Gospel with
that clearly in view. We will come back to that.
Of these three letters, the first is for the Lord's people in
general, the second is for a church, and the third is for a
spiritual leader in the church, but they are only three aspects of
one thing. And if you read carefully you cannot fail to detect
that what John is writing is because of the existence of a
positive antagonism and hostility to the spiritual life. And if
you have not recognised that in these two sections, you have not
missed it in the book of the Revelation. For if there is one thing
about that book, it is that it is a book of warfare. We
know how the first three chapters gather around "to him that
overcometh... to him that overcometh", seven times repeated.
And from then onwards it is warfare.
It would be good always if you would remember that, although
there is some meaning and value in the position which these books
occupy as bound together, that arrangement can be misleading, or
can mean that you lose something or miss something. It would be a
good thing if you could get hold of these books separately and
bind together the Gospel, Letters and Revelation as one continuous
narrative, each part having its own particular purpose. But you
must remember that John's Gospel was not written away back there,
just at the end of the life of the Lord Jesus, to give an account
of His earthly life. That is historically where it is put, but it
was written right at the end of the first Christian century, after
the destruction of Jerusalem. And so were these Letters, and so,
probably, was the Revelation. They all come right at the end of
that first Christian era or century, when all the other apostles
had gone to the Lord, and John, the old, old man, was writing at
that very critical turning-point in the history of Christianity.
Now that is a parenthesis. Always remember that, because you must
have the Gospel by John in order to understand the Letters of
John. It has been said that he wrote his Gospel, and then wrote
this first letter, or the three letters, as a kind of covering
letter to the Gospel. Be that as it may, there are other very
helpful things in that connection. You see, the Gospel was written
with one object. It was written with this sole object of making
known what was in Jesus Christ; in other words, what had come into
the world with Him and in Him, what He had brought in in
His own Person. That was the object of the Gospel. The object of
the three letters is to show what is in believers because of Jesus
Christ. We need not go on to the Revelation because that does not
concern us at this moment as to its special object. But you will
see that the Gospel and Letters are part and counterpart
concerning the Person of the Lord Jesus, and what has come in with
Him and what is in Him; and the Lord's people: what is in them, or
is supposed to be in them, because He is in them.
Jesus brought many things with Him in His Person into
this world, as from God. But everything that Jesus brought was
more than a doctrine, more than a teaching, more than a truth. The
meaning and the proof of everything that came in with Him is in
this one word 'Life'. The value of His teaching was to be
found in the effect of His teaching, in producing Life. His
teaching goes for nothing (unless it is condemnation) if the
result is not Life. All the works that He did were meant to result
in Life. They were not just interesting or wonderful or miraculous
works. The issue was intended to be Life. And all the work of the
Lord Jesus goes for nothing if it does not result in Life. It is
not the teaching of Jesus, although that is important; it is not
what Jesus did, although that is important; it is the result
of all that He said, and did, and was, that is the crucial
thing. The proof of the Lord Jesus is in the Life which
results from everything to do with Him. That is both a statement
and a test of everything that we know and have to do with in
relation to Him.
You notice that John is very explicit about this. He sums it all
up, both in Gospel and in Letter. You look in his Gospel at
Chapter 20 (Chapter 21 was a kind of additional chapter; he really
closed with chapter 20), and in verse 30 he sums up all that he
has written: "Many other signs therefore did Jesus in the
presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book;
but these are written, that ye may believe that Jesus is the
Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye may have life in
His name." Now you can shorten the statement, if you like,
and say: "All these are written that you might have Life in His
name". That is the issue. That is the object. That is the only
purpose of narrating all this about Jesus and His teaching and His
work. The purpose is solely this: "that ye may have Life".
Then, as you notice, in the first letter, at the end of Chapter
5, he does a similar thing. At verse 13: "These things have I
written unto you, that ye may know that ye have eternal life,
even unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God."
"These things are written that you may know that you have
eternal Life." In the Gospel it is: "Believing that you
have...". In the letter it is: "That you may know that you
Well, let us look at the time and the occasion of this writing.
We have pointed out that the date of John's writing was at the
close of the apostolic era. All that we have in the book of the
Acts was history. All that we have in the Epistles of Paul and the
others stands on record as an accomplished thing and the unveiling
of Divine purpose. It is on hand. Now John comes right in and, in
effect, he says: "You have all that. You know all that. That has
been deposited with you. Now, then, what about it?" It is a call
back, or a call up, to all that the church has received. It is a
challenge at this time to the Lord's people, to the church of
Jesus Christ, to come right into line with all that has been
given, because the Lord, having given, holds His people
responsible for all that.
He goes on with the book of the Revelation, and when at the
opening of that Book he calls the churches into question before
the Risen Lord, he does so on the ground purely that the apostle
Paul had given to those churches in Asia (which he had been
instrumental in bringing into being), a full-orbed revelation of
Jesus Christ. And now the risen Lord is calling them to account
for all that Paul taught them. And it is most impressive; it is
solemn, but it is encouraging. You know that one of the last
things that Paul said about his ministry was: "All that are in
Asia turned away from me" (2 Tim. 1:15). "They have
repudiated me. They have discredited me. They have closed down on
my ministry in Asia." Now: "John to the seven churches which
are in Asia" (Revelation 1:4). But it is not John, it is the
risen Lord through John to the seven churches in Asia, and it is
as though the risen Lord there in Chapter 1 of the Revelation is
saying: "Oh, but, churches in Asia, you are not going to get away
with it like that. You may repudiate My servant. You may turn from
him, but it is with Me you have to reckon. It was I who
spoke through him, who worked through him. It is with Me that you
have to reckon". Now that is encouraging for any servant of God
who has been faithful and has suffered discrediting and
repudiating. But it is very challenging and very solemn that the
Lord never lets anybody get away with anything that He has given
without, sooner or later, calling upon them to answer to Him
for that trust. There comes a time when the Lord does that.
But what about this occasion? Well, it is perfectly clear from
these letters and the Revelation, and it is implied by the Gospel,
that a state of spiritual decline had set in; a state of spiritual
change. Those former days of glory in the church were passing, but
they had not passed. All that devotion, faithfulness, willingness
to suffer, was passing. Declension had set in and a big change was
coming over Christianity at the time that John was writing. It was
a change of loss of standard, loss of calibre, loss of purity,
loss of first love. It was a time when pagan ideas were invading
the church and Christianity. Strange, mysterious kinds of
teachings from paganism were coming in and being made a part of
Christian teaching. And this was destroying the absolute purity of
the gospel and of the faith and of the life of believers. That
clearness and transparency of testimony and of life which had
marked the early days was giving place to spiritual mixture, and
whenever mixture comes in there is always confusion. And you can
discern how much confusion there was by reading this short letter.
How much here indicates that the Lord's people were in a state of
confusion born of this mixture which had come into Christianity!
Now I am not talking only about something nearly a couple of
thousand years ago. I have no hesitation in saying that we are
living in conditions very similar to those in which John wrote
this letter. What a mix-up Christianity in general is today! What
a confusion there is in Christianity today! What a loss of tone,
and of level, and of impact, and of purity, and of passion for the
Lord Jesus! Everybody is aware of it and everybody is deploring
it. There was this extra factor at that time which no small part
of this world is knowing something about today, and that was
persecution. John wrote the Revelation as an exile in the Isle of
Patmos "for the word of God and the testimony of Jesus"
(Revelation 1:9). It was a time of severe testing of the church
by persecution, opposition and antagonism. We may not know so much
about it in this western world and yet that is not to our credit!
Our brethren in the east do know all about this! They are in the
fiery trial of persecution and suffering.
And when I say that it is not to our credit that we don't know
it, I mean this. While, just at present, the form of it that is
over there may not have reached us, if, dear friends, we were more
vital in our spiritual life and testimony, we would meet more of
that powerful opposition. I think it is because we don't count for
enough that we don't meet enough of it; speaking of the church
generally. Some of us individuals do meet quite a lot, but as a
whole, the church in the west is not a persecuted church because
it does not count for enough.
Well, this was the occasion of the writing. But when we have said
all that, we have got to get behind and to the heart, and say:
"What is the explanation? What is the meaning?" These are only
aspects of a great battle. The battle has many forms; it takes
many different aspects. It means that there is something against
purity, against vitality, against the life of the people of God.
There is something against. But what is it that is the object of
it all? What is at the heart of it?
Now John does not leave us in any doubt when he underlines this
one word all the way through - Life. You mark it in the
Gospel, in the letters: Life! What is it all about then? Anything,
by any means, anyhow, from subtle subterfuge and deceit and
trickery, through every other form, until it comes to open, deadly
persecution; anything, anyhow, to destroy this Life. Anything
to destroy this Life, because this Life is the eternal issue, from
eternity past, through all the ages to eternity to come. This is
it, God intended the man of His creation to possess His own
Divine, eternal Life; to share His life with Him. That is
symbolised, of course, in the tree of Life in the beginning. That
is there, and it represents God's thought that man should, on
certain conditions, on a certain basis of faith, obedience, and
fellowship with Him, of walking in the light as He is in the light
- on that ground become the possessor of this that is called
Now, if that should happen in a universe where there is a
hostile, inimical and antagonistic hierarchy to God, a hierarchy
set against God and all His purposes and intentions, the whole
situation for that hierarchy is hopeless. The forces of antagonism
are fully and finally ruled out if that should happen, because
this Life is indestructible. It just cannot be destroyed. John is
telling us that it was in the Son of God, and we know from
another Scripture that "it was not possible that He should be
holden of death" (Acts 2:24). It was an impossible thing
that One in whom this Life dwelt should be holden of death. It is
indestructible. It is irresistible.
Mr. Spurgeon was once asked if he would become a member of a
committee for the defence of the Bible. He looked at the man who
had come to ask him and he said, "Does a lion need defending? You
let him off his chain. He will look after himself all right. The
Word of God needs no defending. Let it loose." And that is all
that you have got to do. It is irresistible.
I read about a whole stretch of concrete road that had got to be
torn up and re-laid because mushrooms had forced their way through
it and cracked it open. Mushrooms cracking open a
concrete highway! That is the power of Life. It is irresistible if
it gets a chance, if it is let loose, if it takes things into its
own hands. This Life calls out everything in this universe to
defend itself against this Life, to save itself from this Life. It
is a Life which provokes opposition because of its inherent
Now this Life, John says here, was in the Son, Jesus Christ. Look
at Him! Everywhere He went He met, in its many different forms,
antagonism to the Life that was in Him. Because of what was in Him
all the evil intelligences in this universe, the devil and demons
came out, woke up. "This is a critical situation. This thing has
'invaded our realm'." And He met it in every form.
Demon-possessed, and all the forms of satanic works in human
bodies and human minds - but not one could stand against Him.
John heads up all his signs in his Gospel of this very thing, the
mighty, irresistible power of the Life which was in Jesus, in one
cumulative instance. Lazarus is allowed not only to die,
deliberately allowed to die, but allowed to be in the grave in
that climate and at the end of four days to be in a state of
corruption. This was in order to show that real death - not
imaginary, fictitious or sentimental death, but real, terrible
death - cannot stand before Him, who is "the resurrection and
the life" (John 11:25). He exemplifies the nature of this
Life. It is indestructible; it is irresistible; and I would like
to take you through the many instances of Jesus bringing Life into
situations which were naturally quite hopeless.
You must remember that John deliberately selected a whole line of
impossible situations in order to show that with this One there is
nothing impossible. It does not matter what it is; whether it is
the water into wine, a hopeless situation in Cana of Galilee, an
end of everything. Or whether it is the woman of Samaria -
morally, a hopeless situation. Or the nobleman's son reaching the
verge of death and being a nobleman, he would undoubtedly have
used all his wealth to find some help for that son. He travels all
the way from Capernaum to Cana to come into contact with Jesus and
to beg Him to go and do something. A hopeless situation in this
world. And so we might go on. John deliberately selected these
things to show that this Life in Christ has no match and no
master. It is the master. In a situation of growing
spiritual death and darkness, decline and loss, John writes all
this and says, in effect: "Oh, you believers, you need to recover
in this day your knowledge, your experience of this Life that is
in Christ, this matchless Life, this mighty Life. It is the Life
that is going to solve the problems, answer the questions, meet
the needs, overcome the adverse forces and triumph at last. It is
this Life in Christ. That is what you need to know."
And, apart from that, things will go from bad to worse, and from
worse to awful. They will just decline. And John stands right in
that gap and says: "The answer is the recovery of Jesus Christ as
the eternal Life, in the power of this endless Life; a recovery in
your spiritual history, in your spiritual experience."
But the great fact is that over against what anybody with any
spiritual knowledge, spiritual experience or spiritual discernment
will agree is a time of lost spiritual power on the part of the
church and the people of God today, is the need of much more
power. To meet the present situation, the inroads of adverse
forces, that about which we have yet to speak more specifically,
to meet it, to counter it, this is what is needed. As John says in
his Gospel, in his letters and the Revelation, we need the
bringing back of the Lord Jesus into His full place, in terms of
eternal Life. John with his Gospel seeks to bring in the Son of
God in a new way to a failing church. In his letters that is the
emphasis: the re-introduction of the Son of God in the power of
May the Lord say something to our hearts about this, because we
really are so much further on than John was in the dispensation,
and surely none of us will dispute the statement that we are
getting very near the end, "by reason of which the heavens
being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt
with fervent heat"! (2 Peter 3:12). My, we understand it
today! This is a terrible reality. It only needs some madman with
the restraint taken off him to push a button today and
civilisation will be well-nigh wiped out, if the Lord were to
allow it. It is possible. We are very near the end. I can only
trust that we, at least individually and as companies of the
Lord's people, may come into a new knowledge of the Lord Jesus
Christ in the power of this mighty, indestructible and
irresistible Life; that we may really come where John meant to
bring the Lord's people when he said: "These things have I
written unto you, that ye may know that ye have eternal life"
(1 John 5:13). It is possible to have the doctrine of it and not
know it. It is possible even to put your feet down on the truth of
it and not be living in the knowledge of it.
These were Christians, and doctrinally and theoretically they had
eternal Life because they had believed on the Lord Jesus Christ,
but they were not living day by day in the knowledge of that Life.
That is possible, you know. John, when he wrote the Revelation,
made perfectly clear to one church this: "You can be doing all the
Christian work without all the Christian Life. The dynamic of all
your activities has gone, but you are carrying on the activities."
Now it is possible to be full of Christian works without the Life
and the Love being there. A lot of people are working tremendously
hard in Christianity but there is something vital lacking, and it
is just that that John was saying: "No, it is not the teaching,
not the doctrine, not the theory, not even the works that you are
doing; it is the mighty power of this Life registering, which you
know in your own experience every day: His Life, His resurrection
Life, in you, in me; that is the testimony." This is the
testimony, this is the message.
Now, of course, it would take a long time to take every one of
those pinpointings and say: "This is the message." "This is the
record." "This is the commandment" and so on. But, as I have said,
whether we deal with them separately or not, when you put them all
together they focus upon one thing - Life. Life is the issue.
May the Lord write this very strongly upon our hearts!