A “witness” is someone who attests to a fact, so in order to be an effective witness for Christ, one must have firsthand knowledge of Him. John the Apostle speaks of this in 1 John 1:1-3, when he says, “That . . . which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at, and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of Life.”
The apostles had seen Him while they witnessed his wisdom and holiness, his miracles, and love and mercy, during some years, till they saw him crucified for sinners, and afterwards risen from the dead. They touched him, so as to have full proof of his resurrection. This Divine Person, the Word of life, the Word of God, appeared in human nature, that he might be the Author and Giver of eternal life to mankind, through the redemption of his blood, and the influence of his new-creating Spirit. The apostles declared what they had seen and heard, that believers might share their comforts and everlasting advantages. They had free access to God the Father. They had a happy experience of the truth in their souls, and showed its excellence in their lives. This communion of believers with the Father and the Son, is begun and kept up by the influences of the Holy Spirit. The benefits Christ bestows, are not like the scanty possessions of the world, causing jealousies in others; but the joy and happiness of communion with God is all-sufficient, so that any number may partake of it; and all who are warranted to say, that truly their fellowship is with the Father, will desire to lead others to partake of the same blessedness.
When questioned by the high priest, Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross. He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him” (Acts 5:29-32).
The apostles were the witnesses of the incarnation of Christ, of his crucifixion and death, of his resurrection from the dead, of his exaltation by the right hand of God, and of his offices as a Prince and a Saviour, and of the influences of his grace, in giving repentance and remission of sins to his people; and even to many of the Jews, who had been his crucifiers, and who were now converted under the ministry of the apostles. So is the Holy Spirit, in his descent upon the apostles, through the miraculous gifts bestowed upon them, and the wonderful works done by them, and the mighty power accompanying their ministry to the conversion of sinners.
Today, we who have experienced new life in Christ give an account of His love and forgiveness, both verbally and in the way we live our lives. This is Christian witnessing. Christ in the following scripture passage offers us some pointers on how to be effective in our witness.
Christ told his disciples: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’” (Mark 9:42-44)
Christ warns those that offend his little ones, that willfully are the occasion of sin or trouble to them (Mark 9:42). Whosoever shall grieve any true Christians, though they be of the weakest, shall oppose their entrance into the ways of God, or discourage and obstruct their progress in those ways, shall either restrain them from doing good, or draw them in to commit sin, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea: his punishment will be very great, and the death and ruin of his soul more terrible than such a death and ruin of his body would be (cf. Mt. 18:6). He warns all his followers to take heed of ruining their own souls. This charity must begin at home; if we must take heed of doing anything to hinder others from good, and to cause them to sin, much more careful must we be to avoid everything that will take us off from our duty, or lead us to sin; and that which we must part with, though it be ever so dear to us.
If we truly love God, it must be so—that that which is hateful to Him will be hateful to us. Where two hearts are bound together in the bonds of love, they are quite sure to endeavor to remove everything out of the way that would cause pain to either. You cannot love me if you favor my enemies. You can have no affection for me if you delight to thrust before me that which vexes my spirit and grieves my heart. True love feels a sympathy with the person loved and learns to put away that which is obnoxious. Now say, heart, do you put away from yourself that which God hates? Do you hate it because He hates it—not so much because your fellow Christians dislike it, or because the public judgment would go against it—but do you hate evil because it is detestable in the sight of God? If so, then you have a clear mark that you love God and you should be thankful for the divine grace which has put your heart into such a state.
All the saints are to be made like unto God. It was in God’s image that man was first made—he lost that image by his sin—but that image is to be restored by the work of the Holy Spirit. If you do, even now, in your soul war against that which God loathes—if you strive and cry after that which God loves—then there is between God and you some degree of likeness. You are like He in your hatred of evil—like, not in degree, but yet still in substance. You are like God in your love towards that which is lovely and good and pure—not like He in degree, I say again, yet still in the matter of fact there is some likeness between God and your soul.
There is no such thing as keeping the devil in a cage. Cut it off and cast it from you! Then there is your pride. It is in vain for you to say, “I will be somewhat humble. I will be somewhat resigned,” and so on. Cut it off, man, cut it off and cast it from you! It must be thorough work—a clean severance between you and sin. Ah, these are hard tidings and many will turn on their heels and go their way, and say, “We cannot endure this!” But as the Lord lives, the pearly gates can never open to any of us who keep our sins. All our iniquities shall be forgiven—though we have blasphemed and have even committed murder, there is pardon for us if we hate those sins and leave them—and Christ will help us to hate them if we trust Him! He will give us the grace to quit them, but if we hug those sins, we may prate about faith in Christ, and we may lie about experience in grace, but to such things as real faith and true experience, we are and must be utter strangers unless sin, with stern resolution, is given up—not so much as one sin hugged, or indulged, or loved. “Must a man be perfect then?” Sir, a man must desire to be perfect. “But he cannot be perfect.” Sir, he can be perfect in intention, if not in fact, and there is a deal of difference between the sin of misadventure, and of infirmity, and the willfully wicked sin of some men! Alas, there are always men who can excuse their sins by the sins of God’s people. They eat up the sins of God’s people as they eat up bread—they make a sweet morsel of it! But the genuine child of God, if he sins, hates himself for it. The evil that he would not, that he does, but his heart is right. He would do good perfectly if he could, and he pants and longs to be delivered from sin. His heart does not go after his idols—he has given them up, cast them away, by God’s grace and, if he could, he would never take their names upon his lips again.
The validity of our witness will be shown in how we live our lives. Philippians 2:15 sets this goal for us: “That you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.” The children of God should differ from the sons of men. The more perverse others are, the more careful we should be to keep ourselves blameless and harmless. The doctrine and example of consistent believers will enlighten others, and direct their way to Christ and holiness, even as the light-house warns mariners to avoid rocks, and directs their course into the harbour. Let us try thus to shine. Effective Christian witnesses will live their lives above reproach in the power of the Holy Spirit, whose fruit we exhibit when we remain in Christ (cf. John 15:1-8; Galatians 5:22-23).
Let us praise God with the song “This little light of mine”: