by T. Austin-Sparks
Lord, we have to appeal to Thee again for Thy compassion. What a pathetic thing it would be if we tried to do heavenly work with earthly means; Divine work in our own human strength. And that is just where we are now, we need Thy sympathy, Thy compassion, or our speaking and our hearing will really profit us nothing, will have no eternal value. Oh Lord, help us with Thy Divine help at this time, that we may speak under the anointing and with the unction of the Holy Spirit and also in the same way, hear. Anoint our ears, anoint our ears, and give us a hearing that is not just our natural hearing, that we may this morning by the power of the Holy Spirit hear the voice of the Son of God and live. Grant us this mercy for Thine own name and glory's sake, amen.
We have, as you know, been occupied in these morning hours with the great transition from an old and discredited humanity as in Adam, to a new accredited Humanity in Christ. Our first attention was with the exposure and the devastation of that discredited humanity as we saw it representatively gathered around the Cross of the Lord Jesus in Caiaphas, Pilate, Judas Iscariot, and Peter, and the two on the Emmaus Road. What a devastation the Cross was, or an exposure of the old humanity at its highest, at its best, and there could have been nothing worse when we were finished. Then we went on to the battleground of the two humanities, as we have it in the two letters to the Corinthians: on the one side, "the natural man" which is the old humanity; on the other side, "the spiritual man," the new.
We stood and did little more than look into those letters in a general way, pinpointing a few things in the letters where the carry-over of the old to the new is shown, the conflict between the natural man and the spiritual man, or that which is natural and that which is spiritual - touching so many things, even the most sacred things - the things of the Spirit touched by the hand of the natural man and taken up and used for the natural man's gratification and glory. That's what is in the first letter to the Corinthians.
Very much more detail is there, with which we are not going to deal at all; we have only just touched it in order to indicate something. I trust that you have seen the indication of how dangerous it is and with what tragic consequences the touch of the natural hand on spiritual things can be, bringing out that most terrible warning, warning to Christians as in Corinth - Christians, "born again" people, called at the beginning "saints," separated unto God - that terrible warning where Israel's tragedy in the wilderness is taken as the ground of the warning. They perished in the wilderness, and the apostle uses that to warn the Corinthians that that can be, that the battle can be lost in the wilderness if there is any compromise between the natural and the spiritual. If you are still, while being geographically so to speak, out of Egypt but Egypt not being spiritually out of you, well, that's just where they were.
Well now, that's all the negative side, and we came yesterday morning to point out that the answer that the apostle gave for that whole compass of things in the first letter, the ten questions raised by the Corinthians in a letter to him, covering so much ground, the answer that he gave was not in a code of rules and laws, like the Mosaic, but in principles. And all the principles gathered into one principle which amounted and amounts to this question: how much of Christ is in this?
How much of Christ is in your divisions? "Is Christ divided?" Pinpointing the whole question of division, you see: "Is Christ divided? Were you baptised into Paul?" Christ - the principle of solving that problem of divisions and all the other matters which I am not going to even refer to now. The answer to these problems, the solving of these difficulties, is focusing on Christ: "Now then, how much does this minister Christ? How much does this represent of Christ?" Everything is tested from that standpoint, and judged and settled. Your behaviour; oh, you may have what you think to be your "liberties" in Christ. If you're no longer under the law, you claim to be at liberty in Christ and you're enjoying your liberty and so your "liberty" leads you to do certain things. You say, "I'm not under law, I'm under grace! I can have my kind of beer." Alright, if your conscience says you can, but what about that dear brother, whose curse and damnation was drink, who'd been saved? Would you invite him to your home and offer him drink? What about that? You may undo everything! And I've known that to be done. I knew that to be done in the case of a dear man whose whole world... with no furniture, the children had no clothes, they slept (the whole family) in one room on a bed of straw and he brought home no money for their food because of his drinking. Everything like that, because of drink.
He was gloriously saved in an open air meeting that we had. And in a little while the children were fed and clothed, and he had on a nice suit and came to the meetings, he came rejoicing. And a brother invited him to his home, in his "liberty" in Christ, offered this man beer. And the whole thing eroded. The man was back again, where he was before. What about that? It's Christ, you see, part of this ministering of Christ. Your liberty is governed by what our brother is calling the law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus. Well, that's negative again, I didn't intend to say that. But these things are answered by principle, and the principle is: Christ. Christ. Do they build up?
Now having come past that, with all that there is left in the letters, we come onto the positive side. I think you'll be happier now! Onto the positive side, and I want you just to look at one or two fragments from the first letter to the Corinthians. It's only a fragment in chapter 9 at verse 1: "Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?" It's that clause that I want you to take hold of and hold for a minute or two: "Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?"
We move over to the second letter. The second letter, chapter 4, at verse 4: "In whom the god of this age hath blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should not dawn upon them." Verse 6: "Seeing it is God, that said, Light shall shine out of darkness, who shined into our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ."
"Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?" - "God has shined into our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ."
I would like to add a fragment from another letter; in the Galatian letter, chapter 1. It's a rather large section, I just lift out a bit from verse 15. Galatians 1:15, "But when it was the good pleasure of God to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the nations".
"It was the good pleasure of God to reveal His Son in me." - "Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?"
Of course, the context, the immediate context of those words, is the apostle authenticating his apostleship and answering those who said he was not an authentic apostle because he was not one of the twelve. And that's connected with that charge, but it has a very much larger and more comprehensive context than that, as you see from these other verses and many more like them. The answer to: "Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?" "It pleased God to reveal His Son in me. God, the same God Who said in the beginning, Let light be, has shined into our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ"; which of course means in the Person of Jesus Christ.
Now then, what we are going to be occupied with is this all-governing, all-dominating vision of Jesus Christ. And I hesitate to say it on this, almost the last day of this convocation, this brings in four of the greatest matters with which we can have to do.
The Seeing of Jesus
How comprehensive and revolutionary it is! These four things (and I'm not imagining that I'm going to deal with all these this morning!) these four things, as you see, are major things.
Firstly: The place and destiny of man in the economy of God. That's no small thing in itself. That comes in with a seeing of Jesus our Lord.
I'm glad the apostle added that last clause, "our Lord". I'm tempted to stay there and point out that in the New Testament, the name "Jesus" by itself is only used when it relates to His pre-resurrection life. If the name "Jesus" is used alone, you will find that the context is of His pre-resurrection life. After that, the apostles never called Him "Jesus" alone; they always linked on "our Lord": our Lord Jesus, the Lord Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ our Lord. And if you are in the habit of saying, "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus" you're on wrong ground; you're on pre-resurrection ground. Now, it's a habit for some people. Well, that by the way, but note: Jesus, yes, but "our Lord"! And His Lordship came into view after His resurrection and ascension. Right there on the Damascus Road, "Lord, who art Thou?" - "I Am Jesus." He knew it was Jesus, "Lord"! Not, "Jesus, what will You have me to do?" - "Lord, what will You have me to do?" The very beginning of a revolution, of a transition from knowing after the flesh, to knowing after the Spirit. Well, that again is parenthetical. Let us get on.
The first of these four magnitudes which come in with a true spiritual seeing of Jesus is: The place and destiny of man in the economy of God.
The second: The nature and dynamic of ministry in this dispensation. Is that a little thing? That's immense isn't it?
Thirdly: The nature and purpose, the nature and purpose of the church now and in the after-ages. Is that a little thing? That's immense, isn't it?
And fourthly: The immense significance in that three-fold context of Christ crucified, risen, and exalted.
These are four very big things, aren't they? And they are all comprehended by "Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?" - "It pleased God to reveal His Son in me, and when He did, this is what I began to see". That's what the apostle is saying: "This is what I began to see, these things!" He doesn't tabulate them like that, I have just taken them as the content and substance, you see, of the New Testament, and this is what it amounts to.
Well, we begin to make an onslaught on this to begin with, and I can do it without chalk! I couldn't, couldn't comprehend that on a blackboard!
Firstly then, the seeing of Jesus our Lord, or God revealing His Son in us, illuminating, unveiling the place and destiny of man in the Divine Economy. Mark you, I am keeping close to the New Testament. If I'm not reading it and quoting the Scriptures in their form, I am keeping very close to that, [not] moving out and you who know, will see that, I think. But I must say here that though it might get me onto controversial ground (it doesn't matter very much, if it matters at all) I am a firm believer that the apostle Paul had a very real hand in the writing of the letter to the Hebrews. Whether he actually wrote it or dictated it, well, you can quarrel about that as long as men have been quarrelling about it, but I am certain that Paul had a very definite and direct influence upon, to say the least, the writing of that letter to the Hebrews. And you will recognise in what I am going to say that it's there; it comes out of that.
Now Paul, even in this first letter to the Corinthians, takes up man from his inception, from the beginning. Chapter 15, "The first man, Adam." It starts with man, you see, it goes right back to the beginning of humanity, mankind, and he follows right through mankind on the battle of the humanities until he reaches the point of man glorified.
Chapter 15; how marvellous that chapter is! You know, I have stood back from that chapter as I've read it so many times, perplexed; how did ever a mortal man know that? It could only be because he had seen Jesus Christ. It's the only answer, that. "There are bodies terrestrial, and there are bodies celestial. There are bodies earthy and there are bodies heavenly; and as we have borne the image of the earthy, so we shall bear the image of the heavenly." And he describes something of the nature of this heavenly Body, this heavenly physical Body, this glorified Manhood. An amazing unveiling of the destiny of man in the economy of God!
So he takes up manhood, first in Adam, and then by the Cross smites that race in Adam, discredits it, rejects it, puts it aside, and starts with a new Man: "If any man is in Christ, there is a new creation, the old has past; all is new". The history of man in this letter, right from his inception in the heart of God, his inception in the creation of the first Adam, his rejection in this letter, and then in the new Man in Christ.
Oh, what a Man this is in glory! In this we groan, in this we groan, but what's the groaning about? Oh, for that for which I was created, which God meant for me! In this we groan, waiting, "waiting to whit, our redemption," the redemption of our body, the putting on of our new Man. "When this corruptible shall put on incorruption"; don't you groan for that? Incorruption, this mortal dying shall put on immortality, eternally living.
How did Paul get all that? "Have not I seen Jesus our Lord? It pleased God to reveal His Son in me. God! God has repeated His Divine fiat in me. He said, over the world in chaos and darkness: 'Let light be' and there was light, a fiat of God, and He's done that," says Paul, "in me! He has repeated and said, 'In this dark, darkened humanity, Let light be' and when He said that, I - in that Light - saw His Son. When I saw His Son, I saw all that God intended and intends for mankind, his destiny in the economy of God!"
All that is there in chapter 15, as you know, and he tells, he tells out of this seeing of the world to come, the world to come. The literal, as you know, is the inhabited earth to come whereof we are speaking. This is Hebrews isn't it? The world to come is going to be entirely subjected to this Man and this Humanity. "For Thou madest him," this is Hebrews 2, "Thou madest him in order to have dominion over the works of Thy hands. Thou hast put all things in Thine economy and intention under his feet," but we don't see that true of the old humanity; discredited, it's lost, it's lost that kingdom, but we see Jesus. We see Jesus: the Representative Man of this new Humanity, the inclusive Man, the Last Adam of this Humanity, we see Him crowned with glory and honour. That's the destiny of man in the intention of God. That's what Paul is saying here by the Spirit.
But he, of course, shows us in these letters and by his influence, at least, we'll allow, in the letter to the Hebrews, he shows us God's intense interest in man and God's infinite patience and perseverance and pains with man through history. God never, never finally wiped out any mankind until it had gone beyond the point of no return and said, "We will, we will," finally: "We will not" - that was Noah's day. A preacher of righteousness, and the effect was in them: "We will not." So God said, "The end of all flesh is before Me." God never did anything like that until the cup of iniquity was full to overflowing, and there was no hope because of man's settled determination not to have the revealed will of God.
But apart from that, look at the infinite pains and patience and perseverance of God. I hope I don't offend anybody when I say this, I don't mean to offend anybody, but I think God chose the Jewish race because it needed more patience than any other race on earth; because it was going to extend Him to the fulness of His patience; and it did. God is marvellous in His Sovereignty, sometimes I think He chose me for no other purpose than to show just what mercy He has. Well, that would take us into another part of first Corinthians, wouldn't it: "God hath chosen the weak, the foolish... the ignoble, things which are not." Alright, we see why. What patience! What long-suffering! What pains, what perseverance is shown by the apostle on the part of God with mankind because God has set such store by this kind of creation. And if God should never have a humanity like that at the end, then God is defeated utterly and He is not God, the God of the Bible. He must - He must, and He will.
He shows, moreover here, the apostle shows by the Spirit, that all God's dealings with His own children (and the terms are family terms: His own children, His own family) he shows that all God's dealings with His own children and family had this end in view: the transition unto the glory, "bringing many sons to glory". Getting many sons to glory, but linked with that: "My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked or reproved of Him. Whom the Lord loveth, He chasteneth. He scourgeth every son that He places by Him." That wonderful chapter in Hebrews about God's dealings with His children, His family, showing that "no, no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous" - for the present, but grievous. You and I know something about that, but afterward! Afterward; there is an afterward, and it is that afterward that God is working toward in His dealings with us, difficult as they may be. We will come on to that again, and I don't know whether this morning, but here is the principle, you see.
Oh, God is not against us when we are having a hard time; the devil says He is. Have a bad time, and there's a little demon at your ear at once, accusing God, maligning God, trying to get a twist in your mind that questions God; to get you right back into the garden again, "Hath God said?" to get you onto the old Adam ground again. No. I can say this more easily than I can go through it, and so can you hear it more easily than you can go through it, but it's that afterward. What afterward? What afterward? Oh, the end of 1 Corinthians 15, all this, yet: "Thanks be unto God, Who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." His dealings with us are governed by this great destiny for which He has made us and called us.
Now, all this, the apostle shows, all this is represented by the perfected Man in glory. And all this is not only represented by Him there as the ultimate of God for mankind, but it is secured in that Man in the glory. It's security! And in this connection the apostle uses a figure from the Greek about the Holy Spirit having been given to us as an "earnest" of our final redemption.
Do you know what the figure is? Well, what is it? You see some goods, some produce at a depot (I supposed you call it dee-pot!) on a railroad station; it's destined for something, for somewhere, and there is stamped on it: "Sample". Sample - destined for So-and-so. It's an earnest, it's a first fruits, it's a prophecy that there's more to follow and a great deal more to follow. This is only the beginning, this is only a piece of what's coming. And the apostle uses that figure of speech. The Greeks understood quite well what he was talking about. He says: "He has given us the Spirit as the 'sample,' the earnest, the prophecy, of what is to be."
It's secured, it's all there, secured in Him to come to us; and He has sent (is it irreverent to speak of the Holy Spirit like this?) He sent the Sample. If you and I really have the Spirit, what have we got? Oh, the earnest of our inheritance! What is it? We have this witness, this assurance, and the working of this power holding us unto something, unto a destiny. Oh, thank God for that holding! To quote Peter: "Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto a salvation to be revealed in the last time."
Kept by the Power
Where would any of us be today if there had not been that holding of us? When we really did let go, when we really did say: "We can go no further, this is the end", and when we would, we would have gone, if it had been left to us. Well, the miracle is: we are here, kept by the earnest of the Spirit unto that, because it is secured unto us in Christ. So the apostle says: "Cast not away, cast not away your confidence which hath great recompense of reward. You have need of patience, that after you have done the will of God...". There's so much, isn't there, in all this. He shows that it is all represented in the Man perfected in heaven; furthermore, it is secured in Him up there. I am glad it's up there, out of this world, beyond any power to undo the security.
Now, the apostle shows then that the advent of Jesus Christ into this world was this: first of all, it was the summation of all God's former forms and ways of His Self-revelation. "God Who at sundry times and in divers places spake unto the prophets," spake by the prophets; many-sided, fragmentary, a bit here through this one, a bit there, another bit through that one, all speaking bits and pieces, fragments. He's summed them all up now, gathered them all together, made One Sum of them and is the summation of all when His Son comes into this world Incarnate. That's what's here! See Jesus and you see the summation of all God's previous methods and ways and times of Self-revelation. It's the full and the final revelation of God in Jesus Christ.
That's what this young man, Saul of Tarsus, with his background of the Old Testament in his mind (so that he could quote the whole thing without the book) with that, he saw Jesus Christ, the Risen Glorified Lord; and his Bible became a new book. And he saw that in that One everything was gathered up, everything was summed up. "Have not I seen Jesus our Lord; and when I saw Him, I saw." There are no more fragments, the thing is complete now; no more bits and pieces, it is one great glorious whole. No more "then", "now" and "afterward", it is all eternally present in Him now: the summation of all God's previous ways of Self-revelation.
Then he saw (and this meant so much, you know, to a Jew and an educated Jew, so thoroughly educated as was Saul of Tarsus) he saw that Jesus our Lord was not only the summation of all God's previous ways of revealing Himself, it was the consummation of a whole economy; the whole of the Mosaic economy. That is why I say I'm sure that Paul had a hand in this Hebrew letter, because the whole of the Mosaic economy is gone over in that letter, isn't it? And what is the purpose of the letter? The transition from that, to Christ. He's the High Priest. He's the Sacrifice. He's the Altar. He's the Temple. He is everything that that economy represented in type and figure, but He is the consummation of that, the end of that, and the introduction of an entirely new economy. It's a heavenly one, in the heavens: "not made with hands". Oh, the terms are so definite: "Not of this creation," he says.
"Not of this Creation"
It's the consummation of a whole economy, and Christendom hasn't grasped this yet. It is still clinging onto the old economy in its vestments, its robings, its ritual, its external things. It's failed to see that this is all, all finished with, and now our robing is replaced, but of a different order, and our robing is the robing of His Righteousness, and no other can appear before God. All our adornments are spiritual. Spiritual!
Oh, how I'm battling all the way along to keep things [utter] because of the detail. As you know, Peter has seen this. We turn over to Peter now, Peter speaks to the dear women, and again the unfortunate translation, but understandable because it's difficult to grasp, if you put it literally. If it were translated literally, Peter to the dear sisters (be patient!) "whose adorning is not the plaiting of the hair and the wearing of jewelry," and so on. What is the word "adorning"? "Adorning", the original is "whose world" - "whose cosmos" is the word - whose cosmos, whose world, whose realm and system of things is not this getting yourself up, making an impression.
Oh, I'm not holding any brief with carelessness and slovenliness and that sort of thing, but what "world" do you live in? How you appear to others? What impression you make by these outward things? No, Peter says, of the saintly women whose world is not that, "That's not their world, that's not their world; that's not their cosmos, their system, but the ornament, the ornament of a meek and a quiet spirit." That's a parenthesis again, it needs your forbearance. But you see one system of externals, of externals is gone, and it is all now a system of the Spirit in the heart, a heavenly thing for a heavenly people.
Now some people have seen the principle, and they have tried to put it into, into effect by putting on a certain kind of raiment and becoming a sect who wear that kind of raiment. They have seen the principle all right, but you can't fulfil a principle in that way; it's the Spirit that comes out and expresses itself. The end of an economy! Its consummation, and then (we're keeping close to Paul) the transition to an entirely new regime, the regime of the Man perfected and installed in glory as God's model for this new Humanity. "According to Christ" is the phrase so often used. It's according to Christ, according to Christ or not according to Christ. That's the test, the challenge: according to the perfected Man and Humanity installed in heaven, God's pattern, to which He is working.
He is working and here we come back again to the place of the Holy Spirit in the letters to the Corinthians, especially the first letter.
The Place of the Holy Spirit
Look through it and what is the full, ultimate, supreme function of the Holy Spirit? "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, ...though I give all my goods to the poor, though I give my body to be burned, and have not love, I have nothing." The supreme work of the Holy Spirit is the character of Jesus Christ. Not love as a thing, you can put that on, you know, you can put that on, it can be a pretension, a way of behaving and speaking. People can come and put their hand on your shoulder, beloved, and be treacherous behind your back by pointing out your faults to someone else. "Unfeigned love" the apostle says, "Unfeigned love of the brethren". It's the Spirit of Jesus Christ.
Are you not surprised when he has finished his letters, he says this benediction which has become so commonplace and lost so much of its contextual significance as applying and relating to the whole Corinthian situation, "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ...". What is the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ? Look elsewhere, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ is what? "Who, though He were rich, yet for our sakes became poor, that we through His poverty might become rich." That's the grace of the Lord Jesus: self-emptying; he will say that to the Corinthians.
"The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ" is Jesus Christ, isn't it? All the time. "The love of God," how do you know it? In Jesus Christ only, never in any other way - the love of God. "The fellowship of the Holy Spirit": the communion, the unity - the removal of those divisions and that divisive spirit "I am of Paul, Apollos, Peter," and so on - the communion and fellowship of the Holy Spirit.
Shall I go on? I don't think I can, I've got to start on the next thing and, if I don't go over, I think I've got seventeen minutes. No, not that, I've brought my clock here this morning to keep a hand on me!
I have to start on that next great thing: how seeing Jesus, is the source, the character, of all ministry in this dispensation. I don't want to start it, I think it would be better... don't you spoil it will you, don't you start to chatter immediately on everything under the sun and dissipate. Forgive me for saying that, but let us hold this quietly before the Lord because it challenges us.
How far are we here able to say with the effect of it, the revolution, the transformation, the transition: "Have not I seen Jesus our Lord? It pleased God to reveal His Son in me and when that happened, my word, what a lot went! It just went and what a lot came. How different! How different!"
I have called this section: The All-governing and Dominating Vision - the seeing of Jesus our Lord. Go and ask Him to do that with you.
And let me just say this, it is not something that is going to be all done at once. Oh, no, some of us after many years are seeing more today of the significance and meaning of Jesus our Lord than we have ever seen all through our lives. It's got to be like that, thank God, it's got to be like that! We'll always have a margin, a plus, an extra; always, right to the end. I wish I could start now as a young man with what I've got! I could live my life right through again, for many years, with what I've got now. That's my trouble.
Dr Tozer once said, you know, that all ministry should have such an overflow that no man ever finishes his sermon. You know what he meant. When you've come to the end of your time, you've got far more than your time will allow you to go on, and so we could. It ought to be like that over the Lord Jesus! Oh, how much more I see than I have ever been able to say or could say today, I see this. He is so vast, so full, immense.
We are here, dear friends, not to talk about the greatness of Christ as a subject, but to be the expression of it! The expression of it, it may defeat us, we may go to the grave (if He doesn't come) feeling, "Oh, we haven't begun yet," but it should be like that. He is so great, so wonderful.
May the fiat take place, if it hasn't. But if it has, and our eyes, the eyes of our hearts, have been enlightened, we've begun to see something of Him, remember: there should be no stalemate over this, no arrested progress as at Corinth, no undue babyhood. It's all right to be a baby when you're a baby; but it's a horrible thing to be a baby when you have the years of maturity.
That's how it was at Corinth, their growth was stunted, was arrested, because of what? They had really failed to see the Lord Jesus. They'd heard the teaching; they knew what the apostle was talking about, but he has to come back to this: "The eyes of our heart being enlightened." He has to come back with this second letter to them: "The veil taken away, and we all with unveiled, unveiled face see another face: the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, and are changed into the same image from glory to glory."
Shall we pray? So, Lord, we can only say that with the presentation of the truth, Thou would go beyond, take us beyond; and grant that every life here may stand in the good of the unveiled face of Jesus Christ, the glory therein, may stand in the good of having seen Jesus our Lord. Oh make that true of every one of us, very true, wonderfully true, and growingly true, until we finally see His face. We ask it in His name, amen.