The Three Witnesses
June 10th, 1973 @ 10:50 AM
1 John 5:6-12
THE THREE WITNESSES
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 John 5:6-12
6-10-73 10:50 a.m.
You know, there is a whole lot more to the way I feel in my heart about these instrumentalists in the choir than just that I am blessed by listening to the beautiful music. It lies in a great theological persuasion that is in my soul down deep. I think that when people come to church, they ought not to come as psychiatrical patients lying on couches and having ministerial probers, and psychologists, and psychiatrists trying to ferret out all of those problems that come of internal, inward, subjective sicknesses. That is the modern liberal church!
The people gather there, and the preacher talks about all of the things that concern ourselves. We center our minds on ourselves, and we get to thinking about ourselves, and the preacher preaches about the problems that we face, and the people come and listen to them, and thinking of themselves they get blue and discouraged. And trying to talk about their problems, they think of other problems, and pretty soon the sickness spreads until the church is anemic and dies.
Now what do I think a church ought to do? I think a church ought to come and praise God! Bless God! And forget about ourselves, and just thank the Lord for all that He has done for us, and what He means to us, and how we love Him. And get God in us; and if we can think about Him and forget ourselves, we’d all be well—wouldn’t need any psychologists and psychiatrists of any kind. That’s what I think.
And that’s why I love a church like they praise God in the Bible. Remember how many times I’ve told you that two hundred eighty-seven instrumentalists played the instruments [1 Chronicles 25:7], and they had [four] thousand Levites to sing [1 Chronicles 23:5]. Oh, no wonder when the people of the Lord were carried away into Babylon, they said, “I had rather my right hand forget her cunning and I had rather my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, than that I could forget Jerusalem” [Psalm 137:5, 6], with its temple of God, its house of worship, and its people praising the Lord. That’s why I love this!
Well, on the radio and on television, you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church. And this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Three Witnesses. And it is an exposition in the fifth chapter of 1 John, beginning at verse 6 [1 John 5:6]:
This is He—
our Lord Christ, Jesus Jehovah, the Savior of the world—
This is He that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood.
And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is the truth…
And these are the three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood; and these three agree in one.
If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater; for this is the witness of God which He hath testified of His Son.
He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself.
[1 John 5:6-10]
And the text, “There are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood; and these three agree in one” [1 John 5:8].
Christianity makes far-reaching claims for herself. Christianity claims to be the only true faith and the only true religion [Isaiah 45:5, 11; John 14:6; Acts 4:12. 1 Timothy 2:5]. Christianity claims that the divine Master and Lord it worships is deity Himself [John 1:1-2, 1:14, 20:28], and demands reverence and worship from all men. Christianity claims that its teachings are divine and, therefore, infallible [2 Peter 1:21]. And Christianity addresses its mandates to every creature, and lives in the confidence that her truth will someday be received universally, and that her Lord will be King and sovereign over all [Revelation 19:16]. Now such exalted claims demand substantiation, proof. What are they?
Here in my text, by inspiration, the apostle John writes that there are three witnesses to the truth of God in Christ Jesus: one, the Spirit; two, the water; and three, the blood [1 John 5:8]. And these three agree in that testimony to the Son of God [1 John 5:8]. So we’re going to take the three witnesses and apply them first to the Lord Christ; they testify of Him. Then we shall apply them to His church. Then we shall apply them to our own hearts, for he writes that we have the witness in ourselves [1 John 5:10]. And then we’re going to apply them in adumbration to the consummation of the age.
First: the three witnesses to Jesus Christ: the Spirit, the water, and the blood [1 John 5:8]. In the twenty-ninth chapter of Exodus and in the eighth chapter of Leviticus, we are told how a priest was consecrated for his sacred office. He was washed in water [Exodus 29:4, Leviticus 8:6]. A sacrifice was slain for him, and the blood was placed on his ear, on his thumb, and on his big toe [Exodus 29:20; Leviticus 8:24]. He was to hear the message of God, he was to do the Word of God, and he was to walk in the way of the Lord. And then the priest was anointed with oil, a sign of unction from heaven [Exodus 29:21; Leviticus 8:30]. If the priest was a minister of Jehovah God, he came by the Spirit, the anointing Spirit, he came by water, and he came by blood. And if Christ, the great antitype of all of the priests who ever mediated between man and God and God and man—if Christ is the true antitype—He also must come by the Spirit, and by the water, and by the blood [1 John 5:8].
In the fifty-first Psalm, which is the psalm of thanksgiving to God by the sweet psalmist of Israel in the forgiveness of his sins, in the fifty-first Psalm, David says:
Purge me with hyssop—
dipped in blood, a reed dipped in blood—
wash me that I may be clean…
And renew a right spirit in me . . .
And take not Thy Holy Spirit from me.
So the one who can forgive our sins must be one who can baptize us in the Holy Spirit, who can wash us clean and pure [Psalm 51:7, 1 Corinthians 6:11], and who can make atonement for us in blood [Ephesians 1:7]. He who must forgive our sins must also come with those three gifts: the Spirit, and the water, and the blood. Jesus so comes and these three testify to Him [1 John 5:8].
First, the Spirit [1 John 5:8]: Simon Peter wrote, “The Scriptures came not in old time by the will of men, but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” [ 2 Peter 1:21]. And all of those prophecies of the Old Testament concerning the Messiah, Redeemer of the world, all of them by the Holy Spirit—said and spoken—have been fulfilled in the Messiah Christ. As a glove will fit the hand, as the key will fit the lock, so Christ is the fitted One, answering to all of the Holy Spirit prophecies of the Old Testament.
Not only that, coming by the Spirit, His physical frame, His humanity was formed and shaped by the Holy Spirit of God. In the first chapter of the Book of Luke, the angel Gabriel said to His virgin mother, “Behold, the Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee; wherefore also that holy thing that shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God,” the Savior of the world [ Luke 1:35]. His humanity was shaped and framed by the Holy Spirit. He came by the Spirit.
Not only that, but in His baptism, which began His messianic ministry, He was anointed of God. And the Holy Spirit came in the form of a dove and descended upon Him; and the Father said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” [Matthew 3:16-17].
And not only that, but His ministry was characterized by the power and unction of the Holy Spirit of God. The fourth chapter of the Book of Luke begins, “…and Jesus, filled with the Spirit” [Luke 4:1], and again, “and Jesus led by the Spirit…” [Luke 4:1]. And again, “This day is the Scripture fulfilled in your sight [Luke4:21]… ‘Behold the Spirit of the Lord is upon Me’” [Luke 4:18]. After His death and His burial [Luke 23:26-53], He was resurrected from the dead and marked out as the Son of God by the Spirit that raised Him from among the dead. In Romans 1:4 the apostle writes:
Jesus Christ is declared, horizō—
“marked out”; the word “horizon” comes from that, the marking out between the earth and the sky—
Jesus Christ is horizō—
He is marked out, He is singled out—
as the Son of God by the Spirit of Holiness—
by the Spirit of God—
in the resurrection from the dead.
This is He that came by the Spirit, but not by the Spirit only; the water testifies to the Saviorhood and deity of the Son of God [1 John 5:8]. Do you remember the passage you just now read in the first chapter of John? The great Baptist preacher standing in the waters of the Jordan River lifted up his voice and said:
That He might be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing in water . . .
And I knew Him not, but He that sent me to baptize . . . the same said unto me,
Upon Him, upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and abiding, He it is who is—
the Son of God and the Savior of the world—
And I saw it and bare record that this is the Son of God.
Even Jesus, the witness of the water. And when finally we came to know what that meant, this baptismal service meant, it meant His death, and His burial, and His triumphant resurrection [Romans 6:3-5].
And it meant the cleansing, purifying power of the words of the Son of God. As the Lord said to His disciples in John 15:3, “Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.” As He said under the power of the apostle Paul, in his inspiration, the fifth chapter of the Book of Ephesians, we are sanctified, we “are cleansed with the washing of water by the word” [Ephesians 5:26]. And as by inspiration, Paul wrote in Titus 3:5, “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy and grace He saved us, by the laver—by the washing—of regeneration”. As the Lord said to Nicodemus in John 3:5, “Except a man be born of the water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” This is a power in Christ: His words cleanse us, purify us. And in the water of baptism, we have a picture of the glorious atoning death, the burial, and the triumphant resurrection [Romans 6:3-5]. The water witnesses to the deity of the Son of God.
But He came not by Spirit alone, not by water alone, but He also came by blood [1 John 5:8]; atonement is in Him. For you say the Messiah—if He is the true Savior predicted in the Holy Scriptures—the Messiah must die for His people. The Shepherd must lay down His life for the flock [John 10:11]. The paschal Lamb must be slain. The Lamb must be led to the slaughter; and without that atoning blood, Jesus is no more than any other prophet. But the cross of Christ, the blood of the Son of God cleanses us from all sin [1 John 1:7]. And the purity, and the forgiveness of sin, and the holiness, and the sanctity, and the access to God we have in Christ bear witness to the atoning grace of Jesus our Savior. The three are one, and bear witness to Christ our Lord.
Not only that, but the Spirit, and the water, and the blood bear witness to the true church and congregation of our Christ; the Spirit bears witness to the church of Jesus. At Pentecost the church was assembled in the presence of God [Acts 2:1]. They were there organized, with ordinances, with discipline, with doctrinal truth; but they were without living, they were without quickening, they were without breath, they were without life. At Pentecost the church gathered together was the same as when God created Adam. The whole man was there before God, created by His omnipotent hand [Genesis 1:27], but the Lord breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living soul, a quickened spirit [Genesis 2:7]. So it is with the church at Pentecost: there it is gathered before God, but it was powerless, it was dead, it was without unction until God breathed into the church the breath of life. And the Spirit was poured out upon the people of the Lord [Acts 2:1-4]; and they stood up in power, witnessing to the fullness of the grace of the blessed Savior.
In the first chapter of the Revelation, verse 4, it says, “And there before God burned the seven Spirits” [Revelation 1:4]. Seven Spirits? That is the plenitude of the fullness of the outpouring of the Spirit of God, “for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto us” [John 3:34]. The power of the Spirit in the congregation witnesses to the glory of Christ. I don’t mean every congregation, for some of them gather mechanically. And the preacher stands out and speaks out of the shallowness of human speculation. But I’m speaking of a church that gathers in the name of Christ, that gathers in prayer and supplication, and whose hearts are opened heavenward, and who listen to the preaching of the gospel of the grace of the Son of God. The Spirit moves in a congregation like that. And though a man may stand before Mount Sinai with hardness of heart, the wooing of the Spirit sometimes melts the hardest soul into tenderness, and intercession, and supplication.
The witness of the Spirit in the church, but not the Spirit alone; the water testifies to the divinity and heavenly mission of the church of the Lord [1 John 5:8]:
See, here is water…See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?
And Philip answered and said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest.
And the eunuch answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, deity.
And he commanded the chariot to stand still:
and they both went down into the water, both Philip and the eunuch: and he baptized him.
The water is a witness in the church to the deity of the Son of God:
Dost thou believe with all of thine heart?
And they went down both into the water; and he baptized him.
The water is a witness to the deity, and the saviorhood, in the church of Jesus Christ [1 John 5:8]. As long as it rains, the water shall be gathered in pools, and in lakes, and in ponds, and in seas. And as long as the stars in the heaven are mirrored in the surface of a placid pond and pool, just so long will the church be baptizing her converts. Fifty years ago a sinner was saved and he was baptized. A thousand years ago a sinner was saved and he was baptized. And today a sinner is saved and he’s baptized; the Spirit and the water testifying to the deity and the saviorhood of the Son of God, but also the blood. The Spirit, the water, and the blood—the message of redemption poured out into the earth through the sacrifice of the Son of God [1 John 5:8].
David—the chieftain of the army—surrounded by the conquering Philistines, said, “Oh, for a drink of water from the well by the gate of Bethlehem” [2 Samuel 23:15].
And three of David’s mighty men—Abishai and Benaiah and the third, unnamed—went through in jeopardy of life; cut through the Philistine lines and drew the water from the well by the gate of Bethlehem and brought it back to their king and chieftain, David. And when David held it in his hands, he said, “This represents the jeopardy of life, the very blood in the life of these men. I cannot drink it.” And David poured it out, a libation before God, and the earth drank it up [2 Samuel 23:15-17]. So with the blood of the Savior, the Christ, poured out into the earth and the ground drinks it up. This is the message of power and redemption preached by the churches of Jesus Christ, that in His blood we have atonement, and grace, and forgiveness, and access to God [Ephesians 1:7], the Spirit, the water, and the blood witnessing in the church [1 John 5:8].
Again, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood, witnessing in our hearts [1 John 5:8], for he said, “He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself” [1 John 5:10], not just externally—not just there and yonder, but here in the soul, in the heart, in the life—the witness in ourselves. First, the Spirit: the apostle Paul wrote, “The Spirit of God beareth testimony, witness with our spirit that we are the children of God” [Romans 8:16]. Down deep something from heaven speaks, and claims us, and owns us that we belong to God; the witness of the Spirit, the witness of the water. Jesus said in the fourth chapter of John:
He that drinks of the water of this life shall thirst again;
But he that drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst;
but the water that I give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into life everlasting.
And the same Lord also said in the [seventh] chapter of the Gospel of John, “Surely, I say unto you, he that believeth on Me, as the Scripture has saith, out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water” [John 7:38]. The witness of the water [1 John 5:8]; that is, of the life, the outflowing of the Christian life. It is impossible for a Christian to disassociate his faith and his religion from his life. They’re enmeshed. They’re intercommingled; they flow in the same direction. When a man is a Christian it is evident in his talk. It is evident in his walk. It is evident in his life. It is evident in every expression of his soul and being. There is as a witness of the water, the witness of the blood.
This is our welcome to God, washed from our sins [1 Corinthians 6:11, Revelation 1:5] to stand in His presence without spots, without blemish [Ephesians 5:27]. Not that we are without spot or without blemish, but God accepts us in the atoning grace and blood of Christ as being clean and pure and holy and acceptable in His sight [Ephesians 1:6-7]. Come boldly. Come boldly, boldly, as though we have never sinned, walking in the very presence of God by the blood, by the blood, coming by the blood [Hebrews 4:16, 10:19]. The hymn that moves me always most is the hymn they were singing when I accepted the Lord as my Savior. You know it, but they never sing it but that I have a feeling on the inside of my soul. It moves me. It’s about the blood.
There is a fountain filled with blood,
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins.
And sinners plunged beneath the flood
Lose all their guilty stains.
The dying thief rejoiced to see
That fountain in his day.
And there may I, though vile as he,
Wash all my sins away.
“E’er since by faith”—And this is the stanza that is incised in marble on the tomb of the great preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon—
E’er since by faith I saw the stream
Thy flowing wounds supply,
Redeeming love has been my theme
And shall be ‘til I die.
Then in a nobler, sweeter song
I’ll sing Thy pow’r to save,
When this poor, lisping, stammering tongue
Lies silent in the grave.
[“There is a Fountain Filled with Blood,” William Cowper]
The witness of the blood in our hearts by which we have access, boldness to come in the presence of God.
And last, the witness of the Spirit, and the water, and the blood [1 John 5:8] to the great final consummation and triumph of the age. The witness of the Spirit: in the first chapter of Genesis the Spirit of God brooded over the chaotic earth and brought cosmic beauty out of the chaos [Genesis 1:2]. It may be hard for us to believe it. Sometimes we stagger before it, but the Holy Scriptures avow that the Spirit of God broods over this present chaotic earth [John 16:8], and some day, some triumphant, glorious, consummating day there shall be perfect peace, and harmony, and glory, and beauty, and righteousness, in this earth, this very, earth! The witness of the Spirit [Romans 8:16-17].
The witness of the water: God is preparing a redeemed throng, clean and pure, sanctified by the washing of His Word of regeneration [Titus 3:5]. No man will say to his neighbor then, “Know the Lord” [Jeremiah 31:34, Hebrews 8:11], for all of us shall know Him, from the least to the greatest. We all shall speak His words and say His language and follow in His train.
The water, the blood: witnesses to the great, final triumph of our Lord [1 John 5:8]. God will not mock the wounds of Christ, nor will God hold in contempt or scorn or disdain the cross of the Son of God! Nay! Because He died, because He suffered, because He poured out His blood unto death, “Therefore God hath also highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name. That at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow . . . and every tongue confess in heaven, and in earth, and in the netherworld” [Philippians 2:9-11]—in hell. The witness of the blood: because He suffers God hath exalted Him above all the creation.
That’s why in the fifth chapter of the Revelation, when John turns and sees the Lamb of God, the whole earth and heaven burst into song saying, “Worthy is the Lamb . . . to receive honor, and blessing, and glory, and dominion, and power” [Revelation 5:12]. For He hath redeemed us by His blood out of every nation and language under the sun and made us kings and priests unto God; and we shall reign with Him forever and ever [Revelation 5:9-10]. And the four and twenty elders and the four cherubim and all the angels in creation and the redeemed of the ages [Revelation 4:8, 14], so I bow before the Lord God singing that song, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain” [Revelation 4:12]. The blood is a witness to the final triumph and glory of our coming King [1 John 5:8].
Now, that is an exposition of the Word of God. I’d rather hear that 10,000 times than some fellow stand up and expatiate on all of the knots on my head. God is in His Word. God is in this Book. God identifies Himself with the Word, and these three are one: the spoken Word, the written Word, the incarnate Word, and to exalt the written Word is to magnify the incarnate Word, for these are one.
Well, we must sing our hymn of appeal. And while we sing it, a family, a couple, or just one somebody you, to give himself to Christ, to come into the fellowship of His dear church; while we stand and sing this hymn of appeal, on the first note of the first stanza, come. Down one of these stairways and there’s time and to spare. The lower floor into an aisle and down to the front, “I have decided, pastor. I have decided and here I come.” Make the decision now in your heart, and in a moment when we stand to sing the appeal, on the first note of the first stanza, come. Do it now. Make it now, while we stand and while we sing.
puts forth very lofty claims
Such exalted claims demand substantiation, proof
John writes there are three witnesses to the truth of God in Christ Jesus – the
Spirit, the water and the blood
II. The three witnesses to Christ
things used for ordination of a priest(Exodus
29:1-21, Leviticus 8:1-30)
putting away of sin except with these three things (Psalm
one who can forgive our sins must be able to baptize us in the Holy Spirit,
wash us clean and pure, and make atonement for us in blood – Jesus so comes
Fulfills types, prophecies of Old Testament Scriptures (2 Peter 1:21)
Jesus’ humanity shaped and framed by Holy Spirit(Luke
Holy Spirit descended upon Him at baptism(Matthew
Ministry characterized by power of Holy Spirit (Luke
He was resurrected by the Spirit (Romans 1:4)
Purpose of baptism – Son of God might be manifested(John
Cleansing, purifying power of the words of the Son of God(John 15:3, Ephesians 5:26, Titus 3:5, John 3:5)
blood – cross of Christ, His blood, cleanses us from all sin
III. The three witnesses in the church
Spirit – poured out at Pentecost(Revelation 1:4,
water – a witness to the deity of Christ(Acts
blood – still in the earth, poured out a libation for our sin(2 Samuel 23:15)
IV. The three witnesses in the heart
Spirit – bears testimony to our own spirit (1
John 5:10, Romans 8:16)
water – the outflowing of the Christian life(John
The blood – our access to God, pleading Jesus’ flowing wounds
V. The three witnesses to our ultimate
Spirit – broods over this chaotic earth (Genesis
water – God preparing a redeemed throng, clean and pure
blood – because Christ died, God exalted Him and every knee will bow before Him
(Philippians 2:6-11, Revelation 5:13)