The Pathway of the Heavenly Vision
by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 1 - The Law of Heavenliness

                  

"And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said unto him... I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee..." (Gen. 17:1,8).

"They that are of faith, the same are sons of Abraham... Now to Abraham were the promises spoken, and to his seed. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ." (Gal. 3:7,16).

"For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh: but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God." (Rom. 2:28,29).

"By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed to go out unto a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. By faith he became a sojourner in the land of promise, as in a land not his own, dwelling in tents, with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: for he looked for the city which hath the foundations, whose builder and maker is God... wherefore also there sprang of one, and him as good as dead, so many as the stars of heaven in multitude, and as the sand, which is by the seashore, innumerable. These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things make it manifest that they are seeking after a country of their own. For if indeed they had been mindful of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed of them, to be called their God; for He hath prepared for them a city." (Heb. 11:8-10, 12-16).

The Law of the Double Aspect of the Scriptures

 Before we can proceed to the message that is embodied and introduced by those Scriptures, there is a preliminary word which I think may be helpful to some who are not familiar with the truth in this connection and which is basic to all that we have to say just now. It is related to what we may call the law of the double aspect of the Scriptures. It is very clear, in the passages which we have just read, that there is a double aspect to all the Scriptures. On the one side, there is the aspect of the earthly, the temporal, the symbolic, the typological, the local and the temporary. On the other side, in the same Scriptures, or behind them, as over against the earthly there is the heavenly; as over against the temporal, there is the spiritual; as over against the symbolic and the typological, there is the essential and the real; as over against the temporary, there is the eternal; and as over against the local, there is the universal. These are the two aspects of the Scriptures, and, while that is not fresh information to most of you, it goes far deeper and is far more revolutionary than any of us have yet recognized. The one set of things mentioned is just a framework; the other set is that which is embodied in the framework. On the one hand there is, so to speak, the outward structure which, as we have pointed out, is earthly, temporal, temporary, local, but that embodies spiritual principles which go vastly beyond that framework. The framework is but the embodiment of something much more. 

The one - what we will call the 'A' set - is limited. It is limited by time, it is limited by the need, the occasion, it is limited by the conditions of people and the earth at a given time, it is limited by range. But the 'B' set is unlimited. It is full, it is timeless, transcendent, universal, and those two are to be found everywhere in the Word of God, especially in the Old Testament.

God's Work in this Dispensation is Heavenly and Spiritual

That brings us to this very important point that, in this dispensation in which you and I are living, the 'A' set of things does not obtain. Now it is the heavenly and not the earthly; the spiritual and not the temporal; it is the eternal and not the transient; and, mark this, as this dispensation approaches its end, that fact, that truth, will be more and more pressed to its manifestation by God Himself. That is, as we get nearer to the end of this dispensation, all the temporal aspects of what is of God will most certainly shrink and the spiritual aspects will become paramount. Surely we can see that before our eyes now. The things which can be shaken are going to be shaken so that the things which cannot be shaken may remain (Heb. 12:27). That is the enunciation of a divine principle concerning this present dispensation, that the framework of things, the mere external embodiment of divine things, will gradually crumble, steadily be overthrown or brought to an end or they will shrink. The outward, formal, and all that belongs to the earth and to time, everything that is of a temporal character not associated with what is of God will most surely come more and more to its end, and the thing which will remain and arise will be how much there is that is truly heavenly and spiritual here on this earth.

The heavenly and the spiritual are the governing features of this dispensation. In past dispensations, the temporal and the earthly were very much in evidence, but God never meant them to be, even then, everything and paramount. There are diversities of views about what the next dispensation on the earth may be. But what concerns us is that this dispensation, from God's standpoint, is essentially heavenly and spiritual, so far as God's things on the earth are concerned. And there will be a tremendous overthrowing of everything that has become attached to this earth in the Name of the Lord. Everything that has been built up here on this earth and connected with this earth which assumes to be of God, will be destroyed, narrowed, and steadily shrink. And we shall find that all those externalities of Christianity will be suffering blows ordained by heaven, and not by any means prevented by heaven, whatever the instrumentality may be, even the very Devil and all his system. But God will not protect anything that is bound up with this earth in His Name from shattering blows, and more and more at the end of the dispensation, we shall see what I have called the externalities of Christianity suffering reduction and limitation. On the other hand, we shall see God increasingly emphasizing and re-emphasizing the necessity for things being heavenly and spiritual; His people being a spiritual people, a heavenly people, and all the work which they do being of heaven and related to heaven; essentially spiritual.

It is very important to note that, otherwise we shall come into confusion. The Lord allows what looks like the work of God, what He has permitted, what He has used, what He has even blessed for a time, and what has become something too much attached to the earth and to men, to suffer terrible havoc. We shall be confused unless we understand what the explanation is. God, at any cost, is going to stand by this eternal law of His, which law we shall see more fully as we go on, that the supreme thought of God, which is bound up with this particular dispensation, is a heavenly thought, a spiritual thought. And, for the time being, it has nothing to do with this earth except to take out of this earth and out of the nations something for God and for heaven.

That is capable, of course, of application in many ways, but it is a broad principle which you must ever bear in mind, and you will find that it operates in this way: that the more the thing is of God, the less will He allow it to assume those forms and features and proportions of which men can take account and say, That is something great, something big as on this earth. The Lord will not allow that. He will reduce and reduce what is most essentially of Himself to what is just heavenly and just spiritual.

Abraham the Embodiment of Eternal Spiritual Principles

Well now, our passages have brought a man into view. The most comprehensive and outstanding personal embodiment and example of this two-fold principle that we have enunciated, apart from the Lord Jesus Himself, is Abraham. Abraham is the most comprehensive example of this double aspect of Scripture. He is not just an Old Testament character from whom we could learn many lessons for the Christian life. He has been used a lot in that way as a type and so on. He is much more than that. Abraham is the embodiment of God's full message to the church in this spiritual dispensation. We are going to prove that before we are through. I am fully aware of how that will clash with many accepted interpretations of Scripture, that the Old Testament saints do not come into the church and so on. Nevertheless, I make that affirmation with full consideration and have no question about it, and I trust that, as we go on, that will be borne out.

Do you not see how Abraham is brought up to date in the New Testament, not as a type merely, but as the embodiment of eternal spiritual principles? Not temporary, earthly principles, but heavenly and spiritual principles which outbound all time, outrange all limitations; they are the principles of God. Abraham is brought forward in the New Testament as the embodiment of those divine principles.

Abraham, as Set Forth in "Romans"

Let us take three instances. Take the letter to the Romans. I am not going to deal with these in detail, but you know how much Abraham comes in within the first four chapters of the letter to the Romans and what a large place he has. In doctrine, he has been mainly, if not entirely, shut up to the doctrine of justification by faith. Of course, he is there undoubtedly set forth in that connection, but the mistake is to limit him to that. Justification by faith is something very much greater than is generally recognized. What is the setting of the letter to the Romans? You are familiar with these words - "Whom he foreknew, he also foreordained to be conformed to the image of His Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren: and whom he foreordained, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified." (Rom. 8:29,30). Get the setting of justification - that is the point. You have two verses, and in those two verses, you are taken right back before times eternal - foreknown, foreordained and on into eternity to come - "them he... glorified". That is the setting. It is timeless, it goes far beyond any limits of which we are conscious or of which we have any knowledge, right back there in those eternal counsels of God, foreknowing and foreordaining. It goes on to the end. "Them He... glorified". From eternity to eternity.

What is justification by faith? What does justification by faith do? It takes you clean out of all that came in with the fall, of all that came in with Adam, all that came in with this world, and puts you behind it, makes all that as though it had never been, gets you into the eternal and out of the temporal. Justification has a background like that, and Abraham, who is presented here in that connection, is therefore the embodiment of the eternal idea of God that all that came in with the fall, all that happened by man's complicity with Satan, all the results accruing to a fallen creation, everything - and it is vast and terrible - is completely leapt over and set aside as though it had never been and put right back there. And you are carried right out there from eternity to eternity; and Abraham embodies that.

Abraham is a great man; he means far more than just an Old Testament type from whom we learn a few lessons for the Christian life. It takes us to the fundamental things of God's spiritual universe. Look at the words "called according to His purpose... to be conformed to the image of His Son" (Rom. 8:28,29), and that is what Paul, in this letter to the Romans, calls the Gospel. "The gospel of God" he says at the beginning of the letter, "the gospel of God... concerning His Son... Jesus Christ". What is it? "Foreordained to be conformed to the image of His Son." That is tremendous; that is not just being saved. It is a great thing to be saved, it is a great thing to be justified, it is a great thing to be redeemed, but that is something in time because of something that has happened. The Gospel is bigger than that. What is said here is that the Gospel goes right back to those eternal counsels of God where He foreknew, foreordained, and chose us to be conformed to the image of His Son. It is only another way of saying, "them He also glorified". That is the Gospel here. His Son is the object in view in justification by faith. Justification is related to His Son and all His purposes are centred in His Son, and when those purposes are realized, there will be a great corporate expression of His Son in glory. Glorified! It is the Gospel of God concerning His Son.

That is how Abraham is introduced in the letter to the Romans, and you see it is not earthly. It is not temporal or temporary; it is not of time.

Abraham as Set Forth in "Galatians"

Let us go on to the second illustration in the letter to the Galatians. You know that Abraham comes into this letter to the Galatians quite a bit. We read at the outset some fragments in that connection, and what has the letter to the Galatians to say about Abraham? In chapter 3 verse 7: "Know therefore that they that are of faith, the same are sons of Abraham." "Now to Abraham were the promises spoken, and to his seed. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ" (Gal. 3:16). That is the heart of things so far as Abraham is concerned in this letter, and Abraham holds a central position here in principle. The principle embodied in Abraham is that which is governing the whole of this letter to the Galatians. You can follow that through yourself. What is the principle, what is the heart of it? It is a spiritual, and a new and distinctive seed.

Distinctive contrast is drawn between the spiritual children or sons of Abraham, and those who on natural grounds claim to be children of Abraham. They are making their claim purely along natural lines that they are Jews. They call themselves the seed of Abraham. They feel that they can trace their line back to Abraham, and so make their claim to be children of Abraham. And then, of course, because God gave Abraham the covenant sign of circumcision and they had been circumcised, that is an extra claim and evidence that they are children of Abraham. I do not think we have sufficiently felt the force of the New Testament on this matter, that the Lord Jesus repudiated that Himself. "If ye were Abraham's children..." (John 8:39) raises the question. And both in the letter to the Romans as we read earlier at chapter 2 and here in this letter to the Galatians particularly, the apostle just brushes aside all this question of circumcision and natural descent and says, 'It does not count, it does not effect the thing that you think it effects, the result is not what you have concluded it to be. You, along natural lines, however you may be able to follow your genealogy right back to Abraham, are not necessarily Abraham's seed". "He is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh ... circumcision is that of the heart" (Rom. 2:28,29).

And so this letter to the Galatians brings Abraham fully into view on the principle of not a natural, earthly, seed, but a spiritual seed - distinct and not marked by religious rites and ordinances. These are all relegated to the place of non-effectiveness; of no value in spiritual matters. Now it is all a matter of a spiritual seed which is Christ, One Seed, and if you are not in Christ, you have no claims whatever, even as an historical Jew. There is no other claim, there is no natural basis upon which to be this seed. That is not new to you in principle, but note how Abraham is brought in here on this eternal principle: that Christ, from eternity to eternity, gives character to what is of God, and it is only as we find Christ, as it were, in reproduction that we have what God is after. It is heavenly, it is spiritual; it is not earthly.

Abraham as Set Forth in "Hebrews"

That is borne out by the third instance: the letter to the Hebrews. That passage which we read in the eleventh chapter is very remarkable, and it is worth looking at a little more closely. "By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed to go out unto a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. By faith he became a sojourner... wherefore also there sprang of one, and him as good as dead, so many as the stars of heaven in multitude, and as the sand, which is by the seashore innumerable. These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth (not only in the land of promise - on the earth). For they that say such things make it manifest that they are seeking after a country of their own... that is, a heavenly." What does that say? Is it not perfectly patent that it says that, whatever they did get on the earth, whether it was a country or whether it was a seed, an earthly seed (and there did come of Abraham a multitudinous earthly seed) but whatever they got, however great, that was not what God was after? And they came to see that this earthly country was not what God was after, and that this earthly seed was not what God was after: He sought a spiritual seed. The whole letter to the Hebrews is built on that very principle.

The whole letter has to do with that which is heavenly and spiritual. It begins with a Person in heaven. It has completely set aside the earthly, historical Jesus, and we see Him crowned with glory and honour, and He is presented in the first verses of the letter as Christ in heaven, the inclusive Son, then bringing many sons to glory; a heavenly and spiritual people. And steadily the writer undercuts the earthly. He undercuts the Aaronic priesthood and carries you over to Melchizedek, without father, without mother, without genealogy, without beginning or end of days, made like unto the Son of God after the power of an endless and incorruptible life.

Then there is the argument about Abraham and Melchizedek and their association. They are brought together on heavenly ground. This one whose genealogy we cannot trace, we do not know who he is, what he is, the apostle says. We have no data, therefore he stands to represent something timeless, earthless, something outside of the ordinary bounds and limitations of mankind, and Christ is after that order.

I am not going to try to analyse or sum up this letter to the Hebrews. It is a Person in heaven only known now spiritually, and then it is a people being taken out of the earth as a heavenly people... sons being brought to glory, and Abraham is the embodiment of that heavenly people. He, with others, began by fixing his eyes upon an earthly object, a temporal object, and was disappointed right to the end of his life, and died in faith, in effect saying, "This is not it; there is something more than this; however much we have, however much we get here, that is not God's meaning. It is a better, that is, a heavenly country"; "wherefore God is not ashamed of them, to be called their God". You notice, going right back again to Genesis 17, that was the word: "I will... be a God unto thee and to thy seed after thee." "Wherefore God is not ashamed of them, to be called their God" (Heb. 11:16). Why? God is not the God of an earthly thing or an earthly people ultimately. He is the God of heavenly people, and that is brought to fulness in representation right at the end of the Bible where consummation is reached in all the thoughts of God, and the new Jerusalem comes down from God out of heaven. This is a figure of this heavenly people: "the tabernacle of God is with men, and he shall dwell with them, and they shall be His peoples, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God" (Rev. 21:3). It is heavenly, it is spiritual.

We have taken all this time in enunciating the law by illustrating it. It has yet to be broken up and applied in perhaps still more profitable ways. But do you see what God is after? Do you see why God permits so much that looks like destruction of His own work and the narrowing of what represents Him? That is only the temporal side, the earthly side. God is bent upon increasing, strengthening, intensifying what is heavenly and what is spiritual. Those who, like Abraham, are going to walk with God and go on with God, will find that they have less and less to glory in on this earth, and their glorying will not be of men, but of God. That is, their glorying will be in the increase of their spiritual life and spiritual measure, which is the increase of Christ, the heavenly Man.


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