Life in the Spirit
by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 1 - The Forty Days After the Resurrection

We are now to consider the forty days, to which we have already referred, the forty days after Christ's resurrection. In these we have a concrete setting forth of all that we have already said; that is, as to that which is spiritual and outside of this world as such. In His movements during the forty days, Christ set forth the meaning of spirituality, and the advent of the Holy Spirit established the Apostles and the Church upon that basis. It is important to recognise the connection between the two, that in the forty days the Lord Jesus was setting forth something, and the coming of the Holy Spirit was to establish the Apostles and the Church upon the basis of that. If we ask what that was, and is, comprehensively, we shall say it is a matter of how Christ is present and how Christ is known in this dispensation. "Forty" represents for us a phase of spiritual life which has to do with our education, as to the reality of the Lord's presence.

The New Order of Faith

In the narrative in the first chapter of the book of the Acts there is an upward movement of the Lord, and then a cloud intervening. That is the first thing. The intervening of that cloud when the Lord has been received up represents and constitutes an entirely new order. It is the order of faith, but faith which has as its background all that the forty days have contained. That is very simple to grasp.

You will call to mind the appearances and the disappearances, the taking of the disciples by surprise again and again in various places, at considerable distances apart, with remarkable proofs that they were having to do, not with a disembodied spirit, not just an apparition, but a living Person, Himself. We recognise that it was all with a definite object. This was no mere playtime with the Lord; He was not playing tricks upon them. There was a solid, serious object in His movements, in His activities, in His appearances and their manner through forty days. Having all that as the background, then in their presence He ascends up into heaven and a cloud intervenes. The Holy Spirit does not use words just for artistic effect, He uses words with meaning; and if the Holy Spirit thinks it worth while to put that little phrase in, He is not just painting a pretty picture, and saying, There was a cloud. He is saying something more than that, with spiritual meaning. He is saying that now the order which has been reached is an order, not of sight, but of faith. That cloud speaks of a new order which has been introduced, the law of faith as the governing principle of the dispensation. Upon what ground? Upon all that the forty days have held; faith that believes that what has happened through the forty days is so real, is so true, is so solid that they can go forward on that basis; that, although they do not see Him, although a cloud has intervened, He is just as truly present and can be just as truly known now for the future as He has been during that time. That is what He was seeking to constitute during that period.

This cloud, bringing in the order of faith, was intended to bring them to the place where the order of the forty days became the normal order of their lives, the normal conditions of things.

The Presence and Knowledge of the Risen Lord

Were we to use our imagination (and I think it is permissible sometimes in these connections) to try to put ourselves into the place of these apostles, how should we come back to the upper room. Remember the apostles had been in that upper room not so very long before with Him in the breaking of bread, in the Passover. He was there, and they saw Him. One of them was in such close touch with Him as to lean upon Him. They heard Him; there is no mistake about it; He was there on that Passover night. Now all these strange things have happened, the Cross, the resurrection, the forty days, and they come back to that same room. How do they come back? What are their feelings?

Now, you may have been with a beloved friend on the earth on a memorable occasion, when things were said and transacted between you which were outstanding in their nature, particularly impressive and significant. That friend maybe has since died, a short time elapsed, and that friend is no more with you in that way. You go back into the room for the first time after the departure and what is your feeling? Your feeling is that a death has taken place; there is a gap. Memory floods everything with what took place then, but the friend is no more; all that has gone, and a great sense of loss, of pain, of sorrow falls upon you; something of a tragic atmosphere is in that place. That is how it is naturally.

These disciples went back. How did they feel? Did they after all this go back into that room feeling as though a death had taken place, a friend had gone, the world was empty, everything was unreal, life was hollow? No, not in the least. They went back into that upper room conscious that He had gone, but that He might be there at any moment. He had gone, and yet He had not gone. He had died, but He was alive. They had lost Him, and yet they had Him. The effect of the forty days was to make them know that He was as much with them as ever. That was what the Lord was after, to create that state with them that, although He had died He was alive, and although He had ceased to speak in audible voice they could know Him, and could go on knowing Him. They did not come back into that upper room like men who had lost their Master, but as those who were going on with Him; it was not that He had ceased working, but He was going on working; not ceased speaking, but was going on speaking. We find them again in the upper room as in the presence of the Lord. He has brought them to that position by the forty days.

You see the object, and you see faith's basis for the dispensation; it is the nature of the Lord's presence, and how He can be known. That is spirituality. Upon that basis the Holy Spirit came to establish the Church; and if you and I, or any company of the Lord's people, really do come under the government of the Holy Spirit, that will be an upper room in the full sense of what is here; that is, the realisation of the Lord's presence and the Lord making Himself known to us. That is very simple, but that is the basis of spirituality, the nature of spirituality at the outset. It is that which constitutes the Church, and makes the Church spiritual. The spiritual nature of the Church is consequent upon the Lord's living presence, and the Lord making Himself known.

He made Himself known to them; He appeared unto them by the space of forty days. Having had that laid down in the forty days there comes the departure, and the cloud intervenes, and they see Him no more. Subsequently the Holy Spirit comes, and upon the basis of the forty days, as to what those forty days mean of the Lord's own living presence and the Lord's continuous making of Himself known, the Church is established. You can see the truth of that in the New Testament, and at all times since, when the Holy Spirit has something entirely under His hand. The Lord is there, and there is a continuation of the making of Himself known.

Adjustment to the Risen Lord as Man in the Throne of Heaven

Now we shall simply take fragments of the chapter.

    "And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus which is taken up from you into heaven..."

"Ye men of Galilee..."; "Two men... in white apparel". Again, the Holy Spirit makes no mistake over words. The Holy Spirit could have said two angels, but He did not; the Holy Spirit said, "Ye men of Galilee..." and then, "Two men... in white apparel". You have the earthly men and the heavenly men, and the earthly men are put right by the heavenly men, or the heavenly men adjust the earthly men to heavenly realities. "Ye men of Galilee". Now, to be called Galileans was a term of reproach, it was something used to signify contempt. There was something in the mind of others about the Galileans which regarded them as somewhat inferior. So that here we have earthly reproach and heavenly glory brought together by heavenly government. Here there are two men who were really angels: "Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?" (Heb. 1:14). That is government, the administration of heavenly things.

By these two men the heavenly government has come in to put right what is here amongst men of the earth, and the heavenly glory has come in to adjust men of earthly reproach to itself. The Scriptural meaning of two is testimony - "In the mouth of two witnesses"; "He sent them forth two by two". Wherever you find two you will find the Lord's minimum as to testimony, but the Lord's sufficiency for testimony.

Now let us consider what we have in these fragments. Two men from heaven are putting things right with the men who are to come under the power of the Holy Spirit to be heavenly men. They are being adjusted to heavenly realities, so as to become spiritual men. They stand stedfastly gazing up into heaven. What is their mind? What is in their faces? Perhaps it is a big question that is surging through their hearts, all sorts of emotions, hopes, fears: 'He is going'; 'We are losing Him'; 'We are being left'. It is as though that cloud were, after all, going to make the great divide between Christ in heaven and Christ on earth. The words of the two men must be taken as answering what was going on in them at that moment, as being an answer to their gaze and to what was behind their gaze in their hearts, "...why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus..." The two men did not say, That Jesus that was, but - This Jesus that still is. In effect they said: 'He is just the same; though received up from you He is still Jesus'. Thus the disciples were adjusted by these heavenly men to the fact that this Jesus is alive in heaven, and that they must from this time go back (for this is clearly what they concluded from the words of the two men) and proceed on the basis that Jesus is not changed, but is still Jesus in heaven; He is coming back again, but He is still Jesus in heaven.

You may think this is pressing things and analysing very finely, but there is a good deal more in the background than there is time to indicate.

The Instrument and Character of Testimony

Mark the fact that from the moment the Holy Spirit thrust them out into testimony you have these two features, that the Holy Ghost constituted two men again and again the instrument of testimony, and their testimony ever and always was 'Jesus of Nazareth, whom God raised and exalted to His own right hand'. Where did they get that? How was it that the Lord ever saw to it that two of them represented His order? Paul and Barnabas were sent out together, and when there came a break-down, then Paul and someone else. The Lord sought to maintain a minimum of two for the testimony, and the testimony was always Jesus of Nazareth; not that was, but that is: "...Jesus, whom ye slew, and hanged upon a tree. Him hath God exalted with his own right hand..." That was established by the two men from heaven. "This Jesus" - He is alive and He is in heaven exalted. Two men brought them into line with a heavenly testimony to the fact of the risen life and heavenly exaltation of Jesus of Nazareth for the dispensation.

This governs the dispensation. In two there is testimony, and the testimony is to the fact that Jesus is glorified at God's right hand. Now the Holy Spirit comes and constitutes the Church, and the believer, upon that basis, so that the Church and the believer become the embodiment of that truth, that Jesus is alive; not something merely to be announced as an objective fact, but to be represented in a vessel. 'How do you know He is alive? You have never seen Him'. 'It is by faith'. 'Oh, well, faith is surely an abstract thing; how do you prove it?' 'I am the embodiment of the fact'. 'Oh, that is egotism, that is setting yourself up to be something'. 'All right, I will live here on that basis, and we shall see'. The Lord will deal with you on that basis. He will break your natural life, He will break natural resources, bring them to an end, wind up natural knowledge and wisdom, until there is nothing left; and then He will do things on a basis which can take the strain, which can produce that work. That is the testimony, that Jesus is embodied in the believer and in the Church. That is God's thought for His Church. What a long way the Church has departed from that. The Church was intended to be the testimony of Jesus embodied, worked out. It was like that at the beginning. God chose such as in themselves could not stand up to this world's wisdom, this world's power. They in themselves were altogether at a discount, and should they have had a history in this world, such as that of Saul of Tarsus, which made them something amongst men, the Lord when He got hold of them took all that from them, and brought them to the place where they despaired of life, and had the sentence of death in themselves, that they should not trust in themselves, but in God who raiseth the dead. He did it again, and again; and they were the testimony, the very embodiment of that testimony.

You see the departure. You see what God must have. That is spirituality. Spirituality is not being occupied with the high truths, advanced teaching. Spirituality is, by the Holy Spirit, the embodiment of Christ risen, and Christ glorified. Meet that, and you meet the indestructible.

That is what the Lord has His heart set upon in this dispensation. In ourselves we are nothing, and less than nothing. The Lord is breaking down, grinding to powder, emptying out, confounding us in our wisdom; we are coming to the place where all that does not avail, and we cannot proceed upon that basis. We try, and we cannot go on with it; we are at an end. Then the Lord is all the time coming in, being our life, our wisdom, but a wisdom which does not take shape in our brains, in such a way that we understand it, comprehend it. It is simply a working, and by the result you know that it is the wisdom of God. You cannot see how the Lord is doing it; you cannot understand the ways of the Lord even in yourself and through others, but in the end there are such results as prove that that was God and not you. How some of us have cried to the Lord to give us ability in certain directions; for administrative purposes, for example, and we found ourselves totally incapable of doing the Lord's work on the old basis of organisation, decision, judgment. All we have been able to do has been just to do what the Lord told us to do next, not knowing why He told us to do that. We went out not knowing whither we went, on that particular move, but we knew the Lord had indicated that way. What was the issue? Simply that we could never have accomplished that by our wit and wisdom, but it was something which bore the stamp of God, and it will stand for eternity. It is a wisdom that is not of this world, not of ourselves.

We have simply lighted upon that point to indicate what we mean. This thing is comprehensive, it has many aspects. Two men from heaven adjust the other men of earth to heaven.

The Understanding and Establishment of the Heavenly Relationships and Laws

Now see the outworking. The immediate result was that they acted with understanding. They returned to Jerusalem and went to the upper room and continued in prayer. They had perception of what they ought to do. Did they prove right? They certainly did. They were acting now under heavenly government in relation to heavenly movements. It was there that the Holy Spirit found them. It was there that the Holy Spirit lighted upon them, and commenced the new dispensation. They were in the right place for the Holy Spirit. They were moving with an understanding of how they ought to move, of what the next step was. That is spirituality in intelligence.

"Two men stood by them in white apparel". Stood by! Again, we need not feel that we are exaggerating words and phrases if we recognise that there is a value in that very small clause. Take up the occurrences of that phrase "stood by". For instance, look at it in 2 Tim. 4:17. "Notwithstanding the Lord stood by me, and strengthened me..." What was the standing by for? It was to support whoever was concerned in a new position. They had come into a strange position, something altogether new; they had never been in that position before; they had no history along that line; nothing to fall back upon, no experience to appeal to.

The book of the Acts is a book of spiritual principles, and the Lord shows in remarkable, supernatural, extraordinary ways that those disciples are established. It is unnecessary throughout the dispensation for the Lord to associate with the principles the same demonstrations. He has done that at the beginning for the establishment of those principles. For instance, there is a principle violated by Ananias and Sapphira. That principle is the absolute sovereignty of the Holy Spirit in the Church. Because of the violation of that principle when it is first laid down, the Lord brings alongside of the laying down of the principle a most conspicuous establishment of it, and Ananias and Sapphira are slain. Many men and women have done exactly the same thing through this dispensation, and have never been smitten in the same way, never died on the spot. Does that mean that the principle is weakened with God, that He has changed His attitude toward it? Not at all. You can never violate a principle without suffering in the realm of your spiritual life, and most likely in your physical life. Paul refers to this in his letter to the Corinthians: "For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep". People were in bodily sickness, and there were deaths taking place at Corinth, resultant from the violation of a spiritual principle. We can take it that, whether instantly we violate the principle the Lord steps in with judgment and smites, or whether He stands back in patience, His attitude toward the principle is exactly the same.

Take another example. The accompaniment of the Holy Spirit being given was the gift of tongues. It was the establishment of a principle. That does not mean that right through the dispensation the presence of the Holy Spirit must invariably be accompanied by tongues. The Lord gave what was phenomenal to establish His principle: that the presence of the Holy Spirit means that you are lifted above the level of nature, that you are put into a new realm where you have new capacities, powers for doing what you cannot do by nature. If, for instance, it is the gift of a heavenly tongue, understood by men of all different tongues on the earth, what does it suggest? It suggests that when we reach the end of God's work in a new creation we shall all speak one tongue, and shall all understand one another; or, to put it the other way, the curse which fell upon men through sin, the consequence of which is division, and confusion, will have gone for ever. This is the earnest of the Spirit. The Lord has established that principle at the beginning by extraordinary associations, to show that He lays down that principle most definitely. We are not to look always for the association every time, but we are to recognise the law and see that we do not violate the principle that is in view at that point.

We have somewhat diverged in order to illustrate that the Lord, represented in these two men, stood by to establish something that was quite fresh, to support in a new position. These two men came alongside to get these disciples established on a heavenly basis, the basis of Christ alive and exalted.

These two men said: "This Jesus". Why did they not say, This Lord, This Son of God? They could have said that with absolute truth. Again, the Holy Spirit describes the two messengers as two men, not two angels, not two celestial beings. That might have been said quite truly. Do you see the basis? It is setting forth so clearly the fact that God has instituted and constituted for the dispensation a Man in the glory as the Head of a new race, and it is our union with Him as the Man in the glory which is the order of this dispensation. God has a new Man, and He is bringing men into conformity to that new Man. That Man is God; but He is Man.

The dispensation is to get men adjusted to the Man, and so two men come from heaven to adjust men of the earth to a Man in heaven. The Holy Spirit has come to constitute men of earth according to the Man in heaven; to bring men of earth under the government of the Man in heaven, and to make men of earth like the Man in heaven. The Apostle Paul brings that out clearly in his letters. His whole object is to present every man perfect in Christ. Christ in heaven is governing, but not in an official sense. His government is spiritual, and when you and I say that we are being governed by spiritual considerations, it is in that same sense that Christ is governing. He is the perfect expression of God's thought; therefore that perfect expression of God's thought has to govern us. What is God's thought? It is not an abstract thing in our mentality. God's thought is a Person. What is God's will? God's will is a Person. Look at the Lord Jesus and you see God's mind to the full, God's will to the full, perfect. To be constituted according to Christ is to be constituted according to God's thought and God's will; and the Holy Spirit is not bringing truths to us, He is bringing Christ to us, and bringing us under Christ; conforming us in a spiritual way to that Man who is the full expression of the thought of God.

That is so for the individual believer, but in the full sense it is for the Church, the one "new man", to come to the full measure of the stature of a man in Christ. God is after manhood as in Christ in glory taking precedence over the manhood that is here. The testimony is to a heavenly Man in men here, not in words, but in the expression of that Man in heaven. He said, "Ye shall be witnesses unto me". What is a witness? A witness is not one who gives out information. Try that in any court of law, and see if it will be accepted. If you are called as a witness in a court of law and begin to give information that you have received, you will very quickly be told that it is no use telling what you have heard, you must tell what you know, and that if you do not know, and cannot tell what you know, you must give place. A witness is one who is at first hand the embodiment of the truth.

This is a testimony to the heavenly Man reaching from the ascension to the return of the Lord, marking the dispensation, and that is spirituality. The Holy Spirit has come to constitute us according to Christ on the basis of His resurrection and His heavenly life, so that there is expressed by us the fact of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus by means of His risen life in us. Spirituality is that you and I are marked by the risen life of the Lord.

We have said that this is a crisis and a process. The crisis is that of being born again; the process is that of the increase of that life, and our coming more and more to live by the risen life of the Lord, and less by our own; and then, with that intelligence concerning Christ, the knowledge of Christ growing. What a tremendous fulness there is in Christ in heaven! We shall ever go on learning what Christ is as expressive of Divine thought in a Man. Spirituality is to be progressively taking Christ as to what He is according to God, and making Him our life.

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