Reading: Psa. 132:13-14; Psa. 2:6; 40:8; Heb. 12:22-23.
"The Jerusalem that is above is free, which is our mother... Wherefore, brethren, we are not children of a handmaid, but of the freewoman. For freedom did Christ set us free: stand fast therefore, and be not entangled again in a yoke of bondage." (Gal. 4:26,31, 5:1).
In Galatians chapter four and in the other passages which we have read, we are brought into touch with Abraham's two families. These two families are also called two mountains, and again, two cities; and then further, they are likened on the one hand to a servant, and on the other hand to a son. All these similes are used of the same things. The one family of Abraham through Hagar is one mountain, Sinai; one city, the earthly Jerusalem; one bondservant. The other family through Sarah is another mountain, Mount Zion; another city, Jerusalem which is above, the heavenly Jerusalem, and now not a bondservant, but this time a son, Isaac. You notice how the Scriptures, and the apostle Paul particularly in these connections, give the idea associated with the different sets.
One mountain is law, that is Sinai; the other mountain is grace, that is Zion. One city Jerusalem which is below, on this earth, in bondage; the other city, the heavenly Jerusalem, is free. The apostle says, "Our mother was a free woman and is a free woman, we are children of the free woman, that is our mother."
We have been occupied so far in these messages with these divine thoughts and intentions for the Lord's people which are set forth in the City, the heavenly Jerusalem, and the final fulness of those divine thoughts, the Lord's mind for His people. Before we go on in this matter, I am going to say one thing.
If we are here on a right basis, as we ought to be, we are here on a very unnatural basis, a most unnatural basis, our position is a most unnatural one. I do not just mean by that that we are on a spiritual and not a natural basis. I mean something more than that. It is a very unnatural thing for anyone to seek to know the thoughts and desires and intentions of another when that other, with His thoughts and desires and intentions, call upon them to abandon their own will and accept His. It is most unnatural for anybody to desire to know the will of God when they know quite well that in knowing it, they will have to let their own will go altogether and accept another will, a will altogether other than and contrary to their own will. That is unnatural, but that is the essence of spiritual instruction, that is the very nature of instruction in the Word of God, and that represents the great difference between just Bible teaching, and instruction in the Word of God. I do want to make that difference very clear.
When Stephen spoke to the gathered Sanhedrin in Jerusalem and gave a long and wonderful discourse, they listened with close attention in perfect silence until he reached a certain point. It says up to that point they gave attention. Why? Well, he was going over the Bible, he was tracing the history of Israel, he was speaking of the Old Testament. If you like, he was teaching the Scriptures. Up to that point it was all out of immediate practical application to their own lives and therefore they listened and probably would have gone on listening for hours if he had kept there. But as soon as he turned to bring this right home and to show how this whole thing was a challenge to them in the realm of their will and their attitude, they were no longer interested and they would no longer give heed. And that is the difference between a certain teaching of the Bible and instruction in the Word of God.
It is a most unnatural thing to subject ourselves or submit ourselves to instruction in the Word of God because it runs altogether counter to our own wills and natures. It makes a challenge, a demand. Over in America a very common phrase amongst Christian people is that they are going to hear Bible teaching and you see these people flocking to their literally thousands of Bible schools and institutions with their notebooks. They rush there and they rush away, but you never find, only in very rare cases, that the whole of this system of Bible teaching has any immediate relationship to their personal lives. It might be any other kind of teaching. But the evil of it is that they think they know the Bible, they can quote the Bible and if you are quoting Scripture they can finish it for you and the whole edge of things is turned by that familiarity with the content of God's Word. The edge is turned; they know it; you cannot tell them. They can complete every sentence that you start of Scripture and it simply goes off like water off a duck's back.
Oh, we have to be careful, and our thought and desire is not to get Bible teaching in that sense, but that instruction which is a challenge, which goes right home and runs counter to our will. What a lot of difference it would make if we and all the children of God took that attitude - "I am here, and if the Lord says anything, if anything comes out of this time which really does run directly opposite to my desires, to my ideas, to my will, I submit myself to the Lord over that matter to have my side of things put altogether away, to accept what is of the Lord whatever it means of an upheaval in my life"! What a difference it would make, what an advantage the Lord would gain! I believe that that may be true of most of us, I trust of all, but I do feel it is an important word because what I am going to say can be very interesting Bible matter or Bible teaching. These allegories, these analogies, how interesting they are: Hagar and Sarah, Sinai and Zion, and the Jerusalem here and the Jerusalem above. The differences, comparisons, interpretations and implications of these different things are very interesting. But if it stops there, we have wasted our time and perhaps we are done more harm than good. The thing has got to come to us with some upsetting force if it is going to achieve God's end.
Now, we come to this side of Abraham's life which is realized in a heavenly family, a spiritual family, a heavenly seed, a heavenly mountain, a son, to see what things really do mean as spiritual features of God's will for us. The Jerusalem which is above, the Zion which is not an earthly Zion, that mountain, the family, the son, these are the embodiment of spiritual things of tremendous importance if God is going to realize the manifestation of His glory in the saints.
It is perfectly clear, as you look at the two families and the two mountains and the two cities and remember that they are identical objects with different titles or names, that you have two distinct sets of ideas. One is said to be done away with, put away, abolished; there is no longer place for it. The other is that which is said to be abiding, established, eternal: the thing upon which God is concentrating now.
The City the Embodiment of Faith
It is quite clear that the one family of Abraham through Hagar was not a family of faith, and it is even more clear that the family through Sarah was a family of faith. That comes out in the mountains. The Bible takes a great deal of room to make it quite clear that Sinai, that mountain, is not faith, but works. On the other hand, Zion is faith. This heavenly Jerusalem, this unseen City, this that is much more real and, yes, much more practical in the life of the child of God, nevertheless is essentially a thing of faith. It is faith from beginning to end. It is our mother; therefore we have been born from above. "Our citizenship is in heaven", says the apostle (Phil. 3:20). Our franchise is in that heavenly City; that is where we are enrolled. "Who are enrolled in heaven" (Heb. 12:23).
How did we become born citizens of a heavenly, unseen City? No one has ever been born again yet, without faith. Faith is the first thing in the spiritual life. Our very new birth from above is a matter of faith. We call it 'believing on the Lord Jesus to be saved'. That is the first step; that is where our birth from above takes place. It is essentially a matter of faith this heavenly citizenship, and from the first, all the way along, it is like that and becomes more and more intensely so with the consummation of our citizenship. The manifestation of the glory of the sons of God is the perfecting of faith. This City is the embodiment of faith and its final, full unveiling is nothing other than the coming out of the triumphant faith which God has wrought into the saints.
The Need of Co-operation with God by Faith
That gets rid of everything mechanical. There is a system of teaching which makes things so mechanical that you are saved and nothing else matters. You are saved and automatically you will be glorified; the thing will take place mechanically; you will be at the end in the fullness. This teaching omits completely all the work necessary and indispensable to reach God's full end, this work of the perfecting of faith. It is not a mechanical attainment, a mechanical and automatic realization. God is doing something. It never dispenses with His grace or makes less of His grace that He is working something in us and calls upon us to submit ourselves to His working. That still throws us more than ever on His grace. But there is a place where we have to be conformed to the image of His Son by sanction and by co-operation, by submission, and all this is along the line of the testing of faith.
Abraham, we know, is the great example of faith. Every step of Abraham's life was a step on the challenge of faith, calling upon him to yield himself to that challenge. The God of glory appeared unto Abraham and commanded him to get out from his country, his kindred, his father's house, into a land that would be shown him. Well, the first step was co-operation with God in faith, a step of faith. And the next stage did not just follow. A fresh crisis arises, a new stage of testing of faith, and again Abraham has to do something about it. And yet again God challenges him and he has to do something in this matter, to act with God in faith. All the divine thoughts and intentions would never have secured the end. Abraham would not have been there if he had sat down and said, "Well, I believe God is right and I commit myself to God and I accept all His will and embrace His glorious purpose. Now Lord, I sit down here and You work it all out!" Nothing would have happened. He had to come into active co-operation with God on the basis of faith. And that is his family; he begets a family after that kind. That is the city for which he looked; that is the heavenly Jerusalem; that is Zion. We are come, not to a place, not to a thing, but to a spiritual position.
Now, all that is very simple, so far as words are concerned, but it is so nice to think about this wonderful City that we are going to. "I have read of a beautiful city, far away in some region untold" - and we can become very sentimental and even dramatic about this wonderful City. "We're marching upward to Zion, beautiful, beautiful Zion." Beloved, you and I are only progressing towards Zion as we pass the daily tests of faith. We never come to that City, because it is not some location somewhere in or beyond the clouds to which we are going to be suddenly translated. At this moment, if you are having a test of faith, faith in God, in God's ways, in God's love, wisdom, kindness, if you are having any kind of test of faith, that is the pathway to Zion for you, it is the pathway to Jerusalem. That is the pathway of the heavenly family. You cannot divorce these things. You cannot be on the way to God's end, to the City, and not be governed by what that City is in its spiritual meaning, and it is first of all faith perfected. To have a large place in that City means to have a large faith perfected. I believe the measure of the glory in that City will be the measure of the testing and the triumph of faith here and now, from day to day.
We could spend much time on this matter of faith, but it is just the opposite of Hagar and Ishmael; it is just the opposite of Sinai; it is just the opposite of the Jerusalem that is beneath, on this earth; and just the opposite of the bond-slave.
Satan's Attempt to Undermine Faith
That challenges us in many ways. You know, if there is one thing that Satan fears and hates, it is the coming into manifestation of that City. That is the end of his regime, his kingdom, the end for him when once that is unveiled in glory. Therefore, if that City is the perfected faith of the Son of God in His own, Satan is going to stand at nothing to unsettle, disturb and shake our faith, to destroy our confidence, our assurance, to bring us under condemnation and doubt. Satan will stand at nothing to interfere with our faith, because that faith is going to be his undoing. Oh, Satan is not going to be deposed as an item in a programme. Satan is going to be deposed by the spiritual power of God's Son wrought in the saints, and the first thing in that spiritual power is the faith of the Son of God.
You see how Satan sought to get the Son of God to let in some slight suggestion of doubt, and one of his subtleties is to try and get us in that sonship to prove our position. That is subtle - to do something to prove it. "If thou be the Son" - prove it by doing things. The subtlety was and always is just this, that immediately you begin to take that on and to do something to prove it, you have let in the doubt. The only answer to Satan is, "Look here, this thing does not need proving. It is a fact; it stands; it is established. I am not going to be doing this and that and something else to prove that I am a child of God; I am a child of God. I am not going to argue about it or do anything about it." 'If' - then do something to prove it. How subtle! Take up that challenge: "Alright, I will do this as a child of God to prove that I am a child of God; I will experiment with my sonship to establish it!" Satan has you on his ground at once, and you have let in the question. Yes, anything to bring in a doubt, unbelief, to undo. It would have undone the Lord Jesus Himself if He had not closed that door, and said, "That door is not open - not open to question, not open to debate, to discussion, that is settled. God has said, 'This is My Son, My beloved'. God has said it, the door is closed. I will do nothing to prove it!"
Yes, Satan is out to interfere with that faith which means his overthrow, and it is a bitter fight to maintain that ground, but you can see that there lies behind God's dealings with His people a tremendous issue.
The Universal Issue Bound up with the Faith of God's Children
I often think there is a great deal of correspondence between Job and Ephesians. Have you thought of that? Job seems to set the very drama of this universe spiritually. Here is a man about whom God says that there is none like him in all the earth, a perfect man. He says that to Satan, and then Satan raises questions and God says, "Alright, we will work this out in the light of this man; we will make him the very stage where this whole issue is worked out. You go and do your worst, short of touching his life; do all that you can!" And as Satan gets to work, we see the poor frailty of Job; we see Job in the fires crying out. Yes, that is his humanity, but in the end Job has not blasphemed God. Job has not fundamentally departed from faith in God and in the end he stands in the innermost being true with God. Although it does not say so, God is able at the end to come back to Satan and say, "Well, what about it? You have done all that you can do and Job still fears Me; Job is still here. We have fought this thing out on the battleground of this man's human life."
Ephesians chapter 3 says, "Now unto the principalities and powers in the heavenly places might be made known through the church the manifold wisdom of God" (verse 10). The church is the stage upon which God is working out this drama before principalities and powers and we are involved in that. A big issue, a universal issue, is being fought out in our faith, and we are put into the fires of faith's terrible testing, and there is some spiritual issue at stake, and that issue is no less than God being justified and Satan being destroyed on the battlefield of our faith. It is so difficult to grasp that and believe that. When we are in the fires it seems so far away, but that is what the Word says. There are big issues bound up with the testing of our faith, and then at last when that faith, the corporate faith of God's elect, is brought out into manifestation, Satan's kingdom is no more and it has been abolished through the victorious faith of God's Son in the elect.
A Life in the Spirit
Now you realize how practical that is and how near it comes to everyday life. That is what God is doing. Abraham's family on that side; Abraham's mountain on that side; Abraham's son on that side, all represent the embodiment of faith.
Then that is not all. Along with that is this other thing, that this life of faith is a life in the Spirit and not in the flesh. The family through Hagar was in the flesh; through Isaac, in the Spirit. The mountain Sinai, is the works of the flesh; the mountain Zion is the Spirit. The city Jerusalem below is the flesh; Jerusalem above is the Spirit. The bondservant is the flesh; the son is the Spirit. You know that is quite true. Romans chapter 8 makes that perfectly clear. It is the chapter on sonship and on life in the Spirit. It is a life in the Spirit, not in the flesh. What the Lord is at work upon is to get a people who really do walk after the Spirit, live in the Spirit and not after the flesh, who are really spiritually-minded and not carnally-minded. The heavenly Jerusalem at last will be the manifestation of a perfected walk in the Spirit and we are called on to that road, the road to that City, and that City is in hidden formation now. And whenever you and I repudiate the life of the flesh, the carnal mind, judging after the flesh and not after the Spirit; when we have our relationships not after the flesh but after the Spirit; when we refuse to allow our attitude and our relationships with other people to be governed by what is carnal and what is natural, and rather we are governed by what is spiritual, we are making progress towards the heavenly Jerusalem; that is the way there. Are you quite clear about that? I do not think I need enlarge upon that matter at present. It is a walking after the Spirit, learning to walk after the Spirit.
It is learning everything all over again in a new way; it is learning to walk again as we have never walked before, we have never gone this way before. We are simply like babies learning to walk. We fall over now and again, but a baby does not give up walking because it has a tumble or two. It does not abandon the whole thing and say, "This is an impossible thing, beyond human range altogether, somebody's fantastic idea, this walking business. I give it up, I am never going to try again; it does not work." No, the normal child gets up and walks again and keeps on walking, learning this thing that is so new.
When we are born again, it is just like that, and it is so to the end. We never here in this life get to the place where we are walking perfectly, where we are never capable of having a slip-up, losing our bearings, or coming down with a crash because, perhaps, of some pride, some self-assurance. Walking is something that has got to be a matter of education right to the end. It is a new kind of walk after the Spirit and it is an education. We do not know very much about it. It is a new world, this walking after the Spirit.
But walking is a very real thing and there is much bound up with
walking in order to explore the fulness of that realm of God. It
is a great thing to walk up and down in the land. That is, to
realize that you have come into a large place with the Lord, a
wealthy place, a full place, a place of boundless meaning, and
although you cannot define it or explain it, you feel that you are
walking up and down in a realm of great meaning and great value.
We are walking up and down in a wealthy land. I cannot put it into
words, but I can walk up and down in this land and see great
things. It is great to come to the place where you are really
moving in the enlargement of the Lord, walking up and down in the
land. But it is an education; it is learning a new kind of walk in
You say, "Then what is the function of reason, why has the Lord given us reason? Has He not given us faculties of reasoning for this very purpose? Does walking in the Spirit destroy our reason?" Not at all. If you are not a spiritual person and if the Holy Spirit is not freely at work in you, what I am saying is all twisted and nonsense. It does not help you a bit; it is all fantastic. If you are a spiritual person going through spiritual experiences, what I am saying to you should come as a help. But how is it coming to you? It is coming through my reason, but not out of my reason. I get it not by reasoning it out, puzzling it out, or by working it out in my mind. I get it in the school of experience. Now my reason comes in to pass that on to you. If you are in that school as an intelligent person, the reason is simply a channel for the Spirit while we are here as human beings on this earth. If we were just disembodied spirits, somehow we would communicate to one another without any reason at all, it would be a kind of spiritual suggestion, an impact of spirit intuition without a word. But we are not disembodied spirits; we are still rational human beings and the faculty of reason is an instrument between us, but it breaks down unless there is a spiritual revelation behind. What I see, what I have been taught in the school of experience, is of no value unless you are there, but then as I interpret your experience within my own, that is the value of the human reason. It does not begin there, it is not the spring of things, but it is the channel. You see what the Lord is after, to get a spiritual people, a people after the Spirit; not after the flesh, a people of perfected faith. That is the City that He is building and seeking to build into us.
It does represent a very real challenge to us. May the Lord bring us on to that glorious ground of the heavenly Jerusalem where things are in life and in liberty, where we are completely set free.