A Short Study of John 19:34
“But one of the soldiers pierced His side, and forthwith came there out blood and water.”
John here evidently refers to what his own eyes saw as Jesus hung on the cross.
He therefore declares in the passage before us, “This is He that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth” (1 John 5:6).
“Water” here, as elsewhere, signifies that which washes and purifies from defilement, and especially “the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Ghost.” We read, therefore, that “Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it; that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the Word, that He might present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:26-27).
The Apostle Paul in these words is speaking not of the work of Christ in redemption, but in sanctification, “the washing of water by the Word,” and this corresponds with the Lord’s own words: “Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you” (John 15:3) and again, “Sanctify them through Thy truth: Thy Word is truth” (John 17:17).
Thus Christ “came by water,” to regenerate and renew, to sanctify and cleanse His church. So says the apostle, “But ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11).
This is being “born of water and of the Spirit,” without which no man can see or enter into the kingdom of God (John 3:5). And it is the fulfilment of the ancient promise, “Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you” (Ezekiel 36:25).
It is to do all this by virtue of His holy life and death, by His sufferings, resurrection and intercession, that Jesus Christ is said to come by water.
But the blessed Redeemer “came not by water only”!
He came to redeem as well as regenerate, to wash in His blood as well as cleanse by sanctifying grace.
“Unto Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood.”
“These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
Therefore holy John says, “He came not by water only.” Something more than water, something distinct from and prior to the washing of regeneration (Titus 3:5) was needed to save the church from her sins. The Son of God, therefore, came by blood, that precious blood which “cleanseth from all sin.”
In order clearly to understand the apostle’s peculiar and powerful language here, we must see that his object is most positively to insist that redemption and regeneration necessarily and unalterably go together, and must not be separated; that those whom Christ regenerates He redeemed, and those whom He redeemed He regenerates; that He did not come to wash and sanctify by His grace those whom He left under the curse of the law and the guilt of sin; nor to save by His blood from the punishment of their sins those whom He would never regenerate by His Spirit.
In His day, as in ours, heretics and erroneous men laboured to separate these two vital blessings. “Christ came by water only,” say the self-righteous, and those who feel no need of atoning blood. “A holy life is the main thing. His life and death are our example, and if we are holy and do the things which are right, we shall be saved.” Such, whether open or secret Socinians, allow the water, but slight the blood. Others again, of an Antinomian turn, exalt the blood, but slight the water. “If Christ died for you,” say they, “you will be saved, let your life be what it may. What is all this talk about a godly life, a tender conscience, and walking in the ordinances of the Lord’s house? What do they mean by all this legal stuff? If I am redeemed, that is enough.”
But out of the same pierced side came both blood and water; blood to redeem, water to regenerate; blood for justification (Romans 5:9), water for sanctification; blood to cleanse from guilt, water to wash from filth; blood to give a title to heaven, water to produce a meetness for heaven (Colossians 1:12); blood to purge the conscience (Hebrews 9:14), water to shed the love of God abroad in the heart. Thus Moses, the typical mediator, washed Aaron and his sons with water, and sprinkled them with blood when he consecrated them as priests unto God (Leviticus 8:6; Leviticus 8:30) And so Jesus, the true Mediator, in consecrating His people “a royal priesthood,” redeemed them by His blood, and washed them, in the time appointed, by His regenerating grace.
Nay more, holy John would show by these striking words that from the same cross, from the same pierced side of Jesus, at the same moment, though in two separate streams, came sanctification as well as redemption; that not only does His precious blood atone for sin, but that His dying love supplies motives and strength to all godliness; that pardon and peace, salvation from the guilt of sin and deliverance from the power of sin, are linked together; that at the foot of the cross, from the heart of Jesus, the stream of sanctification flows; that true repentance comes from looking to Him whom we have pierced; and that as the blood of His heart sufficed for full atonement, so the water of His heart suffices for full sanctification.
We feel that we have expressed our views and feelings but feebly and imperfectly. We close, therefore, with a verse which seems to embody the whole truth in a short compass:
“This fountain so dear, He’ll freely impart;
Unlocked by the spear, it gushed from His heart,
With blood and with water; the first to atone,
To cleanse us the latter; the fountain’s but one.”
By J.C. Philpot