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

Chapter 5 - The Application of the Law of Heavenliness

Reading: Gen. 12:1013:4.

We are occupied at this time with the Lord's desire to have on this earth a heavenly people, a people who, being born from above, in vital relationship with the heavenly Man, Christ Jesus, are His expression on the earth. And we have been seeking to take account of the working out of this law of heavenliness as seen in the life of Abraham, concerning whom the New Testament says that his real seed was not the Jew of the earthly type, but this heavenly people, this Seed which Paul says is Christ. For the sake of any who might have very strong dispensational views, I am not saying that the Jews were not in a sense the seed of Abraham, but in this dispensation it is neither Jew nor Greek, it is all one Man in Christ, and that means a heavenly Man, for Christ is essentially the heavenly Man as John in his Gospel makes so clear.

Now, the outworking of this law of heavenliness is seen in a number of different ways in the life of Abraham. We saw in our previous meditation the pressing of this law in relation to all his past connections; the old world, the old relationships, the old kindred had to be cut off and left behind, and until it was, there was no possible movement in the realm of Divine things, no possible entering into the things of heaven. Now we will pass on to some of the specific and more particular applications of this very law.

The Testing of Faith's Obedience

The passage we have before us has to do with Abram having at length moved away from Haran into the land in obedience, and now full obedience by that basic separation, and then it says he comes in, having built his altar and called upon the Name of the Lord at Bethel, it says, "And there was a famine in the land: and Abram went down into Egypt to sojourn there; for the famine was sore in the land." This is the first real pressing of the law of heavenliness in the land, and it is a very severe one, a very big test, and it embodies some very important lessons for us.

A heavenly position has been taken, a faith position has been taken, and it has been taken on the basis of a definite revelation from God, a definite making known to Abram of God's mind, God's will and God's intention, and in relation thereto this utter position has been taken. He has moved away from the frontier right into the land, and having done so, he finds very sore famine in the land, and he finds himself tested by the very position that he has taken. We naturally would expect that if the Lord had distinctly and definitely shown us a course that He wanted us to take and made us to understand that a certain direction was His will, that a certain position must be taken up by us in relation to His thoughts and His purposes, that when we are committed to it, when we take that position, when we are obedient to the heavenly vision, we should immediately find the Lord came out to meet us with great, wonderful confirmations that we were in His will and that it was all right. That is the natural expectation, argument and conclusion but very often it just works in exactly the opposite way. A position is taken on a basis of strong conviction and assurance that it was the Lord's will, the Lord's way, and almost immediately we find ourselves in trouble, we find that the position has brought us into difficulties and our obedience has precipitated us into a situation which is naturally impossible.

What do you expect when you are being wholly obedient to the Lord? You, of course, expect that an act of implicit obedience to the revealed will of God will bring from Him an attestation, a demonstration, a confirmation in some way that He is quite pleased and satisfied, and that all is well. Do you expect an immediate confirmation of obedience? If you do, you may be very disappointed. See all that Abram had done and see all that happened. We have noted what a forsaking it was, what a wealth of life he had in Ur of the Chaldees, what security, assurance, riches and what an advanced state of civilisation it was. He had left it, all of it. Later he had left kindred, coming out on nothing, as we may say naturally. It was sheer obedience to a command from the Lord, very costly indeed, and every argument would be that the Lord should vindicate that straight away, and show by confirming signs that our obedience was well-pleasing to Him and quite satisfactory. What Abram found was quite contrary to that. "A sore famine in the land", an impossible situation, naturally speaking.

Now, is that very discouraging, disheartening and terrible to take a step of obedience to the Lord? You may find that you will get a very real testing by means of the very position that you have taken. You will be sifted and shaken and tried about the whole matter. God is going to press this principle of heavenliness more and more inwardly. When things go like that, remember Abram, remember that this is in the Bible, and remember the Lord Jesus, because, as we saw in the previous chapter, the Word transfers us with one step from Abram to Christ, Christ the full measure of that to which Abram was being step by step brought. Christ is there in the perfection of it all, having completed this spiritual journey and summed it all up in Himself.

We have been brought onto the heavenly basis of Christ by being born from above, and we are on the journey, and the journey is not always one of immediate confirmations and vindications from heaven. It is usually one of the applying of heavenly principles more and more stringently.

The Nature of the Test

What was the nature of this test? If we see the nature of it, perhaps we shall be more helped in understanding. Well, simply, the nature of this test for Abram was apparent necessity, the argument of necessity. Of course, you have to decide on what ground the necessity rests, in what connection the necessity lies, but to all human argument it is a matter of, "It is necessary to do something", an apparent necessity for his very life. A subtle argument would come from somewhere, whispering in the ear, 'For the very purpose of God, you must do something.' That suggestion came to Abram more than once, "For the realisation of the purpose with which you are called, you must do something about it." Do not misunderstand me, I am not saying that we are not to be practical people and never do anything. There are a lot of people who would take up a passive position and be altogether unpractical, so "spiritual" that they do not want to do anything practical at all. That is not in the realm of what I am thinking about.

If we allow ourselves to be carried at once with this very thing from Abram to Christ, we shall find that it was the very first thing that arose in the case of the Lord Jesus. What had happened? He had been baptized in Jordan, in which He Himself had openly, before heaven and earth, declared that He was a separated Man, separated unto heaven, separated unto the will of His Father, separated from all earthly ways or earthly interests and all personal concerns and considerations. He was separated by that symbolic grave of Jordan from everything of the natural man, everything of this earth. He was joined to heaven. When He came up out of the water, the heavens were open to Him; heavenly attestation was given, this Man is linked with heaven.

Now, that had been His declaration by the practical means of baptism, "Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights ... the tempter came and said unto Him, If thou art the Son of God, command that these stones become bread" (Matt. 4:1-3). In other words, "If You do not do something, You will die and You will never be able to fulfil all this work to which You are called, all this heavenly vocation which has been declared, You will not be able to go on with it and get through with it, You will simply collapse. You will die. You must do something about it, necessity is laid upon You. For Your own personal vindication, for the very proving that it is true what has been said from heaven that You are the Son, and for the going through with this great work upon which You have set out, You must do something about it, everything is in the balances, and now do something to save Your own life!" Of course, that was not said, but that is what lies behind it. There is Christ right at the very beginning, just at the other side of Jordan, with the great divide, the heavenly position taken up, and the first application of the heavenly principle is the argument of apparent necessity in relation to all interests. It is a throw-back upon the original move.

We have not a full record, but I think we can do a lot of filling in from the little experience that we have had, and from what we have gleaned from our own spiritual history and from the spiritual history of other servants of God. Those whispering voices are always present in a position like this, when you are right up against it, when the way seems closed, when the Lord does not seem to be vindicating your obedience, when He does not seem to be fulfilling His half of the undertaking, when everything seems to argue that the Lord has left you to it. You have taken this course, this step, and now you are left to it, to your own resources. Those whispering voices, they come and they say, "Are you quite sure that you were right in taking that step, are you quite sure that it was the Lord, quite sure that there was nothing of your own self in this, that you have not been mistaken, deluded and deceived?" When you are right up against it in spiritual matters, the enemy is always very near to throw back on the original step and raise questions as to whether you were right.

One of the enemy's great activities and methods is to try to get us to go back on our course and in some way call into question our obedience to the Lord, to confuse us, to paralyse us by a doubt as to whether we were right. Don't forget that. It has been the experience of many servants of the Lord, that coming up against a very difficult situation, an impossible one, the enemy has immediately said, "You see? You were mistaken, there was something wrong about the beginning of this!" The enemy throws you into such a state of paralysis where all is hopeless, going right back to the beginning and raising questions as to the beginning of things. Was it really on the ground of the Cross that you took that step, was it really utterly selfless when you moved in that way? Was there not, after all, something of self in it? You see what he is doing. He is trying to undercut the whole meaning of the Cross, the whole meaning of the Cross as typically represented in that baptism of Christ.

Christ had taken that step, with the utterness of intention and declared that it was on the ground of the death to all self-interest that He moved on in the will of God. Now Satan would undercut all the meaning of the Cross and raise questions about that. It is a terrible thing when we allow something like that. Beware of that! Some of you have enough understanding to know what that means, this terrible throw-back of the enemy to raise questions about the origin, the beginning, as to whether it was right. If he can get us into doubt about that, he has destroyed the life of faith.

Now, Abraham is the embodiment of the principle of faith for a heavenly life. Try to live a heavenly life on this earth apart from faith, and it becomes a fiasco. Faith is the law of a heavenly life here, it must be in the very nature of things. The law of the heavenly life is assailed by circumstances, by appearances, with the argument that says, "You have been wrong, you have made a mistake; now you have to rectify this somehow, you have to go back on this and do something." So the argument of expediency is brought in and at this point Abram fails; he leaves the heavenly position and goes down to Egypt. He takes the matter into his own hands and out of the Lord's hands. Oh, it is easy to say these things. It is easy to talk like this unless you know something about it. It is a very real experience. Some of you have been that way, others will come this way, but remember this is a true and genuine aspect of a spiritual life. The Lord presses in this law of heavenliness in this way, and tests us as to the very position that we have taken, and then Satan comes on to that ground of our testing and tries to twist the whole thing and distort it and give it an argument and complexion that would undercut the whole purpose of God in our lives.

The Complications of a False Step

Abram went down to Egypt, and what happened? If you take one false step like that, rather than find that it relieves and removes the difficulty, it only accentuates it and brings other complications. So you have the rest of the story: Pharaoh and Abram's wife; a very complicated situation arises, and a half lie (it is only a half lie) has to be told to save the situation. One false step leads to another, and so you get into a constellation of complexes and find yourself involved in more difficulties, and rather than get out of your trouble, you land yourself in more trouble immediately you listen to the argument of expediency and apparent necessity instead of holding to the ground of God and His faithfulness. Oh, in many ways this will come to our lives, an argument that it is sheer folly for you, on all natural grounds, to take a certain course that you feel the Lord would have you take. It will be disaster, it will be death, it will be the end of everything, if you do that. Why, all common sense is against it! All advice is against it, the whole world is against it! You must not do that, you should do this, you should look after yourself, you should preserve yourself, you should do something about it in the natural.

And the attitude of the heavenly Man, the Lord Jesus, was undoubtedly this: "I would sooner perish, standing firmly in the will of My Father, than I would live and have everything by stepping out of that will." That test is very severe, but it is the way of the glory, it is the way of fulness, the way of enlargement, of increase. It is the way to "I will multiply thy seed" (Gen. 22:17), "I am thy shield and thy exceeding great reward" (Gen. 15:1). That is what lies in the way of standing steady in the known will of God, when necessity seems to be laid upon us to do something else. It is severe, but there it is. It is the way that the Master went.

Satan usually has something nearby, at hand. Egypt was not so very far away, the stones were right there to be made into bread. Satan usually has something not so far away that you can do, if you like you can do it; it is there to be done, it is quite easy. How easy the enemy makes the way of disobedience! - only just a little thing to get us out, a nearby Egypt solution, as we think, the solution of expediency, but it only involves in a false position. Abram came into a very false position with Pharaoh. It was the earth touch again, and touch this cursed earth anywhere, and you are in confusion. Become related to it in an inward way, in any connection and direction at all, and you are in confusion. It is death so far as spiritual and heavenly things are concerned.

Finding the Lord Where We Left Him

Just before verse 10 of chapter 12 - "And he removed from thence unto the mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, having Bethel on the west, and Ai on the east: and there he built an altar unto the Lord, and called upon the name of the Lord." He went down into Egypt, and then you come into chapter 13. (It is a pity there is a break of chapters here.) Verse 3: "And he went on his journeys (back now from Egypt into the land) from the South even to Bethel, unto the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, unto the place of the altar, which he had made there at the first: and there Abram called on the name of the Lord." He came back to the place from which he started on the false road.

Now, there are two things about that. One is that there is, of course, no hope at all until you get back to the point where your deviation started. You will never recover until you get right back there and put things right just at that point, and see everything from that position. I had a friend once who was very fond of playing golf, and he had a habit of losing his balls, but he also had a wonderful way of recovering them. Being asked how it was he was able to recover his balls so often, he said, "I always go back to the place where I hit them; I follow with my eye the most likely course, and usually find it." Back to the place from which you started, and just take in the whole thing from that vantage point, and you are able to correct.

Abram came back to the very spot, the place of the altar, the place where God was. We always find the Lord where we left Him. The Lord is so faithful that He cannot go with us always. We get away, we go on our own, take our own self-chosen way, we fall a prey to the enemy's arguments, we get away from the place where the Lord meets us, where the Lord was with us, but we always find the Lord waiting for us just there when we come back. The faithfulness of God! How often we have found that. He is ready to resume when we get back on to His ground ready to go on. He has not given us up, He is waiting for us. If you have deviated, if you have missed the way, if you have lost your touch with the Lord, just see why, discover why. Get back to the point where it happened. You will find the Lord there waiting for you. The Lord is not awkward or cantankerous, He is not of that kind: "You went off, all right, get on with it. I am not going to take you up again! He is not like that. He is right there, and many, many times some of us have found it like that. We have made our mistakes, our blunders; we, like Abram, have defaulted. We have allowed argument to carry us away, we have been forced by seeming necessity to do something, and we found the Lord was not with us and it has been a barren patch, a dark tunnel, a closed way. When we have put it right and got back to the altar, to the Cross, where all things are adjusted, we found the Lord there waiting for us. So did Abram. He got back to Bethel, got back to the altar.

The Course of a Carnal Christian

Now, I want to take the next phase of the working of the principle. It is Lot. You come on into the very next paragraph, and you have Lot brought in, and his history in a practical way becomes accentuated and emphasized. You know who he was; he was the son of Haran, who was the son of Terah. He was closely related to Abram, and it would seem as if, when father Terah died, Abram took this young man as a younger brother. But it is a sad story, and it bears out this very principle of which we are speaking in a wonderful way on both its sides, the contradiction of the principle in the case of Lot only accentuating the observance of the principle in the case of Abram. They are two sides of the one law of heavenliness.

All you need to do is to see six steps which Lot took to find out exactly what sort of man Lot was, and those six steps, beginning in verse 7 with strife between Lot's herdsmen and Abram's, lead to strife between Lot and Abram. The nature of that strife we can only imagine, as their herds and flocks had greatly increased, so it was difficult to live within narrow confines together, and they were always overrunning one another. And so the herdsmen of both sides were clashing, and it was a matter of: 'You keep off my ground; you keep encroaching on my preserves, you are all the time interfering with my things.' That is Lot's side of things, and that is what is happening; this strife upon the principle of my, I, me and mine. That is Lot. You see presently that there was none of that in Abram. In Lot it is that. It is something deep down in Lot which is going to come out more and more of self-interest, earthly considerations, the government of things temporal, things present, things sensual.

There is a little fragment in Paul's letter to the Corinthians, 'You always take note of the things in front of you', by which he meant, "You are always concerned with what you see immediately in front of you, you are short-sighted, you only see those immediate things, you don't look beyond, you have no spiritual perception. It is things right up close, that can be seen and handled, these are the things you are taking account of." That was Lot's very disposition. You know as well as I do that if there is anything of personal interest and concern, it is not long before you are quarrelling with somebody, before jealousies arise, and I, me and mine become strong elements so that you are clashing with other people because your personal concerns are being touched. Do not think that this is necessarily a thing which is only in beginners, in spiritual infants. It is the sort of thing that has got right into organized Christianity. What is the cause of a very great deal of the disunity and the trouble in organized Christianity today? It is because of interest in private things, our work, our mission, our institution, you are interfering with our something; yes, it is supposed to be the Lord's. You are stealing our sheep; yes, they are supposed to be the Lord's, but they are ours. There is something that is less than the Lord, something that is not this utter selfless occupation with the interests of the Lord. It is something that now belongs to us, that we have to look after, we have to get support for it, we have to see that it is maintained. It becomes something like that, and so you get jealousies and divisions and all this unhappy state because it is not all the Lord's, there is something of ours that has to be safeguarded. It is very carnal. Christianity, speaking generally, is shot through and through with that very Lot spirit, and it is not Christ, it is something additional to Christ.

Well, take account of that, and let it sink in and have its effect, for we are wrestling with the great problem of divisions, of strife, amongst Christians, and see no solution to that problem except on this principle. It is no use writing about John 17 - "that they all may be one" - and presenting the vision of the Lord's mind and trying to get people to come on to that spiritual level; it is useless. You can have your unions and your amalgamations; it does not bring about real spiritual unity, and the only possible solution to this whole problem of disunity, of division, is leaving earthly ground altogether and taking heavenly ground, the ground of Christ, and saying, "It is not anything on this earth at all, not our this and our that, my this and my that. It is not some thing, it is the Lord that matters." Until you take that ground, you have no solution to the problem of disunity amongst Christians, it has got to be the Lord. Lot was on the line of personal interests, earthly interests, and therefore there was strife.

After Abram so wisely, kindly, generously, said to Lot, 'All the land is before us, make your choice', it says in verse 10: "Lot lifted up his eyes, and beheld all the Plain of the Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere." He beheld - that was the original sin. "When the woman saw that the tree was good" (Gen. 3:6); the lust of the eyes. He beheld, he looked naturally, his eyes argued naturally, his heart through his eyes saw possibilities of natural gratification. He beheld - the second downward step. Strife because of inherent personal interest, then he beheld. Verse 11 - he chose; it is not a far cry from beholding to choosing. Verse 12 - he pitched his tent towards Sodom. He beheld, he chose, he pitched his tent in a certain direction. Chapter 14, verse 12, he dwelt in Sodom... he has left the tent and taken a house. He pitched his tent, now he dwelt in, he settled down. You see the downward steps. And the sixth, final step. Chapter 19, verse 1. "Lot sat in the gate." Oh, he is an elder now, he is one of the magistrates of the city! He is sitting in the gate where counsel is given, he has become a thorough-going part of this earthly corruption in the city of Sodom.

Six downward steps. Why? Because he was a man of a divided heart. He had some kind of association with what was of God in an outward way; he was a professor, yes, and he had something inside which would make him more than a professor if Peter's word be taken seriously about him, that Lot was vexed every day with the wickedness (2 Pet. 2:8). Lot was something more than just an empty professor, there was something about him that brought him on to a ground of being in association with God. But somehow or other this Christian was affected and influenced by personal advantage, and it became too strong for him and it became a snare to him. The story from that point is a sad one.

You remember the angels coming to announce the destruction of the cities, seeking to get Lot out, practically dragging him out, with the fire already raging, brimstone pouring down so near at hand that his wife only had to stay for a moment behind while Lot and the angels went on, and she was caught in the brimstone and turned into a pillar of salt. It was not necessarily that a miracle happened. She stopped as the flame and brimstone was spreading and she was caught in it. But you see what a close thing it was for Lot, how difficult it was to get this man out, how deeply his roots were in Sodom, and he was, as Paul said to the Corinthians who are a great spiritual instance of this very thing, "saved; yet so as through fire" (1 Cor. 3:15). Everything lost, all his works gone, all those interests of his perished; saved, yet so as by fire.

Then he argues with the angels about the little city of Zoar, why cannot he go there? And because he argues for it, they let him go there. It is not the Lord's full thought. They had said, Away to the mountain! He said, No, Zoar. And then later new fears come upon him, and in his new fears he leaves Zoar. He goes to live in a cave with his two daughters, and then we have that most shameful of all Bible stories. Here is a carnal Christian, a Corinthian, saved, yet so as by fire.

Why have we brought this picture so luridly in view? Why have we looked at Lot? Just to accentuate the principle of heavenliness. Yes, you may in some sort of way be a saved person, but do you want to be that kind of person? After all, when worldly ambition has influenced you and temporal gain and personal advantage, when these considerations have been indulged to the full, you may not have bartered your soul and lost your eternal salvation, but do you want to be that sort of person? Is this not a tremendous argument for the opposite, the Abramic line of being right out, wholly on heavenly ground? See the course of Lot and the end of Lot, and mark you, it does not end with Lot's death. You have that double line coming out of that tragedy and story of incest in that cave. They live on to be a thorn in the side of everything heavenly for generations after. It is an awful residue of carnality. Do you want that sort of thing? Is not this an argument for God's full thought of a heavenly people, and do you think that if you take the opposite line you are going to lose? Do you think that you must be alive to the psychological moment of advantage, you must always have a business eye? Do you think you are going to lose if you choose God's full way and not that way of things?

The Course of a Spiritual Christian

Look at Abram. How beautiful! To say to this kind of man that Lot was, "Here you are, here is all the land lying before you, make your choice." What heavenliness! What letting go! Why? Abram knew in his heart that God had said, "I will give you the land, it is yours." 'Oh well, I can afford to let go if God has secured that to me, if God has called me for that purpose. Let anybody get into my place, let anybody usurp, I am not going to strive about it, I can take it with perfect equanimity, I can rest in the Lord, I can leave that with the Lord. My business is just to see that I keep in a heavenly frame, in a heavenly world, in a heavenly realm, that I exemplify the Lord Jesus.' You are transferred again at once to Him. "All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me" (Matt. 4:9) - a quick way of personal realisation. What is the attitude and reaction of the Lord Jesus? "Don't you worry, it is all secured to Me, you can have it all for the time being. I am not going to worry Myself about it, I am not going to compromise to get that, I am not going to fight for My own things at all; that is in My Father's hands. The thing for Me to do is to keep on heavenly ground." It looked as though He lost everything, but He has it all. Perfect rest, perfect, quiet assurance. He let go everything and got it all. He let it go on the earth and got it all from heaven.

Abram exemplified that very principle. He said to Lot, "Take your choice, have it all if you like, I am not jealous, I am not concerned that I shall lose anything." We get so worked up if people begin to get on to our preserves, take our place and seem to be getting the honours that we ought to have, all that sort of thing. We get very disturbed about it, very jealous, we begin to feel bad about it. Don't worry; concentrate on meekness, self-emptiness and letting go to God. Wait a bit and it will all come your way, the Lord will see that you lose nothing. It was when Lot had parted from Abram that the Lord appeared unto Abram and said, "I am thy exceeding great reward. Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art, northward and southward and eastward and westward: for all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever" (Gen. 13:14-15). Let go and see what God gives you; do not fight for it, do not strive for it. That is heavenly life, heavenly nature; that is the principle of the heavenly Man.

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