The Testimony of Jesus

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 6 - God's Witness Concerning His Son

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 eternal Life.

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 blood.

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" (Acts 5:32).

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 Son.

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.

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