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

Chapter 4 - The Natural Man Ruled Out by the Cross

"They that are of faith, the same are sons of Abraham, and the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all the nations be blessed. 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. 3:7-8,16).

"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).

These passages lead us from Abraham to Christ, and show that the seed of Abraham is really Christ and those who are of Him. In this dispensation the earthly natural seed of Abraham, called the Jews, are not in view with God as such. It is a spiritual seed, a heavenly people.

Now, this transition from Abraham to Christ makes it necessary for us to understand what Christ is as God's heavenly Man, the first of this heavenly race, this heavenly and spiritual people to whom all others in Him and of Him are to be conformed. And then it becomes necessary for us to know how Christ is reproduced in a heavenly people; that is, what the people of God really are. We have been seeing how this two-fold truth is worked out in the experience of Abraham. The previous chapters very largely dealt with the basic, the fundamental and inclusive severance of Abraham from all that belonged to him by nature in his old relationships and constitution in Babylon.

Now with Christ in full view as the heavenly Man, we are going to follow this a little further in its details as to how the inworking of that principle of severance took place in Abraham's life, bringing him onto the ground of Christ. That brings us back to the chapters in Genesis, the end of chapter 11, on into chapter 12 and over a number of other chapters, but for this chapter probably only the first part of chapter 12.

An Earthly Man Trying to Work Out a Heavenly Vision

Chapter 12, as it is marked in the chapter divisions of our Bible, begins with a throw-back. "Now the Lord said unto Abram..." and it is important for us to see exactly what that statement means. In the Authorized Version it is more helpfully translated. It says, "Now the Lord had said unto Abram". The revisers have taken the significance of the statement without using the exact word of the past tense "had". The meaning is still here. "Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house", and you have to put that back before verse 27 of chapter 11. "Now these are the generations of Terah". Terah was Abram's father, and if you put these beginning words of chapter 12 back there, it is like this: "Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out". The "thee" is emphatic in the original language. It really means: 'Whatever other people are going to do, this is My word for you, this is what you have got to do, this is personal to you'. That had been said, in that personal, direct way to Abram. The next thing you find is "Terah took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Haran, his son's son, and Sarai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram's wife; and they went forth with them from Ur of the Chaldees, to go into the land of Canaan; and they came unto Haran and dwelt there. And the days of Terah were two hundred and five years: and Terah died in Haran".

You see what has happened: Terah has taken hold of the vision and revelation given to Abram, he has taken hold of it, collected up all his family and essayed to go forth to put that vision and that Divine purpose revealed to Abram into operation to realize it. But it was never said to Terah, it was never said to any of the others. It was said to Abram, but Terah took hold of it. Abram's father, the old man, took hold of it and tried to fulfil it, to realize it, and you are not surprised, therefore, that there comes a halt on the way. They got to the frontier town of Haran, and stayed there probably for about twenty-five years. I say 'probably' because you have to put certain things together to arrive at the exact time. But that seems to be the result, that they just came under arrest, to a halt, at Haran for twenty-five years until Terah was finished, until he was out of the way, until the vision, the Divine revelation and purpose had got out of the hands of Terah. He was dead and immediately everything is released and on they go in the Divine purpose.

Now, that is the first thing that you and I, as those called into this heavenly relationship with the Lord Jesus, have to learn. It is a part of the fundamental movement. It is what you might call the first practical stage and aspect of that basic thing. Leaving the whole realm of nature, the whole world to which we belong by natural birth, we have got to recognise something or before long we shall come under spiritual arrest. There will be a long delay in our spiritual progress in the Lord Jesus and we want to keep Him before us even more than Abram.

In the Lord Jesus, we have this thing in perfection and completeness, a full presentation of the heavenly Man, and, as we pointed out in our previous meditation, the one thing that He was constantly saying Himself was that He did not belong to this earth and this world and this system of things. "Ye are from beneath; I am from above"; "I am come down from heaven"; "the Son of man who is in heaven". It would do you great good if you went through the Gospel by John alone with that word 'heaven' and 'heavenly' in view. See how large a place it occupies and how much the Lord Jesus makes of it as the essential basis of everything that He is doing and saying. There is a lot of deep instruction here.

Heaven Reopened in Christ the Heavenly Man

To me, it is very wonderful and very engaging. Just this little fragment, for instance. We said that the earliest name of Babylon was The Place of the Tree of Life, and right on as far on as the time of Alexander the Great, their symbol was the Tree of Life. It was imposed or carved upon the coffins, as late as that. We know what happened to produce The Place of the Tree of Life. We know what happened to Paradise, the Place of the Tree of Life, when man fell away from God and entered into that alliance with God's enemy, not only outwardly but in an inward way in his very nature. Paradise was closed, the Tree of Life was made a reserve and disappeared from the earth and reappears in the Lord Jesus. So far as man on the earth is concerned, heaven is closed, there is no entrance. It is an enclosed reserve, there is no coming to God any more and walking with God after that.

The place of fellowship and communion with God, the place of eternal life, is removed from the earth, and in the New Testament it re-appears in the person of the Lord Jesus. He is the Tree of Life, He is the place of communion and fellowship with God, He is the place of the opened heaven for men of faith. So early in the Gospel of John that comes into view: "Ye shall see the heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man" (John 1:51). That is Paradise reopened, and Christ, the Tree of Life, is the centre. The communication of man with God is a heavenly thing now in the Person of the Lord Jesus.

But you see in Babylon they were still clinging to a dead tradition. It was a religious thing; they were holding on to their symbol of the Tree of Life which no longer existed amongst men. We come, in this new dispensation, as shown us here in this Gospel by John, to see that the true Tree of Life is still alive in the heavenly Man. All the heavenly seed of Abraham have to leave the realm of dead tradition and religion and come into a living, personal relationship with the heavenly Man, and partake of His heavenly nature, and for them the heaven is opened. Abram, under Divine command, in the obedience of faith, left the realm of Babylon, the realm of mere dead tradition, where it was only symbol, not reality, where it was a dead thing altogether. When he came right out, he came into the place of the opened heaven, and from that time God was constantly appearing to him. He was living under an open heaven, except on one or two occasions when he lapsed, and we shall see the meaning and value of that.

Now you see, all this is summed up in the heavenly Man, the Lord Jesus. And we come into the good of the open heaven, of the renewed fellowship with God in the heavenly Man, as we become His seed, the spiritual seed of Abraham, which is Christ; that is, as we become a heavenly and spiritual people.

We were saying Terah essayed to take up this heavenly vision, and it was found that an earthly man can never do that. You have to become a heavenly man in order to go through with the heavenly vision. Terah brought everything to a standstill because, as a natural man, a man of the earth, a man who had not come into that personal relationship with God in a heavenly way, he tried to take hold of heavenly things and brought everything to a standstill. I was saying that that is one of the first great things we have to learn, and there is a lot of history bound up with that. Some of us were in the place of Terah for many years. We had taken hold of Divine things, we were trying to do God's work, we were trying to fulfil a Divine programme, we had got hold of some idea as to what the Lord wanted done, and we threw ourselves into it. We took hold of this thing, we pursued it, we pressed it, we worked at it. The Lord had pity upon our innocence and our ignorance, but He did not accept us on the ground of our taking hold of Divine things naturally, with natural strength, with natural wisdom, with natural energy and natural enthusiasm. And the time came when a new crisis arose, where we had to accept the implications of our death with Christ, that it was not only the taking away of our sins, but it was the taking away of ourselves; where we had to die, and die to all that was of God.

That sounds strange, but there is a sense in which we have to die to all that is of God. This is the sense: that the natural man cannot live in the Divine realm. He has to accept that he is dead, and it is impossible to apprehend Divine things, and fulfil Divine purposes. It is not in him, he has not the capacity or the ability to come into the realm of heavenly things; it cannot be done. We have to come to that crisis where we accept our death to ourselves, even as to the work of God, even as to the things of God; the place where, if there is going to be anything known, anything done, it must be the Lord Who does it on an altogether new basis, a new creation basis, a resurrection basis; where something has happened that has put us out naturally.

That is not fresh information to most of you, but there are perhaps those here who are not quite clear about that and Terah is brought into the Scriptures in this way to say to us, Oh no; you may hear about Divine things, it may be told you, someone may have been like Abram and given the information and told what they have heard from the Lord and what the Lord has said to them, you may have heard it in the meetings, in the addresses, in the teaching, and then you may have taken hold of it and said, I am going for that, I am going into that, I am going to follow that out! And you find it does not work, you get into a false position, and while you believe the thing in a way as being quite right and quite true, nothing is happening, there is a pause inwardly. Do understand the importance of recognising the meaning of Terah, the old man, the old Adam, the natural father, the one from whom all the natural springs. He cannot take up heavenly things and follow through. No, the natural man cannot fulfil the spiritual.

Nicodemus an Illustration of the Inability of the Natural Man

That is exactly the teaching we have in John chapter 3. Here comes Terah; his name is changed to Nicodemus. He comes to the Lord Jesus to discuss heavenly things, Divine things. He has heard, he has reports, he has been listening to things that the Lord Jesus has been saying, and he has come along to talk over those things, for "no one can do these signs that thou doest, except God be with him". So Nicodemus (Terah) begins to take hold of heavenly things, as he thinks, or essayed to do so, and there comes a terrible pause. "Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except one be born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God... Most truly, most truly, I say unto thee, Except one be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God". Here is the double 'cannot' written large by the Divine hand upon Terah and all his company, Nicodemus amongst them. "That which is born of the flesh is flesh" and remains flesh, whether it has stepped across the frontier and essayed to take hold of Divine things or not; that is, whether it has listened to the teaching, to the truth reported from an Abram who has really got the thing firsthand from the Lord. Whether he has believed that the teaching is quite right, true and sound and on that basis has moved to do something about it, Nicodemus cannot, he just cannot; he can get no further. That which is born of the flesh remains flesh, still is flesh. 

"That which is born of the Spirit is spirit". Listen! "If I told you earthly things and ye believe not, how shall ye believe if I tell you heavenly things? And no one hath ascended into heaven, but he that descended out of heaven, even the Son of man, who is in heaven." What a conundrum for Nicodemus, or Terah, or anybody! What is the Man talking about, what does He mean? Who descended out of heaven and is here, and yet is still in heaven? What are you going to make of it? This heavenly Man is incomprehensible, is beyond all natural power of understanding and grasping. 'If I told you heavenly things, how would you believe?' You see the heavenly side being brought in as showing that the natural man is slain, he is out of it. Then you have to cut out a portion of this chapter from verse 22 to verse 30. The narrative is taken up again at verse 31. It should follow on verse 21. "He that doeth the truth cometh to the light, that his works may be made manifest, that they have been wrought in God... He that cometh from above is above all: he that is of the earth is of the earth, and of the earth he speaketh: he that cometh from heaven is above all. What he hath seen and heard, of that he beareth witness; and no man receiveth his witness (no man can receive, is capable of receiving, his witness). He that hath received his witness hath set his seal to this, that God is true. For he whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God: for he giveth not the Spirit by measure." It is all this heavenly Man speaking heavenly things, and the earthly man totally incapable of grasping, apprehending, understanding, following through.

That is Terah, that is Nicodemus, and that is you and me by nature - the impossibility of entering into and fulfilling any heavenly thing until we become a heavenly people. So the Lord is saying to Nicodemus in other words, If you want to understand heavenly things, if you want to have an opened heaven, if you want to be able to know what I am talking about and what I am doing, you must be born (it does not say 'anew', the word really is 'from above') you must be born from above, you must become a heavenly person, and a heavenly person is one born of the Spirit; that is, a spiritual man and a spiritual person.

The Lord has been showing to me the inner meaning of this circumcision of the heart in such a way that I can say to you I have never seen it like that before. It is out of that that I am speaking and we shall never exhaust this truth, we shall never get beyond the possibility of new applications of the truth of the Scriptures in what we are calling inward circumcision, that is, a deep down separation between what we are by nature and what Christ is. We will never get beyond that, and it is going to be applied more and more as we go on, because we are called to be this heavenly people. Oh, the ramifications of this natural life of ours! How deep they are! How complex they are! How comprehensive they are!

The Lord's Need of a Crucified People

This work of the Spirit, dividing, inwardly dividing; what is it, after all, that the Lord is trying to get at? In a word, it is this. The Lord must have for His full purpose, the realisation of what is fully in His heart, He must have a thoroughly crucified people. That means a people thoroughly and deeply separated from themselves by the Cross of Jesus Christ; not only separated from the world in an outward way, but separated from this old man Terah who is inside us. God must have a deeply crucified people.

What is needed on this earth is a crucified people. The trouble is people, the trouble is Christians, the trouble is Christian workers. I am not going to say much about that, but take that as a statement. We are the trouble to the Lord. There is a Christianity, an organized Christianity, which is the greatest enemy that Christ has on this earth, and is standing in His way. It is standing in the way of many being saved. It is a caricature, a false Christianity, a false Christ, it is a most terrible thing. But that is speaking very generally in a larger realm, but even with ourselves, we are the trouble to the Lord's interests, we are in the way, we are not crucified sufficiently to make it possible for the Lord to go right through with His purpose. There is too much of Terah holding on still in us to the things of God and getting in God's way, and therefore holding up everything. Oh, suffer this word, it is very necessary.

What is needed is a deeper inward cutting clean in between the life of the flesh and the Life of the Spirit, the life of the earthly and the Life of the heavenly, the life of Adam and the Life of Christ; a severance as utter, drastic and terrible as the Cross of the Lord Jesus. I say "terrible" because there is no doubt about it that the most terrible moment in the whole history of this into which the universe and eternity were crowded, and in which the heart of God's beloved Son was broken, was when He cried, "Thou hast forsaken Me!" It was because in that moment He stepped right into the place of man by nature, you and me and the whole race, to carry it under judgment out of God's sight, inclusively, basically, fundamentally. And God turned His back on that, turned His face away from His Son when He was made sin in our place and made a curse for us. God abandoned Him because at that moment He stood in that place. We have to recognize that that world which God abandoned as represented by His Son in that moment, still is abandoned by God. He has never brought it back, not one bit of it, and, although He is very longsuffering, patient and forbearing with the remaining traces of it in us while He deals with us to get rid of it, His attitude to it all is still the same as in that moment on the Cross. He has nothing to do with it, He will not accept it. Yes, the need is a crucified people, crucified workers for God, crucified, deeply crucified, and the crucifixion is the severance between what is nature and what is the Lord.

We do need to face this matter. Do believe me that so much of the trouble is found in many of the Lord's people who are not just simple believers but who are in positions where they have responsibility and where they are taken note of, where they are seen, where they are prominent, and it is just there in so many cases that the Lord cannot get on, and the things of the Lord are being brought into shame, confusion and dishonour, and the Lord Himself is being dishonoured. Oh, the story of the breakdown and failure of us Christians and of us Christian workers... the constant seeping in, the creeping in, of some form of our natural life, self-interest, possessiveness, where we meet one another. We have not seen the awfulness, the depth of what there is in us even in matters like stubbornness. Let us look at it again at 1 Sam. 15:17: "Though thou wast little in thine own sight, wast thou not made the head of the tribes of Israel?" You see the attitude of the Lord, and now, by inference Saul left that ground of littleness in his own eyes. He has become something and this is what it amounts to: "To obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as idolatry" (vv. 22,23). Rebellion and stubbornness are directly linked with the evil powers. Witchcraft is a link with fallen spirits. Will any one of us say that there is no old man stubbornness, no old Adam rebellion in us? It is there! This Scripture says that kind of thing is immediately linked with the evil powers, the fallen spirits, the demons, it is satanic. When that comes up in Christians, how can the Lord go on? There is bound to be some kind of arrest, and there is bound to be some kind of dishonouring of the Lord, as there was with Saul.

How we do need this heart circumcision deeper and deeper, especially as Christian workers. I say again as I close, the great need today is a heavenly people, a spiritual people. Let us ask the Lord to make us, not workers, not preachers, but people like Christ.

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