by T. Austin-Sparks
Reading: Col. 2:16–23; 3:1–11; Eph. 4:13–15.
There is one particular application of this whole vast, comprehensive truth which we feel we should stress at this time. It has to do with our taking the ground of the Heavenly Man. Whether you consider Him personally or corporately in the Word, you will see that the one thing which is being pointed out as absolutely necessary, is that the ground of the Heavenly Man shall be taken; that is, that man shall come on to the ground of the Heavenly Man. God has nothing to say to men, nothing to do with them, on any other ground than that of the Heavenly Man. His attitude is that, if you want Him to speak to you, to have anything to do with you, you must come on to His ground, which is that of the Heavenly Man. You have to leave your own ground of nature, whatever be your thought of it, and you have to come on to His ground. You must leave the ground of the earthly man, the fallen Adam, leave natural ground, and come on to the ground of the last Adam, on to heavenly ground, which is spiritual ground.
If you were to take that thought, and begin to read again the Gospel by John, and then go on into the Epistles, especially those of Paul, although it is not confined to them, you would see that this is the one thing all the way through, and it would give you a wonderful opening up of the Word.
Christ the Sole Ground of God’s Dealings with Man
We begin, then, by seeing that the Father has set
forth the Son as His ground of dealing with men, and He
will deal with no man on any other ground: “...Him
the Father, even God, hath sealed” (John 6:27).
Jesus of Nazareth was anointed by God. Now that is God’s
ground: “This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well
pleased” (Matt. 3:17); “This is My beloved
Son... hear ye Him” (Matt. 17:5). He has set forth
the Son, and if you want to have anything to do with God
at all, if you want Him to have anything at all to do
with you, you have to come on to the ground of the Son,
the ground of the Heavenly Man. God meets us in Him. God
takes up His work with us there on that ground. God
carries on His work with us on that ground alone. For all
God’s interest and activity with us, Christ is the
First and the Last. He is set forth, sealed, anointed,
and there only shall we find an opened heaven.
Referring again to Jacob and his dream, we read: “And he lighted upon a certain place, and tarried there all night.... And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven; and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it. And, behold, the Lord stood above it, and said...” (Gen. 28:11–13). The Lord took that up, as you remember, with Nathaniel, and said: “...ye shall see the heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man” (John 1:51). The Lord communes with man by way of that ladder, which is the Son of Man, and by way of His Son alone; He speaks to us at the end of these times “in His Son, Whom He appointed heir of all things.” I think it hardly needs stressing that this is where we begin, and this is what the Father has done. He has made the Heavenly Man, His Son, the sole ground upon which to meet man.
The Meaning of the Divine Appointment of the Son
In using the term “Heavenly Man,” we are doing something more than just referring to a Divine Person, the Son of God. We are implying a great order of Man, a kind of Man, constituted by all heavenly features, resources, faculties. Everything about this Man is heavenly, and of practical value. Nothing in Him is without meaning, without value. It is something of an applied kind; that is, everything that is in Christ is of use, of heavenly use for us, of heavenly value, of practical meaning. That is why we speak of Him as the Heavenly Man, the kind God has in view. God can only deal with that kind, and that is why we have to leave our own ground and get on to Christ’s ground, because God can only deal with that kind. That is what is meant by the so familiar phrase, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ...” (literally, believe on to the Lord Jesus Christ). This is not the mere taking of an attitude toward Him and saying: Of course I believe Him, I believe He is a perfectly trustworthy One. No! It is the committing of oneself, a stepping on to His ground, taking the ground of the Heavenly Man. Until that is done there is no hope at all. In order to do that, we have to leave our own ground, and that is not so simple as it sounds. It is a life-long education. There may be one act in the beginning, where in that first initial sense we believe on to the Lord Jesus Christ; where we step over on to Him in faith and commit ourselves to Him and trust Him, but for the rest of our lives we shall be learning what it is to leave our own ground and take His. As we do that we come to His fulness, the fulness of the stature of Christ. It is as we learn to leave our own ground and take the ground of the Heavenly Man that this can be. We have plenty of opportunities every day we live in which to do that. It is a life-long course, though there is that initial act in the beginning of which we have spoken.
The Truth Illustrated in the Case of (a) Nicodemus
Take some examples. Nicodemus presents himself to the
Lord Jesus as interested in Divine things, interested in
what he calls the kingdom of God. He feels that Jesus can
tell him something, and give him some information. “Rabbi,
we know that Thou art a teacher come from God... ”
(John 3:2). Well, You can tell us something! The Lord
does not begin to give him information. He does not begin
to satisfy his inquiries, and to open up to him Divine
secrets. He makes no response to that inquiry, but He
says, in effect: Nicodemus, ruler of the Jews as you are,
you have to leave that ground and to come on to another
ground altogether; you must be born anew.
As you follow out the meaning of that conversation, and of what the Lord said, you see perfectly clearly that He is only saying in other words, You have to come on to My ground. You must be where I am, before you can know what I know. You want to know what I know. Well, I cannot tell you, but you will know if you are born again; you will have My heavenly knowledge when you occupy My heavenly ground. You can only occupy My heavenly ground by being born from above as I have been. It is a heavenly man’s ground for a heavenly man’s knowledge. You must leave your own ground. What, leave my ground? What is wrong with my ground? I am a good, upright Israelite, a faithful teacher of the Law! Yes, but you have to leave that ground, the Lord Jesus would say; I am not now dealing with a man and his standing with the Law, I am dealing with you, Nicodemus, a ruler in Israel; you have to leave your ground and come on to Mine.
That is what is clearly to be inferred from John three and the same principle can be followed throughout the Gospel. That is the law which is being applied all the way through.
(b) The Inquiring Greeks
You come to chapter twelve and you read: “Now
there were certain Greeks among those that went up to
worship at the feast: these therefore came to Philip...
and asked him, saying, Sir, we would see Jesus”
(John 12:21). Then the disciples came and told the Lord
Jesus that there were certain Greeks wanting to see Him.
What did the Lord Jesus reply? Did He say: Very well, I
will come and show them Myself! No! “Jesus answereth
them, saying, The hour is come, that the Son of Man
should be glorified. Verily, verily, I say unto you,
Except a grain of wheat fall into the earth and die, it
abideth by itself alone; but if it die, it beareth much
fruit” (verses 23, 24). Did they want to see Him?
They must come on to His ground. What is that ground?
Heavenly ground, resurrection ground. It is not the
ground of this creation, but you must needs die to get on
to this ground. It is not the ground of this earthly
life, but you must die to that. Those Greeks could never
“see” Him if their thought of Him were as of
someone of interest here on this earth; if they had come
to see someone of whom they had heard wonderful things,
and were looking for a wonderful man who has been
performing miracles; if He were as one of the sights of
Jerusalem for which they had come to the feast, one of
the people to get into touch with. They must leave that
ground altogether, and leave it through death (we will
come back to that again presently); then they shall see
Him by corporate relationship: “...if it die, it
beareth much fruit.” One corn of wheat turned into
an ear—and a harvest. That is how the Lord Jesus can
be known, by our becoming a part of the corporate
Heavenly Man, through death and resurrection. You have to
leave the natural ground if you want to see Him. It is
not by the contemplation of Him as a historical figure
that you see Him; you only see Him by resurrection-union
with Him, on the ground of the Heavenly Man.
How true that was with the disciples themselves. He was with them by the space of three and a half years, and yet they really did not know Him, and did not “see” Him; but after He had gone from them, they saw Him and knew Him. The knowledge was something far transcending that of the days of His flesh.
(c) Peter and the Gentiles
Come further, over into the early chapters of the Book
of the Acts, and you come to that paragraph in the
history of first things in the Church, where Peter has
been fasting and praying. He falls into a trance and sees
the heaven opened and a sheet let down from heaven. In it
are all manner of four-footed beasts and creeping things;
and a voice says to him, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat”
(Acts 10:13). To this Peter replied, “Not so, Lord;
for I have never eaten anything that is common and
unclean” (verse 14). We know what it is related to.
Away up country there is a devout man with very little
light, reaching out with all his heart to know the Lord
more perfectly, to go on with God; hungry for the Lord,
but not knowing the way. In his reaching out for the
Lord, he is visited by an angel, and told that if he
sends to a certain place, at such and such an address,
there is a man there named Peter, who, if he but calls
for him to come, will tell him what he needs to know.
Meanwhile in connection with that man, who is not a Jew,
who is not of Israel, and who is outside the covenant,
the Lord is having these dealings with Peter. Now, to
Peter, that man would be as one of those reptiles, those
creeping things, as unclean meat, because he was outside
Israel. Peter says, “Not so, Lord....” Now
Peter must leave that ground. That is his old Jewish
ground, and he must leave it and come on to the ground of
the Heavenly Man. What is the ground of the Heavenly Man?
It is that where there is neither Jew nor Greek, where
these distinctions are not to be made. You are not to
make these distinctions, Peter! You are not to stand off
like this, saying, I am a Jew and he is not a Jew; we
have no relationship! Fellowship is the mark of the
Heavenly Man, and there these distinctions are lost sight
of. You must come off your earthly, historic, traditional
ground, Peter, on to the ground of the Heavenly Man.
The Lord made it perfectly clear that Peter had to do it, and that the issues were very serious and critical if he did not. Peter had the grace of obedience to leave his own ground, and he went up to Caesarea and met with one of the greatest surprises of his life in that he found that the Lord was there! He had to report to the other Jewish apostles that, though he had gone with all fear and misgiving, he found the Lord there. Yes, the Lord was on the ground that He Himself had provided, the ground of the Heavenly Man. We shall always meet the Lord on that ground. Leave your own ground, and come on to My ground, and I will meet you there and show you something which will surprise you. So it was in this case: “Who was I, that I could withstand God?” The Lord had given them the Spirit, and I had to get off my ground, and get on to the Lord’s ground, the ground of the Heavenly Man.
(d) Paul and Israel
What was true of Peter had to be true of Paul. I think Paul was a long time in getting thoroughly off his own ground. He clung to Israel as long as he could. Other things there were that had quickly become clear, and his going out to the Gentiles had very largely moved him away even from this ground, but he was still clinging to it in measure. That vow, and that going up to Jerusalem which led him into such trouble, was all the fruit of his clinging to Israel, esteeming his brethren after the flesh above others. He did not easily let go. But when at length Paul let go of that ground, then he was able to write the Letter to the Ephesians. The Letter to the Ephesians is the glorious expression of heavenly ground having been reached in fulness. Is it not that? Ephesians deals with being in the heavenlies in Christ. It speaks of the stature of the fulness of Christ. The full-grown man is the Heavenly Man. At long last he has finally quitted his own ground, that of tradition, nature, birth, natural hope, and now, being on the ground of the Heavenly Man, he has such a fulness to pass on. He says—and it invests these words with such richness when you see what they represent of the position to which he himself has come—“And put on the new man, which after God hath been created in righteousness and holiness of truth” (Eph. 4:24). On this heavenly ground, there can be neither Jew nor Greek. You must leave the ground of the Jew, leave the ground of the Greek. On this ground there can be neither circumcision nor uncircumcision. You have to leave both those grounds. On this ground there can be neither barbarian nor Scythian, neither bondman nor freeman, but Christ is all, and in all. That is the ground of the Heavenly Man.
All Natural Ground Must be Forsaken
In this dispensation God is not meeting Jews as Jews,
and Gentiles as Gentiles, and a great many are making the
mistake of thinking that He is. His Word to the Jew is:
You must leave your Jewish ground, and stand before God,
not as a Jew, but as a man, and until you take that
ground God has nothing to say to you; you will not have
any light whilst you persist in coming before God on your
own ground. The same has to be said to everyone else. We
have to leave our own ground in every way.
As that applies in these directions nationally, it applies in every other thing. Are you going to answer the Lord back: But I am this or that, or something else; or, But I am not this or that. It is not what you are, but what the Son is, that is of account. Come on to His ground. The Lord will not meet you on the ground of what you are, whether it be good or bad; He will meet you on the ground of the Heavenly Man. Do you answer back, I am so weak! The Lord is not going to meet you on that ground; He will meet you on the ground of His Son. That is what the Holy Spirit means by such words as He speaks through Paul: “...be strengthened in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 2:1). God hears us exclaim, But I am so weak, Lord! but He does not pay any heed to what we mean to indicate by that confession, which is: Come down on to the ground of my weakness and pick me up! He says, You forsake that ground, and come on to the ground of My Son, and you will find strength there. I am so foolish, Lord! The Lord says: You will remain foolish until you get on to the ground of My Son, Who is made unto you wisdom.
That applies all the way along. We take our own ground before the Lord and are surprised that the Lord does not lift us right out of our own ground and put us into a better position, but He never does. We shall stay there for ever, if that is our attitude. The Lord’s word to us is: Forsake your own ground and come on to My ground. I have provided a Heavenly Man Who is full of all that you need; now come on to that ground. It does not matter what you are, or what you are not. There everything is adjusted and made good.
The Witness of the Testimonies to the Truth: (a) Baptism
This is the meaning of the testimonies of baptism and
the laying on of hands, as mentioned in Hebrews six.
Those testimonies go together. Baptism is, on the one
hand, leaving your own ground of nature, dying to your
own ground and being buried. So far as your own natural
ground is concerned, that is finished with: “Ye
died....” You have parted from your own ground of
nature. In your baptism, on the other hand, you were
raised together with Christ, and you have come on to the
ground of Christ, the Heavenly Man. “Having been
buried with Him in baptism, wherein ye were also raised
with Him through faith in the working of God, Who raised
Him from the dead.” It is thus that the truth of
which we have been speaking is set forth in Colossians.
And the Apostle goes on to urge the recognition of it.
“If ye died with Christ from the rudiments of the
world, why, as though living in the world, do ye subject
yourselves to ordinances?...” Ye died! Ye died! You
are now on other ground, the ground of the Heavenly Man.
In resurrection you were raised together with Christ;
seek, therefore, those things which are above.
May we just say here, lest some fall into a peril which we recognize in making such a statement, that amongst the things mentioned it says that you died to being under bondage to the Sabbath. That is quite true as a legal thing, as a part of a legal system imposed upon you; you have died to that, and you are no longer in bondage to that. But, mark you, we do not believe that a risen man, a spiritual man, will violate the principle of the Sabbath. We do not believe that a really spiritual man will do that. There is that portion of our time which is the Lord’s portion, that which must be set aside for the Lord apart from all other things in the matter of time, that which must give the Lord His place and give a clear space for the Lord’s things in our week. It is a settled law of a spiritual character that lies behind the ordinance of the Sabbath. I cannot believe for a moment that a man who is under the government of the Holy Spirit will treat every day alike, and turn the Sabbath day into a day of personal pleasure and gain. The Holy Spirit would check a spiritual man on such a matter, at the same time keeping him free from the legal Sabbath, so that he holds it unto God and not as a part of a legal religious system.
Now we say that in parenthesis to safeguard what has just been expressed against an unwarranted conclusion. Oh, well, I can do as I like because I am not under the Law, someone will say. Oh no! Not at all! We can have the Holy Spirit now in resurrection, and on the ground of the Heavenly Man we shall be kept right by the Lord in these matters.
You see that baptism sets forth, on the one hand, our having forsaken our own ground of nature, through death, and, on the other hand, our having come on to the ground of the Heavenly Man in resurrection.
(b) The Laying on of Hands
But then we come to the laying on of hands. That
immediately follows baptism in the Scripture of Hebrews
six. What is the significance of the laying on of hands?
It witnesses to our coming on to the ground of the
corporate Heavenly Man, the one Body, so that in the
laying on of hands there is the testimony borne between
two or three, or more, by an act of identification, that
we are not isolated units, but that we are a collective
or corporate body, the corporate Heavenly Man. The ground
of the Lord Himself was that of the one Body, that of the
corporate Heavenly Man. There is no doubt that it is in
that life of oneness in the Spirit, as the life of the
Heavenly Man, that we find the greater fulnesses of
Christ. There is always something more in two than in
one. There is always something more of the Lord in
relatedness than in isolation. The Lord indicates this
very clearly when by the writer to the Hebrews He says:
“Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together,
as the custom of some is, but exhorting one another; and
so much the more, as ye see the day drawing nigh”
(Heb. 10:25). Why should it be said “as ye see the
day drawing nigh?” Because it is the day of the
fulness, the day of the consummation. Our coming together
“so much the more” in view of that day makes
possible the Lord’s giving so much the more unto
that final fulness. We need it so much the more as we get
near the end, and near the beginning of “the day.”
The ground of the Heavenly Man, personal and corporate,
is the ground that we have quite definitely to take.
In Christ, the Heavenly Man, everything lives. The ruling principle of the Heavenly Man is eternal life. Everything lives in Him. We have been saying that in Him the Word of God lives. On the ground of the Heavenly Man, the Word becomes alive. Get on to that ground and you will prove that things are really alive. Forsake your own ground and take His, and you will find life. Put it to the test if you like. If you keep your ground you will die, or you will remain in death. You say: But Lord, I am so weak! Well, stay on that ground and see whether you do not die. Lord, I am so foolish! Well, stay there, and see how much life you enjoy. The realm of “what I am” is the realm of death. And even though it be the other kind of “I” that thinks itself to be something, that is, a certain self-satisfaction, self-fulness, it is death. The ground of “what I am,” whatever it may be, is the ground of death. It is not the ground of the Heavenly Man. Get on to the ground of the Heavenly Man and you find life. Forsake your own ground and take His, and it will be life.
If you get upset, offended, and go off and sulk, and nurse your grievance, you will die. Are you expecting the Lord to come out to you there and entreat you: Oh, do not be so upset, do not make so much of it! The Lord will do nothing of the kind. He does not follow us out like that. He says to us: You will have to forsake that ground and come back to My ground! You will die out there! And you know it is not until you get over your huff and come back on to the Lord’s ground that you begin to live again. Heavenly things are practical, not mythical. On any other ground than the Lord’s ground there is death. If we separate ourselves, forsake that fellowship, that association which is our spiritual relationship in the will of God, we shall begin to lose, and become like Thomas. We are outside, losing ground, and our lives will become small, shrivelled, miserable. The Lord will not go out after a Thomas. The Lord never followed Thomas out. When the other disciples came together and Thomas was not with them, because he was offended, the Lord did not seek him out and say, Come along, Thomas! The Lord met them when they were together, and it was not until Thomas came in where they were that he met the Lord, and came into life, and came to see how silly he had been. Then Thomas fell down and said, “My Lord and my God.” That is his confession to having been a fool.
If we separate ourselves and go off for any cause whatever, we shall die. The Lord will not come out to us in life. He will be saying to us all the time: You must forsake that ground and come back again to where I can meet you, to where your life is. That is the ground of the corporate Heavenly Man. The Lord teach us the meaning of that.