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"Verily, verily" (1)

P Coulson, Forres

During the course of our lives we are bombarded with words, and to the things we hear we soon learn to give weight in proportion to the moral authority, knowledge, and reputation of the speaker. The closing words of the public ministry of the Lord Jesus, as recorded by John, were, "I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak…whatsoever I speak therefore, even as the Father said unto me, so I speak" (Jn 12.49-50). The Word had spoken and had nothing more to say to men. Every word He had uttered had originated with the Father, and it had been spoken at exactly the right time, in the right way, with the right inflection, and with the right motive. Every single word that came from the lips of the Saviour was full of divine meaning and conveyed divine truth.

How precious to our souls should be those words of the Lord that the Holy Spirit has recorded for us in the Scriptures! We should read them often, commit them to memory whenever possible, meditate upon them, receive them, love them and obey them. They are dependable, pure, precious, and unshakeably true. What a casket of gems we have in the Gospel records!

Not only has the Holy Spirit recorded those words for us, but He is also the interpreter of them: "But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you" (Jn 14.26). God grant each one of us a deeper desire to occupy our minds and hearts with every precious utterance of Christ, and may the Holy Spirit unfold the meaning of those words to fill our souls with worship and our lives with obedient conformity to the will of our Lord and Saviour.

John’s writings

Whenever the Lord Jesus made a pronouncement His words were only, and could only, be truth. So, when He saw fit to prefix certain statements with the expression, "Verily, verily", He clearly intended His hearers to attach to His words great weight indeed. There are 25 such occasions recorded by the Holy Spirit, and the fact that all are found in John’s Gospel demands our interest and study.

Remember the timing of John’s writings. To him was entrusted by the Spirit the task of filling up the canon of Scripture. He wrote the last of the Gospels, the last of the epistles, and the last of prophecy. Through his writings the words of the Lord Jesus in the upper room concerning the teaching ministry of the Holy Spirit were fully brought to pass. The Gospel record, filled up by John, is used by the Spirit to "…bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you" (Jn 14.26). The epistles are the body of doctrine used by the Spirit to "testify of me" (Jn 15.26) as to the Lordship, Headship, purpose, and pre-eminence of Christ in the church which is His body, and in every local assembly of believers gathered unto Him. "The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him" (Rev 1.1) was recorded by the pen of John to fill up the canon of Scripture and, by it, "the Spirit of truth…will shew you things to come" (Jn 16.13).

Paul’s writings

When John, guided by the Holy Spirit, reached for his pen he was an old man. That other faithful servant of God and recorder of divine truth, Paul, had been in glory for around twenty years. One by one the apostles had finished their course and now, somewhere around the year AD 90, of that whole favoured band who had seen the Lord in resurrection, John alone was left on earth. Paul had been the instrument through whom the revelation of truth concerning the church had been given and, faithful servant that he was, he had delivered that which also he had received. It was to this specific body of truth to which he referred when he wrote, "But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away" (1 Cor 13.10). The spectacular, Spirit-given sign gifts of 1 Corinthians 12.8-10 would vanish away once the full revelation of church truth had been received by Paul and delivered to the church and, by the time John filled up the Book, that process was already well underway if not complete.

The epistles of Paul and Peter, James and Jude, had been in circulation amongst the saints of God for a good number of years, their doctrine being taught by men who shared the burden that Paul had entrusted to Timothy: "And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also" (2 Tim 2.2). A first, and even second, generation of believers in the Lord Jesus had been saved, had served and ultimately gone home to glory, and John had outlived them all. So why - more than fifty years after the Saviour had walked on earth, given His life at Calvary, been buried, risen from the dead and ascended back to Heaven – why after so long did the Holy Spirit inspire John to write?

The Gospel writers

Matthew, probably the first of the Gospel writers, had written primarily for a Jewish readership. The unchallengeable conclusion of his account is that Jesus of Nazareth has every title to the throne of Israel, that He is without doubt the Christ of God. Mark was inspired to write for a Roman audience, taking care to give a number of Jewish words, situations and events explanation that no Hebrew reader would ever require. Luke, guided by the same Spirit, had the Greek reader in mind when he wrote his Gospel record.

Which of us who are sinners of the Gentiles, saved by the grace of God, do not feel a particular thrill in our soul when we read Luke’s Gospel? There we find recorded the unparalleled kindness, compassion and tenderness of that blessed Man who came to where we were when "at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world" (Eph 2.12). To the outcast, the stranger, the broken-hearted, the hopeless and the helpless He came! Praise His name! Hallelujah! What a Saviour! With good reason we love Luke’s Gospel to the Gentiles!

The problems that prompted John to write

For whom, then, did John write? By the time he wrote, the gospel of God’s grace had reached at least as far as Europe in the west and to India, if not China, in the east. The doctrine of the gospel had been wonderfully set forth in the Roman epistle, defended in the Galatian letter, and to the Hebrews shown to be God’s unique way of salvation in this dispensation of His grace. Humanly speaking, no further evidence was now necessary to establish who the Lord Jesus is and the purpose for which He came.

There were big problems emerging though. The growing church was, as ever, under attack from the adversary. The earlier assaults of the Judaisers had been repulsed by Paul’s teaching and, since the destruction of Jerusalem some 20 years before in AD 70, had all but disappeared. By now the majority of Christians were from a Gentile background, so Gentile philosophy, religious tradition and thought were making inroads. The Gnostic movement, claiming knowledge higher than that of the revealed mind of God in the Scriptures, was causing casualties amongst the believers. So, inspired by the Holy Spirit, in quick succession John penned his Gospel and epistles. His primary audience was that of believers in the Lord Jesus who, having no direct experience of the Lord’s days on earth, or Pentecost, or the earlier missionary work that spread the gospel far and wide, were now being disturbed by those who taught, for example, that the Lord had never had a true body of flesh because flesh, they said, is inherently evil. Thus the humanity of the Lord Jesus, His essential deity, and much more besides, were being denied by some, and to counter these errors John, the last surviving witness of these things, wrote his Gospel, three epistles and the Revelation.

In his Gospel, John recorded 25 occasions on which the Lord Jesus called special attention to His words by using the expression, "Verily, verily". The Lord spoke in His omniscience, fully aware that, one day, assurance would need to be given to those who had believed on His Name. The Holy Spirit did not give to Matthew, Mark or Luke the responsibility of recording those words. He waited until John was the only surviving witness of the Lord Jesus, and used that aged servant to write, "But these (things) are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name" (Jn 20.31).

To be continued.

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