This is the Message...
by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 1 - Eternal Life

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 5:9-11)

"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 John 5:14).

"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 5:20).

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:-

Life.

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 John 5:20).

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 battle.

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 have".

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 eternal Life.

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 potentiality.

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 eternal Life.

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!


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