We know how even a true enquirer was pressed by them to ask, “How can these things be?” (John 3:9). They may explain why St. John calls himself “the disciple which testifieth.” Others may argue like St. Paul. St. John, with the truth he has to teach, can only testify. For the things he tells us are of the Word made flesh; God’s life in human nature; things above man’s understanding; to be seen indeed, if we have an opened eye, but till so seen to be received on testimony. The reiterated Amens all speak of this, each of them taking up some distinctive peculiarity of this heavenly life, whether as seen in Christ, the eternal Son of God, or in those who by grace are called to His members.
Such being the burden of these Amens, it may at first seem strange that the Church, as such, is never named in any one of them. But the reason is that they speak rather of the peculiar virtues of the eternal life, than of the outward form or body in which this life is manifested; virtues which may shine brightest when the outward vessel in which this life has dwelt is marred and broken; which therefore may most appear in the very break-up of the Church, whose full glory, even in her Lord’s, only comes through that cross, and suffering here, which lifts her up from earth and opens heaven. Christ’s own Fleshly body is the witness of this truth. Not in His greatest works on earth was the eternal life ever so manifested in Him as by His cross and triumph over death by resurrection. The change of the dispensation, from flesh to spirit, from the Jewish nation to the Christian Church, was a shadow of this same mystery.
For the Church came into being or manifestation by nothing less than the ruin and condemnation of the fleshly dispensation, though the same spiritual life which is in the Church existed all along, though not at so advanced a stage, in the saints under the old economy. And so does that eternal life, which these Amens speak of, come into yet fuller manifestation by the very fall or passing away of the Church or Christian dispensation. Just as with Christ’s own body, there is a first and fleshly form, before that form through death is raised and glorified; so in His mystic body the Church, Christ in the flesh, precedes Christ in the spirit, for “that is not first which is spiritual.” (1 Cor. 15:46). Therefore the peculiar witness of these Amens says nothing of the outward Church as such, but only of the New Man and his eternal life which grows and works within it, which will not only outlive the Church’s apparent failure and shame, but is never so fully seen as in that failure.
For, as Paul says, “We which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh.” (2 Cor. 4: 10, 11) Thus the omission of any reference to the Church in these Amens is itself a lesson, full of comfort and instruction for those, who, like the disciples of old, are perplexed and troubled at the cross and shame, which must ever attend Christ’s true body. Such may learn here the appointed way, in and by which alone the eternal life is fully manifested.
Now this teaching as to the eternal life, and its varied works and manifestations, though implied in all the writings of the New Testament, is yet in some sense distinctive of St. John; for he dwells upon it with a persistence which makes it the one idea of his Gospel, his Epistles, and his Apocalypse. In each he shows in different forms the workings of this one life, first in Christ’s flesh, then in believers, then in the course of this world. First in his Gospel the eternal life is seen in the beloved Son, rather than in those who He makes sons and heirs with Him; but surely seen in Him, as Firstborn and Firstfruits, that it may be received by others through Him.
Therefore He testifies, that “God so loved the world, that He gave His Only-Begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) Then in his Epistle, written when the other Apostles had already been gathered home, and when St. John remained the sole survivor of the favoured twelve who had walked with Christ on earth, the one thing he presses upon his brethren is, that the eternal life, which he had seen on earth in Christ, was a life which was to be continued and manifested in all believers. Did any fear that, when John was gone, the last undoubted link with Christ would be taken from the Church, and that it would be left to a second-hand tradition, which is uncertain, or to a letter or writing, which, as it would require interpretation, might be misunderstood or even falsified.