The magnificent, moving and profound account of our Lord's life provided by the Apostle John provides us all with an understanding of important truths of which we stand in very great need; even greater than is commonly realised, for many are deeply involved with other pursuits of no spiritual value, trying either to misapply Hebrew prophecy to a present premature time or they become so preoccupied with dispensational extremes as to limit their study of Scripture almost entirely to Paul's prison epistles at the neglect of the Word as a whole.
It is almost impossible for us to understand the truths revealed especially for ourselves by the Apostle Paul apart from the general truths recorded by the Apostle John, for in his Gospel, in particular, we find set out some of the most wonderful unfoldings the Lord Jesus ever taught. And yet some expositors seem to treat these fairly lightly, as if in some way they were inferior; yet they are in no way inferior even to the surpassing revelations given to Paul. There is a Scripture in Matthew's account (Chap. 10:24,25) which reads like this:—
"A disciple is not over his teacher, neither a slave over his lord. Sufficient is it to the disciple that he may be becoming as his teacher, and the slave as his lord."
Now the word DISCIPLE does not simply mean follower; its literal meaning is learner; and that is why Paul, in deference to his Lord, was entirely content "to know Him and the power of His resurrection and the participation of His sufferings" (Philippians 3:10). It would never have crossed the Apostle's mind that in becoming the mouthpiece of the highest revelation of his Lord, he was, in some way, rising above the teaching of his Lord. Incidentally, none of us should ever seek to be regarded as anything higher than learners, even if on earth God should call us to a service of teaching and exposition because in such case we need no less to have the humble attitude of learners.
As the reader may be well aware, the words which appear before the four accounts of our Lord's earthly life in the Authorised Version—such as "The Gospel according to St. Matthew"—are no part of the original manuscript, but are merely embellishments provided by the translators, who, in their choice of this wording, must have misled thousands of saints into thinking these Accounts provided the Evangel; whereas they are, of course, the foundation on which it was afterward based. The late Alexander Thomson suggested that the title of The Gospel of Matthew might well be "Jesus Christ's Lineage Scroll;" that is, the Book which shows Him to be hereditary King of Israel. If we apply this attractive principle further the title of the Gospel of Mark becomes "The beginning of the Glad Tidings of Jesus Christ, Son of God" (1:1) and Luke's title-preface is contained in his first four verses because they supply the reason for his narrative. When we come to John's Gospel we also find a title-preface in his first five verses—"In the beginning was the Word" and so on—followed by an expanded introduction in verses 6 to 18. That is what in fact those two passages amount to, and if we read. them with care we obtain the sequence of the basic ideas which the remainder of John's Gospel develops; first the Word as life and light; then as the Word becomes flesh in the person of our Lord, we behold His glory, full of grace and truth. From all this we arrive at the two key words which characterise our Lord's Incarnation as John unfolds it: Grace and Truth in their fulness, and the fact that Grace and Truth came into being through Jesus Christ. So John, at the very beginning of his Account, gives us the key to its content, which is that the fulness of Truth came into being through the Lord Jesus; and we see how that fulness of Truth in Him encountered the Lie of :the Slanderer through the unbelief and enmity of those who do his desires:
"Then Jesus said unto them, 'If God were your Father you should have loved Me, for I came forth and am arriving out of God. For neither have I come of myself, but He commissions Me. Wherefore do you not know My speech? Seeing that you can not hear My word. You are of your father the Slanderer, and the desires of your father you are wanting to do. He was a man-killer from the beginning, and has not stood in the truth, seeing that the truth is not in him. Whenever he should be talking of that which is false, he is talking of his own, seeing that he is a liar, and the father of it. Yet I—seeing that I am speaking the truth, you are not believing in Me. Is anyone of you convicting Me concerning sin? If I am telling the truth, wherefore are not you believing in Me? He who is of God is hearing God's declarations. Therefore you are not hearing, seeing you are not of God" (John 8:42-47 C. V.)
The words of our Lord here are foundation facts, and they were never contradicted by anything that the Spirit of Truth guided subsequent writers into, neither are they superseded anywhere.
If we will study this reply by the Lord Jesus, we shall find that several very important facts emerge from it. They may be placed under five headings, the first being that the primary basis of all evil is the Lie. Secondly, the reason for the lie (any lie) springs from within "out of his own;" that is, preoccupation with self, and THEREFORE REPUDIATION OF TRUTH, for the source of truth is OUTSIDE SELF. The Lord Jesus spoke truth because He "came forth out of God," Who is Truth—so the Lord Jesus Himself is "Truth", as He declared, "I am the truth." Thirdly, the Lord Jesus, having come forth from God, is known and loved by those for whom God is Father, for they recognise that they are hearing declarations of God. Fourthly, we learn that the Slanderer is talking out of his own, is devoted to self, so the truth is not in him, and therefore those of whom God is NOT Father are out of the Slanderer as father and want to carry out his desires. They wish to be man-killers and listen to the lie. And fifthly, since the Lord Jesus is speaking truth, those who prefer the lie, not being out of God, are not hearing Him; and not hearing Him, and not wanting to hear Him, they do not believe regarding Him.
So here, in perfectly logical steps, and from the mouth of our Lord Himself, the fact is established from Scripture THAT WITHOUT TRUTH THERE CAN BE NO GENUINE FAITH. And whenever people declare to the contrary, with most of them the fact still remains that they act as if for them faith means believing what they know to be untrue) This silly idea is never openly stated, but people's behaviour indicates that this is what they think. Hence the hunger for truth and the love of truth which happily possesses some, for they need their faith to be genuine and firmly established, and for them without truth there can be no real faith. Here we have common sense allied to Scripture!
Now John's Gospel contains quite a number of peculiarities and surprises. For instance, on the one hand we have the Lord explaining the basic facts of New Birth to THE teacher of the Jews, Nicodemus; and on the other hand He instructs a woman of doubtful morals regarding the spiritual nature of God, and His need for worship in spirit. Another surprising fact is that the word FAITH (pistis) is entirely absent from John's Gospel, yet TRUTH occurs twenty-five times, more often than in any other and the word BELIEVE occurs more than any other book of the Greek Scriptures.
Some may suggest that this absence of the word FAITH may have been due to a desire on the Apostle's part to be factual and avoid abstract ideas, but TRUTH is quite as much an abstract idea as FAITH, and in his choice of expressionsit seems that John goes deeply to theunderlyingg basis of faith, for without truth there can be no genuine faith whatever. To believe a lie is not faith but credulity, and is the hall-mark of the foolish—or the wicked. There are but few passages of Scripture wherein truth and falsehood are sharply contrasted, but it is rewarding to examine such for our instruction. The first, as we have seen, is the passage in John 8. The second, strikingly, is in Paul's letter to the Thessalonians, which places the two writers in close harmony. Paul says:
"And therefore God will be sending to them deceptiontion's operation, to cause them TO BELIEVE THE LIE; that all may be judged who are NOT BELIEVING IN THE TRUTH but delighting in unrighteousness" (II Thess. 2:11-12).
This Pauline prophecy is, of course, for the future, but the principle behind it is the same as it was in our Lord's earthly day; and, indeed, even now. Mankind still regards faith as believing what is untrue, and the reason they accept the lie is that they, like the Jews, have the Slanderer for their father, and he fashions their wills. Thus it all boils down to what people WANT. If, as is painfully obvious, the majority desire the lie, their father the Slanderer is always ready and willing to provide it for them. Conditioned as all men are by hereditary mortality, and therefore prone to sin, their natural desire responds to the Slanderer's desire ••• until and unless God intervenes in grace.
In II Thess. 2:9-10, just preceding the passage we have quoted where Paul speaks of the lawless one and his lying miracles, he says those who follow him are "getting destruction; because the love of the truth they receive not unto their salvation." Note how closely this agrees with the words of the Lord Jesus which have been quoted here from John. The Gospel and the Epistle precisely touch at this point; and, as always in Scripture the harmony is perfect, for the seed of the Lie is shown by the Lord in John 8, and the ripe fruit from the seed apple
in Thessalonians Paul says that the love of the truth wou1d be INTO their salvation, literally carrying them into salvation, for without the love of the truth there can be no faith, so therefore there can be no salvation. This is marvellous Divine logic:
Note also how well our Lord's words from John's Acccount are confirmed by experience. We cannot believe regarding Him without this love of the truth, and we cannot have this love without loving God, and the love of God can exist only (as the Lord said) in those WHO ARE THEMSELVES "OUT OF GOD."
Someone will protest that no created being can make any claim to being out of God; and on the face of it, humanly speaking, this is true. But is it not true in and by the love of God and His grace.
"For you are saved through faith for grace, and this is naught of yours: it is God's oblation, not of works, lest anyone should be boasting. For we are His achievement, being created in Christ Jesus for (on) good works, which God makes ready beforehand in order that we should be walking in them" (Eph. 2:8-10 CV).
Regarding the word "on," R. B. Withers pointed out that the preposition EPI, followed by the Dative as here, has the force of "resting upon" or "on the ground of," or, "on the basis of." So our creation is on the basis of good works Which God makes ready for us beforehand ••
And in Ephesians Paul does not fail to link grace and faith with truth, for there he writes (Of Christ):
"In whom you also, hearing the word of the truth, the evangel of your salvation, in Whom believing also, you were sealed with the spirit of the promise, the Holy One •••• (Eph. 1:13).
Thus first from the words of our Lord, as He faced the Jews, and extending through to Paul as he wrote his last letters, the same golden chain appears. We are able to hear the word of the truth, the evangel of our salvation because, as the Lord said, we are out of God; and we are out of God because we are His achievement. Surely we can see a deep harmony between John's Gospel on the one hand and Second Thessalonians with Ephesians on the other hand. We should not be surprised to find this harmony in God's Word, unless we have been thrown out of centre by ultradispensational teaching! It is perfectly true that Paul's Epistles are mainly concerned with us, believers from the Gentiles, people altogether outside covenant: whereas the Lord's earthly ministry was to the covenant people, but when we get down to basic principles we are bound to find that they contain some things which are the same for everyone.
If we can liberate ourselves from the extravagances of "dispensationalism" we must surely see that Romans begins with God's Evangel, which is addressed through Paul both to Jews and Gentiles, though not AS Jews and Gentiles; rather simply as SINNERS. When Paul had established that basic evangel was free to build up his own evangel in the remainder of that great Epistle, submitting that which BELONGS ONLY TO GENTILES and concerns only such among self-confessed sinners WHO COME TO GOD AS GENTILES. This evangel, which Paul calls "my evangel," rises to the greatest perfection in his Prison Epistles, yet even in Ephesians we find things which are, and will be, applicable to all God's people; in the future as in the past and present; because they are all part of the fundamental truth which runs throughout the Greek Scriptures.
We hear a great deal about "rightly dividing" the Word of Truth, a phrase more accurately rendered as "correctly partitioning" in the Concordant Version or "skillfully handling" according to Rotherhem. It could well be expressed as "marking a straight, direct course in our understanding" of the Word of Truth; always distinguishing the things that differ which, as Paul wrote, is of primary concern in all true Scripture study.
This means, in effect, that we must distinguish between what is true for all men at all times and what is special under certain conditions, as when Israel (one part of humanity) is under covenant with God, or on the other hand, when no covenant at all exists—as at present. This is the true "division," and if we fail to get that clear in our minds we shall be always at the mercy of "theories" and therefore miss the truth. Great would be the gain to any if they would only drop the unfortunate word "dispensational," so widely misunderstood, and realise instead that the true "boundary" rests between what belongs to covenant with its sign of circumcision and what belongs to ourselves who enjoy absolute freedom from covenant. While Paul's evangel is in force everything connected with Israel's covenant. (apart from the purely spiritual implications) is under the curse of the law, broken and impotent. There will come a time when law and covenant are restored.
Our predecessor, The Differentiator, had for its object the task of distinguishing between those things in Scripture which truly differ, but its Editors were equally careful NOT to distinguish between things which DO NOT DIFFER. To improvise differences which do not exist (except in some pet theory) is quite as bad as ignoring differences which do exist—the favourite pursuit of orthodoxy. Either course is evil and harmful and both in essence are of "the lie."
The Lord Jesus told His disciples that the Spirit of Truth would be guiding them (literally) "into the truth every," meaning there was further and complete truth yet to be revealed. But this does not imply that what He had already revealed was not a part of the whole truth. Indeed, humanly speaking, it was possibly even the most important part, for His words are the foundation on which we all must build.
Other passages where the truth and the lie are contrasted should be observed here also. In Romans 1:25 Paul refers to those "who indeed altar the truth of God into the lie," and in Ephesians 4:25 he writes further "Wherefore, putting off the lie be talking truth each with his associate..."
The Apostle John adds his own comments in accord with what he had first reported from the words of our Lord in his own account:—
"No lie is out of the truth. Who is the liar if not the one dissenting, declaring that Jesus is not the Christ? This one is the antichrist, disowning the Father and the Son" (I John 2:22-23) and because of this John admonishes his own readers:—
"The anointing which you obtained from Him is remaining in you, and you have no need that anyone should be teaching you; but His anointing is teaching you concerning all, and is true and is no lie; even according as it teaches you, be remaining in it" (I John 2:26-27).
This anointing applies not only to those of whom John writes, for Paul also lists four things which God has done for us: "confirming us together with you," "Anoints us," "Seals us," and "Giving the earnest of the spirit in our hearts" (II Cor. 1.21,22). So the truth is still the same, that the only way to be taught is in Christ, the "Anointable" One, the One fit to be anointed, as His anointing is teaching us, and ours is as His own, with Holy Spirit and power.
John completes his comments with a reference to doing righteousness, which takes us back to a corresponding verse in Timothy: "who are not believing in the truth but delighting in the unrighteousnees." If you fail in the first you inevitably succeed in the second: The converse also applies, for we may well doubt if anyone who passionately loves and seeks the truth is ever really unrighteous. This is a profound subject but if we look back in Scripture on the various persons described as "righteous," we shall find that many of them, Abraham for instance, never had the good fortune to come in contact with God's evangel, but rested entirely on God's promise; "In thee Shall all nations be blessed." They believed God, and that was sufficient for Him. They believed all they were asked to believe; and, like Cornelius in Acts 10, if they had received more light, they would have bei1eved that also.
There are but few people today who seek TRUTH FOR ITS OWN SAKE, though they may do so for "practical" ends such as research or personal profit; whereas the true believer has an insatiable desire for the truth of God as He has set it forth in His Word. It was in quest of that ideal for His disciples that our Lord entreated the Father on their behalf in that sublime prayer of His which appears also in John's Gospel, chapter 17: "I have given them Thy truth ••• Thy Word is truth. What we have to do is believe it; that is what truth is for; so that is what God's Word is for. That is the position reduced to its simplest terms. Moreover, as BELIEVERS we have no excuse for not accepting truth, once it is presented to us. That, indeed, is the main function of FAITH.
Finally here, let to these further words another general truth, which perhaps we seldom us turn anew and reverently listen from John's Epistle where we find equally applicable to all, yet to give sufficient heed:
"If we should be saying, 'Sin we have not,' we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we should be avowing our sin, FAITHFUL is He and righteous, that He should be forgiving our sin and should be cleansing us from every unrighteousness. If we should be saying 'We have not sinned'; LIAR WE ARE MAKING HIM, and His word is not in us" (I John 1:8-10).
So we see that TRUTH is set as definitely against UNRIGHTEOUSNESS as it is set against LIES.
That word ADIKIA, unrighteousness, should never be translated "injustice," for the idea of justice does not enter into the word at all and is irrelevant thereto. The fact is that RIGHTEOUSNESS and FAITH, on which alone it can be based, are the main targets of the enemy.
We conclude here with a lovely word from Paul to the Corinthians (I 13:6) which shows the relation between righteousness, rejoicing, and truth:
"Love is not rejoicing over the unrighteousness, yet is jointly-rejoicing as to the truth."
So Love's rejoicing is collective as truth continues to unfold to us, may we all share in this rejoicing.
Cecil J. Blay (Treasures of Truth, Instalment Twelve, February-March, 1974)