1 John 5:9-10
If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater: for this is the witness of God which he has testified of his Son.…
Here then —
I. BELIEVING ON THE SON OF GOD COMES BEFORE THE INNER WITNESS. "He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself"; he believes before he has that witness, and it is only as a believer that he obtains it.
1. The basis of faith is the testimony of God concerning His Son — the testimony of God as we find it in Holy Scripture. Dare we ask more? We must not go about to buttress the solid pillar of Divine testimony.
2. Note that the words which follow our text assure us very solemnly that the rejection of this basis, namely, God's own testimony, involves the utmost possible guilt. "He that believeth not God, hath made Him a liar; because he believeth not the record which God gave of His Son."
3. Now, this basis of faith is abundantly sufficient. If we were not alienated from God, we should feel this at once.
4. Now, though this basis is sufficient, the Lord, knowing our unbelief, has been pleased not to add to it, but to set it before us in a graciously amplified manner. He says, "There are three which bear witness in earth, the Spirit, the water, and the blood, and these three agree in one." There is the witness of the Spirit. Instead of miracles we have the presence of the Holy Ghost: men quickened from death in sin, hearts renewed, eyes enlightened, souls regenerated — these are the standing witnesses of God in the Church to the truth of the gospel. Then, there is the witness of the water. By the water I understand the spiritual life which abides in the Church — the life and the cleansing which God gives to believers. Then there is the blood — a third witness — that blood of atonement which brings peace to the guilty conscience, and ends the strife within. There is no voice like it to believing ears. Beyond this evidence, the hearer of the gospel may expect nothing. What more can he need? What more can he desire? If you refuse Christ upon the witness of God, you must refuse Him outright, for other witness shall never be given unto those who believe not upon the solemn testimony of God.
5. And let me say that this basis which has been so graciously amplified in the triple witness of the Spirit, the water, and the blood, has this to commend it, that it is everlasting and immutable.
6. Now, the faith which will not and cannot rest on this basis is evidently no faith in God at all, but a proud resolve to demand other evidence than His word. "Well," saith one, "but suppose I were to see a vision, I should then believe." That is to say, you would believe your vision, but that vision would, in all probability, be the result of a fevered brain, and you would be deceived. "Oh, but if I could hear a voice, then I could believe." That is to say, you refuse the sure word of testimony in the Bible, and will only believe God if He will condescend to indulge your whims. Voices which you might think you heard are not to be depended upon, for imagination easily creates them.
7. Let me tell those of you who will not believe in God till you get a certain experience, or sign, or wonder to be added to God's word, that those of His people who have been longest walking by faith have to come back full often to the first foundation of faith in the outer witness of God in His Word. Whether I am saint or sinner, there standeth the word, "He that believeth in Him is not condemned." I do believe in Him and I am not condemned, nor shall all the devils in hell make me think I am, since God has said I am not. On that rock my faith shall stand unshaken, come what may.
II. THE INNER WITNESS NATURALLY FOLLOWS UPON FAITH. "He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself."
1. It is quite impossible that the inner witness should precede faith. If you refuse to believe God's word how can you think that the Spirit will bear witness of anything in you except it be to your condemnation? There must be faith going before, and then the witness will follow after.
2. But be it remembered especially that a man may have the witness within him and sometimes he may not perceive it. Now, what is this witness within? Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and the Saviour of sinners — that is the main point to be witnessed. First the Spirit, after we have believed, bears witness in our soul that it is so, because we perceive that the Spirit has led us to believe in Jesus, and has given us repentance; the Spirit has renewed us, the Spirit has made us different from what we were. Then the water bears witness within us — that is to say, we feel a new life. Thirdly, the precious blood within our souls bears further witness, for then we rejoice before God as cleansed by the blood from all sin. Now we have confirmatory witness within our spirits, given not because we demanded it, but as a sweet reward and gracious privilege. We should never have received it if we had not believed first on the naked word of God, but after that the witness flows naturally into the heart. And what if I were to speak of growing holiness of character, of increased conformity to Christ's image? Do not these form a good inner witness? What if I were to speak of growing strength, so that the things we dare not once attempt we now accomplish with ease, or of growing patience under tribulation. Either of these would be noble proofs.
III. THIS INNER WITNESS IS EXCEEDINGLY EXCELLENT.
1. Because it is very plain and easy to be understood. Numbers of you have never read "Butler's Analogy," and if you were set to study it you would go to sleep over it. Never mind, you may have an unanswerable "analogy" in your own souls.
2. That is another point of its excellence — that it is unanswerable. A man is told that a certain medicine is mere quackery, "See here," says he, "it healed me." What do you say to such an argument? You had better let the man alone. So when a Christian is told that the gospel is all nonsense he replies, "It saved me. I was a man of strong passions, and it tamed me, and more." What can you say to such facts? Why, nothing.
3. Such argument as this is very abiding in its results. A man who has been transformed by the gospel cannot be baffled, because every day his argument is renewed, and he finds fresh reasons within himself for knowing that what he believed is true. Such argument is always ready to hand. Sometimes if you are challenged to a controversy you have to reply, "Wait till I run upstairs and consult a few books," but when the evidence is personal — "I have felt it, I know it, I have tasted it, handled it" — why you have your argument at your fingers' ends at all times.
4. Such witness as this gives a man great boldness. He does not begin to conceal his opinions, or converse with his neighbour with an apologetic air, but he is positive and certain.
IV. Excellent as this inner witness is, IT MUST NEVER BE PUT IN THE PLACE OF THE DIVINE WITNESS IN THE WORD. Why not? Because it would insult the Lord, and be contrary to His rule of salvation by faith. Because, moreover, it is not always with us in equal clearness, or rather, we cannot equally discern it. If the brightest Christian begins to base his faith upon his experience and his attainments, he will be in bondage before long. Build on what God hath said, and not upon your inward joys. Accept these precious things not as foundation stones, but as pinnacles of your spiritual temple. Let the main thing be — "I believe because God hath spoken."
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.