The Three Witnesses
June 10th, 1973 @ 8:15 AM
1 John 5:6-10
THE THREE WITNESSES
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 John 5:6-10
6-10-73 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Three Witnesses. It is an exposition of verses 6 through 10 of the fifth chapter of 1 John. First John chapter 5, beginning at verse 6:
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.
[1 John 5:6]
The seventh verse is an interpolation; a scribe put that in there, so we leave it out.
And there are 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 5:8-10]
And the text is verse 8: "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], the three witnesses.
The Christian faith, Christianity, presents great claims for itself. Christianity claims to be the only and the true faith and religion [John 14:6]. Christianity claims that its teachings are divine, therefore they are infallible [2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21]. Christianity claims that its Teacher is deity Himself, and therefore is to be reverenced and worshipped [Colossians 2:9]. Christianity addresses her mandates to the whole world, to all creation, and as such looks forward to the day when the teachings of the faith will be universally accepted, and when Jesus Christ her Master takes to Himself His great power and authority, and reigns over heaven and earth [Revelation 11:15]. Now, anyone would agree that a religion and a faith that makes such exalted claims for itself ought to be substantiated by positive and certain and real and infallible fact and truth. Does Christianity have such proofs that it is thus the true religion, that its mandates are universally to be accepted, and that its Teacher is deity, God Himself? What are these proofs that the Christian faith presents to substantiate such exalted and heavenly claims? Our text says that they are three: "There are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood" [1 John 5:8]. So we shall take these three and apply them to the Lord Himself, to His church, to our own experience in heart, and to the universal consummation at the end of the age – the three witnesses.
First, the three witnesses to Christ: the Spirit, and the water, and the blood [1 John 5:8]. In the twenty-ninth chapter of the Book of Exodus, and in the eighth chapter of the Book of Leviticus, when the priest was consecrated, when he was ordained, he was washed in water [Exodus 29:4; Leviticus 8:6]. A bullock, a sacrifice was made for him, and the blood was placed on his ear, on his thumb, and on his toe; he is to hear the Word of God, he is to do the work of God, and he is to walk in the ways of God [Exodus 29:29; Leviticus 8:23]. And he was anointed with oil, a sign of the unction of the Holy Spirit in his ministry [Exodus 29:7; Leviticus 8:12]. The priest always came in consecration and in ordination by the Spirit, the anointing Spirit; by the water, the cleansing, purifying water; and by the sanctifying, atoning blood. And if Christ is the great antitype of this ministry before God, He also must come by the Spirit, and by the water, and by the blood [1 John 5:6]. In the fifty-first chapter of the Psalms, this is the great praise Psalm of David in the forgiveness of his sin. And in the psalm the sweet singer of Israel says, "O God, purge me with hyssop, with blood," a reed dipped in blood, "wash me that I may be clean [Psalm 51:7], take not Thy Spirit from me [Psalm 51:11]; but renew the Holy Ghost within me" [Psalm 51:10]. Then, He that is able to forgive the sins of His people [Luke 5:20-24] must come by the Spirit, and by the water, and by the blood [1 John 5:6]. Did Jesus so come? Do these three witnesses point Him out as being all that He said He was, the Savior of the world, God manifest in the flesh? [Colossians 2:9].
The three witnesses to Christ; first: the Spirit [1 John 5-8]; the apostle Peter said, "The Scripture 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 the prophecies describe, by the Holy Spirit [1 Peter 1:10-12], the Messiah who was to come. And the Lord fits those prophecies like a hand fits in a glove or like a key fits in a door. The Holy Spirit of God by prophecy delineated the life and ministry of the Son of God [2 Peter 1:21]. His physical frame was formed; His humanity was a gift of the Holy Spirit. The angel Gabriel said to His virgin mother Mary, "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" [Luke 1:35]. The witness of the Spirit: His humanity was framed by the Holy Ghost.
He began His ministry in the power and unction of the Holy Spirit. At His baptism, the Holy Spirit, in the likeness of a dove, came upon Him. And the voice of the Father said, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" [Matthew 3:16; Mark 1:10-11; Luke 3:21-22]. The ministry of our Lord was in the power and presence and unction of the Holy Spirit. In the fourth chapter of the Book of Luke, four times will it refer to the fact that Jesus, "filled with the Spirit of God," and Jesus, "led by the Spirit of the Lord" [Luke 4:1], and opening the Book He says, "Today is this prophecy fulfilled in your sight [Luke 4:21]. The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me" [Luke 4:18]. And in His death and in His resurrection, His cold, lifeless body was quickened by the power and the moving of the Holy Spirit. Romans 1:4 says that, "He is declared" – pointed out, separated – "to be the Son of God, by the Spirit of holiness, in the resurrection from the dead." The Spirit witnesses to the deity and saviorhood of our Lord Christ [1 John 5:8].
Second: the water witnesses to substantiate the presentation of Jesus as the Son of God and the Savior of the world. In the first chapter of John, John the Baptist came, baptizing in the Jordan River. And in that chapter, John says, "For this purpose came I, baptizing with water; that He, the Messiah, might be manifested to Israel. And I knew Him not, but He that sent me to baptize said, the One on whom you will see the Spirit of God descending and abiding is the Savior of the world [1 John 5:8]. And I saw, and bear record, that this is the Son of God" [John 1:31-34]. He came by water [1 John 5:6]. And that water became a type and a picture of His death and His burial and His resurrection [Romans 6:3-5]. And that water became a type of the cleansing power of His word. Our Lord said, "Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you" [John 15:3]. And the fifth chapter of Ephesians says, "We are sanctified, we are cleansed with the washing of water by the word" [Ephesians 5:26]. And Titus 3:5 says, "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy has He saved us, by the washing of regeneration." And John 3:5 avows, "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God." This is He that comes by water [1 John 5:6]: in His death, in His burial, and His resurrection, pictured in baptism in water [Romans 6:3-5], and in the cleansing power of His word, we are sanctified, we are regenerated, we are purified [Ephesians 5:26]. This is the power of the living Christ, witnessed to by the water [1 John 5:8].
He is witnessed to by the blood [1 John 5:8]. For the Savior of the world, the One who would fit those messianic prophecies and fulfill them must also come by blood [John 1:29]. He is the paschal Lamb [1 Corinthians 5:7]. He is the Lamb that should take away the sin of the world [John 1:29]. He is the smitten Shepherd [Isaiah 53:4]. He is the One who lays down His life for the sheep [John 10:11]. He is the One who pours out His blood in expiation, and propitiation, and atonement, and reconciliation [1 John 2:2]. This is He that comes by blood [1 John 5:6]. For the Savior of the world, the Messiah, must die for the sins of the people [John 3:16; Hebrews 10:4-14]. And in Gethsemane His sweat was, as it were, great drops of blood [Luke 22:44]. And when they beat Him, blood flowed out of His back and stained the very pavement on which He stood [Matthew 27:26]. And when they nailed Him to the cross, blood flowed from the wounds in His hands, and in His feet, and His side [John 19:34]. There are three that bear witness to the deity and the saviorhood of the Son of God: the Spirit, and the water, and the blood; and these three agree in one [1 John 5:8].
Now, the witness to His church: the Spirit, and the water, and the blood [1 John 5:8]: at Pentecost, the assembled church was standing before God, complete, organized, with discipline, with ordinances, with doctrine, with the gospel of salvation in their hearts. But, the church was without unction, it was without Spirit, it was without power, it was without breath, it was without life. The church on the day of Pentecost assembled before God was like Adam: completely formed, but God had to breathe into his nostrils the breath of life before the man became a living soul [Genesis 2:7]. And at Pentecost the church was gathered before God, but it was lifeless and inert. And at Pentecost, God poured out upon His church the living Spirit [Acts 2:1-4]. And the church became a quickened organism; not organization, the church became a living body, an instrument in the hands of the mighty God for the evangelization of the world [Matthew 24:14].
And that spirit of testimony is in the true church today. I’m not speaking of a congregation that mechanically comes together in worship, that listens to some kind of an anemic, some kind of a emasculated message; I am talking about a church that gathers in prayer, and in faith, and in commitment, and in optimism, and in triumph, and that preaches the gospel of the Son of God. Wherever there is a church and a congregation that meets like that, there will you find the Holy Spirit of God in power outpoured upon the congregation. The people may come with cold hearts, but the Holy Spirit of God melts the heart. Just like an iceberg in the Gulf Stream could not remain, it melts; so in the presence of the Spirit of God, people coming in convocation before the Lord, when the Spirit moves, their hearts and souls are moved heavenward and God-ward. The testimony of the Spirit of God is to His church.
Not only the Spirit, but the water [1 John 5:8].
And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the treasurer, the eunuch from Ethiopia, said, Look, 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 he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And they went down, both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him. And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing.
The water testifies to the deity [1 John 5:8]. "If thou believest with all thine heart. I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God" [Acts 8:37]. The ordinance of water baptism testifies to the deity of the Son of God [Romans 6:3-5]. And on that great confession of faith, the church is built to abide, to live forever [Acts 8:37].
Wherever it rains, wherever in the earth that it rains, there will you find the water gathered in lakes, and in pools, and in ponds, and in seas. And wherever the water gathers, wherever the stars of the sky and the glory of the sun is mirrored in its soft surface, there will you see it disturbed by believer’s baptism. Fifty years ago a sinner was converted, and he was baptized in water. A thousand years ago a sinner was converted, and he was baptized in water. Today a sinner is converted, and he is baptized in water, a presentation of the faith that "Jesus died for our sins according to the Scriptures; that He was buried, and the third day He rose triumphantly according to the Scriptures" [1 Corinthians 15:3-4], the water witnessing to the power of the Lord of the church [1 John 5:8].
And not only by the Spirit does the church witness to the world, and not only by the water, but also by the blood [1 John 5:8]. The blood of Christ has been poured out a libation into this earth, and it is never the same again. David one time, being pursued by the Philistines, David said, "Oh for a drink of water from the well which is by the Gate of Bethlehem." And three mighty men in David’s army, Abishai, Benaiah – and the third unnamed – went through the lines of the Philistines, and drew water from the well by the Gate of Bethlehem and brought it back to their chieftain David. And David took it in his hands and looked upon it; and David said, "This represents the blood of these men who jeopardized their lives; I cannot drink it. And David poured it out, a libation before the Lord. And the earth drank it up" [2 Samuel 23:15-17]. It is so with the gospel of the grace of the Son of God. His life’s blood was poured out a libation upon this earth, and the ground drank it up. And the earth can never be the same again, because the Son of God died for it, and His blood was spilled out upon it, and the witness of the church testifies to the saving grace of the blood of the Son of God. "The testimony of the Spirit, and of the water, and of the blood: and these three agree in one" [1 John 5:8].
Now, the testimony in our own hearts – the testimony of the Spirit – he says, "He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself" [1 John 5:10]. Not only is it objective, not only is it external, not only does it testify to the deity of Christ, not only is it the great heart and message and power of the church of God, but we have the witness in ourselves. First, the Spirit: in the eighth chapter of Romans, the apostle Paul avows, "The Spirit Himself witnesseth with our spirits, that we are the children of God" [Romans 8:16]. It is something that a man feels, knows, is moved by in himself. The Christian faith and the Christian religion is not just something out there or over yonder; but it is something inside, moving, deep.
The witness of the water [1 John 5:8]: the Lord said, "He that drinks of this water, of the water of this life, shall thirst again: But he that drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I give him shall be in him a spring of water, a fountain of water, a well of water, springing up to eternal life" [John 4:13-14]. And the Lord said again, in the seventh chapter of John, "Verily I say unto you, he that believeth on Me, as the Scriptures saith, out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water" [John 7:38]. The Christian faith in the heart and life of a man becomes a veritable stream. It enters into our thoughts, it enters into our language, it enters into our aspirations and dreams, it enters into our visions and hopes and prayers, it enters into the work of our hands, it enters into the walking of our feet, it enters into every part of our life. It is impossible for a man who is a Christian to separate his Christian faith from his daily walk and his daily talk and his daily life. Out of his heart flow those great issues that color and stain every day and every moment of his life.
The witness of the Spirit within, the witness of the water within, the witness of the blood within [1 John 5:8] – when I was converted, they were singing a hymn that always moves me when I hear it. For it is by the blood that we have access to God [Hebrews 10:19], and it is by the blood that we are washed from our sins [Revelation 1:5], and it is by the blood that we feel that Christ has made oneness, atonement, at-one-ment, between us and God [Romans 5:11]. It is in the death of our Lord, it is in the cross of our Christ, that we have boldness to approach the throne of glory [Hebrews 10:19]. That hymn that they were singing when I publicly gave my heart in faith to Christ – and that always moves me when I hear it – is one that you also so familiarly know.
There is a fountain filled with blood,
Drawn from Emmanuel’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 on the marble sarcophagus of the grave of 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 till I die
Then in a nobler, sweeter song,
I’ll sing Thy power 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 the human heart that we have been saved, and have access to God [1 John 5:8].
And last, the witness of the Spirit, and the water, and the blood [1 John 5:8], to the great triumphant consummation of the age. The old-time theologians used to speak of baptismus flaminis, baptismus fluminis, baptismus sanguinis; the baptism of the fire, and the baptism of the flood, and the baptism of the blood. And that is the harbinger of the great triumph of the age in Christ. The Holy Spirit, the witness of the Spirit, the Holy Spirit brooded, in the first chapter of Genesis, over the chaotic earth [Genesis 1:1-2], and brought beauty and order out of its chaos. So the Holy Spirit of God – though we sometimes can hardly receive it – the Holy Spirit of God broods over this earth, bringing it to its glorious and final consummation. The witness of the water [1 John 5:8]: there is to be in this earth a regeneration, a purification, a sanctification, a washing clean and pure [Romans 8:18-22, Titus 3:5]. And the witness of the blood [1 John 5:8]: does God deign to mock the wounds of Christ and to scorn His sacrifice on the cross? No. "Therefore," says the apostle in the greatest passage that he ever wrote, in the second chapter of Philippians, "because HHe emptied Himself, and humbled Himself, even unto death, therefore hath God greatly exalted Him," because of His suffering for us, and His sacrifice for us, and the pouring out His life for us, "Therefore God hath highly exalted Him, given Him the name above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, and tongue confess, in heaven, in earth, and in hell, in the netherworld" [Philippians 2:6-11]. That is why the witness of the blood [1 John 5:8], that is why in the fifth chapter of the Revelation, when the Lamb of God appears, all glory sings:
Worthy is the Lamb to receive honor, and dominion, and power, and glory. For Thou hast redeemed us by Thy blood, out of every family and nation on the earth.
And we shall reign kings and priests with Him forever and ever.
. . .
And the four cherubim, and the four and twenty elders, and the myriads and myriads of angels, all the redeemed of all time, fell down before Him and cried, saying, Worthy is the Lamb.
[Revelation 5:9-10, 14]
This is the witness of the blood [1 John 5:8], pointing to the ultimate and final consummation of the age.
In a minute, we will stand and sing our hymn of appeal. And while we sing it, a family you, a couple you, or just one somebody you, in the balcony round, on the lower floor, coming down one of these stairways, walking down one of these aisles; "Pastor, I have decided in my heart, I receive the witness of the Spirit, I’m coming. I’m following through the waters of regeneration. I’m coming. I believe in the atoning death and grace of the Son of God who died for my sins [1 Corinthians 15:3]. I’m coming, and here I am." The whole family, a man and his wife, a couple who have fallen in love, two friends, or just you, when we stand to sing this hymn of appeal, be the first one down that stairway, or the first one down this aisle. "Here I am; I decide now." And when you stand up, stand up responding with your life, while we stand and while we sing.