The Things of the Spirit
by T. Austin-Sparks

Part Two

"The things of the Spirit" (1 Cor. 2:14)

In our first part, we noted seven things:

Firstly, the fact of the existence of a vast realm of what the Apostle calls "the deep things of God", which he says God has "prepared for them that love Him", and then that they have already been "revealed" by His Spirit.

Secondly, the fact that the "natural man", as the Apostle describes him, is totally incapacitated for receiving or knowing these things.

Thirdly, the fact that, by new birth and the incoming of the Holy Spirit, the faculty for such receiving and knowing is re-born and linked up with the Holy Spirit, so that what was impossible, now becomes possible. The spirit of man - "the lamp of the Lord", as the Scripture calls it - has been re-lit.

Fourthly, that this new birth and union with the Holy Spirit is the basis of all the Holy Spirit's activities in revealing, in teaching, in leading, in transforming, and in constituting everything according to Christ.

Fifthly, that this work, being wholly spiritual, requires that the believer has his or her life in the spirit, as distinct from in the soul - 'soulical' being, as we pointed out, the original meaning of the word translated 'natural'. That is, the believer is to have his life, not, in the first place, in the realm of intellect or reason, nor in the realm of feelings, nor in the realm of will, but in the realm of the spirit. And the Apostle further emphasizes that it must certainly not be in the flesh, in the 'carnal' realm - that is, in the positive self-element of the soul, that element which is always drawing to itself, seeking its own satisfaction, fulfilling its own desires. That is certainly not the way of the Spirit.

Sixthly, that if Christians approach or take up the things of God on the mere basis of their souls - intellect or reason, or feeling, or their own will - that is the way to deception, that is the way to confusion, and to many other troubles, both for themselves and for all whom they influence.

Seventh, and last, that growth in knowledge and spiritual stature is governed by spiritual revelation and apprehension, according to Ephesians 1:17 and 3:17,18: "a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him", and: "that ye... may be strong to apprehend". We were at pains to explain that what is meant by "revelation" now is not something extra to the Scriptures, but the Spirit's meaning in the Scriptures.

The Difference Between Information and Spiritual Knowledge

We are now going to resume at that point, for a little further enlargement and emphasis, focusing upon one point in relation to the things of the Spirit, namely, the difference between information and spiritual knowledge. That is a point upon which very much hangs, as to consequences. There is a very great and real and definite difference between information and spiritual knowledge. It is possible to have a vast amount of perfectly accurate information acquired through reading, through study, through hearing, and through all those ways and means by which information is accumulated, and yet, withal, however great that information may be, it may still have no transforming influence or effect upon the nature and character of the person who possesses it.

To illustrate, consider an astronomer, whose whole life is taken up with the contemplation of the immensities of space, the vast expanses of the universe. Yet it is possible for such a man, with his vast accumulation of information about the universe, after a whole lifetime of such occupation, to be a very petty man in himself, a little man, a man of jealousies, a man of pride, of conceit, and all those things which speak of littleness of character. It is a strange anomaly, but it is true. And that is true of any other of the realms of natural and physical science, and of other departments of knowledge: it is possible to have an immensely informed mind, and yet for the character to be untouched, the nature to be unchanged.

And what is true in secular or natural realms is equally true in the realm of Christianity. We may be possessed of a tremendous knowledge of the Bible; we may be very widely informed on all that the Bible contains and teaches - all its themes and subjects - and upon Christian doctrine and history and practice, and everything else that that word 'Christianity' encompasses: I say, we may have the most extensive information, and yet the whole thing may fail to effect any real transformation in our characters. It is possible to be exceedingly well-informed on all matters of Christian evangelical truth, and still be very small as to spiritual stature.

That is a tragedy. It is terrible to find such contradictions. It is a terrible thing to find it in the natural realm, such as that of the hypothetical astronomer to whom I have referred - to find such a little man in such a big world. But it is far more tragic to find a Christian - well-informed, but still spiritually small in stature. You see, the realm of Christian knowledge may be one thing, and the realm of spiritual knowledge quite another. They may be worlds apart, entirely different in their nature and in their effects. This indicates the difference to which we are referring between information, though it be large and accurate, in Christian things, and real spiritual knowledge, the knowledge to which Paul refers when he says: "I cease not... making mention of you in my prayers, that God... may give unto you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him".

Spiritual Knowledge Firstly Life

Spiritual knowledge is therefore something which touches the life, and that is the difference. Spiritual knowledge is as it were something that happens. The obtaining of any one little bit of genuine, pure, spiritual knowledge is always an event, a happening. It is almost like a fiat. To put it in this way - once our eyes have really been opened we can never again be the same as we were before. That is the difference. When once we have come genuinely to the place to which that man born blind came, when the Lord gave him his sight, and are able to say, "One thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see" (John 9:25), we can never be the same again. Once we are able to exclaim, against the background of the teaching of the Spirit of God, 'I see! I see!', we are free, we are liberated; we are in life, we are in assurance. The end of all argument is just there - 'I see!' Spiritual knowledge is an effective thing - it does something; whereas all the other leaves us in ourselves just where we are naturally.

Spiritual knowledge, then, is firstly life; and, dear friends, we must examine our whole accumulation in the light of its effect in the matter of life. Just how much does all that we know - or think we know - work out in us in terms of life? Spiritual knowledge is firstly life. "This is life eternal", said the Lord Jesus, "this is life eternal, that they should know..." (John 17:3) - that they should know. There is a knowledge which is life, and all true spiritual knowledge is life.

You do not need that I attempt to define life. Life itself is a thing altogether outside of human possibility to define or explain; and yet we all know life when we meet it, or when we experience it. What is life? No one can tell you, but you know it when you meet it. And spiritual knowledge is of that order: something which, while it may be inexplicable, is potent - is a force, an energy, a power - the power of life. And for life to be triumphant over death - spiritual death, working all around and upon us - for life to conquer all its enemies of whatever kind, we need spiritual knowledge, not information. We cannot just use information in this matter; that does not get us anywhere. We must have inward knowledge by the Spirit. The first mark, then, of spiritual knowledge is life.

Spiritual Knowledge the Way of Growth and Fulness

And then the way, and the only way, of spiritual growth and fulness is spiritual knowledge. This surely is what lies behind the words of the Apostle, whether you take this wonderful chapter, this profound chapter, this immensely practical chapter - the second of the first letter to the Corinthians - or whether you go over to Ephesians, to the two wonderful prayers of Paul in the first and the third chapters. This is all set against spiritual limitation and immaturity. It was obvious in the case of the Corinthians - the Apostle says so in actual words. He could not speak to them as to spiritual, but only as unto babes (3:1): there was spiritual arrest, smallness, with all its terrible marks, as we read in that letter. In the case of the Ephesians, there seems to have been nothing of that which was at Corinth, positively set against spiritual growth, but just the simple fact that even those who are going on with the Lord have yet a long way to go; those who have some knowledge of the Lord have yet far more to know of the Lord. For the Lord's people, wherever they may be, there are immensities beyond, and the Apostle says that the way, and the only way, of spiritual growth unto spiritual fulness is spiritual knowledge, knowledge of the kind of which we have spoken.

How Spiritual Knowledge Comes

(a) By the Vital Hearing of Faith

Now, how does spiritual knowledge come? Shall we put it in the first place in this way: it comes by vital hearing of the Word of Truth - vital hearing or receiving. The Thessalonians, we have often pointed out, were a model people, who from spiritual beginnings went on and became 'an example to all them that believe', and the Apostle lets us into the secret of their spiritual advance and growth. He tells us that when they heard the word, they received it 'not as the word of man, but, as it is indeed, the Word of God' (1 Thess. 2:13). They received it in faith, and faith is the vital factor in hearing. The Apostle has elsewhere said: "The word of hearing did not profit them, because it was not united by faith with them that heard" (Heb. 4:2, R.V. mg). It profited them nothing, not being mingled with faith. Faith is the vital factor in hearing.

Perhaps that is not very explicit. You can hear critically, you can hear with prejudice and bias, you can hear cynically, you can hear indifferently, you can hear in many other ways, and it can all come to nought and mean nothing to you; but if you hear in faith, it gives the Holy Spirit an opportunity to bear witness to the truth, and that witness of the Spirit to the truth causes us at once to react in a right way. That is the reaction of faith. It is not the reaction of unbelief, of doubt, of questioning. It is the attitude of faith, and it is a vital thing. You look at your whole New Testament in the light of that, and you will see that it is a most discriminating thing. Faith simply means this: that, if there is something of God here, I am going to have that; if there is something from the Lord for me in this, no prejudice, no bias, no suspicion, no criticism, nothing else, is going to bar the way to my having that. That is a spirit of faith.

The whole of the Jewish world in the days of our Lord's flesh were debarred from the very knowledge of who He was, because they did not listen in that attitude which said 'With all the difficulties that this involves, if this man Jesus, has something from God, then we will have it.' You see, it is faith, and it is a vital thing, and the Holy Spirit looks for that: and then, on the basis of that, He reveals, brings spiritual knowledge, and something happens. It happens!

This, of course, is the difference between what is merely objective and what is within: not imitation, but inward revelation. We cannot stay with that, although it would be, I think, to great advantage to consider the meaning of that difference. If you take even the Bible and the New Testament, and from it constitute some kind of model and pattern, and then try to create that or work it out, it does not get anywhere, other than setting up a lot of things which you are sorry afterward that you ever did set up, But when the thing comes by revelation of the Holy Spirit, then it comes about organically. There is all the difference. But we must leave that. Spiritual knowledge comes by vital hearing.

(b) By the Obedience of Faith

And it comes by the obedience of faith. Dear friends, why is it that we can receive so much information year after year, almost to the point of saturation, where we can hardly bear any more, and yet there is so little vital consequence? Why? Such a situation can be. It is because we do not do something about it. I do not think we are alive to one fact: that there are spirits that are ever on the alert to dissipate all that we have heard, and before we reach home the thing is more or less forgotten. Now it is necessary, when the Word of the Lord comes to us, for us immediately to do something about it - that is, make a committal, either before we leave the place, or as our first business when we get home; to say: 'Now, that thing has got to become true - I commit myself to that'. Have a transaction in your spirit with the Holy Spirit about the Lord's Word, and you will see things happening. I said, at the beginning, that the difference between information and spiritual knowledge is great in the matter of consequences: and really we are concerned with consequences, are we not?

(c) By a Deepening Experience of Christ's Death and Resurrection

Spiritual knowledge comes, in the third place, by the deepening work of the death and resurrection of Christ in us. Do not forget that - it is always so - that the meaning of Christ's death has to come ever more deeply into us, and the meaning of His resurrection correspondingly; and as that is being wrought into us - the meaning of the Cross, our death with Christ and our risen life with Christ - as that is being wrought into us, so we grow in knowledge. It comes that way. You will find that it is through deeper experiences of death with Christ that you come to a fuller knowledge, a real knowledge, a living knowledge.

(d) By Fellowship with Christ in His Sufferings

And finally, for the present, spiritual knowledge comes along the line of our experiencing the sufferings of Christ, our accepting fellowship with the sufferings of Christ. If Paul was a man of large spiritual knowledge, as certainly he was, it was because he could say: "I... fill up on my part that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake, which is the church" (Col. 1:24). Or again: "That I may know him... and the fellowship of his sufferings" (Phil. 3:10). It is our reactions to, or our attitude toward, Christ's sufferings, into the fellowship of which we are brought, that decides whether we are going to have more light or spiritual knowledge, or not.

You see, a reaction to suffering, if it is bitterness, rebellion, murmuring, can close the door. That is what it did with Israel. They murmured at their trials and their adversities - and it closed the door. If, on the other hand, by the grace of God, our attitude toward the sufferings of Christ which are come upon us is a right one: one of faith and not of unbelief, one of submission and not of rebellion - I hesitate to say, one of joy instead of sorrow: if we can come, by the grace of God, to a right attitude toward suffering, it opens the door for the Lord to reveal a great deal to us, through that very suffering. Sufferings can be wonderfully profitable in our getting to know the Lord: but everything depends upon our attitude toward the sufferings.

The Lord teach us more of "the things of the Spirit".

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