Reading: 2 Cor. 3:17-18; 6:1-14.
"Ye are not straitened in us, but ye are straitened in your own affections" (2 Cor. 6:12).
The Lord has been leading us to face anew the matter of the sovereignty of the Holy Spirit, and we have been seeing something of what that sovereignty means and how it works out. It is wonderfully and powerfully represented and demonstrated at the beginning of the book of the Acts on the day of Pentecost by a mighty, rushing wind which takes everything into its own hands and takes everything out of all other hands and proceeds as it will in its own way, to its own ends, by its own means. That is what the sovereignty of the Holy Spirit means in a life or in a church, among the Lord's people as a whole.
The Holy Spirit's object is continuous enlargement upward, that is, that which is away from all that binds and limits here. And if He is going to bring us into that universal fulness of the Lord Jesus which is God's fixed goal for all things, then of course He must be sovereign, He must have a sovereign way, He must be given both the right and the permission to do as He likes, to have what He wants, to move with an entirely free hand. Enlargement, we have said many times, is the Spirit's object, but enlargement is a painful thing, a costly thing. But the Holy Spirit will bring it about if we really do give Him the right to do it, if we will really hand the matter over to Him and whenever He comes up against something which has got to yield, if we will allow that to yield, the result must be spiritual enlargement, spiritual increase.
Hindrances in the Way of the Spirit
Now here, in this little word we have read, the apostle says to the Corinthians, "Ye are not straitened in us, ye are straitened in your own affections", straitened in the things to which your hearts cling, toward which your hearts move! These are the things which limit you, and therefore work contrary to the Holy Spirit! We might change the metaphor of Acts 2, and I think rightly so, according to the Scriptures, from the mighty rushing wind to a mighty torrential river. I think Ezekiel's river has its counterpart and spiritual fulfilment in Acts. Probably you have seen a river in torrent, in spate. I am reminded of several rivers that I know in the North and have known from almost infancy, and I go now to those rivers when they are in torrent, and I see two things which I recognise as having been features of those rivers all my life.
One is that I still see the same old rocks in the same old place doing the same old work as was the case so many years ago! There they are in the river; the river is rushing with a terrific force, but those rocks stand in the full flood, as far as I can tell at exactly the same spot doing the same thing; that is, setting themselves against the force of the waters. They have never moved, they have never grown, they have never yielded. There they are, they are like that.
There is another feature. Just up on the banks of those rivers there are trees, and I remember many years ago some of those trees being very small, just saplings, but I recognise those very trees now planted by a river as having grown and grown. I know them, but they have grown, taken advantage of, and profited by their position by the river. For them the river has meant progress, development, increase. For the rocks it has meant nothing.
It seems to me that those are the things that come out in the New Testament after Pentecost. The rocks are things with which the apostles had to do and concerning which they wrote a very great deal of what they did write. That is, the river of God, the Spirit of God, came against things which were not prepared to yield to Him, and the terrible result is found in this, that some of the most terrible things written in the Bible are brought in as warnings to Christians. Has it ever occurred to you, has it ever really struck you with any force, that most of the things which are the most frequently used texts or passages of Scripture for Gospel addresses to the unsaved, were originally used for Christians? Do you recognise that? You know how often in the New Testament the Scripture is cited from Israel's falling in the wilderness - "Today if ye will hear His voice, harden not your heart". Well, you have rarely heard that passage used to Christians, but you have heard it perhaps hundreds of times used for the unsaved, and yet every time of the number of times in the New Testament where that Scripture is quoted, it is used to Christians.
Here is another case from Isaiah quoted again - "Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation". You have heard that preached to the unsaved scores of times, but it is being preached by the apostle to Christians here. It is used not to the unsaved, but to believers, and that is the terrible and tragic feature of the New Testament that things like that have to be said of necessity to believers. Why? Because the Holy Spirit in His onward movement with His object of continuous enlargement has come up against something, and that something is not yielding to Him.
The Grace of Yieldedness
A feature of the prevailing sovereignty of the Holy Spirit in a life or in a church is this: an utter yieldedness to the Lord. If you have not already proved it and if you are really going on with the Lord, and if the Lord is really going to have His way in your life, you will come to know that one of the things for which the Lord aims is the grace of yieldedness, the grace of letting go to the Lord. It is a wonderful mark of a Spirit-governed life, the grace of letting go to the Lord. We saw it in a previous meditation, in Peter who got up against the stream of the Holy Spirit, when the Spirit was seeking to move on to Caesarea to the house of Cornelius to open wide that gate to the Gentiles. Peter said, "Not so, Lord; never has anything like this happened before in my experience: as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be...!" That is the effect. "Not so, Lord!" The Holy Spirit came up against something.
But I do like to note that, years afterwards, Peter wrote some letters and one of the big words, one of the main tones in Peter's letter is that word 'subjection'. Have you noticed that? It represents something of the Spirit's triumph in Peter, because of all men, Peter was the one man who found that his difficulty. You remember just before the Lord suffered, Jesus, knowing that His hour had come and that the Father had delivered all things into His hands, rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself. Then He poured water into a basin, and came to Simon Peter, and Peter said, "Lord, dost Thou wash my feet? Thou shalt never wash my feet!" Here is Peter getting right up against the Lord, and it was like that all the way through with Peter. He is constantly found standing up against the Lord, up against the movements of the Lord, up against the judgments of the Lord, up against the intentions of the Lord, and here he is again. "Not so, Lord!" But at last the Spirit has triumphed over that in Peter and he writes those very valuable letters, the main theme of which is grace.
You change the word 'acceptable' in Peter to the word 'grace', which word it really is. It ought never to have been translated 'acceptable', it is 'grace'. "If you do good and suffer for it, this is" - our version says 'acceptable'; in the original it is 'grace' - "this is grace with God" (1 Pet. 2:20). With Peter, grace has come to be expressed in terms of letting go to the Lord. The Spirit has triumphed, the river has started on its course. It has met things, it has met them in Peter, but, perhaps after a battle, the Spirit has been allowed to carry Peter on. He has yielded and there is wonderful enlargement in Peter. The sovereignty of the Spirit will work for a letting go to the Lord.
The Hindrance of Possessiveness
It will, perhaps, come up against our possessiveness. That may be one of the rocks in the way of the Spirit - our possessiveness. Possessiveness has many forms. You may not be ambitious to possess a great deal in this world, this world's goods and so on, but that does not mean there is no possessiveness. You see, Peter had a way of swinging round on this very point. When the Lord came to wash his feet, he first of all said, "Dost Thou wash my feet? Thou shalt never wash my feet!" Then the Lord said, "If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with Me!" "Oh, then, Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!" That is only another form - "It is for me, I want all I can get!" - drawing to himself, another form of possessiveness, and possessiveness can be very spiritual.
I want to get at this very closely. Have you noticed how slow the Lord is, or seems to be so often, in responding to our tremendously strong appeals for blessing and for the fulness of the Spirit? What is your experience about that? Is there anyone who can say, "The time was when I felt a great desire for the fulness of the Spirit, and I simply went to the Lord and got it at once, or for a certain great blessing, and I went to the Lord and without any waiting, the Lord just gave me what I wanted!"? It is not the common experience. Some of us prayed intensely for years, we prayed day and night for some great enlargement of spiritual life, a greater fulness of the Spirit. We can put it in different ways, but what we were after was something bigger, something mightier, and we prayed for many years and struggled and strained and groaned and cried. It seemed that nothing happened. Oh, there was something happening all right. We did not know what was happening, but something was happening, but not as we wanted, and our prayer has not been answered by the Lord as we desired it to be answered.
What did happen was this, that eventually we came to the place where we thought that this was an end of everything, and that the Lord must do a new thing more than He had ever done or else it was the finish for me. It was a position that represented this: that we no longer wanted a thing, it was a matter of life or death, it was all or nothing, and unless the Lord Himself came in, there was no future. The Lord had been working towards that all the time we had been praying; gradually, imperceptibly, underneath, bringing us down, lower and lower, until we touched bottom. Then it was either a matter of going right out, or it being all the Lord. Yes, towards that He had been answering our prayers, but you see, before there was so much of us in the picture that if the Lord had given us an answer to prayer, we ourselves would have taken hold of the very Holy Spirit and traded with Him to our own glory, to make a name for ourselves, to be something, and that is infinitely perilous. What the Lord was working at was letting go, our possessiveness being broken. It may be that some of you are in that process now. I don't know that we ever get to the place where that sort of thing has gone utterly and forever, where there is not something more to be done.
But the point is that the Holy Spirit's sovereignty means that there has got to come about in us the grace of yieldedness to the Lord. It was not long after the river started on its mighty course on the day of Pentecost before, in all sorts of directions and connections, challenges arose. But it entirely depended upon the reaction of those concerned as to whether the presence of the Spirit in fulness meant enlargement or loss, and we must remember that the Holy Spirit's presence does inevitably work out in one or other of those directions. No one can ever come in the line of the Holy Spirit's operations and remain the same. They are either going to lose out or they are going on in the increase of God.
So you see this double effect beginning in the New Testament. On the one hand the Holy Spirit challenges possessions. They have got lands and houses, they have got things, and in effect the Holy Spirit says, "I want those, I need those, I need them for the church, I need them for your fellow-members!" Well, in some hearts He had an instant response. These that had lands and houses sold them and distribution was made, nothing that they possessed did they call their own, it was the Lord's. That is the way of enlargement. But there was Ananias and Sapphira. They had lands, they had possessions and the Holy Spirit came up against possessiveness in them and a business instinct to turn the things of God to personal advantage. In their case, that personal interest in spiritual things meant death, meant the loss of everything. It did not mean that they were left where they were. No, they lost everything. It is the effect of the Holy Spirit.
I was looking in the book of Samuel and recalling what Samuel said to the people when they said, "Make us a king to judge us like all the nations", and I do not know whether I am right in this, but it seems to me it was not necessarily a wrong thing - though the people were wrong in asking for a king (I do not think it was necessarily a wrong thing what Samuel said about the king if he were given). Here it is - "This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you; he will take your sons, and appoint them unto him, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and they shall run before his chariots; and he will appoint them unto him for captains of thousands, and captains of fifties; and he will set some to plow his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and the instruments of his chariots. And he will take your daughters to be perfumers, and to be cooks, and to be bakers. And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your olive yards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants. And he will take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give to his officers, and to his servants. And he will take your men-servants, and your maid-servants, and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your flocks: and ye shall be his servants" (1 Samuel 8:11-17).
I do not think I am wrong in saying that is exactly what the Lord does when He is King. He puts His hand on everything, everything that we have. It is a challenge of Kingship, the sovereignty of the Spirit. Can the Lord have what He wants - that is the point. Can the Lord do as He likes, for that is the prerogative of a King. Is He going to come up against things? Start again with the New Testament and read it in the light of this. Take the Corinthian letter if you like, and you do not begin to read before you find the Holy Spirit coming up against things. "One saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ." These are rocks in the course of the river; these are things withstanding the Holy Spirit. There is that love of wisdom found in chapter 2 of 1 Corinthians, and the love of power. Go right through the letter and you find all sorts of things which are arising in people withstanding the Holy Spirit. We cannot even mention them all, but the point, I think, is quite clear.
If there is going to be this mighty enlargement of life, of the Spirit, of Christ, then we have got to be prepared for any opposing of our minds, our reasons, our affections. "Ye are not straitened in us, but ye are straitened in your own affections", straitened by the things upon which your hearts are set.
We must just leave it there, and I am quite sure that, apart from the particular things mentioned, the lesson is clear, the message is perceptible. The Lord simply says to us, "I am out for enlargement, My thought is enlargement all the time, but you must be prepared for Me to take My own way, to do as I like, and you must not oppose Me by tradition or anything else! You must be prepared to bring everything and just hand it up and let Me do something that was never done before, if I want to, something that looks like a contradiction in itself, but it is not in reality a contradiction!" The Lord will test us on all sorts of things. Yes, He will test us as to our yieldedness to Him even to the point of calling upon us to do a thing quite in the opposite direction of what He has told us before. He tests us - He may not carry the thing through, He may not make that demand ultimately, but He will bring us to the mountain top with the wood under our arm and the knife lifted. Then He will stop us and say, "Now I know; I knew, but I have had to bring you to that place where you were prepared to let Me have My way!"
The Lord does not work on theory, He works on practice. He does it in us, He knows all about it. That is the point - being brought where, however strange and contradictory it may seem, the Lord gets His own way. That is the sovereignty of the Spirit.