That which is before us can be put in several ways, and we shall seek to outline at least the introductory part of our meditation.
God's Present Purpose
1. The Gathering Out of a People from the World
In the first place it would be helpful for us to be reminded of the special nature of this dispensation, which embraces the period from the ascension of the Lord Jesus to His coming again; and it is well for us to be reminded (since it is a tragedy that the Lord's people have not been continually reminded through the dispensation) that in this age, in this dispensation, God's main concern with this world is to take something out of it, and not to do anything with it, nor to have anything in it as of it. Until we have become clear on that matter we shall be confused on all other matters in relation to the Lord, as to His work, His purpose, and our life in fellowship with Him.
The Lord is pre-eminently occupied with the taking of something out of this world. All the rest is but a preparation of this world for judgment. When that activity of God is finished in the taking out of the earth, then the judgment of this world will take place. So that all ideas about improving this world, and setting up something of God in it as of it, establishing something here for God, are false ideas, and will lead into a great deal of error, and, in the long run, to disappointment.
2. The Gathering Out is Mainly Spiritual
In connection with that primary activity of God in the dispensation, the next thing to remember is that this extraction from the earth is mainly spiritual. Of course, the Lord is taking His people literally out of the world from generation to generation, and there will be, at the end, a mighty literal taking out of the residue of those who look for His appearing; but mainly the taking out through the dispensation is a spiritual thing, the literal or physical is but the end of a phase.
That taking out spiritually is, firstly, by a crisis, the crisis of new birth, in which we become aware that we have been born out from another realm and that we are no longer belonging to this one; that in the deepest reality of our beings through new birth we are not of this earth, but are from above. That is the crisis of our extraction from the world.
Then, secondly, the crisis once passed, the extraction, the redemption, or the emancipation (whichever word you prefer) is a progressive thing. It is, in a sense, a pilgrimage, a moving away, and as we walk with the Lord in a true way we are getting further and further away from this world in a spiritual sense.
These are simple and elementary truths, new to no one, but necessary of emphasis by way of laying the foundation.
3. God's Purpose in Leaving His People in the World
That which remains of God in this world is here for three purposes. We are now referring to that which has come through the crisis and is in the process, but is still here; here, and yet not of this earth. While it remains, it remains for three purposes, which are in three different directions, firstly toward God, secondly toward itself, thirdly toward the world.
The Godward purpose of being here is the representing of God's rights in the earth. Just as David, when driven out of his kingdom away from Jerusalem sent back Zadok the priest with the ark into Jerusalem as a testimony to the fact that that was his place and he would come back into it one day, so the Lord, who has been driven out of this world, strategically puts His people here as in relation to Himself, representing His rights here. Thus we are called upon deliberately to stand here on this earth against the claims of this usurper, as a challenge to the Devil's claim to be prince of this world, for the rights of Him whose right it is to reign. We simply stand here toward Him for that purpose.
As to the aspect of this purpose which is toward the thing of God itself which is here, that is for the purpose of learning the true nature of what is of God. We are left on this earth for the time of our sojourn amongst these other things for the purpose of education, and our education is in the direction of learning what the nature of a thing of God is. We have many lessons to learn, many things to know as to the difference between what is of man and what is of God, what is of Adam and what is of Christ, what is of earth and what is of heaven, what is of the flesh and what is of the Spirit, and our education lies in that direction.
It is a very experimental and practical thing. If you and I were suddenly taken to heaven; that is, if immediately we were saved we were transplanted to heaven, we should know the nature of all that is of God fully, immediately, but we should know it in a way in which we do not know it now. To put that the other way, we are knowing it now in a way which we should not know it if that were the case. We should then know it as objective, as something which obtained all around us, and into which we came in that way; but being left here in the conflicting elements we are learning it in an experimental way, it is being wrought into us through sufferings, through contradictions, through discipline, through a great deal of inner history. It is being wrought into our very being, and that is God's way of teaching His people. It is the most profitable way; otherwise He would have adopted another method.
Then as to the manward aspect of that which is here of God, that is a matter of testimony and witness. Those two words do not mean the same thing. The witness is the instrument itself, the testimony is that which is given by the witness. The Lord must have something here which is the embodiment of the truth, and, being the embodiment, it gives forth the truth. That is the difference between witness and testimony, and we are here on the earth manward, world-ward, for that purpose, to be the embodiment and the expression of the truth.
So you see that, while the Lord leaves that which is essential and strictly of Himself here for a time, He does not mean that it is to settle in; to consolidate itself here; to become a part of things here, but it is only here for Divine purposes, and when those purposes have reached that point where the Lord sees in His own wisdom and sovereignty that it would be better that the vessel should be transplanted to heaven, then He takes action accordingly.
The Son of Man the Divine Exemplar
All this is gathered up in two features of Christ's life.
(a) As in the world, yet not of it. Into that short sojourn there were packed all the laws of a life which is lived as in relation to heaven, and not in relation to this earth. His position was, while here, in the bosom of the Father; with God, not of this world. He lived by the laws of such a relationship, and He lived thus in order to show forth the fact that man is called to live by God. It is true that He was God. That is not the question for the moment, but we emphasise the other side in order to see why it was necessary for Him to live here, and that is to set forth the fact that man can live on the earth, and yet be governed by laws which, if obeyed, make him something other than a man of this world.
That may sound complicated, but it can be resolved into one simple fact. He lived, a Man in this world, yet not of it; and in order to do so He had to move as governed by laws which were not the laws of this world, but the laws of heaven. That is one phase of His life in which that which we have been saying is gathered up.
(b) As in heaven, yet expressing His heavenly life in the Church by the Holy Spirit. All is gathered into that. The Holy Spirit is sent for the main object of "re-living" Christ in the Church, and thus constituting the Church one Heavenly Man according to Christ. Thus it becomes necessary for us to know what the life in the Spirit is, what the life governed by the Spirit is.
Spirituality the Great Governing Law
There is a parenthetical period in which these two phases of His life are joined and yet divided, where they meet and where they part. That parenthetical period is the great forty days after His resurrection. The first phase of His life on earth reaches unto that, and His new life in heaven also reached unto that. The two meet. He is still Jesus of Nazareth, but there is a difference. While they meet in that period, they are not one; they are different, they are separate. Mary would fain have proceeded according to the old regime when she met Him on the morning of the resurrection. She would have embraced Him, but He said, "Touch me not". There is a difference, there is a change. In a word, that old kind of relationship is at an end, the relationship is going to be different; and yet the deepest realities are going to abide. The two phases, the earthly and the heavenly, meet in the forty days, and yet they are different, and they are separate. The one great inclusive law governing both of those phases, and that is so clearly set forth in the parenthetical period, is spirituality.
Spirituality is the great determining truth. It determines the truth of everything, determines the value of everything, governs everything. Mary, with the others, thought and believed that to possess Christ they must see Him, and handle Him, and hold Him. He was teaching them two things. One is, that is not really to possess Christ. In the deepest reality, the deepest truth, in the greatest value of Christ, that is not possessing Christ. On the other hand, it is possible to possess Christ as truly as though you saw Him, and handled Him, and to possess Him even more really than if He were here in physical presence. The governing law of that greatest of all realities is spirituality.
What is spirituality? We shall see as we consider the forty days that spirituality resolves itself into this fact of knowing Christ, not after the flesh, but after the Spirit; not according to the standards of man in the flesh, the soulish standards of the changeable, the seen, but knowing Christ in an inward, spiritual way according to the power of a Divine life. That is spirituality in a word. Much more has to be said about it.
You can see where the two phases were meeting, overlapping, and yet were divided. The Lord, while He brought them together, showed perfectly clearly that these are not the same, and that they are not one; there is this mighty difference. As I understand it, that was the object of the forty days. It was to set before them and establish in them the fact that spirituality is the great governing law of our relationship with Christ, and of everything that has to do with that relationship.
A Vital Discrimination
As to spirituality it is, of course, necessary to say something more. We must not confuse spirituality with an abstract, ethereal, atmospheric, mystical element which is unrelated to all that is positive and practical. There are strange ideas in men's minds as to the meaning of spirituality. If you pass through an Art Gallery with an art critic, you will hear that word often upon his lips. He will refer to the work of art as "spiritual" or otherwise, and he will tell you of a certain work that it has a spirituality about it. Or if you go to a great musical production you hear the same thing. It is the "spirituality" of the thing that is either there or absent which determines the real artistic value. If you go into the realm of architecture you will have the word used. It is not only the actual structure and adornment, but there is some intangible thing said to be about that edifice, it is the "spiritual" element.
We must get that idea entirely out of our conception of spirituality. That is not the Scriptural meaning of spirituality. That is the mystical, the ethereal, the abstract, the atmospheric, but that is not what the Word of God means by the word spiritual. Perhaps it is unnecessary to say that, and yet when we talk about spirituality some people drift mentally into the realm of the unreal. Upon true spirituality according to the Word of God the greatest issues hang, the most tremendous consequences depend.
We take a familiar illustration of this. There was a revelation given by God through His Word as to the means and method for the transportation of the ark. The day came when that ark was to be transported from a certain place to Jerusalem, and David assayed to do it. On the one side with David there was the Word of God that the ark should be in a certain place, a deep devotion to the Lord on the part of His servant, a whole-hearted zeal for the Lord's interests; and then out of his devotion, and in his zeal, in accordance with what he perceived to be the Lord's purpose (and his perception of the Lord's purpose was perfectly right) he acted, and tragedy overtook the execution of the purpose, the carrying out of the design. The Lord made a breach that day and Uzzah died before the Lord. What was wrong? The Divine purpose was not wrong, God's thought was that the ark should be in a certain place; the devotion was all right, the zeal for the Lord was all right.
Where was the breakdown, the flaw? It was in failure to perceive at that time the Lord's way of realising His own purpose, how the Lord would do the thing that He wanted to do, or how the Lord would have it done. Everything hung upon how the thing was done. It was not the object, not the motive, not the devotion, not the zeal that was wrong, but perception broke down in the realm of how it was to be done. It meant that David acted upon a lower level than was revealed within the Word of God, or was embodied within the Word of God. It was a failure in spirituality, because spirituality has as its hallmark spiritual intelligence, intelligence as to, not only the intention of God, but the methods of God; not only the purpose of God, but how the purpose was to be fulfilled.
We can have general conceptions of what God wants done, and not be sure as to exactly how, but it does not end there. There can be tragedy in that realm. So that you will see that, in this instance, spirituality was a matter of perception as to the Lord's thoughts for the carrying out of His purpose.
Is that practical? Ask Uzzah whether it is practical. Ask David on that day when the Lord made a breach whether it is practical. It is a practical matter whether we get through with a thing or not. It is so practical that it becomes a matter of life and death. It is practical as to whether the Lord's blessing is upon it or withheld from it. The greatest consequences are bound up with spirituality, for spirituality means a knowing of the Lord in an inward way. So that spirituality is very practical, very real; it comes right down to the most tremendous consequences in our lives.
We have taken that familiar illustration, as touching upon one phase of things, and indicating what spirituality means. David came eventually to the perception of God's meaning, and came to see that it does matter very much whether you have apprehended the whole thought of God or whether you have only apprehended a part. The part that he grasped was that the Lord wanted the ark in a certain position, in a certain place. That was enough for him. It did not matter very much in his zeal for the end how it was done, so long as it was done; but that is of very great significance to the Lord, as we see in this case. There is a wrong way of doing a right thing, which may bring the whole thing to disaster. The result here undoubtedly was a tragedy in the realm of a rightly conceived purpose of God wrongly carried out. It was a failure in spirituality, because spirituality means perception as to the Lord's ways, in the Lord's interests.
Spirituality the Outcome of a Divine Nature
When we speak of spiritual people or of the Church being a spiritual thing in this age, we do not mean that they are just mystical. We hear that word very much in connection with the Church as the Body of Christ, the mystical Body of Christ. We have to be very careful what we mean by that. The Holy Spirit through the Apostle Paul brings that down on to very practical matters. For example, this word is addressed to the members of Christ: "The eye cannot say to the hand, I have no need of you". There is nothing mystical about that. That is very practical indeed. Let your own eye say to your hand, I have no need of you, and work accordingly, and see how far you get on! You find it is a very practical matter. The Body of Christ is not mystical in that sense of being something out of the realm of practical, positive interests.
When we speak of spiritual people, spiritual men, or of the Church in this dispensation being spiritual, we are not meaning that it is mystical, that it is a hidden, remote thing. The true nature of a child of God and of the Church is something hidden from the world and is a mystery to the world. Concerning it the man of nature will always be saying, "How can a man be born again?" "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" "How are the dead raised?" To the unenlightened it is a mystery and is hidden. Nevertheless, spiritual people, and the spiritual nature of the Church, are something very definite, very positive, because, in the first place, it represents the possession of a nature which is altogether different from that possessed by man naturally, altogether different in its qualities and in its capacities and capabilities. The natural man cannot receive the things of the Spirit, he cannot know them; the spiritual man can. "As it is written, Things which eye saw not, and ear heard not, and which entered not into the heart of man, whatsoever things God prepared for them that love him. But unto us God revealed them through the Spirit..." (1 Cor. 2:9).
Spirituality, therefore, represents the possession of a nature which is superior altogether to the ordinary human nature, and has capacities and capabilities which are higher altogether than those belonging to man ordinarily. That is the nature of spirituality. It is a Divine capability, a Divine capacity, brought within by reason of the operation and presence of the Holy Spirit.
That is a fact, something which you and I know to be a fact, but it constitutes the greatest practical difficulty between us and those who do not possess it. Try to resolve that. Begin to talk to the unregenerate man about the things of the Lord, and you know that you come up against a blank. You can talk about religion, about Christianity, theology, and perhaps go a long way, but when you come to the realities of knowing the Lord, even beginning with new birth (the greatest reality with us), those who have not gone through, who have not been born from above, do not understand. They will say: I do not know what you mean by being born again. Advance beyond that to the things of the Lord which have come to us in the course of our walk with Him, and you find it is a realm which we move in alone, and all who are not spiritual are excluded, and it is no use trying to put a bridge over the two realms. It is the greatest practical problem of our lives. We know quite well that we are wrecked wholly upon the sufficiency of the Holy Spirit in this matter where other people are concerned.
We can preach to the end of our lives, with every ounce of strength we have, and unless the Spirit of God gives quickening, illumination, and a capacity to those who hear, the preaching is in vain, and we are as fools, we have spent our strength for naught. We can never get spiritual things across to natural minds, and yet we cannot say that these spiritual things are mystical, vapoury, abstractions, unreal, merely a matter of atmosphere. They are the greatest realities in the universe. We would not admit for an instant that it is a matter of imagination. Neither is that true of any other thing that has come to us in our union with Christ. They are so real that they are our very being. If any man can give up his faith, change his mind about his beliefs, you may take it that that is something he has put on like a coat; it is not the true.
The Inner Knowledge of God
Now all this that we have already said is ploughing the way to the explanation of what true spirituality is, and its true value. One thing that surely concerns all the people of God very strongly, very definitely, very mightily, is the question of that which is invulnerable, indestructible; that which will stand when everything else in the universe crashes, when all else is consumed, destroyed: when in the shaking of the heavens and the earth that which can be shaken is shaken, then there shall be that which abides the shaking, abides the fire, and goes through indestructible for eternity. That concerns us in a practical way as to the result of our being here on this earth.
If the great feature of spirituality is spiritual intelligence, which is knowing the Lord in the inner way of His thought, of His purpose, that is what God is after, because it is that which is going to outlast everything else. That is what is meant by being in the pre-eminent, the supreme activity of God in this dispensation. This world and everything related to it is not going to last, therefore we will not get our roots into it; we will not lay deep foundations in it; we will not build in union with it, with the Name of God on it, not even in a religious way. You and I must come into God's supreme activity in this dispensation, which is to get out from this world, in association with Himself, that which will abide eternally when all else has gone. This may be in a people, but the thing itself is the inner knowledge of God. That is spirituality.
Speaking of spiritual people, of the Church being spiritual, we are speaking of that which, having the higher (may we use that word) intelligence, the knowledge that is superior to human knowledge and intelligence, works accordingly. That is the practical side. Any kind of mental apprehension of God's thoughts which does not lead to a corresponding activity, is either a wrong apprehension or has fallen short of its purpose. There are a great many people who dwell much upon spiritual thoughts, ideas, always probing beneath the surface to get something that is not apparent and they are most unpractical; there is no working out of things in life. It is not enough to have thoughts that seem to be Divine, there must be an expression of those thoughts in practical ways.
The work of God has to be done according to the principles of God, and those principles are to be revealed by the Holy Spirit. That is spirituality in life and in work. The difference is so manifest in this dispensation. You can see that right through men have got hold of ideas which are in the Word of God, and then they have made that which corresponds to the Philistine cart, which David constructed; that is, they have put those ideas into a form which is something quite tangible, and of this earth, established here in the world, and they will point to their order of things, what they sometimes call the Church, and say: This is according to the Word, and this is the Scripture by which we have acted in doing this. So you find that you get a dozen different things set up, all of which are in disagreement amongst themselves, yet all of them claiming to be constituted by the Word of God. Is that right? So many of them are mutually exclusive, and yet they support themselves by the Word of God. Is that right? Now in so far as any of them are something on this earth, established on this earth, there is a failure to perceive the mind of God in His Word. That is where everything has gone astray. That is where the whole thing is at fault. That is why you get the confusion and the contradiction, why you get a state of things like that, which cannot possibly be accepted as an expression of God's mind. It is saying, in effect, that God has a dozen different minds and no two of them are agreed. God is of one mind. In order to have God's mind you must be essentially spiritual, and being spiritually minded you will get oneness in expression. The Apostles are a great example of this.
We shall come later to this first chapter of the book of the Acts, and probably go on further than that, but the emphasis for us just now is this. You see here men who manifestly were not in agreement in the former years of their connection with Christ, all standing up together and speaking, and you have an exhibition of a oneness of mind, of word, of thought, so that they are as one man. The immediate expression of the Holy Spirit's advent was oneness in a most remarkable way between those who were anything but one before. Oh, the divergencies, oh, the differences which separate men! Oneness is a mighty, wonderful mark of the advent of the Holy Spirit. That is the one mind of God operating in all who are under the complete domination of the Spirit of God. That is spirituality. It is intelligence as to God's thought. So that we have in the spiritual man, and in the Church, as a spiritual thing, that working according to a higher intelligence than that possessed by the natural man. It is so high that he cannot attain unto it.
Now we cannot go further in this present meditation. This is preparing the way, and is intended to indicate at least that what the Lord is seeking pre-eminently in this age is a spiritual people possessed of a knowledge, an understanding, a perception of Himself which is something altogether different from that possessed by the natural man, and which is, therefore, the thing which is going to abide when all else goes, to endure throughout all testings, all trials. It is the inward knowledge of God in an ever-growing way.
The Lord's concern for us at this time is that we should know what God's mind is as to a spiritual mind (and that refers to the individual, and to the Church as the collective man, the one new man), as constituted according to Christ in heaven by the Holy Spirit; the Holy Spirit reproducing in us the life, the mind, the intelligence of the Lord Jesus as God's heavenly Man.
May our eyes be opened to that, and the Lord give us increasing liberty as we go on in that consideration.