Reading: Gal. 1:15-17; Phil. 3:8-14; Acts 26:19.
There is one thing made perfectly clear in the Word of the Lord, and which to many has become quite clear in experience, that there is a graduation in the life of fellowship with the Lord - it is an ever growing thing - and that the course of our union with the Lord is marked by stages. These are upward stages, representing different levels and different expanses. As we go on, we are led from one degree to another, from one level to another, and with each successive level there is a wider view and very often a changing view.
The Corinthians were written to as being upon a certain level, and rather a low one at that. The apostle said he could not speak to them as unto spiritual but as unto carnal, and yet they were the Lord's children. They were on a very elementary level of spiritual infancy, and it is quite clear that their vision was a very limited one, their apprehension and their comprehension was very small. The effort of the apostle was to get them to come up on to another level, with a larger view, vision, and expanse.
Read again the letter to the Hebrews, and you will see what is said there: "I have many things to say, but it is not possible to say these things to you because you are babes, because you need milk and not strong meat, you who ought, by reason of time to be teachers need to have someone to teach you the first principles of Christ." "Let us cease to speak of the first principles of Christ, and go on to full growth" (Heb. 6:1).
The apostle Paul himself is the great example of a man who is ever climbing to higher heights, and as he climbs he leaves much behind because he is seeing so much more. It is something that ought to be settled with us, because it is just possible that even after ten, twenty, thirty, forty or fifty years of knowing the Lord as Saviour, we could be just where we were at the beginning so far as spiritual comprehension is concerned; seeing little more than at the beginning. That is dangerous.
The thing that must come very clearly before us at this time is that there is no end to this matter, that we can and should be, continually going on. And the onward with us should be the upward, and with the upward, the ever expanding. That is the Lord's thought, the Lord's desire, the Lord's will. Paul is a great example of the spirit which is ever moving upward: "I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet... one thing I do... I press on toward the goal". Paul the aged is writing this.
The Heavenly Vision
In connection with that desire and purpose of the Lord and that great possibility set before us and the peril of coming short, there are some things which we must remember. Take this statement of Paul's in Acts 26: "I did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision." We have been speaking about the heavenly calling, the heavenly gift, in relation to the heavenly Christ. Now here Paul speaks of the heavenly vision.
The first thing for us to remember is that there is an essential ground upon which we are led to the greater fulnesses of the Lord. The Lord's will for us is these greater fulnesses of Christ. And there is something necessary from our side, which is undoubtedly a spirit of utterness for the Lord.
You may look where you will and see those through all time who have come into the greater purposes and intentions and thoughts of God, and you will find that in every case invariably there was in the background of their lives a dominating utterness for God. Behind everything there was this spirit of utterness for God. The Lord has never led anybody into His greater fulnesses who was in any state of spiritual contentment or passivity, but always His opportunity and His occasion was that down beneath everything there was a spirit of reaching out for all that He had - not a part, but a whole.
The greater instances, of course, are perfectly clear. Take Abraham. There is no doubt about it if you make deductions from the whole of the material that you have in the Word of God, that he, in Ur of the Chaldees, was a man reaching out, probably as no other, for something. He was restive, restless, dissatisfied, reaching out for something... perhaps he knew not what. The God of glory appeared unto him, and all that is subsequent to that shows you a man who is not content to go just a part of the way. He is a man who will go all the way, who means business with God, who will stand at nothing.
Take Moses, or David, or any of the outstanding men in the Old Testament or in the New Testament with all their faults, weaknesses, and ignorance. Look at Peter or John. One thing in the background of these men is that, whatever you have to say about them as to defects, they are men who really mean business.
You come to Paul himself, as Saul of Tarsus. Whatever there may be of blindness, misguidedness, misapprehension, here is a man who meant business for God. In his ignorance and blindness he was nevertheless right out for God. There was an utterness about him.
You can take cases which are not quite so outstanding, like the representative of the Ethiopian Queen crossing the desert. Here is a man probably simple in himself, but he is reaching out to God. He had been to Jerusalem, to the headquarters of religious enlightenment, and had not found what he was seeking. In his disappointment he takes the Word of God himself and looks into it with an enquiry. Does the prophet speak of himself, or of some other? The Lord took account of that heart going out and ordered accordingly that Philip should leave, for the time being, the great activities of Samaria and go down to the desert.
Or take Cornelius. He is up-country, but he is a man of whose heart the Lord has taken notice. He has gone just as far as he can with the light that he has, and is still reaching out. The Lord has spoken to Peter, brought these two together, and brought Cornelius into the greater fulnesses purely on the ground that this man is reaching out to God. He is not satisfied with the measure of his attainment. He has in his heart this spirit: "I have not yet attained, I am not yet complete."
Such men and women are the subjects of the Lord's interest, to bring them into His greater fulness.
We remember that it is utterness towards the Lord, not to some thing. There are plenty of people who are devoted to some truth, to some line of teaching, to some doctrine and some aspect of things. We may be devoted in our quest for souls, for instance, or in some other particular direction. We may be applying ourselves most devotedly; but we are not speaking here about that, and that is not sufficient. That which counts is utterness for the Lord, to come into all God's full thought. We may find our own satisfaction in things. There is a fascination about truth that it gets a tremendous grip upon us and holds us. There are, for instance, multitudes of people who know everything about prophecy, and yet their spiritual lives are very small, and they are very childish spiritually.
Very often the way into the Lord's fulness brings us up against such things as to test us on the question as to whether we are interested in the things or not. That is not the point. The point is whether the Lord wants it. We may wonder how it affects us. That is not the point. The point is whether it is the Lord's will.
The next thing to bear in mind is:
The Proof of Utterness Shown in Adjustment to Revelation
It is in adjustability in the presence of revelation that discovers whether we really mean business for the Lord. Revelation brings with it various things to different people. It may mean one thing or another, according to just where we are. Take David. His motive was right, his intention was good, but when he brought out that Philistine cart for bringing back the Ark, he made a discovery. And afterwards in the Word of God he saw that the thing had been wrong. David was grieved with the Lord because of the breach made upon Uzzah, and David retired. But he was not the type of man to sulk and to cherish an injury. He retired to find out what this meant, and as he turned to God's Word with an openness of heart, really concerned about this matter, he discovered in the Word of God exactly what was prescribed for the carrying of the Ark. The revelation came to him that the Lord's way of doing things is not upon a mechanical contrivance but by living witnesses: the Levites. Then came the challenge of the new revelation. Will he adjust? Yes, he did adjust. He adjusted to the revelation, and the next time the ark was carried it was by the Levites, not on a cart. Movement had been arrested because things were wrong. Now it was carried through in triumph, because David was adjusted to revelation when revelation showed him that things had been wrong.
Very often revelation makes it perfectly clear to us that things have been wrong. The coming into the greater fulness, the moving forward, depends upon whether we adjust. Sometimes the revelation will make it clear that things have been mistaken, not positively wrong. (They were positively wrong in this case, because there was a very serious principle involved. The Lord never does gloss over the violation of principles). Think, for instance, of the disciples and their interpretation of the Kingdom. They had a mistaken interpretation of the Kingdom of heaven and the Kingdom of God. That mistaken interpretation brought disaster, so that when Christ was crucified and their Lord was removed from their head, we find them in a state of confusion, despair. Now a new revelation will come. What will happen in the light of the new revelation? Will they adjust? When the Lord appears after His resurrection and speaks to them it says that He spoke of the Kingdom. He had spoken of the Kingdom before but they had misunderstood and misinterpreted. They had their own ideas about the Kingdom, and were not prepared to let go of those ideas, and their interpretation brought disaster. Then they had to abandon their interpretation and accept the true interpretation. Everything depends on whether they will adjust, as to whether they are coming into the greater fulness. Eventually they adjusted, and their adjustment is proved by the fact that they are prepared to tarry after the Lord has gone to glory. Nothing is happening, everything is silent, all is quiet, and nothing at all is going on, but they will wait and hold on. It is proved that they were adjusted to the new interpretation of things, and they went on in obedience to the Lord to Pentecost, and then they got right into the fulness of the Kingdom according to its truth.
Sometimes revelation will bring to us the fact that things have been but tentative, provisional. Take the case of Paul himself, as Saul. So far as Judaism was concerned, in its purity it was right. There was nothing wrong with the Mosaic economy. It was a revelation of God which included this one thing amongst others, "cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree", cursed by God. Saul of Tarsus had either seen or known positively the fact that Jesus of Nazareth had been hanging upon a tree, and had cried, "Why have You forsaken Me?" That was positive proof to him that He was cursed of God; so then anything that comes out of that must be blotted out. Judaism had served its purpose, its end had come, and now something else had come in. The larger thing, the fuller revelation of God had come in. This was a partial revelation. As Paul puts it: "a schoolmaster", to bring us to Christ, to lead us to Christ. The test for Saul of Tarsus is as to whether he will adjust to the light of the fact that, while he has been right, up to a point, that was only intended to lead him to something else.
The Lord in His sovereignty allows us to come into something which is only tentative, but not in His final and full thought. That should lead us to a certain point, and at that given point something else is coming in. At that point a revelation will be given us which will make us say: Well, that has served its purpose, but it has come to an end now, unto the greater fulness. It depends upon whether we cling to the thing that we say the Lord led us to and make it the final thing, when the Lord only meant that to lead us to another thing.
So often in looking back upon a thing that has been used of God, and perhaps blessed of God, people say: Well, if that is the case then we should cling to that way and should stay with that, or in that. Not necessarily. For Paul the challenge was whether now, with the fuller revelation in the light of which he saw that this first thing, while not wrong was only provisional, he was prepared to leave that and come on into the fulness and adjust to the fuller revelation.
In all these connections you see that it is a matter of obedience to the heavenly vision, because this obedience to the heavenly vision is marked by cost. There is a price attached. In every case mentioned we see there was a cost. It meant that a price had to be paid, or, in other words, it meant that difficulties had to be faced. There would be a great deal of misunderstanding, a great deal of having to go on alone. Others who had not seen would not be able to follow on. There would be loneliness, misunderstanding, and in many other ways difficulties would arise in relation to obedience to the heavenly vision.
After all, it is a question of the will. And if it is a question of the will, is it not the larger question of subjection to Christ? There never was anybody so completely, so utterly, and so immediately adjusted to the Father as the Lord Jesus was. His adjustments to the Father were instant and complete. At the end there was a conflict lasting for a little while; a bitter, deep conflict: "...if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done". There is adjustment.
By a perfect adjustment to the revealed will of the Father He has become the perfect example of the perfect embodiment of the will of God done in a Man. Our course is to become one with Christ by the Holy Spirit in what He is. And subjection to Christ simply means that He, in Whom the will of God has been perfectly done, becomes our Lord. That is only another way of saying that the will of God in Christ becomes absolutely sovereign in us. On our part we become subject to the perfect will of God in Christ. It is a matter of the will. "I did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision", said Paul.
Let us remember that in this matter there must be a detachment from all other rule that interferes with our walk with the Lord, "When God... was pleased to reveal his Son in me... I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood". I do not know what the apostles might have said if Paul had gone to see them, but seeing that they had not had the revelation that he had had and they had not the call that he had (theirs was not an apostleship to the Gentiles), they might have counselled moderation and cautiousness. They might have told Paul to consider whether he had been deceived or misled, because nothing like this had happened before. In this matter he might have been told he was one by himself, and so he might have been deflected.
Now, while fellowship is always a good thing, and experience should always be used as far as available, when it is a matter of the Lord speaking to our hearts and making it perfectly clear what His way is for us, we must be very careful that we do not submit that to influences that would in any way limit our response and interfere with our obedience. There must be a detachment from all rule that would injure a heavenly revelation. If others are really under the government of the Spirit they will help, but we must be careful that consultation with flesh is not made in the presence of a heavenly vision. We may consult with tradition and ask what the common acceptance is. Common acceptance will hold you back. The Lord is against mere freelances in every way, His order is fellowship in the Body. Nevertheless, if we submit to any kind of natural influence concerning what the Lord has been saying to us, and take counsel or take our direction from governing elements of man or things, we shall come under arrest and probably be disobedient to the heavenly vision. We know of lives that have been marred in this way.
If there is fellowship in the things of the Lord, let us use it, but let us be quite sure that we do not take things outside and submit them to those influences which are not in the light, not in the life, and not in the good of heavenly things and take our direction from something less than that which is wholly under the government of the Holy Spirit.
The point is this: that the Lord desires us to go on. Sometimes going on means loneliness in going on where others cannot go with us. That means a price is bound up with obedience. It may mean a big break, a big change. It is the challenge of whether we are adjustable before the Lord. Our adjustability is the proof of our utterness for the Lord. That proof being there, the Lord is able to bring us on into all His thought. Let us remember always that we shall never get to a place while we are here where there is not some higher level and some greater fulness of Christ. There will always be yet another step, and perhaps another after that, higher on. Let us have our hearts set upon reaching all. The Lord will so graduate things as to make the challenge not too severe. He takes us a step at a time, and He does not want us to take six steps at a bound, or to contemplate six steps at a time. He shows us our next step, and that is all we have to be concerned about now. The other steps will come at the right time. Every step prepares us for the next.
Very often our lives are like mountain climbing. You see from below to a certain height, and that seems to be the top, and you make for it. And when you get to it, you see a little further on that there is another top. You think that must be the very top, and so you make for it, and when you get to it there is something still further. You never do seem to get to the top! But we shall arrive at last. The Lord hides the other things and says: Now, that is your next step; obey that and fuller revelation will come after that.
Those of us who look back and see how terrible a thing it would have been if the Lord had shown us at one time all that to which we have been brought, know that if we had seen it all at one time, we could not have gone on. We see that He brought us by stages, and today we are not ungrateful for the price paid, in view of the measure of Christ which we enjoy and the greater fulness of revelation.
Let us ask the Lord to put into us the spirit of His servant: "Not that I have already obtained it... but one thing I do... I press on..."