The Representation of the Invisible God
by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 1 - Representation a Principle with God

"And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness..." (Gen. 1:26).

"Christ... who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation" (Col. 1:15).

"...in whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should not dawn upon them." (2 Cor. 4:4).

"For whom he foreknew, he also foreordained to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren." (Rom. 8:29).

"And have put on the new man, that is being renewed unto knowledge after the image of him that created him: where there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, bondman, freeman; but Christ is all, and in all." (Col. 3:10-11).

Reading: Eph. 4:13,15-16; 5:22-32; John 20:21-23; Acts 1:8. 

In the first and second series of passages, there is one word common to them all, as you will have noticed. It is the word "image".

"And God said, Let us make man in our image."
"...who is the image of the invisible God."
"Christ, who is the image of God."
"...conformed to the image of his Son."
"...the new man... renewed... after the image of him that created him."

Our English word has behind it in the New Testament two Greek words - idol and ikon. Heb. 1:3 - "the very image of his person". Rotherham translates, "the exact representation of his image" or "of his substance". It is that word "representation" which has taken hold of me, and which seems to be the key to our meditation.

Representation an Eternal Principle

You will at once see that in the passages which we have read, that is the governing idea; firstly as to the Lord Jesus, representation of God. He is said to be the image of God, the image of the invisible God. Then the thought is transferred to the elect, the Church, foreordained to be conformed to the image of His Son, a new man renewed after the image of Him that created him; and alongside of that, passages in which the actual word does not occur, but where the thought is still the dominant thought - "the measure of the stature of Christ", "a fullgrown man" (Eph. 4:13). That with reference to the Church, the Lord's people - representation.

Then those final passages bring it into a very practical realm - "As the Father hath sent me, even so send I you" - placing the emphasis upon the "as". Then, with the question which must arise, "Who is sufficient for these things?" the answer is, "Ye shall receive power, when the Holy Spirit is come upon you: and ye shall be my witnesses", the latter word of which is only another word for representatives.

(a) Before Creation

This, then, is an eternal thought, a thought which has come out of eternity, God purposing to be represented in His universe, to have representation in man, and that eternal thought lies behind everything. It is before creation, before the fall, and therefore before redemption. It is the pure thought of God unclouded at all by sin and sin's consequences and sin's necessities. It stands back there as governing all the thought of God projected into the future. It is as though God decided He would have representation of Himself, the invisible God, in visible form, in man form, that He would be seen, be known, be understood; and, more than that, He would constitute upon a basis of fellowship, living relationship, in terms of representation, that which would represent Him not merely officially but in nature, after His own heart. By that means He would make Himself known, would give Himself, and would bring the creation into something more than mechanical obedience and response to His sovereign will; into agreeable, desired, loving fellowship with Himself, with His own heart, along the line of consent, and not of compulsion. That is what representation means in brief. It is exactly what it means in the case of the Lord Jesus being the image of the invisible God, and exactly what it means that the Church is conformed to the image of His Son. The thought, I say again, lies behind everything, goes before creation, and then governs creation.

(b) In Creation

The creation is brought into being by this one governing thought of God, that the whole creation should, in a variety of ways, express Him, represent Him, speak of Him, and all the ordinances of heaven and earth as established by God, and all the relationships in creation, should in some way represent God's thoughts. If we had eyes to see, we should see Divine thoughts in all that God has done. The whole creation is the embodiment of this desire of God to be represented.

(c) In Redemption

But not only so, for when we come on to the matter of redemption, it is the same thing. Of God's dealing with the necessity which has arisen, representation is at the heart of it, and the representation in redemption is twofold, it has two sides. By reason of what has happened to the creation, and of the judgment pronounced upon it even unto death, there is a nullification of that order of things. If that sentence is carried out nakedly, barely and utterly, creation will be dismissed from God's universe, there will be nothing left. But representation again is the way of redemption, and in the person of His Son a representative position is taken under judgment, condemnation, and death, and in Him representatively the creation passes out, dies. We today surely do come afresh upon this aspect of things with new gratitude, that is, that you and I are saved from the awful fulness of judgment upon the creation because One has been our representative in that judgment. He representatively died as a cursed and judged and doomed creation because of sin. He died for us and as us, and we died in Him. That is a simple and very familiar truth.

But there is the other side in redemption. In resurrection, exaltation in glory, He is our representative. The Divine thought of representation is taken up again, not now in despair but in hope. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again to a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead" (1 Pet. 1:3). In resurrection He is our representative, in glory He is our representative, and just as truly as in His death we died in Him, we were included in death, so now we are included in Him in glory, in exaltation. As the "Captain of our salvation" He is bringing "many sons to glory", where He is as their representative.

Bearing upon that, the leaving out of two words which have been introduced into our translation, but which do not occur in the original, give added emphasis. I mean in Rom. 8:29. "Whom he foreknew, he also foreordained to be conformed to the image of his Son." They have introduced the two little words - "to be". Those words do not occur at all, they ought not to be there. They were put in because it sounds blunt and awkward to leave them out, and just say, foreordained conformed to his Son. Before the world was we were so, in the thought and purpose and power of God Who is not of time. There is no past, present and future with Him. All future is with Him in one moment. When He determined it, it was then done in Him. You and I may be undergoing a process of conforming to the image, but that is only on our side. From God's side it is all finished, it is eternally accomplished before ever we started, These are mighty foundations for faith that, so far as God is concerned, there is no hap or chance about this. It is all an accomplished fact. "Foreordained conformed to the image..." So you see this Divine thought, this eternal thought of representation, does lie behind everything; creation, redemption, death, resurrection, glory.

(d) In the Church

But it comes right into the very centre of our lives as the Lord's people who have believed. The Divine thought concerning us is just this, that we are here for one purpose in the thought of God - to represent Him. The Church is constituted for that one purpose - to represent Him. All the dealings of God with us have that one thing in view, the perfection of representation. That is but to say in another way that the discipline, the chastening, the dealings of God with us are to perfect our representation of Him; that is, to make us more like Him, not just as a thing in itself, but because He has ordained this to be the agency of His self-revelation, His self-manifestation. "The image of the invisible God". That with reference to Christ. The image, we might say, of the invisible Christ is the Divine thought for the Church and all its members.

It seems to me that is the very essence of this idea - "the church which is his body". Well, there is such a thing, of course, as reading one another's spirit, but even that is exceedingly difficult without their bodies! What we know of one another inwardly, we so largely know through our bodies. Even our personalities are expressed very largely through our bodies. If we are familiar with a person, more or less it is by some physical expression that we know who they are. A little child indoors knows daddy is coming down the road. Why? Because he or she knows daddy's step. You may be in one room and certain people in another, and you hear them speaking and you are able to say, There is so-and-so, I know their voice! There are doubles, perhaps, in that, but you are not often mistaken. You know they are there because that voice is their's. We are known by some physical expression. We watch one another, we touch one another, and we read and register one another's inner life by a look in the eye, a look on the face, a tone of voice, a mere gesture, a mere grunt! Yes, and a history lies in the slightest physical indication if we are alive to one another.

The Church which is His Body stands in relation to Him in that sense, and He, by His Spirit being present, indwelling, is indicated by means of His members. The purpose of the Church as His Body is to represent Him, and this is the very essence, of all - shall we say - missionary work, all ministry, all service. The dominating idea of all service or ministry is representation; not first of all things said, preached, proclaimed, but what we are, what is conveyed of Christ by our being. In the case of the Lord Jesus that was predominant. It was His presence which registered the Divine impact upon this earth; sometimes His silence was more terrible than His words. When He, on that Good Friday, that first Good Friday, was silent, that was an awful silence which men could not bear, under which they writhed and would by any means make Him speak and break that silence. He came into the country of the Gerasenes and, without a word from Him, those possessed with demons cried out. His presence! It is representation.

What a mighty thing this is if it is there in the power of the Holy Spirit. You do not always have to begin to preach. If you are a Spirit-filled man or woman, your presence will make sinners uncomfortable and saints happy. What I am trying for the moment to emphasise is the truth, the principle, the law, that of representation.

With regard to this matter of representation, I would have you pre-eminently occupied with it in relation to the Lord Jesus Himself. He is the sum of all Divine thoughts, and the Incarnation is the supreme expression of this one thought of God to be truly, adequately, fully, perfectly represented; so that it was possible for the Lord Jesus to say, "He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father"(John 14:9). There is the mystery of Christ.

What is the mystery of Christ? The mystery of Christ is God veiled in this Representative. You say, A representative of God, and yet God veiled? - a contradiction! No, no contradiction; not necessarily veiled, for a New Testament or a Scriptural mystery is not something which cannot be known, but something which, for certain reasons, has not been known but can be known. When those reasons are set aside, this which has been a mystery, a hidden thing, is a mystery no longer, but it remains a mystery while those things obtain.

You can see it in the days of His flesh. Here is God in representation, but how many saw Him? "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father". But I think that word "seen" means something very much more than just looking upon Him as a man. "He that hath seen me..." "Whom do men say that I am?" Some said this and some said that. Peter said, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." And He said, "Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jonah: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 16:13-17). That is what it means to see; it is by revelation. It is that which is the mystery. The fact is there, the true representation or representative of God in person, yet unrecognised, unseen. "The God of this world hath blinded the minds of them that believe not, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them" (2 Cor. 4:4). The mystery is men's inability to see a great fact, or a great fact present still undisclosed.

Now, the Resurrection and Pentecost seem to me to have meant just this one thing - the seeing of Christ. You remember when He was considered dead and buried, even disciples were in black despair and eclipse of faith and hope, and some went on the way to Emmaus very sad indeed, and their words were, "We hoped that it was he who should redeem Israel" (Luke 24:21). But before the end of that episode was reached, we are told that He opened their understanding that they might know the Scriptures. Having taken up the Scriptures right from the beginning and spoken to them things concerning Himself, He opened their understanding, and it was just that that was marking His appearances during the forty days after His resurrection. They were in some altogether new way coming to see Him. Oh no, not now physically merely, that He was alive, that He had a body; it was not merely this that was being borne in upon them very powerfully. They were seeing Him, Who He was; the mystery of His Person was breaking down. They were seeing Him, and the day of Pentecost seemed to bring that through to full birth. The forty days were moving up to that day, and then on that day by the coming of the Holy Spirit the thing was consummated, and in the full blaze of Who He was the Church was born. It seems to me that the Church was born - yes, by the Holy Spirit, but by the Holy Spirit's breaking open to men Who Jesus was after all. It seems to me that is how every one came into the Church. They saw by an operation of the Holy Spirit Who Jesus was. That is how Paul came in on the Damascus road; he saw who Jesus of Nazareth was. On the day of Pentecost, Peter stood up with the eleven, as under the power of the Holy Spirit they opened their mouths, and the spontaneous declaration was all about Who Jesus was, and they are men in a new revelation.

Oh, I know from our fundamentalist standpoint, this is nothing very much. I do not suppose there is one here who does not believe that Jesus was the Son of God, God manifest in the flesh. You all believe that, as a bit of your faith; but what is the effect of it? What was the effect of that at the beginning? The witnessing, the representation, is not just attesting historical facts, nor doctrinal facts. When they went out as witnesses unto Him, it was not just to say things which, while they were true, were only truths. They went out in the power of having seen, having had their eyes opened to the Lord Jesus. It was as though they had been men moving in the shadows during those years, groping, sometimes feeling an assurance, a certain amount of certainty, but then questionings, uncertainties coming in, shadows all the time. But at last the heavens were rent, the blaze broke through, and they saw. It was in the light of that they were constituted witnesses, representatives. It was in the light of that the Church was born. It was in the light of that the Church went on its way so effectively. The fact was that, wherever they came, it was the impact of God in Christ by their presence. Their presence stirred hell, because hell felt anew - God is here! It touched men who were in the grip and under the control and influence of higher intelligences, spiritual intelligences.

We know how true that is now in measure, that the presence of a true child of God, without words, provokes men, annoys men, irritates men, disturbs men. They want you out of the way, they don't like you. They don't know why, but they want to get rid of you. You could almost feel they have a supernatural intelligence about you, though they have not. If you ask them why, they do not know. There is the other deeper thing, they sense something that makes them uncomfortable. It is the presence of God in the child of God, and God is represented by their being there. That is how it was with Christ. "As the Father hath sent me, even so send I you." It is in this way, on this line, on this basis - representation.

Representation Based Upon Identification

But we must realise that representation stands upon the basis of identification. It was the identity of Christ with God the Father that meant everything. They were identical. It was not that He would say or could say, He that hath seen me hath seen God's representative. That can mean anything. You can send anything and anybody as your representative. But He could say, "He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father", seen God; not a representative of God, not someone sent as a kind of ambassador, altogether different, two personalities, two natures in a different category, but identical. The presence of Christ is the presence of God and God is present in Christ.

Now, you say, how are you going to work that out in extension to the Church and to the member of the Body? In principle it holds good, and therein is found the whole requirement that you and I should lose our own independent, separate life of self-interest, self-motive, and growingly come to the place where it is "no longer I, but Christ". Oh yes, there will always be those things about us which remain our human features and marks, but the real and essential implication of our presence will not be ourselves, it will be the Lord; that there has come about within us, at the very centre of our being, by the residence of the Spirit of Christ, an identification with Him so that He and we are one; one in life, in motive, in thought, in desire, and whatever people have to say about our frailties, our weaknesses, our imperfections, if they will be honest they will have to say, But despite that, when you meet so-and-so, you do meet the Lord! It is a terrible thing if people are unable to say that, and have to say the contrary: When you meet so-and-so as a professed child of God, there is nothing of the Lord that you touch in him, and you come away grieved at so much that is otherwise. That is a terrible thing.

Does it not occur to us very strongly that it is a denial of our very existence as members of Christ's Body if we can tolerate things which are a contradiction of Christ; such a matter as unforgiveness, harbouring in our hearts an unforgiving attitude or spirit, nursing a grievance, wounded pride, divisions. Oh, dear friends, where are we as Christians, what is the Christian life, what are we for as Christians, what have we taken up, what have we assumed? Have we assumed certain things in the way of doctrines as a kind of professional matter, a business kind of thing altogether out of relation to our own personality, our own nature? Well, that is not the New Testament Christianity, that is not the real Christian life. The fact is if you and I are true Christians (and "if any man have not the Spirit of Christ he is none of his" - Romans 8:9), if we are true Christians and have the Holy Spirit, this ought to be the truest thing about us, that we can never be unforgiving without having a most miserable time about it, never suffer from wounded pride without being altogether thrown out of gear in our spiritual lives, never be un-Christlike without having a crisis over it. It is a living thing inside. Why? Because of identification in the Holy Spirit; the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Christ and He has come into us to make us one with Christ, so that we cannot live a detached life from Christ and just go on anyhow indefinitely without being met by the Lord. That is quite impossible on the basis of a life in the Holy Spirit, and there is no other basis for a Christian. Many of us thank the Lord with all our hearts that this is the kind of experience we have, that we have a miserable time because of some un-Christlike thought or attitude. We thank God for that; it shows that things are alive. If you or I could possibly harbour anything un-Christlike in our hearts and not have a bad time, we have reason to question whether we are born again. Every bad time is an evidence that we are alive, for dead people do not suffer.

Identification is basic to representation, and it is a vital, an organic, thing, not a thing of doctrine merely.

Representation Based Upon the Spirit's Sovereignty

Well, that is what Pentecost did. Oh, how we are launched into a realm of things when we recognise that. Peter, standing up with the eleven, what is he saying? Peter has heard the Lord saying, "Ye shall be witnesses unto me in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea and Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth". Well, both he and the others are going to come into the good of it. Not so very long before, some of these disciples were saying of these very people to whom they were now to be the representatives of Christ, the messengers of His gospel of grace, "Lord shall we call down fire from heaven upon them?" You cannot go on like that when you come under the power of the Holy Ghost. Burning people up from heaven - that is not a Holy Ghost governed life. You see what I mean.

As to Peter, this is going to carry him a long way further yet he is going to be taken well out of his depth. It is a glorious thing to see what the Holy Spirit does when He is really sovereign. He makes you say things altogether beyond your traditions and your intentions, though you do not recognise it. The Holy Spirit means a great deal more than we do when we say things, that is, when we say things by the Holy Spirit. We say a lot of things by the Holy Spirit's government which will take us a long way beyond what we ourselves mean at the moment.

"Unto the uttermost part of the earth"! Peter will endorse that. Or again in his address on the day of Pentecost, he will use words like these: "The promise is to you and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call" (Acts 2:39). He says that under the power of the Holy Ghost, but he does not mean that. A little while afterwards he will be asked to go to the house of a Gentile in Caesarea. He sees a sheet wherein were all manner of fourfooted beasts and creeping things of the earth and birds of the heaven, and a voice says, Rise, Peter; kill and eat! But Peter said, Not so, Lord! This thing was done three times and the sheet was caught up into heaven. Three men stood at the door (Acts 10). Not so, Lord! - "As many as the Lord our God shall call." He said it by the Holy Spirit, but he did not mean it. Now he is up against it. The Holy Ghost will carry him out of his depth, his tradition. That is what the Holy Ghost does when He gets hold of a life. He makes demands far beyond what we at the moment are ready for.

Thus the crisis will test you as to whether you are ready to adjust to the Holy Spirit? If not, your representation of the Lord breaks down. Are you ready to adjust? Is He going to have His way completely? I am keeping close to the Word. "As the Father hath sent me, even so send I you... Receive ye the Holy Spirit."

My point at the moment is that the sending as His representatives was on the basis of the absolute sovereignty of the Holy Spirit, and you and I will individually fully represent Christ only by that sovereignty, the Spirit's sovereignty, because the Spirit alone is big enough to bring Christ in, the Spirit alone is great enough to represent Christ. Can you or I represent Christ? Why, we do not know anything about Christ yet. Our thoughts about Christ would make a very little Christ. Peter, with all the big things that he is saying on the day of Pentecost, in his own interpretation of those things would have narrowed Christ down only to the Jews, but he came to discover that the Holy Spirit meant a great deal more than he, Peter, did about Christ, and what representation of Christ meant. And so it is by the Holy Spirit alone that an adequate representation of Christ can be made.

I do hope that we shall see that for which we are here, what it means. This is a very real thing, this matter of Christ being represented, brought into view, our presence meaning that. Oh, I am sure we all feel that, if things had been kept strictly there all the way along, the impact upon this world would be so infinitely greater than it has been. The thing has become mechanical; we cannot say that the Church in all its parts has really brought an impact of Christ upon this earth. We have to get back somewhere perhaps on this matter. It is not in doctrines, in words, in truths; it is in a mighty work of the Holy Spirit inwardly, which results in our being able to say, "It pleased God to reveal his Son in me that I might preach him among the nations" (Gal. 1:16); the representation within first, the preaching afterward; not the signing of a statement of fundamental doctrines, but a revelation of Christ in the heart.


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