by T. Austin-Sparks
"Now I Paul myself beseech you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ, who in presence am base among you, but being absent am bold toward you" 2 Cor. 10:1.
"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law." Gal. 5:22-23.
"With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love" Eph. 4:2.
"Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls ... Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth ... Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass." Matt. 11:29, 5:5, 21:5.
That which we have been considering, and with which we are to be occupied for a little while longer is this House of God, which is perfectly represented by the Lord Jesus while here on the earth. The house of God is governed by certain laws, and if we are coming into that relationship with Christ which the Word speaks of, resulting in our being builded together for a habitation of God through the Spirit, and being a temple of God, living stones built up a spiritual house, then we also have got to be governed by the same laws as governed the life of the Lord Jesus, the same principles have got to hold good in our case if God is going to find in us His dwelling place. These laws are the opposite of those features of ruin, of which we have already spoken. If pride was the root of the ruin, then humility will be basic to recovery and to the house of God, and if pride is seen in independence, then humility will be seen in dependence.
Let us stay with that for a moment. We have seen that in the case of the Lord Jesus He chose of His own free will to live here on this earth a life of dependence upon the Father, making it perfectly clear that the Son can do nothing out from Himself, but He does whatsoever He sees the Father doing. He does not speak or work out from Himself, but His life is a life of voluntary dependence upon the Father all the way through. That was a mark of His true humility, and that made it possible for the Father to dwell in Him in this particular sense, that He was setting forth for man what a dwelling place of God really is. It is that in which there is no pride expressing itself in independence, but perfect humility on the basis of dependence.
It seems to be clear enough in the case of the Lord Jesus to make it unnecessary for us to dwell upon Him in that connection, but if we advance to see the truth, the revelation of the House of God, the church, brought in especially through the apostle Paul, we are able to see how closely and strictly God kept to this principle. I wonder if it has ever struck you what a difference there was between the apostle Paul and the apostle John in relation to their particular and peculiar ministries. Paul as a man is very much in view. Of course, there is a sense in which it is quite wrong for a man to be in view, for the man to be obtruding himself upon the consciousness of others, but in the case of Paul the wrong element is strangely absent. The man is kept very much in view, and yet you never feel anything in the nature of assertiveness, the bringing of himself as himself to bear upon you; you never feel irritated by his presence, and yet he is very much in view. He speaks about himself. No apostle uses the personal pronoun more than Paul, or as much, and he seems to keep himself in view. Go through his life and see how much autobiography there is. Not only so, but the Holy Spirit seems to keep Paul in view.
That is because of two things, as I understand it. One is the church, as God’s object, is brought into view particularly through Paul, and the other is the need of the cross to be seen working, over against the man, to show the nature and elements of the church. The church as God’s object is brought into view particularly through Paul. Now it is necessary for the Lord to get an object lesson of what the church is to really administer in a life where the elements and the nature of the church are. It is not enough for a man to develop a teaching about something; it is not enough for Paul to be given a revelation of the church and then to talk about his revelation. Paul must be taken hold of in relation to his revelation, and made an object lesson of that revelation and he must, therefore, be made an object lesson concerning the church. The Holy Spirit brings the man, who is the message, right up in front of you and keeps him there, and then begins to deal with that man to show you what the church is and what the church is in that man. So that what you find in Paul is the outworking of the principles of the church.
Take the point of humility. Look at Paul according to nature, look at Saul of Tarsus. You have anything but a man marked by humility, you have a man vindicating himself, assertive, aggressive, domineering, forceful, coming out into the light, displaying himself before the world. All that is in Paul by nature, and the Holy Spirit keeps him in view and allows him, perhaps causes him, to keep himself in a certain sense in view. Then what do you see? It is as though the Lord were taking up the cross and hammering Paul, hammering at all that pride, breaking it and bringing out in this man’s life a beautiful humility. Saul of Tarsus is not dependent, he is not suppliant. He is a man of independence, very great independence of judgement, of purpose, of manner, of spirit, of mind, of will, of way. All that is in Paul by nature. From time to time you get a little touch of it even when he is Paul the apostle, but you notice one thing. Here is a man who naturally is so independent, so proudly independent, who has been smitten, and smitten, and smitten by the Lord, and he is steadily moving to a place of utter dependence, until you meet Paul in the place where he confesses his utter dependence upon the Lord for his own physical life, for all that he knows. How the wisest men have erred in putting it down to the marvellous intellect of Paul! Paul would say, “I received it not of men.” This did not come through the flesh. This is not the result of learning, but received by revelation of Jesus Christ. “...It pleased God... to reveal his Son in me...” Paul will attribute everything to the Lord, and will say that he is utterly dependent upon the Lord for all strength, and all energy, and all life, and all knowledge, all wisdom, all understanding, everything. That keeps a man very humble. The Lord keeps that man at short accounts with Himself. The man does not know what he is going to do, he does not know in himself, he has to get direction from the Lord for each step. He keeps himself so free unto the Lord, that the Lord is able to change the course of things at a moment. He is dependent upon the Lord for his guidance every day. If you met him any day and asked him where he is going he would say, I do not know, I am waiting for the Lord. The Lord can indwell and can establish a man like that.
In the man through whom the first full revelation of the church came there had to be wrought the principle of the church. The church is a thing for the dispensation, and the Lord must point to that man and say, This is the church, this is what God’s dwelling place is, something without any pride in it, and the absence of pride is marked by an utter dependence upon the Lord. What is one of the great features of dependence upon the Lord? It is prayerfulness. A prayerless life is a life which has not recognised its dependence upon the Lord. A life of prayer is a life which has come to see that it cannot go on far without the Lord. That is why I believe the Lord has ordained prayer as His way of working and meeting the need. He has said, in effect, You have to live by Me. If you can go on without Me all right, go on; but for My purpose you have to live by Me. Prayer is our way of showing that we are dependent upon the Lord, and it is the way by which, therefore, the Lord comes in and manifests Himself.
If you look again at Paul’s revelation of the church, the Body of Christ, you will see how he lays down the principle of dependence, interdependence, mutual dependence, and how he strikes strong blows against anything in the nature of independence, separateness. The Body is one, and no member in the Body can say to another, I have no need of you. Every member must say, I am dependent upon you. The hand cannot take the place of the foot. The whole body is constituted to demonstrate the law of dependence. That is humility. The opposite of that is striking out on your own, being a freelance and snapping your fingers at anybody and everybody else, and doing without them. That is pride, and it is deception.
Pride is shown in possession or possessiveness; that is, taking hold of things to govern them ourselves, to be in possession of them. It is the work in Adam, and it is in all of us. It is shown in the desire to have in our own possession, to have in our own power, to have under our own hand, under our own influence, and it is a terrible thing. It is in us all by nature more or less, and the ruin of the church has come along this line of men wanting to take charge, men wanting to possess, men wanting to bring their influence to bear upon things, so that the thing comes into their hold. It is the ruin of the church. It was the ruin of the race. It was the ruin of Satan.
There is nothing like that about the Lord Jesus. His was a letting go to the Lord, a letting go to the Father all the time. Listen to some of the sublime things that He said: “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me...”. There is no fret about that, no strain, no hurried, feverish, excitable rushing about to get people, to get members, to build up something, to get people to join, to make a success of things: “All that the Father giveth me shall come...”. It was a letting go to the Father. It is faith. That is not mere passivity, but faith in the Father. It is our inborn desire to have a sphere of power, of influence, of domination, of government, that causes us to try to get something, to get hold of something, to possess something, to see something, to have something, to see the work grow, to see a success. We are really out all the time in some way or other to bring people to our end, under our influence, to dominate them. There was nothing of that about the Lord Jesus.
It is a mark of the house of God that there is no strain to possess for the sake of possession, to have power, to have mastery, to hold something. That is mine! Do not touch this—it is mine! The Lord Jesus had nothing in Himself, and wanted nothing for Himself, but He had everything in the Father. His attitude was, Father, if You want Me to have that You will give it to me. I am not going to strive, and worry, and manipulate, and work, and plan, and scheme, and be all the time anxious to have it. If You want Me to have that I trust You to give it to Me, and what You do not want Me to have I do not want! That is the attitude of Christ, and that is how the church was built, how the Lord builds His church. We must be very careful that this natural possessiveness does not come up in the things of the Lord. It works up unconsciously, even in our desire for spiritual blessing. It is to possess something in order that, having it, we may have greater influence, we may be something more, that we may become a dominating factor, that we may be recognised. Even a desire for holiness may have a subtle snare in it, that if we are holy it will be noted that we are holy, said that we are holy.
We cannot track this thing down, and we do not always want to be tracking this thing down and being introspective in this way, but we can take it that a hallmark of humility is self-emptying.
Take Paul. He was dependent, and self-emptied. There is a wonderful glory about emptiness when the Lord does it. It is not always a glorious feeling to feel empty, but it is marvellous how the Lord gets glory through emptying us, and keeping us emptied, until He wants us full. One of the things that the apostle said to the Corinthians in a kind of irony was: “Ye are full... ye have reigned as kings without us.” That was no compliment. They are not to be admired for that. It was pride. “We are accounted as the offscouring of all things.” “Ye are full... ye have reigned as kings without us.” Yes, but after all what was it the Lord said to the church at Laodicea? “Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.”
There is an emptiness which brings much glory to God, and humility is being poor in spirit. “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” God dwells with such as are of a broken and contrite spirit. God-centredness is the opposite of self-centredness, that all our wellsprings, all our resources, our everything is in the Lord, and all our interests are in the Lord. As for self-exaltation, the Lord made Himself of no reputation, He humbled Himself.
To return to the apostle Paul again. How he abased himself, got right down even before those who owed everything to him and yet were treating him so scurrilously. He had gone right down before them, humbled himself, abased himself, and went through, and won them by that means.
You see what the House of God is, this temple of God. If Paul brings in the great revelation of the temple, the church, the House of God, then he must be made an object lesson of its principles, and the first great principle of Christ wrought in Paul, and therefore to be reproduced in the House of God, is humility in all its aspects, dependence, emptiness, God-centredness.
What are the results? If pride, with these various aspects, led to death, then humility after this kind, that which Paul calls “the meekness of Christ”, leads to life. Life by humility, life by meekness, death by pride. “God beholdeth the proud afar off”, “Pride is an abomination unto the Lord”. If pride puts us away back there, there is not much hope of life. When pride is out of the way God draws near, and there is life. We have more to say about life later.
If, again, the result of pride in ruin was darkness, then humility, meekness, is the way of light. “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart.” You will learn by that spirit. It is enlightening. We said that the great law which governed everything was that of heart fellowship with the Lord, and we saw that that heart fellowship was broken by pride in the heart, the heart lifted up in pride. Now, says the apostle, “the eyes of your heart being enlightened”. This is heart fellowship with the Lord, bringing about enlightenment, leading to enlightenment, or making possible enlightenment.
Now a closing word of special emphasis upon the greater significance of pride and humility. It might be thought that we were just talking about the common virtues of the Christian life, and the common evils of human nature, but they are far bigger than that. We must remember that we are dealing here with Christ and Antichrist. We are getting back before man was created and seeing in the eternal counsels of God Christ as God’s chosen, God elect, Who was to bring God into dwelling in man. God was coming to dwell in man through His Son as in His Son. The whole thought and intention of the incarnation is: “God with us”, “God manifest in the flesh”, and dwelling in man. That is bound up with Christ, and that was in the eternal counsels of God. If God were going to dwell in man, and at some dateless point pride was found in the heart of Lucifer, and he reached out to occupy the place which God had appointed for Christ, that he should dwell in man as God, you have two lines at once starting off: the line of God indwelling man; and the whole course of demon possession, Satan seeking to gain entrance into human life and make it his tabernacle, his dwelling. Those are two courses of history. We are familiar with them. We know they are true. If you do not believe in demon possession, there are some places we could send you to where you would have your unbelief very quickly dispensed, but there is the history. We are not going to dwell upon it, but it is a fact. It is Christ and Antichrist.
What is Antichrist? In the full development of Antichrist it is Satan incarnate as God dwelling in man, being worshipped (mark you) as God in man. What is it that moves toward that? It is this evil thing of which we have been speaking: pride. What is pride? Pride is the elevation of man. So that Antichrist is the elevation of man to the place of God. All these things that we have said about pride, independence, relate to that. Independence is man assuming personal rights, prerogatives, acknowledging no greater authority than himself, bowing to no one, a law unto himself, drawing things to himself in possessiveness, having them under his control, in his own hand, all things centred in himself and working toward self-exaltation. Pride in its simplest forms has all those elements, and it has only to grow. That is the soul of man by nature. That soul has only to exert itself or assert itself and you get a development of Antichrist, or the spirit of Antichrist.
I wonder if you know of any outstanding example, (though it is true in a smaller measure of all of us), where a man asserts his soul force tremendously to possess, to influence, to dominate, to have his way, to get his thoughts realised and accepted, his ideas adopted. It is not long before you find extra elements associating themselves with that man, something that is more than the man himself, egging him on, getting behind him and energising him until, while that man in himself to begin with was really not much, amongst men he would not have been regarded as a great man in himself, he has become a world figure and mysterious forces are at work, so that his words become slogans; people take them up and utter them. What are those forces? They are the satanic forces of Antichrist, and in measure there is a worshipping of him. The world will divide itself over several such men, and then the lesser will fall away until in all probability there will only be two; then there will come a clash, and the domination of one, Antichrist.
Where does it originate? In the soul force of man projecting itself, which gives Satan just what he wants to ally psychic forces, to bring him up to Antichrist. Antichrist is the full development, with Satan indwelling, the devil incarnate, apparently in dominion. Then Christ comes, and the clash between the two. What is it that marks the Christ? Is it this assertiveness, this personal drive? No. Christ is the Lamb, as it had been newly slain, and it is the Lamb Who shall overcome. What is a lamb? A lamb is dependent, in itself nothing.
The Lord will deal with us in this way. If the Lord is going to constitute us His temple, if we are really going to be a dwelling place of God; that is, not to be brought to ruin, but to be established, to become a part of that tabernacle of God coming down from God out of heaven, God dwelling with man, what will the Lord do with us? He will destroy our independence, empty us of our self-sufficiency, bring us to the place where we have nothing in ourselves and our all in Himself. That is where His Son was and that is why Christ triumphed. God allied Himself with that One, and whereas man thought that they were dealing with a poor, weak human, they came up against Almighty God. That was the issue.
That is what the enemy has to reckon with. It may look like a poor fragment, a poor remnant of humanity, weak, persecuted, helpless, but he will find God there. That is why we said there is something mighty about humility, dependence, emptiness, when its everything is in the Lord. It is then that the forces of evil have God to reckon with, not with us. How shall we overcome? By standing by and fighting? We said just now that what is true of these outstanding examples is true in a smaller measure of us all. I wonder how many of you have fought to have your own way, believing that it was the Lord’s way. You may have thought that a certain course would be the Lord’s way, and you fought with all the heat of your being, with all the tenacity of your strength of will, and some heat of flesh. I ask you, do you wish you had never fought? Do you today wish that you had never entered into that fight like that? You can answer your own heart. I know that to this day I have regretted that ever I asserted my will, to have things as I thought they ought to be. What happened? I did not win. I may have got what I was after, but I lost; and it may be that I got something that I would rather be without today. It may be place, or some particular position, and we thought it would be all good, all to the glory of God, and so we set ourselves to have it. It would have been better to let go everything to the Lord, and have taken this position, Now Lord, if You want me to have that, or be in that, I stand in absolute faith in You that You are able to do it, and I need not worry or fear. The Lord is quite capable of seeing to it.
You see what the tabernacle of God is. It is God’s dwelling place. It is where the Lord is everything, and in order for the Lord to be everything we must be nothing. Humility, meekness must be a big mark of such a House of God.
There are other things, but that is where we begin. May the Lord teach us His own lesson of humility.