The Stewardship of the Mystery
by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 4 - The Place of Revelation in the Knowledge of Christ

Toward the close of our last chapter we used some words which have been the focal point of much controversy and misunderstanding. The words were: 'no one who has really had a revelation of the Body of Christ,' etc.

The misunderstanding has been as to our meaning; the controversy as to the word 'Revelation'.

The contention is that all the revelation that God has wished to give to man is exclusively and conclusively contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, and that, therefore, there is no more revelation to be given or had. The misunderstanding is that, in our use of the word 'Revelation', we mean something extra to the Scriptures. Let us say emphatically that we mean no such thing. Categorically we affirm that the Bible seals the sum of Divine revelation, and anything that is extra to that is dangerous and contrary to the Scriptures themselves.

When, however, we have said that with full emphasis, we still hold to both the fact and the implications of the old Puritan Father, John Robinson, when he said: "The Lord hath yet more light and truth to break forth from His word".

That is what we mean, and all that we mean. We believe that this is the teaching of the Word itself, as we shall show.

It is not 'Revelation' as extra to the Scriptures, but revelation as to what is in the Scriptures. The content is unfathomable and inexhaustible. The 'riches are unsearchable'. Who can know the full content of the mind of infinite God? It may very well be that, although God has given in the Scriptures all that we need to know for all present purposes, and eternal well-being, there is infinitely more of God to be known than is contained in the Bible. But, the Bible, although read a thousand times, and even were it entirely committed to memory, contains for present value and importance more, much more than the most spiritually knowledgeable servant or saint of God has ever been able to fathom. The man to whom was committed the revelation of the mystery in a fuller way than any other, was, right at the end of his life, still crying: "That I may know him".

The Scriptures make two things very clear. One is that the knowledge of the things of God is right outside of human attainment by any natural ability of mind or brain. They show that, although they - the Scriptures - may be quite familiar to, and in the hands of quite devout men, such men may be utterly blind as to their meaning. Among many instances we have the classic case of the two on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24). This failure to 'know the voices of the prophets which were read every sabbath' was one of the major charges laid against the Jewish rulers (Acts 13:27).

The second thing is that the very presence of the Holy Spirit within the believer is as the "spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him; having the eyes of your heart enlightened, that ye may know..." (Eph. 1:17,18). This was the prayer of the Apostle for believers who had already received very much instruction and light. And can it be said that all that is contained in that prayer has been fully known by the Church, even to this day? The things which are detailed in the prayer are truly in the Scriptures, but the Church still needs to know them by revelation of the Holy Spirit. To believers, who already had a rich inheritance of Divine illumination, John the Apostle wrote: 'You have an anointing; the anointing abideth in you and teacheth you all things' (1 John 2:27). The "all things" would already be in the Scriptures, but needing to be brought to light in believers. Let it be noted that this 'Revelation' referred to is not intended to be the exclusive or peculiar property of a selected few, but it is for all believers, and for the Church as a whole. Whether it is enjoyed or experienced by all is another matter, to which we have to come presently.

What does this mean fundamentally and in the first place? It just means that

Every Believer Should Have a First-hand Knowledge of the Lord and His Things.

This means that every believer should, and may, be able to say: 'I really do know the Lord. The Lord has really revealed Himself to me.' Through and by His Word, yes; but it has become a very personal, living, and real thing. Believers, by their very new birth and in its very nature are able to say: 'The Lord has opened my eyes.' But this is not all, as we have pointed out. This work of the Holy Spirit is a continuous and progressive thing, and the 'more light and truth' should be ever growing.

We would say that everything in the Christian life should rest upon and grow out of this revelation or illumination. Life, growth, character, service, etc., should all spring from a basic and continuously growing inward unveiling of Jesus Christ. The Christian should not have his or her life resting upon only outward supports, such as meetings, 'church-attendance', preaching, and the many other things which compose Christianity in an outward way. These may be helps, but the vital necessity and blessed privilege is to have a personal, inward, revealing walk with the Lord. Apart from this, in a day of crisis and shaking, all the other things - however good in themselves - may break down and fail to save.

The Apostle Paul was a master of the Scriptures as they existed. There was very little, if anything, that he could be taught as to their content in word and doctrine. But as to the Christ of which they were full, he was totally and lamentably blind. "I did it in ignorance", he said. The "mystery" was there ail the time, waiting for the manifestation and the revelation of the Christ by the Holy Spirit. To this revelation Paul acknowledged that he owed everything, and all that he became, all that he did, and all that the Church has received through him took its rise from "It pleased God to reveal his Son in me"; and from that spring the river ever deepened and widened.

Although the specific dispensational purpose may be peculiar in the sovereignty of God in certain vessels, the principle is of general application: it is that, what we are, what we may fulfil of Divine purpose, and the ultimate value of our lives will depend solely upon what we have seen of Christ by revelation by the Holy Spirit. But, having said that, there is more to say. We have to come to

The Basis of Revelation.

Although this is the birthright of all children of God, many are not in the good of it, and a vast number know all too little of it. We should be right in saying that a large measure of the spiritual defectiveness, a large number of the spiritual maladies, and a great deal of the discredit brought upon the Church can be traced to this lack of really knowing the Lord in an inward way. If this is the secret of fulness of life and effectiveness of service, what is its basis? For truly there is a basis and a very serious one! It embraces the Lord Jesus Himself, with all His disciples and apostles.

Jesus received His open Heaven for His mission - in symbol - at the Jordan when He was baptized. John was baptizing unto repentance and remission of sins. Jesus joined the multitude and insisted upon being baptized with them. But Jesus had no sin or sins of which to repent or which needed to be remitted. He was already "the Lamb of God", "without spot or blemish". His baptism was therefore a symbolic forecast of His Cross - death, burial, resurrection, and in both - symbol and reality - He was representatively "numbered with the transgressors" (Isa. 53:12). On this ground the Heaven was opened to Him and thereafter everything for Him was in virtue of that, until that actual terrible moment when - symbolism apart - "He was made sin for us, he who knew no sin"; when we were - in the mind of God - included in Him, and Heaven was closed and sealed against sinful mankind and He cried "Forsaken" (Matt. 27:46); when He was "smitten of God and afflicted" (Isa. 53:4).

After this actual representative death and resurrection, Heaven was opened to Him in all its eternal fulness. The 'gates were lifted up and the King of glory entered in' (Ps. 24:7,9). "He was received up" (Acts 1:2,10,11).

Leaving the atoning and vicarious aspect apart as uniquely His work, the New Testament overwhelmingly shows that there is an aspect of that experience into which believers have to be baptized. We say 'experience', for it is more than the doctrine. The first Apostles had a devastating experience of the meaning and power of the Cross. It wrecked them and blasted all their natural self-confidence, self-assurance, and ambitions in this world as it is. Broken, shattered, emptied, and confounded by that Cross, they were thereby in the way of the opened Heaven, which actually became their door of spiritual fulness on the Day of Pentecost.

It is the Apostle Paul who puts all this into writing and exposition. Not because he alone went that way, but because of the sovereign significance of his "stewardship".

We do not know where - the then - Saul of Tarsus was when Jesus was crucified, nor whether he was actively connected with the event, but we do know what he felt about it. He was wholly sympathetic with the crucifying of Jesus, and demonstrated that sympathy by vehemently pursuing, persecuting, and arraigning for death the least and last sponsor of 'Jesus of Nazareth'.

We shall never be fully able to appraise the devastating effect of his discovery that Jesus of Nazareth was - not only the Messiah but - the Son of God crucified by Israel, himself, and the world. But it is clear from his writings that this crucifixion was seen to be more than for him and his sins, or for the world and its sins; it was as him as a part of a judged and set-aside race and world. Positive statements to this effect are such as Romans 6:3-6; Colossians 2:11,12; Galatians 2:20; and so on. We repeat, this was not just doctrine or interpretation with Paul, it was born out of an initial prostrating and devastating encounter and revelation, and, quite evidently, from increasing and deepening revelation and experience of the Cross as to the natural man. Paul's open Heaven began in this way, and all that followed in knowledge, life, and ministry was upon this basis.

Paul, the natural man, with all his endowments, abilities, zeal, and acquirements, knew that he was at a discount in the things of God apart from this opened Heaven and the Spirit's anointing. The Cross had effected this. He was a crucified man, and he knew it. He was crucified to self; crucified to the world, its spirit, its ambitions, its policies, its ways. But he was risen and alive to all that Heaven means, and to Christ - Heaven's fulness.

From the natural standpoint this may be a costly way. It involves suffering and ostracism. It involves in the hatred of hell. It involves in the unrelenting attempts to discredit by the legalists, the traditionalists, and by the earthbound.

From some outstanding examples of what we are seeking to show we select one which we are sure will not be called into question by anyone. It is the case of Mr. Hudson Taylor of the China Inland Mission.

Few people, if any, who know of Mr. Hudson Taylor's life with God would question his knowledge of the Scriptures and his real spiritual understanding of them. If he knew the Word of God at all we can be sure that the fifteenth chapter of the Gospel by John was very well known by him, but it was upon that very chapter that, well on in life and service, he was saved from despair and brought into something altogether new of joy and victory. His disclosure of his despair in a letter astounded those who knew him best. His biographers lead up to the letter by saying: -
"Were it not recorded in his own words it would be difficult to believe, certainly impossible to imagine, such conflict, suffering, almost despair in spiritual things in one who had long and truly known the Lord."
We give a part of the letter in which the disclosure is made, with our italics to indicate the particular principle which is our object in this chapter. The whole chapter entitled The Exchanged Life should be read to get the fuller message; we are only concerned at the moment with the fact of 'Revelation'. (The chapter is in Hudson Taylor. The Growth of a Work of God.)
"Six weeks after these experiences, when Mr. Taylor was rejoicing in the abiding fulness of this new life, a letter reached him from England that specially touched his heart. It was from his sister, Mrs. Broomhall, the intimate friend and correspondent of his early years, who now with a growing family round her was sore pressed, as he had been himself, by outward responsibilities and inward conflict rather than rest in Spiritual things. With a great longing to help one so dear to him, Mr. Taylor took up his pen to reply. As he wrote, the whole story of his own extremity and deliverance was poured out in a letter so precious that it is given in full, despite the risk of some repetition:
"October 17, 1869: So many thanks for your long, dear letter... I do not think you have written me such a letter since we have been in China. I know it is with you as with me - you cannot, not you will not. Mind and body will not bear more than a certain amount of strain, or do more than a certain amount of work. As to work, mine was never so plentiful, so responsible, or so difficult; but the weight and strain are all gone. The last month or more has been perhaps, the happiest of my life; and I long to tell you a little of what the Lord has done for my soul. I do not know how far I may be able to make myself intelligible about it, for there is nothing new or strange or wonderful - and yet, all is new! In a word, "Whereas once I was blind, now I see."
"Perhaps I shall make myself more clear if I go back a little. Well, dearie, my mind has been greatly exercised for six or eight months past, feeling the need personally, and for our Mission, of more holiness, life, power in our souls. But personal need stood first and was the greatest. I felt the ingratitude, the danger, the sin of not living nearer to God. I prayed, agonized, fasted, strove, made resolutions, read the Word more diligently, sought more time for retirement and meditation, but all was without effect. Every day, almost every hour, the consciousness of sin oppressed me. I knew that if I could only abide in Christ all would be well, but I could not. I began the day with prayer, determined not to take my eye from Him for a moment; but pressure of duties, sometimes very trying, constant interruptions apt to be so wearing, often caused me to forget Him. Then one's nerves get so fretted in this climate that temptations to irritability, hard thoughts, and sometimes unkind words are all the more difficult to control. Each day brought its register of sin and failure, of lack of power. To will was indeed present with me, but how to perform I found not.
"Then came the question, 'Is there no rescue? Must it be thus to the end - constant conflict and, instead of victory, too often defeat?' How, too, could I preach with sincerity that to those who receive Jesus, 'to them gave He power to become the sons of God' (i.e., God-like) when it was not so in my own experience? Instead of growing stronger, I seemed to be getting weaker and to have less power against sin; and no wonder, for faith and even hope were getting very low. I hated myself; I hated my sin; and yet I gained no strength against it. I felt I was a child of God: His Spirit in my heart would cry, in spite of all, 'Abba, Father': but to rise to my privileges as a child, I was utterly powerless. I thought that holiness, practical holiness, was to be gradually attained by a diligent use of the means of grace. I felt that there was nothing I so much desired in this world, nothing I so much needed. But so far from in any measure attaining it, the more I pursued and strove after it, the more it eluded my grasp; till hope itself almost died out, and I began to think that, perhaps to make heaven the sweeter, God would not give it down here. I do not think I was striving to attain it in my own strength. I knew I was powerless. I told the Lord so, and asked Him to give me help and strength; and sometimes I almost believed He would keep and uphold me. But on looking back in the evening, alas! there was but sin and failure to confess and mourn before God.
"I would not give you the impression that this was the daily experience of all those long, weary months. It was a too frequent state of soul; that toward which I was tending, and which almost ended in despair. And yet never did Christ seem more precious - a Saviour who could and would save such a sinner! ...And sometimes there were seasons not only of peace but of joy in the Lord. But they were transitory, and at best there was a sad lack of power. Oh, how good the Lord was in bringing this conflict to an end!
"All the time I felt assured that there was in Christ all I needed, but the practical question was how to get it out. He was rich, truly, but I was poor; He strong, but I weak. I knew full well that there was in the root, the stem, abundant fatness; but how to get it into my puny little branch was the question. As gradually the light was dawning on me, I saw that faith was the only pre-requisite, was the hand to lay hold on His fulness and make it my own. But I had not this faith. I strove for it, but it would not come; tried to exercise it, but in vain. Seeing more and more the wondrous supply of grace laid up in Jesus, the fulness of our precious Saviour - my helplessness and guilt seemed to increase. Sins committed appeared but as trifles compared with the sin of unbelief which was their cause, which could not or would not take God at His word, but rather made Him a liar! Unbelief was, I felt, the damning sin of the world - yet I indulged in it. I prayed for faith, but it came not. What was I to do?
"When my agony of soul was at its height, a sentence in a letter from dear McCarthy was used to remove the scales from my eyes, and the Spirit of God revealed the truth of our oneness with Jesus as I had never known it before. (TAS: Italics ours). McCarthy, who had been much exercised by the same sense of failure, but saw the light before I did, wrote (I quote from memory): 'But how to get faith strengthened? Not by striving after faith, but by resting on the Faithful One.'
"As I read I saw it all! 'If we believe not, He abideth faithful.' I looked to Jesus and saw (and when I saw, oh, how joy flowed!) that He had said, 'I will never leave you.' 'Ah, there is rest!' I thought. 'I have striven in vain to rest in Him. I'll strive no more. For has He not promised to abide with me - never to leave me, never to fail me?' And dearie, He never will!
"But this was not all He showed me, nor one half. As I thought of the Vine and the branches, what light the blessed Spirit poured direct into my soul! (TAS: Italics ours) How great seemed my mistake in having wished to get the sap, the fulness out of Him. I saw not only that Jesus would never leave me, but that I was a member of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. The vine now I see, is not the root merely, but all - root, stem, branches, twigs, leaves, flowers, fruit: and Jesus is not only that. He is soil and sunshine, air and showers, and ten thousand times more than we have ever dreamed, wished for, or needed. Oh, the joy of seeing this truth! I do pray that the eyes of your understanding may be enlightened, (TAS: Italics ours) that you may know and enjoy the riches freely given us in Christ."
We continue in our contention that - while the sum of Divine revelation is sealed in the Scriptures and there is no adding to or taking from that revelation, there are vast depths of meaning therein yet to be revealed to the Lord's people by the "Spirit of revelation".

We have illustrated this, as what we mean, in the classic case of Dr. Hudson Taylor and his "Exchanged Life". We now proceed to instance one more of the many who could be mentioned.

Our second example is that of Dr. A. T. Pierson. To any who know him Dr. Pierson will not be lightly set aside as of small significance. He was indeed one of the spiritual and Bible giants of his time. A brilliant academic career laid a sound foundation for the exercise of his great gifts and endowments. A long and deep experience in ministry in some of America's most important cities led up to the great Bethany Church in Philadelphia. A close and devoted walk with God produced saintliness and meticulous integrity. Added to these was his phenomenal knowledge of the Scriptures; he was a master of the Bible. The writer once heard Dr. Campbell Morgan - himself no mean Bible teacher - speak in amazement of Dr. Pierson's grasp of the Bible. Dr. Campbell Morgan said that he was sitting on the platform close by Dr. Pierson at a Bible conference (I think it was at Mr. Moody's Centre at Northfield) while Dr. Pierson was giving the Bible reading. He said that for over an hour Dr. Pierson quoted passages of Scripture giving references in chapters and verses and exact reading while he rapidly turned the pages of his Bible as it rested on his hand. But, said Dr. Campbell Morgan, he was not reading the Bible at all, his Bible was upside-down. The whole thing was in his head. This, briefly, is the kind of man we have before us.

We reach on to an advanced point in his life and ministry and we come on this: -
"In the year God gave me an experience of sudden illumination, which brought into my soul a flood of light, and made the Word of God a new book. Much that I had been taught, and had assumed as true, then seemed of doubtful Scriptural authority..." etc.
His biographer (his son) gives many pages to the exercise and adjustments which this 'illumination' resulted in, but two things in particular have to be mentioned. One was the focal-point upon which all this exercise converged, and the other the great enlargement - immense enlargement - and deepening of his ministry when once he had got through the big crisis precipitated, and paid the great price of this new open Heaven.

Dr. Pierson, by upbringing, education, and training was a Presbyterian. He was firmly gripped by the Presbyterian tradition; he held strongly to its doctrines, form and teaching. It was not just something inherited or drifted into, but something to the verification of which he had bent all his considerable intellectual powers. It was a matter of honest and devout conviction, and for it he was a doughty champion. This was all particularly true of the one focal-point of his crisis - namely, infant baptism. Indeed, we can rightly say that it was upon this one question that his whole future life with God in utter committedness hung. Being, as it was, bound up with that new illumination which had come to him it involved him in no less an issue than an opened Heaven.

So serious did the matter become with him that the battle raged for several years. He said that serious misgivings entered his soul which he tried to silence by "quoting to myself the sanction of long custom, and by the logical argument which goes back to the Abrahamic covenant". Now, were we here engaging in an argument for baptism of believers by immersion as over against baptism of infants, we should give pages from this record of Dr. Pierson's crisis and transition. But that is not our present subject. What we are seeking to show is that he was one of the most outstanding men of God of the century - at least - who with very rich endowment and ability; with a knowledge of the Word of God second to none; with a real life of devotion and saintliness, believed deeply and firmly that a certain interpretation of Scripture was assuredly the right one, and used all his gifts and knowledge to prove it to be so, but - by reason of a God-given 'illumination' - he came, first to have serious misgivings as to that position, and eventually to repudiate and abandon it, and act completely to the contrary. He attributed his change of position to a deepening of spiritual life following that illumination. He said, "I observe that, as my spiritual life deepens, these misgivings come more and more to the surface and will not be silenced; and whatever is linked to one's own best spiritual state must for him be a way of duty."

By following that illumination, Dr. Pierson met immense consequences. On the one hand, it cost him everything of the former denominational position. It cost him terrible onslaughts in the press, secular and religious; it cost him many old friends; it cost him the confidence of many who owed him a great spiritual debt. On the other hand, his ministry, life, and work grew in range and depth to the extent that he has come down in evangelical history as one of God's greatest servants of an era. How many owe a great debt to his ministry in conferences and in writing! The stewardship of the mystery rests upon revelation in this way which revolutionizes and releases even men of deep and wide experience and much knowledge. No one is too advanced and experienced to have such an entirely new and revolutionary illumination.

Dr. Pierson used a diagram at one of the North-field Bible conferences when he was speaking on the tripartite nature of man - spirit, soul, and body. The diagram was in the form of a house with three floors: the ground floor - the body; the middle floor - the soul; the upper floor - the spirit. Each was described as to its own features. Over the upper or top floor, which was open to Heaven, he placed the words 'Direct light from above'. This he had learned from experience.

Dr. Pierson, we are sure, would heartily agree with a suggestion that in that upper floor of his 'house' - the spirit of man (that is, in the diagram)  - an open Bible should be placed with the 'direct light from above' streaming on it.

Lest anyone should be inclined to think that we are placing too much importance upon one aspect of the truth, and that a somewhat remote and abstract aspect, we want to try to show that really we are dealing with a matter that is fundamental and vital to the whole Christian life.

There is a way of putting this which will not find any doubt or negative answer in any true Christian. We will put in in the form of a question.

WAS PENTECOST INTENDED TO BE FOR EVERY CHRISTIAN?

That is, was the blessing of the gift of the Holy Spirit meant for every true believer, every 'born-anew' child of God? No one who knows the New Testament will dispute this. The coming of the Holy Spirit was to be the very characteristic of the new dispensation which then began. Well then -

What was the Meaning of Pentecost?

To answer this question we have to go a long way back, but we pick up the clue in that Gospel which has more to say about the Holy Spirit than any other - the Gospel by John. In chapter 1:45-51, we have the unique incident of the introduction of Nathaniel into the band of associates of Jesus. The last part of what took place then is the words of Jesus to Nathaniel - "Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye shall see the heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man". Tempting as it is to open up more fully on the allusion to Jacob at Bethel - the House of God - etc., for our present purpose we must resist that temptation and take hold of the fragment

The Heaven Opened.

By that fragment we are transported away back to the beginning of the Bible. We know that the word 'Paradise' is used in several places in Scripture as a name for Heaven, or at least, a part of Heaven. The question as to symbolism with spiritual principles embodied or literal interpretation need not make us digress to discuss; the truth in either case is the same.

There was a time when man had immediate access to, and fellowship with, God. Everything was of God and to God's pleasure. By sin through man's unbelief and disobedience that was lost to him; he was expelled, and the door was shut. Heaven was closed to man in sin. This is the state which obtained throughout the Old Testament times and continues through all time and eternity for man as still in his sin. But into that long history of the closed Heaven there comes a "Second Man", a "Last Adam", "the Lord from Heaven". In Him was no sin, and as to Himself Heaven was open. John's Gospel is just full of this open Heaven to Him.

But there was His purpose and vocation which was to recover an open Heaven for all men through faith in Him. Here, then, enters His representative work. The next time that we come on the opened Heaven is at His baptism. "Jesus also having been baptized, and praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended... upon him" (Luke 3:21,22). Jesus at this point officially and publicly assumed His mission as Redeemer.

In type He made His death, burial, resurrection, and Pentecost the basis of His redeeming activity. The Baptism was a foreshadowing of His Cross and its afterward. Having no sin in Himself, "He was made sin for us". Bearing the sin of the world, the dark waters of judgment went over His soul and He - in that moment - knew the full meaning of utter exclusion from God and Heaven; He who had lived in Heaven and on earth in the very presence of and fellowship with God was now 'forsaken'.

Having 'borne the sin of many' and 'carried it away', as Man for man, Heaven was opened again. What was symbolized in His Baptism was actual at Calvary and at Pentecost.

It was to this that He pointed in His words to Nathaniel: "Ye shall see the heaven opened". Nathaniel was at Pentecost and he then knew what was meant. Christ personal and Christ corporate were the true Bethel under the opened Heaven.

So we come back to our point. The opened Heaven is linked with the gift of the Holy Spirit, and this is the birthright of all who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. But this is little more than a statement of fact. What this means is to be gathered from a careful reading of the after Pentecost writings of the New Testament. This we shall consider later.

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