A Closing Testimony
It is commonly thought that the gospel according to John was written later than any other book in the Bible. At any rate it was amongst the last.
That being so, it may be looked upon as a closing testimony, and as such peculiarly full and precious. There are four gospels, but they divide themselves into three and one. Three—the synoptical gospels—present the Lord in relation to some particular aspect. Matthew, the Messiah King. Mark, the Servant Prophet. Luke, the Son of Man and grace by Him. One—John—stands unique, by itself, the presentation of Himself in all His fulness. No wonder that when the writer had penned, under the inspiration of God, such an unfolding he testifies that such is the fulness of the life of Jesus that if all its details were written that even the world itself could not contain all the books that should be written.
And, further, it is no wonder that this gospel is the special object of attack. Whatever may be the outward aspect of attack, the inner citadel of attack is always the person of Christ. It may not look so, it may not profess so, but it is so, for the simple reason that He is THE TRUTH, and the weakening of any truth is but the green tree, the dry tree of which is an attack on the person of Christ.
A striking peculiarity of this gospel is that Christ in it speaks for Himself. It might be called the gospel of the self-assertion of Jesus. In using the expression self-assertion one must altogether detach from one’s mind the usual idea connected with the term. Self-assertion in the creature led to sin. Our first parents wanted to be as gods. Self-assertion in the things of God led to the death of Dathan, Korah and Abiram; led to the leprosy and death of King Uzziah; has led to endless sorrow in the Church of God, divisions and the like. But self-assertion on the part of Jesus was perfect. His testimony as to Himself was necessary for our blessing. It was the simple, dignified, and majestic assertion of Himself as the Sun and Centre of all our blessing and joy.
It resolved itself into two parts. The assertion of Himself as God. The assertion of Himself as Man. Nowhere else in scripture does the glory of His Godhead, nor that of His Manhood, shine out as here.
Take the first chapter. It the beginning was the Word—His uncreated being stated. “The Word was with God”—His distinct personality. “The Word was God”—His deity claimed. “The same was in the beginning with God”—His eternal distinct personality asserted. “All things were made by Him”—creation ascribed to Him.
And in passing did it ever strike you why creation is ascribed to God, the Son, and not God, the Father? Why, in the eternal purpose and wisdom, did the Son create? True, God said, “Let us make man in our image,” but when creation is ascribed to any particular person in scripture it is always to the Son. Why?
There may be much more in it and doubtless is, but I venture to submit that it was in view of His becoming Man. It was the guarding of His person. If He took a place among creatures in the world He sustained as Creator it gives His Manhood a peculiar and unique position.
But to return. The assertion of Himself as God. The assertion of Himself as Man.
I would draw your attention to the
I AM of Godhead.
I am of Manhood.
Twice in the gospel would I draw attention to Jesus asserting Himself as the I AM of the Old Testament—that mysterious, incomprehensible relationship as Jehovah He sustained to Israel—I AM THAT I AM. It is past the wisdom of man to so describe Him. It is thus He describes Himself, and it is because of this that all our blessing is sovereign, beyond the touch of our puny hands to destroy or belittle. When the light as to His Person shone out by the testimony of His own lips the Jews resisted it. They clung to traditional splendours and refused the true source of all splendour and blessing. They cried out, “Abraham is dead, and the prophets are dead, whom makest Thou Thyself?” He could give the astounding reply, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day: and he saw it, and was glad.” The link, alas! between them and their father Abraham was only traditional, or else they would have rejoiced unspeakably in the presence of that day, the vision of which by faith gladdened him. They retorted, “Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast Thou seen Abraham?” One can imagine the scorn which accompanied these words. And, oh! the dignity and blessedness of the answer: “Before Abraham was I AM.” Did they but know it, to have the I AM thus addressing them, veiled as to His unapproachable glory by the veil of His Manhood meant the taking up of all the promises to Abraham and making them good in His death and resurrection, the taking up of all the figures and shadows of the Old Testament and fulfilling them for our eternal blessing. But the only effect of the shining out of the glory of His Person was the hatred of the human heart. “Then took they up stones to cast at Him.”
The second instance, at the close of His life, is deeply affecting. When the band of men and officers, led by the traitor, replied to His question, “Whom seek ye?” by the answer “Jesus of Nazareth,” He replied, “I AM.” He was not of Nazareth as to origin, He was the blessed uncreated God. And His testimony was so overwhelming that “As soon as He had said unto them, I AM, they went backward, and fell to the ground.” We, whose hearts have been opened to the reception of the wonderful truth of His Person, fall forward and bow at His feet in worship.
Yet in spite of this wonderful demonstration as to the truth of His Person, when He permitted it they actually took Jesus and bound Him and led Him away to His mock trial and to death. Such is man.
But in the light of all this His self-assertion as Man in the gospel of John is so striking and unique.
I AM the Bread of life (Chap. 6:35).
I AM the Light of the world (Chap. 8:12).
I AM the Door of the sheep (Chap. 10:7).
I AM the Good Shepherd (Chap. 10:14).
I AM the Resurrection and the Life (Chap. 11:25).
I AM the Way, the Truth, and the Life (Chap. 14:6).
I AM the true Vine (Chap. 15:1).
In all these instances it is the assertion of what He is as Man for men. It is altogether different to I AM THAT I AM.
I AM the Bread of Life. Christ is the alone sustainer of spiritual life. It is only as we feed on Him that we are sustained. There are two things about that statement well worth considering. He says, “This is the bread that came down from heaven.” That is to say, that what He was there gave character to what He was here. Also, “And the bread that I will give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.” This shows that there is only appropriation through death. Out of Him, as having passed through death and settled every question, there is nothing but death. Life and its sustainment is alone found in Him.
I AM the Light of the World. Natural knowledge does not illuminate the soul, but all true inward spiritual life comes from Him. For us at present the Bright Morning Star has arisen—we see Jesus “crowned with glory and honour”—the pledge of all the victory of God. Soon He will be for this sad world “the Sun of Righteousness” arising with healing in His wings, all dark places lit up by the splendour of His coming. It is an affecting thought that in Him lies all our true light and knowledge. The knowledge of God lies in Him. All God’s effulgence shines from His blessed face. It is thus so important that we should be in close communion with Him, have right thoughts as to Him, and then we shall be rightly informed as to all else.
I AM the Door of the Sheep. He is the entrance into all our blessings; surely His death has placed that wonderful door into position. There is not one blessing that does not come to us through Him. True, the Holy Spirit leads us into the appreciation of divine things but He sent the Holy Ghost, and the Holy Ghost is the Spirit of Christ.
I AM the Good Shepherd. He laid down His life for the sheep. He proved His love to the fullest. He had power to lay down His life and power to take it again.
I AM the Resurrection and the Life. Everything for us lies in Christ risen. Our true blessings are all beyond death, and have their origin there. We begin with resurrection morally, and life flows from that. What a title to take! What superiority to all the dreaded force of death it shows! What comfort it gives to many tried and bereaved ones, as it did to Mary of old; though, whilst it may comfort and cheer us in our little trials, the title itself takes a scope and a sweep that involves all that Christ is in resurrection.
I AM the Way, the Truth, and the Life. How often we learn from the mistakes of the disciples. Thomas wanted to know the way to the Father’s house. In knowing Christ he knew the Way.
Thus the knowledge, the true knowledge of Himself, solves every difficulty. So with Philip, when he asked that the Father should be shown, the Lord refers to Himself, quite in keeping with John’s gospel. “Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known ME, Philip? He that hath seen ME hath seen the Father.”
How the true knowledge of the Lord would settle every point for us.
I AM the true Vine. There is no fruitfulness for us save as we abide in Him. We may discuss truth, we may state it earnestly and clearly, but if we are not in our own souls in communion with the Lord there is no fruit. “Without Me ye can do nothing.” How true it is!
Now, whilst the foregoing is all most blessedly true, I would like to say a word as to the blessing the Church is in this world. Jesus is like the SUN—the supreme source of light and warmth and sustenance. The Church is like the MOON that rules the night. But how does the MOON rule the night? She has no source of supply in herself. It is only by gazing upon the sun and reflecting his light that the moon has any light at all. If the earth comes between the sun and moon there is an eclipse of the moon.
And that is exactly what has happened. The earth has come between the Church and Christ. Earthly mindedness and worldliness have come in. Divine things are weakened. Confusion has come in like a flood. The Church has suffered almost a total eclipse, but not quite.
How, then, may I and others without any ecclesiastical assumption in this day of tremendous ruin be of any service in this world for Christ? Only by occupation with Himself. It is only as a company of the Lord’s people, all giving Him His true place and occupied with Him, that they will be of any practical service to Him.
For instance, He is the Bread from heaven. He says to Peter, “Feed My lambs.” He says He is the Light of the World. He said to His disciples, “Ye are the light of the world,” as to Himself absolute and full surely, as to us, relative and partial. He says,” I AM the Good Shepherd.” He says to Peter, “Pastor My sheep.” He says, “I AM the true Vine,” but He says, “Ye are the branches.”
So that amidst all the wreck and ruin it is ours to seek to make much of Christ, to have true thoughts as to Him, and then He can use us in shedding light, feeding our fellow believers, shepherding them in a circle of safety; but all this depends on Himself, just as all the moon’s ruling depends upon the light of the sun.
May this closing testimony have a powerful influence in our hearts. It is comforting, indeed, amidst all the darkness and confusion, that He is the same; for this testimony of John’s epistle is rendered after the ruin had set in strongly as to church order. Himself is our comfort and solace. His person in all its mystery, yet in all its attraction is our strength and support. May each one of us so learn of Him that we may be a blessing in the night. The day is soon coming, for He is coming.
Words of Grace and Encouragement 1907