(1.) If we admit 1 John 5:8; in the room of 1 John 5:7; it looks too like a tautology and repetition of what was included in 1 John 5:6; This is he that came by water and blood, not by water only, but by water and blood; and it is the Spirit that beareth witness. For there are three that bear witness, the Spirit, the water, and the blood. This does not assign near so noble an introduction of these three witnesses as our present reading does.
(2.) It is observed that many copies read that distinctive clause, upon the earth: There are three that bear record upon the earth. Now this bears a visible opposition to some witness or witnesses elsewhere, and therefore we are told, by the adversaries of the text, that this clause must be supposed to be omitted in most books that want 1 John 5:7. But it should for the same reason be so in all. Take we 1 John 5:6; This is he that came by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth. It would not now naturally and properly be added, For there are three that bear record on earth, unless we should suppose that the apostle would tell us that all the witnesses are such as are on earth, when yet he would assure us that one is infallibly true, or even truth itself.
(3.) It is observed that there is a variety of reading even in the Greek text, as in 1 John 5:7. Some copies read hen eisi—are one; others (at least the Complutensian) eis to hen eisin—are to one, or agree in one; and in 1 John 5:8 (in that part that it is supposed should be admitted), instead of the common en te ge—in earth, the Complutensian reads epi tes ges—upon earth, which seems to show that that edition depended upon some Greek authority, and not merely, as some would have us believe, upon the authority either of the vulgar Latin or of Thomas Aquinas, though his testimony may be added thereto.
(4.) 1 John 5:7 is very agreeable to the style and the theology of our apostle; as, [1.] He delights in the title the Father, whether he indicates thereby God only, or a divine person distinguished from the Son. I and the Father are one. And Yet I am not alone; because the Father is with me. I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another comforter. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. Grace be with you, and peace from God the Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, 2 John 1:3. Then, [2.] The name the Word is known to be almost (if not quite) peculiar to this apostle. Had the text been devised by another, it had been more easy and obvious, from the form of baptism, and the common language of the church, to have used the name Son instead of that of the Word. As it is observed that Tertullian and Cyprian use that name, even when they refer to this verse; or it is made an objection against their referring to this verse, because they speak of the Son, not the Word; and yet Cyprian’s expression seems to be very clear by the citation of Facundus himself. Quod Johannis apostoli testimonium beatus Cyprianus, Carthaginensis antistes et martyr, in epistolâ sive libro, quem de Trinitate scripsit, de Patre, Filio, et Spiritu sancto dictum intelligit; ait enim, Dicit Dominus, Ego et Pater unum sumus; et iterum de Patre, Filio, et Spiritu sancto scriptum est, Et hi tres unum sunt.—Blessed Cyprian, the Carthaginian bishop and martyr, in the epistle or book he wrote concerning the Trinity, considered the testimony of the apostle John as relating to the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit; for he says, the Lord says, I and the Father are one; and again, of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit it is written, And these three are one. Now it is nowhere written that these are one, but in 1 John 5:7. It is probable than that St. Cyprian, either depending on his memory, or rather intending things more than words, persons more than names, or calling persons by their names more usual in the church (both in popular and polemic discourses), called the second by the name of the Son rather than of the Word. If any man can admit Facundus’s fancy, that Cyprian meant that the Spirit, the water, and the blood, were indeed the Father, Word, and Spirit, that John said were one, he may enjoy his opinion to himself. For, First, He must suppose that Cyprian not only changed all the names, but the apostle’s order too. For the blood (the Son), which Cyprian puts second, the apostle puts last. And, Secondly, He must suppose that Cyprian thought that by the blood which issued out of the side of the Son the apostle intended the Son himself, who might as well have been denoted by the water,—that by the water, which also issued from the side of the Son, the apostle intended the person of the Holy Ghost,—that by the Spirit, which in 1 John 5:6 is said to be truth, and in the gospel is called the Spirit of truth, the apostle meant the person of the Father, though he is nowhere else so called when joined with the Son and the Holy Ghost. We require good proof that the Carthaginian father could so understand the apostle. He who so understands him must believe too that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, are said to be three witnesses on earth. Thirdly, Facundus acknowledges that Cyprian says that of his three it is written, Et hi tres unum sunt—and these three are one. Now these are the words, not of 1 John 5:8; but of 1 John 5:7. They are not used concerning the three on earth, the Spirit, the water, and the blood; but the three in heaven, the Father, and the Word, and the Holy Ghost. So we are told that the author of the book Deut. baptismo haereticorum, allowed to be contemporary with Cyprian, cites John’s words, agreeably to the Greek manuscripts and the ancient versions, thus: Ait enim Johannes de Domino nostro in epistolâ nos docens, Hic es qui venit per aquam et sanguinem, Jesus Christus, non in aquâ tantùm, sed in aquâ et sanguine; et Spiritus est qui testimonium perhibet, quia Spiritus est veritas; quia tres testimonium perhibent, Spiritus et aqua et sanguis, et isti tres in unum sunt—For John, in his epistle, says concerning our Lord, This is he, Jesus Christ, who came by water and blood, not in water only, but in water and blood; and it is the Spirit that bears witness, because the Spirit is truth; for there are three that bear witness, the Spirit, the water, and the blood, and these three agree in one. If all the Greek manuscripts and ancient versions say concerning the Spirit, the water, and the blood, that in unum sunt—they agree in one, then it was not of them that Cyprian spoke, whatever variety there might be in the copies in his time, when he said it is written, unum sunt—they are one. And therefore Cyprian’s words seem still to be a firm testimony to 1 John 5:7; and an intimation likewise that a forger of the text would have scarcely so exactly hit upon the apostolical name for the second witness in heaven, the Word. Them, [3.] As only this apostle records the history of the water and blood flowing out of the Saviour’s side, so it is he only, or he principally, who registers to us the Saviour’s promise and prediction of the Holy spirit’s coming to glorify him, and to testify of him, and to convince the world of its own unbelief and of his righteousness, as in his gospel, John 14:16, 17, 26, 15:26; 16:7-15. It is most suitable then to the diction and to the gospel of this apostle thus to mention the Holy Ghost as a witness for Jesus Christ. Then,
(5.) It was far more easy for a transcriber, by turning away his eye, or by the obscurity of the copy, it being obliterated or defaced on the top or bottom of a page, or worn away in such materials as the ancients had to write upon, to lose and omit the passage, than for an interpolator to devise and insert it. He must be very bold and impudent who could hope to escape detection and shame; and profane too, who durst venture to make an addition to a supposed sacred book. And,
(6.) It can scarcely be supposed that, when the apostle is representing the Christian’s faith in overcoming the world, and the foundation it relies upon in adhering to Jesus Christ, and the various testimony that was attended him, especially when we consider that he meant to infer, as he does (1 John 5:9), If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater; for this (which he had rehearsed before) is the witness of God which he hath testified of his Son. Now in the three witnesses on earth there is neither all the witness of God, nor indeed any witness who is truly and immediately God. The antitrinitarian opposers of the text will deny that either the Spirit, or the water, or the blood, is God himself; but, upon our present reading, here is a noble enumeration of the several witnesses and testimonies supporting the truth of the Lord Jesus and the divinity of his institution. Here is the most excellent abridgment or breviate of the motives to faith in Christ, of the credentials the Saviour brings with him, and of the evidences of our Christianity, that is to be found, I think, in the book of God, upon which single account, even waiving the doctrine of the divine Trinity, the text is worthy of all acceptation.
2. Having these rational grounds on out side, we proceed. The apostle, having told us that the Spirit that bears witness to Christ is truth, shows us that he is so, by assuring us that he is in heaven, and that there are others also who cannot but be true, or truth itself, concurring in testimony with him: For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost, and these three are one, 1 John 5:7.
(1.) Here is a trinity of heavenly witnesses, such as have testified and vouched to the world the veracity and authority of the Lord Jesus in his office and claims, where, [1.] The first that occurs in order is the Father; he set his seal to the commission of the Lord Christ all the while he was here; more especially, First, In proclaiming him at his baptism, Matt. 3:17. Secondly, In confirming his character at the transfiguration, Matt. 17:5. Thirdly, In accompanying him with miraculous power and works: If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not; but if I do, though you believe not me, believe the works, that you may know and believe that the Father is in me, and I in him, John 10:37, 38. Fourthly, In avouching at his death, Matt. 27:54. Fifthly, In raising him from the dead, and receiving him up to his glory: He shall convince the world-of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and you see me no more, John 16:10; Rom. 1:4. [2.] The second witness in the Word, a mysterious name, importing the highest nature that belongs to the Saviour of Jesus Christ, wherein he existed before the world was, whereby he made the world, and whereby he was truly God with the Father. He must bear witness to the human nature, or to the man Christ Jesus, in and by whom he redeemed and saved us; and he bore witness, First, By the mighty works that he wrought. John 5:17; My Father worketh hitherto, and I work. Secondly, In conferring a glory upon him at his transfiguration. And we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, John 1:14. Thirdly, In raising him from the dead. John 2:19; Destroy this temple, and in three days will I raise it up. [3.] The third witness is the Holy Ghost, or the Holy Spirit, and august, venerable name, the possessor, proprietor, and author of holiness. True and faithful must he be to whom the Spirit of holiness sets his seal and solemn testimony. So he did to the Lord Jesus, the head of the Christian world; and that in such instances as these:—First, In the miraculous production of his immaculate human nature in the virgin’s womb. The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, Luke 1:35 Secondly, In the visible descent upon him at his baptism. The Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape, Luke 3:22 Thirdly, In an effectual conquest of the spirits of hell and darkness. If I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come unto you, Matt. 12:28. Fourthly, In the visible potent descent upon the apostles, to furnish them with gifts and powers to preach him and his gospel to the world after he himself had gone to heaven, Acts 1:4, 5; 2:2-4 Fifthly, In supporting the name, gospel, and interest of Christ, by miraculous gifts and operations by and upon the disciples, and in the churches, for two hundred years (1 Cor. 12:7), concerning which see Dr. Whitby’s excellent discourse in the preface to the second volume of his Commentary on the New Testament. These are witnesses in heaven; and they bear record from heaven; and they are one, it should seem, not only in testimony (for that is implied in their being three witnesses to one and the same thing), but upon a higher account, as they are in heaven; they are one in their heavenly being and essence; and, if one with the Father, they must be one God.
(2.) To these there is opposed, though with them joined, a trinity of witnesses on earth, such as continue here below: And there are three that bear witness on earth, the spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree in one, 1 John 5:8. [1.] Of these witnesses the first is the spirit. This must be distinguished from the person of the Holy Ghost, who is in heaven. We must say then, with the Saviour (according to what is reported by this apostle), that which is born of the Spirit is spirit, John 3:6. The disciples of the Saviour are, as well as others, born after the flesh. They come into the world endued with a corrupt carnal disposition, which is enmity to God. This disposition must be mortified and abolished. A new nature must be communicated. Old lusts and corruptions must be eradicated, and the true disciple become a new creature. The regeneration or renovation of souls is a testimony to the Saviour. It is his actual though initial salvation. It is a testimony on earth, because it continues with the church here, and is not performed in that conspicuous astonishing manner in which signs from heaven are accomplished. To this Spirit belong not only the regeneration and conversion of the church, but its progressive sanctification, victory over the world, her peace, and love, and joy, and all that grace by which she is made meet for the inheritance of the saints in light. [2.] The second is the water. This was before considered as a means of salvation, now as a testimony to the Saviour himself, and intimates his purity and purifying power. And so it seems to comprehend, First, The purity of his own nature and conduct in the world. He was holy, harmless, and undefiled. Secondly, The testimony of John’s baptism, who bore witness of him, prepared a people for him, and referred them to him, Mark 1:4, 7, 8. Thirdly, The purity of his own doctrine, by which souls are purified and washed. Now you are clean through the word that I have spoken unto you, John 15:3. Fourthly, The actual and active purity and holiness of his disciples. His body is the holy catholic church. Seeing you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit, 1 Pet. 1:22. And this signed and sealed by, Fifthly, The baptism that he has appointed for the initiation or introduction of his disciples, in which he signally (or by that sign) says, Except I wash thee, thou hast no part in me. Not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience towards God, 1 Pet. 3:21. [3.] The third witness is the blood; this he shed, and this was our ransom. This testifies for Jesus Christ, First, In that it sealed up and finished the sacrifices of the Old Testament, Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Secondly, In that it confirmed his own predictions, and the truth of all his ministry and doctrine, John 18:37. Thirdly, In that it showed unparalleled love to God, in that he would die a sacrifice to his honour and glory, in making atonement for the sins of the world, John 14:30, 31. Fourthly, In that it demonstrated unspeakable love to us; and none will deceive those whom they entirely love, John 14:13-15. Fifthly, In that it demonstrated the disinterestedness of the Lord Jesus as to any secular interest and advantage. No impostor and deceiver ever proposes to himself contempt and a violent cruel death, John 18:36. Sixthly, In that it lays obligation on his disciple to suffer and die for him. No deceiver would invite proselytes to his side and interest at the rate that the Lord Jesus did. You shall be hated of all men for my sake. They shall put you out of their synagogues; and the time comes that whosoever kills you will think that he doeth God service, John 16:2. He frequently calls his servants to a conformity with him in sufferings: Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach, Heb. 13:13. This shows that neither he nor his kingdom is of this world. Seventhly, The benefits accruing and procured by his blood (well understood) must immediately demonstrate that he is indeed the Saviour of the world. And then, Eighthly, These are signified and sealed in the institution of his own supper: This is my blood of the New Testament (which ratifies the New Testament), which is shed for many, for the remission of sins, Matt. 26:28. Such are the witnesses on earth. Such is the various testimony given to the author of our religion. No wonder if the rejector of all this evidence he judged as a blasphemer of the Spirit of God, and be left to perish without remedy in his sins. These three witnesses (being more different than the three former) are not so properly said to be one as to be for one, to be for one and the same purpose and cause, or to agree in one, in one and the same thing among themselves, and in the same testimony with those who bear record from heaven.
III. The apostle justly concludes, If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater; for this is the witness of God, that he hath testified of his Son, 1 John 5:9. Here we have, 1. A supposition well founded upon the premises. Here is the witness of God, the witness whereby God hath testified of his Son, which surely must intimate some immediate irrefragable testimony, and that of the Father concerning his Son; he has by himself proclaimed and avouched him to the world. 2. The authority and acceptableness of his testimony; and that argued from the less to the greater: If we receive the witness of men (and such testimony is and must be admitted in all judicatories and in all nations), the witness of God is greater. It is truth itself, of highest authority and most unquestionable infallibility. And then there is, 3. The application of the rule to the present case: For this is the witness, and here is the witness of God even of the Father, as well as of the Word and Spirit, which he hath testified of, and wherein he hath attested, his Son. God, that cannot lie, hath given sufficient assurance to the world that Jesus Christ is his Son, the Son of his love, and Son by office, to reconcile and recover the world unto himself; he testified therefore the truth and divine origin of the Christian religion, and that it is the sure appointed way and means of bringing us to God.