The Law of the Spirit of Life
by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 4 - The Exalted Lord

Reading: Joshua 5:13-15; 6:12-20; Rom. 8:22

To some the Holy Spirit in the life may seem a difficult and almost unacceptable experience. To others it may seem important and desirable and yet marked by a good deal of strain and perplexity and effort. To the apostle Paul it meant Romans 8, and if you know your Bible at all, there is no need to say any more. Triumph all the way, blessing and glory. No more groaning, complaining, striving or worrying. "In all these things, whatever these things may be, we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us." That is the life in the Spirit, and together we have been seeing that once the Spirit of God is within us, the full realisation of the glory of God depends upon Him having His own way. That is not a capricious way, nor is it a way that need be unduly mysterious to us, for it is a way of a law, and we have been looking at the threefold law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus which provides us with the key to His having His full way, and bringing glory into us and bringing us to glory. The first of those laws, we said, was resurrection, the cross working in us the death of Christ that the life also of Jesus might be enjoyed by us and manifested in us. The second is, to use the language of Ezekiel, the throne. It is the exaltation of Christ. The Holy Spirit always leads us towards the great fact that Jesus Christ has ascended to the highest heaven and is enthroned. Of course, these laws interrelate, the resurrection and the ascension join together. The apostles only heard about the Holy Spirit before the resurrection. After that the Lord could make it seem more than a matter of promise, and He breathed upon them and said, "Receive ye the Holy Spirit." They were coming a lot nearer, so near that He could describe that symbolic act in terms of history by telling them "not many days hence"; not yet, but the resurrection had assured it. Then He ascended up on high to the throne which provided the occasion for that great fulness which we think of at Pentecost or Whitsun, the great day when the Holy Spirit came in fulness to the church.

Life is always dependent upon those two facts. When Nicodemus came to the Lord Jesus, the Lord told him that he needed to be born again. Nicodemus had not come to discuss his own personal soul's need with Christ. He was not thinking of that; he had come to discuss a far bigger matter, the matter of the divine purpose in the kingdom, but the Lord Jesus unerringly put His finger on the secret. This is the secret of the divine purpose for you, whether your name is Nicodemus, or whatever it is. This is the way to that kingdom of full glory of which the Word speaks in promise: "Ye must be born again". It is by the Holy Spirit being in you, born of the Spirit. Now, if Nicodemus had taken that word wrongly he would immediately have begun to be exercised inwardly about himself, by trying to be born again. But the Lord Jesus did not finish the discourse with that, although we often do. He went on speaking in language which Nicodemus was well able to understand, Old Testament pictorial language. In the wilderness there were men who, in the purpose of God, were chosen for glory. So far as the divine calling was concerned they were meant to be in the kingdom, and yet there they were, lying around and groaning in death and agonies. Sin had done its work; the curse was in them. What hope of the glory of God? What hope of survival even, let alone of the realisation of the divine purpose? Well might they also cry, "Oh, wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from this body of death?" Well might they cry also, "I thank my God through Jesus Christ", for the cry went forth, "Look not at yourself, not at one another, not at man at all, look on the serpent lifted up", and as soon as they looked they lived.

What is the relationship between the objective vision of a serpent lifted up and the inward experience of life? Well, it is a picture of how the Spirit comes into our hearts and how we are born again. You are never born again by trying to be born again. The law of the Spirit, from the first moment and right through to the end, operates in the measure in which I look, not at myself to see if I am alive, or to see if I am growing spiritually, or if I am a little better than I was last week. That will soon produce the law of sin and death. I in myself am back in Romans 7 as soon as I come down on to that ground. No, not what I am at all, but the lifted-up Son of God. In the first place lifted up to die, for the serpent spoke of the crucified Christ, but we know it is the crucified One who is on the throne. The Lamb is in the midst of the throne.

And so what I was saying in the previous chapter merges into this message. It is according to the crucified, risen, and now exalted Lord and in relation to Him that the Spirit works. And so, while it is necessary to talk about ourselves in order to allow the Lord to search us, the Holy Spirit is free to do His work and will do it in the measure in which we do not pay undue attention to ourselves, but co-operate with Him by looking away unto Jesus. Look through the book of the Acts to find the secret of that great day. You do not find that Peter and the others said, "Men and brethren, this is the result of ten days of prayer. We have been praying - that is why this has happened." They did not say, "Men and brethren, we have studied the Word of God, and we have realised and understood all the theories and doctrine of the Holy Spirit, and that is why this has happened." No, they had a simpler explanation than that: "Jesus Christ is on the throne - that is why this has happened. God has highly exalted Him. This same Jesus whom ye crucified God has made Him both Lord and Christ". And so if we gather together to study the Lord's Word from time to time, to seek to gain new light upon the truths concerning the Holy Spirit, we never will fall into this danger of imagining that when we know all about it we shall have it, for that is an error. When we know Him we shall have the Holy Spirit, and in the measure in which we increase in the knowledge of Him, so shall we find the Spirit continuing His blessed work in us.

Now we are going on to talk of matters that relate particularly to the Christian, but I would be lacking in my responsibility if I did not mention at this point that you know whether you are thanking God through Jesus Christ, or whether you are saying, "Oh, wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me?" You know; none of us know. You can have a smile on your face and be cheerful while you are inwardly groaning about your sin, but you know in your own heart whether you are thanking God for Jesus Christ or whether, like those Israelites in the wilderness, you have been bitten by the serpent. You too are constitutionally unable to do the will of God, for you are in yourself, as we all are; wanting it perhaps, but not doing it. Well, if this is your state I have only one word to say to you, but if you can receive it, it will be everything. The only word that a poor stammering, unprepared local preacher could say, when a young man called Spurgeon, went into a Methodist church one Sunday morning, was, "Look unto Me and be ye saved". Look to the Lord crucified for your sins, raised for your justification, look to Him. You won't have to bring about the new birth, it will happen, and you too may go on with us in this life which we veritably believe will find us in the very throne to which our Lord has gone before for us. That is the purpose of God in convicting you of your sin, in bringing you here and making you concerned about spiritual things; not only to relieve your conscience, but that one day the exalted Christ in the throne of God, when He has His redeemed with Him, shall also have you and me.

The Exaltation of Christ

Now we turn more specifically to this matter of the Spirit's law concerning the exaltation of Christ, for these great matters are not merely the prelude to the experience or merely the condition of knowing the Spirit, they are the constant abiding laws of the Spirit. We begin at the cross, although the Spirit will see to it that we keep to the cross all the way to glory. We begin with the exalted Christ, recognising and bowing to His Lordship, but if we want to go on, we shall find that the Holy Spirit will keep us checked up all the time on this matter. It is a law, and it is a law that we have to obey in order to provide Him with the co-operation that He needs. When we were considering the cross and resurrection and the need for faith, we had before us as a great exemplar, a living type: Abraham, a man of the Spirit. Now we have another man, most notably a man of the Spirit, and it is Joshua. I think perhaps Joshua may help us to understand how it is that the Holy Spirit will always keep us to this law, the law of the risen Christ. As the cross and resurrection demand faith, illustrated by Abraham, so the exaltation and ascendant position in the throne of the Lord Jesus requires submission. That is our side; not of course without faith's submission, the obedience of faith.

Where do we find Joshua begins, so far as the Word of God is concerned? You remember after Israel emerged from Egypt and began their life with God, one or two incidents took place, and then in a place called Rephidim they had their first battle. Amalek came out to fight them, and you will equally remember that the secret in that struggle was not the skill, the effort, or the endurance of those who were in the plain, but the sustained hands of Moses, who in the mount held up his hands to God in faith. We have often been helped in intercession and prayer by realising that the conflict among people and things that are visible is really decided in the invisible realm of the unseen. The experience at Rephidim was not meant to teach Moses a lesson, though we can learn the lesson, it was meant to teach Joshua a lesson. Joshua now appears as the one placed at the head of the fighting host in the plain. When in the end the victory was won, the enemy defeated, the Lord said to Moses, "Write this for a memorial in a book and rehearse it in the ears of Joshua" (Ex. 17:14). He is the man that needs to learn the lesson. He learns that his conflict, his struggle here in the realm of things seen is really decided in the realm of the unseen. Thank God, though Moses may get tired, we have an untiring Intercessor at the right hand of God. Write it in a book, the Lord says, let Joshua learn this lesson; it is the first lesson and it is fundamental. Joshua is the man of the Spirit. Joshua is the man who sets before us the life in the energies of the power of God. This is a law of the Spirit. The Spirit is working mightily in the man down here on earth because up there in the glory the authority of God is sustained by His chosen Representative. Actually, it did not depend upon Joshua's apprehension of the fact, but on the fact itself. In our case the fact does not change. The battle with him ebbed and flowed in the measure in which the hands were upheld or flagged.

With us there is no flagging in the glory, but the battle down here depends upon our faith's apprehension of that. We have a deeper lesson to learn than Joshua. Our lesson is this: not by might, nor by power, but by the Spirit of the Lord. The Spirit of the Lord depends upon the exalted Christ. The more we see Him, keep Him well in view, the more we shall be like Joshua, conquering in the name of the Lord. The Lordship of Christ is a law of the Spirit. We have to keep that in view, not as a mere matter of doctrine, but as a practical exercise of faith. You may be grappling with a foe. Joshua, you may be struggling, striving and thinking that it depends upon you, when really it does not depend upon you at all, but upon the man in the mountain. We, too, may struggle and grapple because we forget that the Lord is there. We spiritually take our eyes off Him, and then for us it is as though the hands flagged; then we find we are getting the worst of it. There are many servants of the Lord who have had great experiences of the power of the Spirit, who come up against situations which are too much for them, and they are getting the worst of it. They wonder why the Lord is not with them. Why is this too much for them? Why haven't they the power they used to have? Because they have their eyes on the conflict or on themselves or even on the Holy Spirit when they should have their eyes on the risen, exalted Christ. He is the secret.

Examples in the Old Testament

Well, we must look briefly at these Old Testament stories. There came another experience to Joshua which is of great importance. You know, we have a wonderful sense of the Lordship of the Lord and the tremendous position and authority that that gives to us. We grasp something of the secret of the risen Christ in His power and authority, and then so often we are betrayed into an attitude of mind which makes us feel we have something in ourselves, as though we were somebody. One of the lessons that Joshua had to learn, which the Spirit will take good care that we learn, is that this ascendency is all of grace. When God was providing such wonderful things for His people while Moses was in the mount - those very people brought out of Egypt and treated so graciously, the object of such love on the part of God - sinned grievously. They sinned against the light, they sinned against love (and there is no greater sin than that) and they knew they had sinned. Moses came down to them and challenged them about their sin and had to tell them that they could go on with their journey. God would lead them into the land, but it would have to be by the hand of an angel, He would not go with them; and conviction came to their hearts. They had sinned away the love of God. They had grieved away the very presence of the Lord, and they were in very great distress. The pillar of cloud had been with them, but now the Lord said no more. They had been led and guided, but the Lord said no more. The Lord said "I will send an angel, but I am not going to be with you".

Moses interceded for them, as perhaps no man had ever interceded before, with something of the very spirit of Calvary in his prayer, and no doubt the almighty, gracious God, with His eyes already on Calvary, undertook to forgive His people. They did not have a tabernacle in those days, but Moses used to put a tent outside the camp and go out there and meet with the Lord. The cloud would come down to the tent, and Moses would talk with the Lord. Then it says while they were all mourning and stricken in conscience because of their sin, Moses went up into the tent and all Israel came to watch. The people rose up and every man stood at his tent door watching Moses until he had gone into the tent. What were they looking for? They were looking to see if the cloud would come down, if, after all, God would have mercy upon them, miserable sinners that they were. They did not dare to hope that God would have mercy upon them again, and yet they hoped against hope. Is it possible that there is a depth of mercy that, in spite of our sin, God may yet condescend to come? Moses slowly made his way through that great encampment to the tent, "and it came to pass when Moses entered into the tent the pillar of cloud descended, and all the people saw the pillar of cloud stand at the door of the tent, and all the people rose up and worshipped, every man at his tent door" (Ex. 33:9,10).

Probably there had never been worship in the camp of Israel like there was that morning: the worship of pardoned sinners. Now here is the significant part. It says in the next verse, "Moses turned again into the camp, but his minister Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man, departed not out of the tent". All the people worshipped God for His great grace, but they soon forgot about it. However, Joshua stayed in the place of grace; Joshua remained in it. Joshua had a continual awareness that this great commission, life, and inheritance had almost been forfeited, that they did not deserve it, that there was no good thing in them, but that the God who might well have rejected them had in mercy forgiven them. And this is what made Joshua a man of the Spirit, and men of the Spirit are like that. They do not easily forget the grace of God; they abide in the tent. Joshua stayed in the place where the grace of God in its supreme manifestation had been found.

The Lordship of Christ is never that hard, technical, doctrinal thing. You know you have met it in people who are terribly strong about the authority of the name of the Lord. The Holy Spirit is strong, but when He speaks to our hearts about it, it is always to remind us what undeserving sinners we are. The grace of God is the supreme mark. The throne has a rainbow round it for us. We rejoice in the throne, but we know very well there would be no throne for us if there were no rainbow, and the Spirit will see to it that we are always reminded of that. If our apprehension of the exaltation of Christ is a spiritual one it will never puff us up. We will never feel what wonderful people we are, how much we know and how much we can do. We shall always feel, as Joshua must have felt in that day: how unspeakable the grace of God is, "Depth of mercy, can it be, mercy still reserved for me?" Yes, thank God, it can be, and the Holy Spirit will fill our hearts always with His own joy and peace, with the love of the Lord on that basis.

Then we come to the passage which we read together. Joshua is captain of the Lord's host and by now he has had forty year's experience. We often think of Moses being prepared for forty long years in the desert for his great task before he met the Lord in the burning bush. Well, that is a true principle. Now Joshua is going to meet the same Lord, after having had forty years of experience. He is a man with a sense of responsibility, with a sense of divine commission, with a sense of a purpose and a ministry, which is very important, but not without its perils. Joshua could only think now in terms of people that were for him or against him. He did not mind if they were against him; even if they had a drawn sword in their hand, he was ready for them. And so he came to this one, "Art thou for us or for our adversaries?" And the answer he got was like a blow between the eyes. "Is the Lord on my side? Is the Lord going to deliver by me? Here am I taking up the work of the Lord. Here am I with my ministry. Here am I giving myself wholeheartedly to do all His will. I have seen the vision of the inheritance, I am ready to go in and ready to lead others in. Is the Lord with me?" The Lord says, "No, you are not the leader here, I am." What a blow! Not that Joshua was in a wrong way conceited, but, like us all, he was in danger of losing sight of the ascended Lord. That is a peril of maturity as well as immaturity. The Holy Spirit is not content with the fact that forty years ago Joshua learned a lesson, although it lasted him a lifetime, and He is not content that so many years ago, or even months ago, you learned a lesson. You cannot live on the basis of that lesson. The Holy Spirit brings Joshua back again to that principle. No, Joshua, it is not whether the Lord is with you or not, but it is whether you realise that the Lord is going on, and you can go on with Him. You are not the Captain, He is the Captain. Well, Joshua was a man of the Spirit, so there was no argument, but he fell on the ground and worshipped.

Accepting Correction from the Lord

That is all right; that is how I want it to be, but I wonder whether we are so ready to do that when the Lord meets with us. The Lord strikes us a blow. We realise that unintentionally we have taken too much into our own hands. We are leading on the hosts of the Lord and taking it for granted that the Lord will be with us because we mean well for Him. The Lord stands across our path with a drawn sword in His hand. What is our response? Do we fall on the ground and worship and say, "That is all right, that is how we want it"? It is the law of spiritual growth. It is the law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus. You remember how that happened to Peter. It had not been forty years, but quite a few years since his wonderful experience which had emerged from his vision of the exalted Christ at Pentecost. When the issue arose of his going to Caesarea to preach to the Gentiles, he too was smitten to the ground, and the Lord had to say to him, "Look here, Peter, I am Lord here, not you. You think you know how to run my church. You think you know how to interpret My word. You think you know all about it. I am Lord here, Peter." Peter found it more difficult than Joshua, but he capitulated. He was a man of the Spirit and so he obeyed. He went with an old message with new power to Caesarea, "He is Lord of all, not because we saw it at Pentecost, but because it has happened to me, and it has happened to me today". That is when the power of spiritual testimony comes in: when it is up-to-date, when it is living.

May I revert to Romans 7? The apostle says, "I thank my God through Jesus Christ". It sounds a very incomplete sentence and a very incomplete answer to the question, "Who shall deliver me?" He does not say, "I thank my God Jesus Christ delivered me years ago" - although I think he could have done and it would have been the truth. He does not say, "I thank my God Jesus Christ will deliver me." The Spirit of God is the eternal Spirit, and His time is today, now, always. And so the apostle Paul says, "Whatever you can say of yesterday or tomorrow, I know right now, I thank my God through Jesus Christ. It is an up-to-date, present experience that the risen Lord is so mighty that He can deliver even me by the power of His Spirit working in me."

"Take thy shoes from off thy feet." That is exactly what the Lord said to Moses forty years before. Now He says it to Joshua. I do not know what it means except that it called for a positive act of humbling and committal. You see, it is all very well for Moses at the bush to say it is the Lord; it is all very well for Joshua to fall on his face and say the Lord is Lord. That is what we do. We go to a meeting, and it is like the burning bush, and we say, "I see the Lord is Lord." Or it is like the Captain of the Lord's host with a drawn sword stopping us on the way, and we say, "Yes, I see the Lord is Lord", and we go out and we are just the same as we were before. Now, on each of these occasions the Lord said to Moses and to Joshua, "Well, if I am Lord, do something about it; take your shoes off". It may only be a symbolic act, but it was an act, and the trouble with us is that we have aspirations without acts. We want a thing to be, but we do not act upon it. So if this means nothing else, it means that Joshua, recognising the supremacy of the authority of the Captain of the Lord's host, did something about it and put himself in the way of true obedience.

We understand the challenge, and this is really only the beginning of the message, though for the moment it will have to be the end. The book of Joshua is a book of war, and yet it is a book of the fulness of the Holy Spirit. It is the book of the exalted, almighty Lord, and yet it is a book of conflict. Read the book of the Acts and you get the explanation of that. Yes, get a real vision of the exalted Lord and you find you are in a conflict. The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus delivers me from all that inner conflict which is such a disgrace to the name of the Lord, and which mars the testimony of so many Christians. Don't think of conflict in the realm of Romans 7, that question, "Do I love the Lord; am I His or am I not?" That is not the conflict, that is a disgraceful experience of Romans 7 from which the apostle begged to be delivered once for all, and he found the secret of deliverance through Jesus Christ. It is the law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus. So do not think you are in the conflict, if that is where you are, you are in the mud. The Lord can lift you out. Believe that if you will look away to the risen Lord, that is the secret of victory for you, and it is also the secret of this other victory. Romans 8 is heaven. It is bliss, glory, but not heaven in an armchair; it is heaven in a battle, heaven in your soul, while everything is the opposite round about. "In all these things", not when we get out of all these things. That will be a wonderful day when "in all these things we are more than conquerors".

The Lordship of the Lord

That is the story of Joshua. Of course, the trouble came when among them there was something which was a contradiction to the Lordship of the Lord. The Lord said concerning Jericho that everything was to be for Him, wholly devoted to Him, but Achan wanted just a little bit for himself. That was a blatant contradiction of the Lordship of the Lord and brought defeat. That was a lie to the Holy Spirit. You remember in Acts that Ananias and Sapphira lied to the Holy Spirit. It is always a lie to the Holy Spirit when we dispute the Lordship of the Lord, because He is always insisting that Jesus Christ is Lord of all. Everything is for Him, and as soon as we claim a little bit for ourselves we lie to the Holy Spirit and the victory is turned to defeat. Apart from that with Achan, and when that was purged away, it is one long story of triumph. Jericho was only the beginning of a great experience of what God can do.

Now notice about Jericho that they did not have to go round looking for it. It stood right across their pathway. Spiritual conflict is not the exercise of those who have nothing better to do, so they go and look for something to make a spiritual matter for warring or working up a row with the devil. No, that is not spiritual conflict, but if you go on as they went on and face the purpose of God over Jordan, with Christ in view, in full authority, you will find that right across the path is the concentrated expression of Satan's resistance. Later on the Lord explained to Joshua why this was. Only one lot of people made peace with them. The rest never tried to. The Israelites did not have to look for the enemies; the enemies came looking for them, and the Lord meant it like that so that they should be defeated and Israel be victorious. The book is a book of triumph, not because they were clever, but because the Lord fought their battles. Jericho, if it is a concentrated expression of the devil's power, is also a concentrated expression of what God can do. They did nothing but go round and round asserting that the Lord is Lord. There was nothing to show for it, but He is Lord. Nothing seems to be happening, but He is Lord. The Lord in His time will overthrow it. Seven days they went round. One of those must have been a Sabbath, the Jews say the seventh day, for on that day they went round seven times, and the day which speaks of rest from man's labour - no fighting, no effort on their part - was the day on which God put forth His mighty power and overthrew the power of the enemy.

Well, what is this Romans 8 business? What is this life like? That is what it is like. You have to go seven days, and you may feel rather a fool while you are doing it, and you may look a fool to other people, but when God's time comes even Jericho falls and you march straight in. It is the law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus, but you must keep the law, and the law is Christ exalted. He is the leader; bow to Him and take your shoes from off your feet. It was where the battle of Jericho was actually won when Joshua capitulated to the Lord. And your battle will be won, and the church's battle will be won on this basis of the capitulation of men of the Spirit to the absolute Lordship of the Lord.

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