Reading: 1 John 5:5-12.
"There are three who bear witness, the Spirit, and the water,
and the blood; and the three agree in one."
It is the threefold witness to the Lord Jesus as the Son of God,
and that is gathered into a single testimony. The three bear
witness and agree in one, and the one thing which embraces the
threefold witness is that Jesus Christ is the Life, that Life is
in Jesus Christ, God's Son, and that God has given Him, and in Him
You notice, then, that all this is a matter of God testifying to
His Son, God bearing witness to His Son, that Jesus is the Son of
God. That is the inclusive fact; God bears witness to His Son that
He is the Son of God. Then it is how God bears witness, by what
means and in what way He bears witness. It is a question of how we
are to know that Jesus is the Son of God, and that knowledge is
resolved into a very practical matter. It is lifted completely out
of the realm of theory and doctrine and creedal statement and
placed in the realm of experience and inward knowledge. Notice
what is said here about it being an inward thing. And the
threefold means and method of God in bearing witness in an inward
way to His Son is said here to be the Spirit, the water, and the
The Witness of the Spirit
Firstly, then, the Spirit is God's witness within to the Divine
Sonship of the Lord Jesus. It resolves itself into this: that
where the Holy Spirit operates the result is a living knowledge of
the Lord Jesus as God's Son in an inward way. He is known inwardly
in terms of Life as the result of the operation of the Holy
Spirit. Of course, the Holy Spirit is entirely committed to
bearing witness to the Lord Jesus. We know that in an outward way.
You remember that the Lord Himself said that when the Comforter
was come, He would bear witness of Him (John 15:26). Then in the
Acts where things are taking place, the statement is made - "We
are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit"
But here it is not the outward testimony to the fact borne by the
Holy Spirit so much as it is the inward witness by the Holy
Spirit. How does the Holy Spirit bear witness to the Divine
Sonship of the Lord Jesus in an inward way? The answer is: in
terms of Life; that is, by means of Life. It is all a question of
Life here in this letter of John. God has borne witness, "The
witness is this, that God gave unto us eternal life, and this
life is in His Son." God's witness borne to His Son is that
He has given unto us eternal Life. Our having eternal Life is
God's witness to Christ.
But how do you know that you have eternal Life? In other words,
how do you know the witness of God in terms of Life? Firstly then,
it is by the Holy Spirit's activity and operation in that
direction. The Holy Spirit's object being to establish the witness
of God in us that Jesus is God's Son will, wherever He has right
of way in a life, so work as to make that life know in a very
practical way, in many practical ways, the Life of the Lord Jesus.
Take, for instance, the argument we have in Romans 8:10-11: "The
body is dead because of sin... But if the Spirit of him that
raised up Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he that raised up
Christ Jesus from the dead shall quicken also your mortal bodies
through his Spirit that dwells in you." What does that mean?
It means this, that, being in the hands of the Holy Spirit, on the
one side we have experiences of death in ourselves, even in our
bodies; that is, we know through experience what it is to be
drained of life, to have our very vitality sapped until we are in
a place of complete impotence as we face a demand. We cannot meet
it of ourselves, we have not the resource, energy, vitality or
life with which to meet the demand. The demand is too great for us
and we have been made aware of it, and the Holy Spirit has done
that. Then the Holy Spirit comes and quickens, energizes, even the
physical frame, the mortal body, to meet a demand which it could
not meet otherwise apart from that quickening, and the thing is
done, the work is accomplished, the obligation is met, the demand
is satisfied, the work is carried out in an energy not our own.
The Spirit of Him that raised up Jesus Christ from the dead has
quickened, and that is how the Holy Spirit bears testimony that
Jesus is the Son of God and bears testimony in an inward way. We
say as a result that we know the Lord as our Life. We know,
because God has borne witness in that way by His Spirit in
experience in a very inward way to His Son as His Son in terms of
Life. That is only one instance and one way in which it is done,
but it indicates the method.
The Holy Spirit works, on the one hand, to make us know that,
apart from the Lord Jesus Christ, we have no Life, we are
lifeless, helpless, and hopeless and the whole situation is an
impossible one for us. The Holy Spirit does that. If ever you come
into that position as a true child of God where you are face to
face with a situation which you cannot meet and the Lord wants you
to meet it, it is something that, in the will of God, has got to
be met (I must say that because sometimes it is not the Lord's
will to do some things and we do not get Life from the Lord for
those things), but if in the will of God there is something to be
met and we find ourselves incapable of meeting it and carrying it
through, let us remember, that is a work of the Holy Spirit. The
Holy Spirit has done that deliberately and definitely. It is the
way of true spiritual life.
It is not the way of true spiritual life to feel always
sufficient for everything, to feel that you can do it,
that you are capable. Very capable people are not always the
people who are most spiritually productive. The Holy Spirit works,
on the one hand, to an incapacitation naturally and humanly in
order to pave the way for His own witness to the very Sonship of
Jesus Christ coming in upon a negative ground, an impossible
situation, and giving Life to go through that, perhaps only to go
through that, but to go through it and to go through it royally.
The result is that Christ has been made known as our Life and God
has borne witness by His Spirit to His Son's Sonship, and we know
Jesus Christ as the Son of God like that. The first great witness
is the Holy Spirit working in the life of the child of God to
bring up God's testimony to Christ in terms of Life. That is true
individually. It is also true collectively. What is God's witness
in a company of His people? God's witness is not that they believe
that Jesus is the Son of God as part of their doctrine and creed,
nor that they affirm it with great vehemence. "The devils also
believe and tremble" (Jas. 2:19). No, the witness of God in
a company is that that company in itself as such is to be a dead
thing in itself - lifeless and hopeless and helpless in
itself - and yet the throbbing of God's Life is felt when that
company is together in the Spirit.
What are these people, who are these people? They are nothing and
yet you are conscious of a Life there which is more than mere
emotion and enthusiasm of an assembly and congregation. There is a
power, a quickening, a vitalising, energizing by being in their
midst, being gathered with them, and you come away perhaps
enlightened by the teaching more or less, understanding or not a
bit understanding the things said, but you have to say - it is
Life, it is renewal, it is renovation, it is energizing. It is
like new wine. God has borne witness to the doctrine, to the
truth, in terms of Life by His Spirit. That is God's witness -
Life. I am not saying that Life is separate from the truth as
doctrine, but doctrine without the Life may be a very dead thing.
You may, as a matter of doctrine, believe with all your might that
Jesus is the Son of God, but it is not that kind of thing that is
effective. That can be mere fundamentalism which is not always
spiritual Life. It is God the Holy Spirit bearing witness to the
fact of the Sonship of the Lord Jesus in terms of Life.
So the Holy Spirit is committed to make the Lord Jesus known in
an inward way as God's Son by this very practical means, that He
is Life unto us, and it would be impossible for us to go on unless
we knew the Lord as our Life.
The Witness of the Water
"The Spirit and the water". God is bearing testimony to
His Son as His Son by means of the water. I know there are various
interpretations of this. For myself, I feel quite sure that this
relates to His baptism. "This is He that came by water" or,
in water, and that water is God's instrument of bearing witness to
His Sonship. Of course, it was so in His own baptism, by means of
His baptism, by means of the water: God bore witness at once -
"This is My beloved Son".
But how does the Lord do this in an inward way by water? What is
the meaning of the water, or of His baptism, or of baptism?
Briefly it is this, as we said in a previous meditation: it was
the fulfilment of all righteousness. As He said to John: "Suffer
it to be so now, for thus it becomes us to fulfil all
righteousness" (Matt. 3:15) - all righteousness fulfilled,
the righteous judgment of God satisfied. For that water is a
burial, a grave, a putting away out of sight of that which is not
acceptable to God, and upon which the judgment of God has been
pronounced. It is sinful, it lies under a curse; therefore it must
die. "The wages of sin is death". And there is witness
borne that the righteous requirements have been fully satisfied in
the burial of the Lord Jesus. The wages of sin have been fully
paid, the law has received the last token of its exacting. Sin is
fully dealt with and the sinner has died. Therefore there is
remission of sin.
The witness of the water is the witness of our union and
identification with Christ in His death and burial; sin is no
longer laid to our charge, at our door, God is wholly satisfied.
We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, He has made
peace by the blood of His cross. The witness of the water is the
witness that God has no more to ask. He has received all that He
requires and is satisfied in the death of the Lord Jesus, in the
fulfilment of all righteousness, the satisfaction of all Divine
requirements. The witness is that - that the Lord Jesus in His
death and burial, has taken our place. We know that, but this is
borne in upon us in terms of Life. It is a living thing. It is,
again, not just the teaching of the New Testament, but it is
something in our own hearts. We know in our hearts, the witness of
God is in our hearts that, in the death and burial of His Son, He
has found His satisfaction for His whole righteousness and we have
passed from condemnation; condemnation no longer rests upon us.
While this is such a familiar doctrine, it is a thing, as we have
emphasized before in these meditations, which the Lord's people
must come to apprehend with ever-increasing reality. Recently this
was borne in on my heart in a new way, in such a wonderful way,
that I cannot tell you what it has come to mean to me. I thought I
knew something about the meaning of justification through Christ's
death, but quite recently in a dark time of terrific conflict, day
and night the enemy coming with the force of death to try and
force one into death, to accept death, in this very dark time
lasting for about a week - day and night conflict, hand to hand
conflict with death - at the end of that time or towards the end
of that time, I was turned to the life of Martin Luther. As I
gradually moved with him in the terrific conflict that took place
in that soul - oh! what a battle raged in that soul between the
system that he was in of righteousness and justification by works,
his whole soul writhing under it. You remember that memorable day
when he had visited Rome to get indulgence and going up on hands
and knees on that staircase, every step of which was supposed to
bring an indulgence, relief, release, from condemnation into
justification, as he got so far in this awful process, a clear and
distinct voice spoke in his ear - "The just shall live by faith"
(Rom. 1:17). He went up no more steps on his hands and knees. He
turned and rushed down again, crying, "The just shall live by
faith", and that was the great turning-point. Then there
began this awful spiritual conflict. Up to that time, it was a
conflict with a system, a kind of mental conflict with the system
of Romanism, but now it assumed a spiritual form, the very devil
himself coming to bring Luther under condemnation, laying to his
charge all manner of sin.
And then I came to this great statement, the most utter thing
that you could ever lay your hand upon. Luther cried one day in
the midst of this conflict, "Oh Christ, I am Thy sin, Thy curse,
Thy wrath of God, Thy hell. I am" - listen to that! "I am Thy
sin." That is only saying, "Oh Christ, the sin which is laid upon
Thee and for which You are now regarded as guilty, is my sin, is
me; I am Thy sin". How utter it is put in that way. "I am Thy sin,
Thy curse. The curse under which You lie. Oh Christ, it's me. I
am!" Not, 'my curse is Thy curse', but, 'I am Thy curse,
Thy wrath of God. The wrath of God which is upon You is me. I am
that, I am the cause of that, I am that. Thy hell, that tasting of
death, that abandonment of God which is hell, I am that. Oh
Christ, I am Thy sin, Thy curse, Thy wrath of God, Thy hell'. And
contrariwise, "Thou art my righteousness, my blessing, my life, my
grace of God, my heaven!"
That came to me as right out of heaven in that dark hour of
conflict, and, as I say, I cannot tell you what that new
revelation, that new witnessing of God to my own heart need, meant
to me - something altogether new, something that never has been
before in my life of strengthening, of lifting up, of bringing out
of that terrible conflict; of what identification with Christ
means in His death and burial. It is an inward thing.
The witness of God is this, the water is the way of Life. That
way of death is Life, it is the way of Life through that death.
His baptism was His way through to God, but it was the way through
death, and there is no other way for us.
The point is this, that we know that Jesus Christ is the Son of
God by the inward witness that sin has been met in Him, judgment
has been borne by Him, righteousness has been satisfied by Him in
His death. He dying, He lying there dead, is the sinner which you
are and I am. God is satisfied. Oh, are we really living in the
strength of this inward assurance that, so far as we are
concerned, because we are in Christ, God is satisfied on all
matters of righteousness?
We have much more to learn and grasp about this, but oh, it is a
tremendously emancipating thing, tremendously strengthening. More
than half the troubles of most children of God, arise from some
kind of shadow which exists between themselves and the Lord,
uncertainty and question as to what the Lord's attitude is towards
them, what their position is with the Lord. The really happy
people, the really satisfied people, the people who are at rest
and who really have living testimony, are the people who are
living in the good of this that they, in Christ, have died to
God's judgment. God's judgment, so far as they are concerned, is
exhausted and finished. All condemnation is over.
"Free from the law, Oh! happy condition,
Jesus hath bled, and there is remission".
Cursed by the law and bruised by the Fall,
Christ hath redeemed us once for all".
How? By dying as us, by being us as sin, the curse, death and
hell, and delivering us from the lot by His death. To live in the
inward enjoyment of that is Life, and that Life is the testimony
to God's Son.
The Witness of the Blood
Finally, the blood. "The Spirit, and the water, and the blood".
The witness of God to His Son as His Son is by means of the blood.
Here I only need to remind you of what has already been said in
this series, that the blood speaks of the Life, the Life
of God's Son, and we said that it is synonymous with nature. His
blood is His life, and His life is His nature, and He has said, "Drink
ye all of it". "Except ye... drink the blood of the Son
of man you have not life. He that eats My flesh and drinks My
blood has eternal life" (John 6: 53-54). The blood is the
life, the blood is the nature, and the witness to the Son of God
is this: simply that we know that there has been given to us the
power and energy of another nature. We may be very conscious of
our own old nature, but there is another now within; we know it.
It is that Other which tremendously reacts to our own old nature.
If our own old nature does break out and assert itself, we have
the most terrible reaction, and we are not at rest until we get
back to the place where we repudiate that breaking out of the old
nature and take sides with this Other reacting to it. By these
Divine reactions within which are more than conscience, the mighty
movement of another Life in us, we are led steadily away from
ourselves and what we are in ourselves and are drawn on to Christ.
We more and more repudiate that other and take sides with Christ,
and so we grow.
This spiritual growth, this conformity to the image of God's Son
is not just teaching, doctrine. It is a very practical thing, and
it works out very often through tremendous convulsions in which we
are called upon to take very definite sides against ourselves; not
something presented to us as according to law and legality, but
something that is rising up within us to demand another course,
and that something is the new nature, the new life, the powerful
working of Christ's nature in us, and that is God's witness to His
How do you know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God? "Because
He has given unto us eternal life". Because the blood means
that we have received another nature which is working
tremendously. And it is a ground of real assurance for us
ourselves and for others, if only we know that we have received
eternal life, if only we know that we have come into the value of
the precious blood of Jesus Christ, received it into ourselves,
have drunk, as it were, of that blood, that life, taken in by
faith that nature of Christ. If only we know that someone for whom
we are concerned has really passed through that crisis and
experience by which they have received the values of the blood,
they do possess eternal life; it is a ground of real assurance. We
know quite well that they will have a bad time, they will not be
able to do wrong without meeting something within themselves. God
is bearing witness by that means all the time. He is keeping His
Son alive, as it were, in us, by bearing witness in this way.
I know that this is not the whole meaning of the witness of the
blood. I am selecting one thing. The witness of God to His Son in
us is by means of a new nature, the energy of a new nature. There
is a very great deal of difference between that inward witness to
the Son of God by a new nature, and a merely orthodox creed about
Jesus Christ being the Son of God. There are many who hold an
orthodox creed and believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God,
but whose life is very much out of keeping with that, a violent
and a persistent contradiction to their belief. The true witness
of God will bring us, not free from failure, but bring us
constantly back from our failures to the Lord. You cannot get away
from Him for long without a reaction. You ask any backslider, who
has really known the Lord, whether they are happy. You will find,
whatever may be their cover up, deep down underneath, if you
patiently work to find it, that they would give anything to get
back again. The slightest bit of deviation is like a dislocation,
an awful toothache. Let us get free from this, get back again!
That is God's witness to His Son. Jesus is a living reality; this
is not theory, creed, He is a living reality, and God bears
witness by this means. So the testimony of Jesus is maintained in
terms of Life in this threefold way - the Spirit dealing with us
to make Christ our Life, the water testifying to no condemnation
now, freedom from the law; and the blood witnessing by means of a
new nature. Well, it is simple, but it is very practical and
effective. This is "the witness that God has borne concerning
His Son... God gave unto us eternal life, and this life is in
his Son", and the threefold way in which that Life is
manifested is by the Spirit, the water and the blood.