God's New Thing
by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 3 - By the Spirit

Reading: Acts 1:6-9; Eph. 1:16-17; 4:13.

"Ye shall receive power, the Holy Spirit coming upon you, and ye shall be witnesses unto Me".

"A spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him".

"Unto the full knowledge of Christ".

The object in bringing these Scriptures together is simply for this purpose: that they represent the beginning and the end, the initiation and the consummation, the first and the final and full work in this dispensation. Acts 1:8 in its fulfilment is the beginning of the new dispensation order. Ephesians 4:13 is the consummation, the end, the fulness of the dispensation purpose, the fulness of Christ: "Ye shall be witnesses unto Me... we attain unto the fulness of Christ". The point is this, that from beginning to end it is the Holy Spirit who is the power and the energy and the custodian of this great purpose of God in this dispensation.

The advent of the Holy Spirit was the breaking in of God to project the purpose of the dispensation and to pursue it to its final consummation. That is, God the Holy Spirit took the whole matter in hand, assumed charge and responsibility for it. As we glimpsed in our previous meditation, the purpose of this particular dispensation is an immense one. It is beyond us. It is quite impossible for any of us to explain many of the precise statements that are made in this letter to the Ephesians. I ask you to read it carefully again sentence by sentence, and see if you can explain some of those sentences. No, it is far beyond us. We may have thought much about it, we may have heard much about it, we may have read it many times. We might even be able to recite it and anticipate the next clause as it is being read to us and know exactly what is coming next, yet the whole thing lies like an ocean, a vast realm of things about which we know nothing - and yet - and I am not exaggerating, this is not just rhetoric, words, it is true - all that is there is so far beyond our comprehension. It is stated to be God's thought and intention in this particular age or dispensation in which we live, that is, that He has committed Himself in this age to secure that vessel in which all that shall be a realised reality. Oh, that we might have an overwhelming sight of this vast thing, that our Christ should really be to us so infinitely greater than ever we have imagined Him to be. Well, that thing in all its range is what the Holy Spirit came to project, to carry through and to consummate, and yet we find the church as a whole, speaking quite generally, in a state of poverty, smallness, weakness, and very largely, blindness about this whole matter. What we have been occupied with in the previous two meditations is the need for God to do a new thing, and so now we gather it all up into this: the need for a new expression of the Holy Spirit's activity in relation to the purpose of God.

Many are praying and hoping for revival, but again we must be very careful as to what we mean. I suppose if we were asked to express what we mean, we should say something about a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit as at the beginning, as at Pentecost, in which many souls would be saved. Well, that is all right in itself as far as it goes. There is nothing wrong with that, but the Holy Spirit did not come to stay there. The Holy Spirit came not only to initiate, but to consummate, not only to make a beginning but to develop unto final fulness, and when we think of a work of the Holy Spirit, we must take the whole range of that work and see that it is just as important that there shall be an expression of Christly fulness at the end as there was at the beginning of Christly initiation or of conversion.

Do you not think that it may very well be that because the people of God have failed to see that it is as much the work of the Holy Spirit to make Christ full as it is to bring a soul to Him, that the church is where it is after all these generations? We have stopped short with the Holy Spirit's work, we have confined Him to a first stage in His activity. What would you think if in the first creation, where it says that the Spirit of God brooded upon the face of the deep and the Holy Spirit, as the instrument of the Godhead, had just brought light upon that chaos, lifted that cosmos out of the chaos and brought it into a position where everything was possible, and then left it there? Well, it is just like that, you see. In the new creation, to bring souls out of darkness, spiritual chaos into light, and to put them, as it were, with their feet upon the road to the immense intention and purpose of God and then leave them, is unthinkable. It is quite as important that He should go on from that point and see the thing right through until all that God intended is reached.

Now, this is said with a view to bringing it home to us how important it is that we should recognise the need, place, work, and purpose of the Holy Spirit to constantly press on towards final fulness, the great purpose of God. Of course, there is the other wise. What hope and assurance and strength it gives to us to know that the Holy Spirit has come for that very purpose!

Then look at it from this other standpoint: the very nature and character of this dispensation is that it is a spiritual one so far as God's work is concerned. In chapter one we sought to point out that that comprehensive statement in Acts 1:6-9 holds a discrimination. The apostles asked Him - "Dost Thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" He dismissed that and indicated that this is not the time for the kingdom of God in its earthly sense to be set up. That belongs to the next age which the Father hath appointed in His own authority. This age is a spiritual one. Confusion, arrest, limitation, and the keeping back of the Lord's coming is the result of that misconception about this age. This age, so far as the Lord is concerned, is an essentially spiritual age in the purpose which He is pursuing. By saying 'spiritual', I mean that it is the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing about a new spiritual condition, spiritual order, and spiritual economy, in the people taken out of the nations for His Name.

So we begin with God and there is no material contact with God in this dispensation. The Lord has established it as the governing law. "God is Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship in spirit and truth" (John 4:24). You notice the immediate context is this - "neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem... the hour cometh and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth... God is spirit" (verses 21-24). It is the new hour on the clock of ages. The only touch with God now in this dispensation is one in spirit. Not in this mountain, nor at Jerusalem, or in any other earthly place. It is spiritual.

"Having said these things... a cloud received Him (Christ) out of their sight". How do you know Christ? What kind of contact can you have with Christ in this dispensation? You cannot know Christ after the flesh now. He is out of sight. We are absolutely dependent upon the Holy Spirit for any kind of living knowledge of Christ; our very relationship with Christ is a spiritual one. In ourselves we are not children of God, in the family of God, nor do we have any relatedness to Him until we are born of the Spirit, and the precise statement is that "that which is born of the Spirit is spirit" (John 3:6). Your body and my body is not a child of God; your soul and my soul is not a child of God. The relatedness is deeper and more inward: in our spirit indwelt by the Holy Spirit. We are therefore, so far as the Lord is concerned, so far as all Divine things are concerned, a spirit having a soul and having a body, but the deepest fact about our very being is that we are spiritual beings when we are born again.

Then everything is by the same law and the same line. All our growth as children of God is just a matter of the increase of what is spiritual in us. Spiritual growth is not measured by the increase of our knowledge of Christianity, Christian things, and Bible truth. It is not the measure of time since we were converted. No, some people were converted thirty years ago, and they are just as small in stature today as they were then. They are no bigger; they have not grown one little bit in spiritual stature. It is all a matter of spiritual growth, spiritual measure, and therefore the great object in view, the fulness of Christ, means that enlargement of what is spiritual in us and in the church until Christ fills all things. It is all Christ, it is the fulness of Christ in this enlargement of what is spiritual. You know quite well that is going on all the time - or it ought to be going on all the time - that is, we are getting a new kind of knowledge.

We get our own knowledge of Divine things knocked all over the place until we come to the position where we are ready to confess that we do not know anything at all; we do not even know where we are. All natural knowledge, wisdom and understanding gets hit on the head and knocked to fragments. We have got to have another kind of knowledge which is not human knowledge or wisdom at all; and another kind of strength. Our own natural strength, whether it be soul strength in the realm of mind, brain, will or even physical strength, may get knocked all over the place. If we bring it into the realm of things Divine, we are just broken down, and the Lord brings us to the place where if the Lord does not fulfil the purpose for which we are His and have been saved, then it will never be fulfilled, we have not strength to get on with it. It is just all the Lord or it is nothing. Believe me, that is where the church will come, or its representative company will come, to satisfy the Lord. At the end it will be a hopeless, helpless thing so far as the life of nature is concerned, but it will be the miracle of God. When we get through at last and come out into the glory, we shall without any hesitation say, "Well, it was the Lord that did this! Many times we despaired; if it had not been for the Lord, we would never be here." But that is a law, it has to be. Everything is a matter of spiritual measure.

But that makes everything possible, because this means a new capacity. I do not know what your capacity is naturally. There are varying degrees of natural capacity, but here the Holy Spirit, in constituting us upon this spiritual basis, brings in a new kind of capacity, a capacity for things which lie altogether outside of the possibility of men at their best by nature. That is the hope that comes with the Holy Spirit, a new capacity. "That God... may give unto you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him; having the eyes of your heart enlightened, that ye may know what is the hope of His calling, what the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what the exceeding greatness of His power to us-ward who believe." Do you know anything about that? You see, that is wonderful language, but look at us: what poor, weak, helpless things we are. We do not know the exceeding greatness of His power. We have to have spiritual knowledge by the Holy Spirit as to what that is. That certainly means that God is doing something so terrific that it calls for the exceeding greatness of His power and that He is doing it.

At last, when we fully see the way by which we have come, the forces which have stood in the way to obstruct and hinder, all the factors which had to be taken into account and dealt with in order to get the church through to glory, we shall see that it called for the exceeding greatness of His power to get that church there. Sometimes we just have a slight sense of what that means; the overwhelming greatness of spiritual opposition, the sense of the impossibility of going on and getting through. Sometimes it seems that there is an impenetrable obstruction. The Scriptures are right in their symbolism: bars of iron and gates of brass seeking to circumvent the great purpose of God. The fact is that if we get through, being such as we are, it will be a matter of the exceeding greatness of His power, and what the apostle is praying for is not that we might feel it, but that we might know it, that is, that we might know that that exceeding greatness of His power is to usward, it is operating in our direction unto this final fulness of Christ. It is at work for us. We do not realise it, but we know it has got to be.

You see what comes into view. For this dispensation the Holy Spirit has come committing Himself to one particular object, and that object is Christ. He has come not to do things, but one thing. He has brought in Himself all that Christ is in fulness and finality and is operating with a view to make all that Christ is, in that fulness and finality, real in a Body. He begins, as we have seen, with spiritual new birth and from that point onwards His whole purpose is bent upon realising Christ in fulness in a corporate Body and in each member of that body as fully as He will be allowed to do.

What I do really want to say to you in all this is that the Holy Spirit does make all the difference. He brings in a prospect, He makes possible its realisation, He gives the faculties necessary to the realisation of God's purpose. Oh, we see so many of the Lord's children who always have a cloud hanging over their countenances and over their lives, always full of uncertainties, always marked by question, always giving out an impression of despair. That ought not to be and that need not be. What such Christians need is a real knowledge that the Holy Spirit dwells within and is unhindered, or in other words, has their complete consent and co-operation. You see, He plants right at the centre of our being all this tremendous possibility and that which is necessary for its realisation. He gives progressively, maybe line upon line, precept upon precept, but nevertheless He gives, or He has come to give, an increasing personal knowledge of the Lord Jesus.

There is nothing static about the Holy Spirit, nothing fixed at all; He is going on. If you will let Him, He will bring this whole matter right inside of you. It is not a matter, it is Christ. "Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Col. 1:27). You have the greatest Teacher in this universe dwelling within you. If the Holy Spirit is there, you have the greatest power in this universe dwelling within you; you have the greatest possibilities in this universe dwelling within you. But remember, it is not for power, it is not for capacity in itself, it is not for prospects for ourselves; it is definitely and solely to bring Christ into fulness. Therefore all that is not of Christ must find the Holy Spirit against it, setting it aside, dealing with it to make room for Christ.

The Holy Spirit's Instrument

Now, that brings me to this. The Holy Spirit has a very mighty and effective instrument, a proved instrument. The Holy Spirit's one instrument for all His purpose is the Cross of the Lord Jesus, and the Cross of the Lord Jesus was never intended just to be destructive. It is a wrong apprehension of the Cross if we dwell wholly upon its destructive aspect. The Holy Spirit uses the Cross in order to clear away all obstructions and make room for Christ. He has a constructive object. But He does use the Cross; the Spirit will lead us to the Cross. The Spirit will take hold of the Cross and apply the Cross. The Cross was, in its objective work, complete, comprehensive, once and for all. There is nothing more for the Cross to do in itself.

Christ is not now a crucified Christ, but all the comprehensive work of that Cross has yet to be made effective in the church and that is a progressive thing. For every bit of spiritual measure within, room has to be made, and that means an application of the Cross in some direction, to some matter. Oh, the Cross is a living thing in the hands of the Holy Spirit, not something of centuries ago. It is as living today as ever it was when the Holy Spirit gets hold of it. We know quite well that there are things which have got to go, which have got to be shed. He is doing that all the time, but with the positive object of making Christ full.

But in this matter of the Holy Spirit making the Cross real, the Lord does demand a basic and historic crisis in our experience, something from which He can work, something upon which He can build. The trouble with so many is that we have to say they have never really had a Waterloo battle on this matter of the flesh, the self-life, the old creation, their own nature, whatever you may call it, as to their life in the flesh in this world. They have never had a major crisis and until that major crisis has really taken place, the Holy Spirit has not what is necessary to build upon, to work with. That major crisis means that we have come to the place sometime, somehow, where we know that a certain realm is forbidden. Not everything is cleared up, but there is a certain street and we dare not go down that street. If we go down that street, that is death. We know it, we have been down there, that is forbidden.

Is there in your history that which you know quite well means, 'Ah yes, I got burnt there, and I know what it means to touch that again!' And that something was big enough to register in your life that a whole realm of things is closed to you. That is death, that is deadlock. You go down there and you will wander there in an awful wilderness and desert until you get out of it again and you will learn that is a realm which is forbidden. Do you know what I mean in your heart? There has got to be something like that in our experience where a real issue is brought about on this thing and the Holy Spirit works on that and new questions arise, new forms of the temptation arise, new aspects of the whole business come up. We move on that and we discover that it is akin to the realm we have been taught we must not touch. That is death, that is a death touch, it is included in that.

The Holy Spirit works this thing out in that way on many things and we know, as we knew that crisic time or experience, we know this belongs to that, and then it is just a matter of whether we are ready for the Holy Spirit to have His way, whether we are going on and there is going to be an increase of Christ. The increase of Christ is a matter of our being willing to say what the Holy Spirit says about things, to agree with Him not in mind, but in heart. When He says, "No!" - we should say, 'Alright, no!' Sometimes it will be a struggle, a real conflict and battle, but a new measure of Christ is hanging upon that conflict and it is a wonderfully living education, it is something that is very real. The true life in the Spirit, the true life of a Christian, is no mere theory or abstract thing. It is very real, we are experiencing it every day. We know what we may do because the Holy Spirit is agreeing with it and what we may not do, because He does not agree. This is the way unto the consummation of the Spirit's purpose, the fulness of Christ.

Now I must close, but I want to bring it all up here as the thing about which we have to have exercise as the outcome of this day: a new thing. Let us pray very earnestly that the Lord will do a new thing, but as we do so, let us recognise that the Lord's new thing is this: completing that for which the Holy Spirit came in the sense of bringing a far greater fulness of Christ into His body, so that the age purpose being consummated, the Lord may come. Oh, He cannot come until a spiritual thing has been done. It is not a matter of dates and times. No, it is a spiritual matter. The Lord must accomplish the purpose of the age before He can come. What is the purpose of the age? To have expressed in a company here on the earth that greater fulness of Christ, that which answers to His whole design in this dispensation, His fulness. "Till we all attain unto the fulness of Christ". That is the object. There is much, of course, bound up with it, but let us pray that the Lord will do this new thing, to get a people on this earth who give the Holy Spirit a free way and are set upon this object.

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