by T. Austin-Sparks
Reading: Eph. 1:5; Gal. 4:19; Rom. 8:28-29.
Coming to this letter to the Hebrews, let us find our link between the calling, the purpose of God in Christ, and the preparation of an instrument for its expression.
We have seen in the first chapter that the eternal purpose relates to His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom He made the ages. And then, passing into the second chapter there is the extension of that thought from the Son to sons, “bringing many sons to glory”, and both of these things, the Son and the sons, are gathered into a comprehensive quotation from the Psalm: “What is man, that thou makest mention of him; or the son of man, that thou puttest him in charge.” That quotation undoubtedly embodies both Christ and those who are Christ’s, because the apostle goes on concerning man, “Thou madest him to have dominion; thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet”, and so on: “But we see not all things put under his feet; but we see... Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, crowned with glory and honour.” So that this purpose of God concerning His Son embraces the sons, and takes us back to this passage in Romans 8: “...conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren...”; “...bringing many sons to glory...”.
Then you pass in the letter to the Hebrews to what is the first verse of chapter 3: “Holy brethren (these are the sons), partners in a heavenly calling...” and you pass from there right through the great unveiling of that priestly work of the Lord Jesus by which the sons are secured and come at length to chapter 12, where you have the sons in training. I am not going to quote the whole passage, but I want to underline some fragments which are relevant. Here is a connecting exhortation: “Looking off unto Jesus, the author (or captain) and perfecter of faith...”; “Consider him that endured such gainsaying of sinners... lest ye be weary...”; “...the exhortation which reasoneth with you as with sons...”. The Captain has been made perfect through sufferings; the Son has gone this way. That is what is being said, leaving, of course, in its own untouched place, that peculiar value of the sufferings of Christ in relation to sin and atonement with which we have no connection at all. There is that other side of the sufferings of Christ with which we are linked, and the beginning of this twelfth chapter clearly links us with Him in the way that He has taken as the Son; and then, “The exhortation which reasoneth with you as with sons, My son regard not lightly (do not think of it as something unimportant) the chastening of the Lord”; that is, the child-training of the Lord. Do not think of it as something unimportant. And as a guard against fainting when reproved of Him remember the range of relatedness and value in this child-training. That is what is implied here, what is said in other words. This child-training is in relation to the eternal purpose. It is connected with the Son for the inheritance and the receiving of a Kingdom which cannot be shaken. Child-training has to do with that, and when we see it in that light then we do not regard it as something unimportant, and we are strengthened by that knowledge when we are chastened, so that we faint not: “For whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.” “Furthermore, we had the fathers of our flesh to chasten us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of our spirits and live?” “The father of our spirits”! That immediately shows where the chastening is, where the child-training is, where the sonship is, or where the sonship is to be developed — in our spirits. That is the point that we may reach presently as we work towards it.
The training of sons in relation to the eternal purpose, and for our present purpose here, a sonship vessel or instrument to fulfil the ministry of keeping God’s full thoughts before His people. For such a ministry the instrument to be employed will be dealt with in a very definite and direct way on the lines of sonship, will know the strict child-training of the Lord. The end fixed for all the Lord’s children is sonship. We will not — we must not — put Romans 8:28-29 into any lesser category than God’s purpose for all in Christ; that is, we must not say that this is for a certain number in the thought of God. It is for all in Christ, and this is God’s will for all His people, but as has always been the case the majority of the Lord’s people do not follow on spontaneously, and the Lord has continually to have in the midst of them, amongst them, before them, a company embodying and representing and expressing His full thought, to be a ministry of revelation and a ministry of strengthening and exhortation to His people. It is a ministering vessel in the midst of His people, and that vessel not just having special information to give, but that vessel being the embodiment of that which the Lord would have all His people know and be. Paul put himself into that category in a personal way, and spoke of himself as a first one — “… that in me as a first one …” — and then he used a phrase like this: “that he might fulfil the Word of God”, and the sense there is not just what we in our modern English mean by fulfil, that is, carry out something; it means make full the Word of God. He put himself, therefore, in the position of one who was the full embodiment of God’s thought for the church, and so Paul became in very truth a dispensational man; that is, the individual in whom the whole supreme meaning of the dispensation was gathered up experimentally; and the church, the Body of Christ, being the supreme feature of this dispensation, had its embodiment and expression in a living way in that one man.
Now what was true in him as an individual early in the dispensation has had to be true and be repeated again and again through the dispensation in instruments which God has raised up; that is, that there shall be a living voice — not a voice of teaching, a voice just of truth in the technical or academic sense, not just the proclamation of something, but a living embodiment and expression of God’s thought amongst His people. The Word of the Lord to such a vessel at all times will be: “whether they will hear or whether they will forbear”. It is so easy from time to time to let go, to sag because your message is not wanted and because you see no place for it, no room for it, or because you see almost universal opposition to it; to conclude, or to take the attitude as though you had concluded, that this is not the message for the time, the people are not ready for it, they are not open for it, they will not have it. Whether they will hear or whether they will forbear, is the Lord’s word to an instrument which He raises up for any purpose. That is, although you may be speaking in the wilderness, you have got to get on with it; although no one will listen to you, you have got to go on; although you may see no response, but just universal antagonism, you have to go on with your work, “whether they will hear or whether they will forbear”.
For the fulness of God’s thoughts a vessel has to be constituted accordingly, and if the fulness of God’s thoughts is sonship as the means of the universal dominion of which this letter speaks, the universal dominion of Christ, then our training is along the lines of sonship, for we are called to that ministry.
I am tempted to stay with another parenthesis, to remind you of the very greatness of our calling, not something in time but something which came in eternity; not something that just belongs to this earth, but which is over this earth. It is not the dominion merely in the inhabited earth to come; it is that but it exceeds that. The church is not just going to reside here on the earth in the age to come, even to have dominion on the earth. The church is going to have dominion over the earth, and its dominion is going to reach beyond the earth into the realm of principalities and powers. It is in the light of that calling to that capacity that the Lord’s dealings with us go on.
What is the basis of the training of sons? It is the cross. What is the pattern of the training of sons? It is the Son. What is the sphere of the training of sons? It is in the spirit. Those are the three things for our present consideration.
The Basis of Training is the Cross
In the thought of God, in the mind of God, the cross of the Lord Jesus was the end of one race and type of humanity. From God’s standpoint the death of the Lord Jesus on the cross wound up, concluded and set aside one type of being called man. Calvary does not just represent the dealing with sin in man as though God by the cross plucked sin out of man and dealt with it in judgement and destruction and left the man. God took the man with it, and the man was put away, so far as God was concerned, with sin; he is sin. “I have been crucified with Christ”; “We were crucified with Christ”. In the resurrection of the Lord Jesus a new type of man is represented. He in resurrection is called the firstborn among many brethren. Sonship according to God’s mind is represented in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: “declared the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness by the resurrection of the dead”. “God raised him from the dead, as it is written in the second Psalm, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee.” You see, it is a new kind of man: in God’s thought the man of sonship is represented in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. That has nothing to do, of course, with His eternal person as the Son of God, but here in representation. You may put it, if you like in the full form, and say, here is a comprehensive, corporate man, race, after a certain order, of a certain kind, and that man, that corporate, inclusive, collective man is crucified, is put to death and is buried, and that is an end. And then, after a period, God acts and brings out from that tomb a man of a different order, the same yet another, a different type altogether, another kind of man, and He who could never say of that one that has died, Son! But He says of this one, “Thou art my Son.” How all that is represented, gathered up and included in the representative person of the Lord Jesus, so that a sonship is brought into being on the ground of resurrection, and God in the resurrection of Christ has a new order of man in view, a new type before Him, and that type is designated, Son! That in Christ is what sonship is, but in Christ, the representative one, you have sonship reached, completed, consummated. In Christ we have but received the Spirit of God’s Son, and are told to become sons as conformed to the image of His Son, and as His Son is fully formed in us. Then, on the ground of His resurrection, and by the power of His resurrection, and in virtue of His risen life, there is being worked into us sonship under the hand of God: that is, so far as the process is concerned, the process which was concluded in an act in the representative one, the Firstborn, now to be wrought out progressively in us.
So far as that process is concerned it has these two sides, the two sides of the cross, the death and the resurrection. The process of the cross has to follow the act of the cross.
Now I do not want to confuse you, but I am going to try to explain what I mean by that. There has got to be a crisis of the cross, and on the basis of the crisis of the cross there has got to be a process of the cross. That crisis takes place in the hour in which we see with the eyes of our heart opened that when Christ died we died, and that “we” or that “I” is not some part of us, something in us, something about us, but it was ourselves. When we see that, that is a crisis. If we are able to comprehend and take in what that means it is a tremendous crisis.
What am I? I am a thinking creature, I am a reasoning creature, I am a feeling creature, I am a willing creature, I am a choosing, a deciding creature, I am a judging creature, I am a talking creature. I am all that, and much more, and I have died, and when I am dead my thinking stops, my reasoning stops, my arguing stops, and my judging stops, and my feeling stops. It all stopped when I died. In the sum total of our natural functioning and activity in the death of Christ God sees the end of us. In the resurrection of the Lord Jesus God sees only Christ thinking, Christ reasoning, Christ judging, Christ feeling, Christ choosing, Christ talking, and it is no longer I but Christ since I have been crucified with Christ. I can no longer talk: if I do, so far as God’s eternal purpose is concerned it does not count for anything. It is only what the Spirit of God’s Son in me says through me that touches God’s eternal purpose. I may be a preacher of renown, and it counts for nil in relation to God’s eternal purpose unless the Holy Ghost is doing the preaching. And that applies so far as my thinking is concerned. I may reason, and argue, and work things out, and apply my mind, my brains to things of God. It does not effect one fragment unless it is Holy Spirit inspired thinking, unless it is revelation by the Holy Spirit beyond my powers of grasping divine things.
This matter of the application to the cross is a comprehensive thing, setting aside fully, progressively, what is of ourselves in mind and heart, and will, in spirit, soul and body, and bringing up the Son of God in everything; so that it is Christ.
That is where the eternal purpose of God lies, and only in the measure in which it is that, can there be ministry related to God’s eternal purpose; therefore those who are going to serve God in relation to His fullest thought have got to be the most crucified people in God’s universe. All natural ambitions to do anything, to be anything, to say anything will have been smitten, and it will simply be by the Spirit, and by the Spirit alone that anything can be said or done that counts. When this work is done to any degree of depth, those concerned have a longing not to do anything and not to speak anything unless the Lord is going Himself to do it and say it. It is only in the Spirit that you know anything is worthwhile. The cross, according to what was conclusive with God at Calvary, is to be applied. And if God in His forbearance and longsuffering, still permits things which are not crucified and not put out of the way, that is, if they are allowed to remain for the time being and they come into the Lord’s work — and we do see a good deal in the Lord’s work that is not of the Spirit, not Christ — let us never conclude for a moment that God has set Calvary aside and has accepted that. Sooner or later if that one is going on with God they are going to be smitten hip and thigh on the matter of the flesh. If they are going on in the Spirit that will be. God has never since the day that it took place moved one hair’s breadth from Calvary, which was finality as to that kind of man represented when He was made sin in our stead. So the cross is the basis of the training of sons, of the training in sonship.
The Pattern is the Son
The pattern of the training of sons is the Son. Conformed to the image of His Son! Christ fully formed in you! Foreordained unto adoption as sons! And adoption is at the end not at the beginning; adoption still waits; the day of our adoption has not arrived. You know the New Testament teaching on this matter is altogether different from modern English practice; and so, although Paul does not use that actual word in that connection, he puts the same truth into other words when he says, “Waiting for the manifestation of the sons of God”. The manifestation of the sons is only another way of saying the day of adoption: that is, when the sons are brought forth and presented as sons, no longer children but mature, now to take responsibility.
What is God doing with us? His work with us is to reproduce in us the constituents of sonship as represented by the Lord Jesus. The battle that rages and rises between our thought and the Lord’s thought, between our will and the Lord’s will, between our way and the Lord’s way, between our desiring and the Lord’s desire, has this one issue at stake, whether something more of His Son is to become a part of our very constitution, or whether we are going to put that back and remain just the same old creation. There is a big thing hanging upon that battle. In our last meditation we were speaking about adjustability. What is it that we are to be adjusted to? It is simply putting Christ in the place which we ourselves in some way have occupied, giving place to the Lord. That is Christ being fully formed. He is in us, but He is to be fully formed in us.
I am sorry the translators left out the value of the Greek in that passage. The Greek word is perfectly clear: “Till Christ be fully formed in you”. He is there, but there is formation, and this formation is through conflict, and Paul says that he is undergoing the suffering: “For whom I am in travail till Christ be fully formed in you”. There is something going on that is costly. It is marked by a painful process.
The Sphere is our Spirit
I want to come to the sphere of the training of sons, the spirit; of course, now not the Holy Spirit but our spirit: “the Father of our spirits”. You notice the word “father” in this twelfth chapter is implied, suggested by son; “fathers of our flesh” — “Father of our spirits”. So that it is in the realm of our spirit that all this is going on. God is concentrating upon our spirit, and I want to define that. The teaching of the Word of God about the spirit is not just what we mean when we say, He has a nice spirit! That means that what you meet is something very pleasant, it is a kind of outgoing influence to you. Or we may say, He has a nasty spirit! You mean he is a cantankerous person. That is not the meaning of the Father of our spirits. Our spirits are represented in the Word of God as the essential man: that is, the innermost part of our being, and if you like to sit down with a concordance and go through this matter of spirit you will be surprised.
I am impressed with some of the things that are said about spirit. I will give you two or three references.
Take 1 Corinthians 2:11, “For who among men knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of the man, which is in him? Even so the things of God none knoweth, save the Spirit of God.” That is not just breath, that is an intelligent organ, and that is clearly something deeper than reason. It is not that I meet a certain man, and I look him up and down; I look at the size of his nose, and the shape of his chin, and just how his head is formed, and various other things, and I come to the conclusion that he is a certain type of man; that kind of man will behave in a certain way. I know what I may expect by having taken the measure of that man, and so I know that man. No, it is not that. This passage is deeper than the reasoned thing, the thought-out thing, the sized-up thing, it is intuitive knowledge, and that is spiritual knowledge. Spiritual knowledge is intuitive knowledge, and the spirit is the intuitive organ. That is exactly how angels move; they are spirits. God and angels never have to reason out anything. They never have to calculate. Angels do not move at the behest of the Lord by being told in words and given an explanation. They move intuitively. It is intuitive knowledge of the Lord. If another brother and I are one in spirit we intuitively know what we will do, and what we would like each other to do. We do not have to be told, we do not have to be argued with, we know intuitively and we can anticipate one another’s wishes intuitively. It is an organ of knowledge.
Or take another passage in the same letter, 1 Corinthians 5:3: “For I verily, being absent in Body but present in spirit, have already, as though I were present, judged him that hath so wrought this thing”; “...absent in Body... present in spirit, have... judged”. In spirit judged. I have weighed this thing up in spirit, my spirit has come to the conclusion that such-and-such is the case; my spirit has decided this thing. It is an intelligent organ.
Or pass to 1 Corinthians 14:14-15: “For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful. What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.” There you have spirit and soul. The understanding heart is the intelligent, the rational soul, but that is not the point. The apostle is saying that it is possible for the spirit to pray. It is an organ that can pray and that can sing. You can sing in spirit, and you can pray in spirit. If it comes to the matter of an unknown tongue that is another thing, and it is not our point. We are detaching it from the matter of tongues at the moment. Here is an organ that it is said can pray and sing. I suppose you know something about the singing inside; your understanding is not at work, but it goes on. I know what it means. I remember an experience I had myself, and just recount it to convey to you what I mean by this. When undergoing a somewhat serious operation I experienced that in coming back to consciousness. Not knowing anything or anyone, being altogether dead so far as soul activity was concerned — that is, reason, and feeling, and all the rest — there was going on in me a hymn all the way through. I might have been in another world; it was going on all the time:
“Like a river glorious is God’s perfect peace.”
The tune was going on, and the words were going on. It was in the spirit, and one of many examples in the experience of others whom we know, of how the spirit functions altogether apart from the intellect.
Now I know what psychology says about the subconscious mind and all that, but that is mere materialistic psychology, and I am dealing with the Word of God which is a direct contradiction of the psychology which is generally accepted now, and which is pagan in its origin. Here Paul says that there is an organ that functions, and it is called the spirit.
You take Romans 1:9: “For God is my witness whom I serve in my spirit in the gospel of His Son...”. Paul says, “...I serve in my spirit...”. And we could add to these many other passages and find an abundance of proof that the spirit is something more than air, wind, breath, or what we mean by life when we say we give up our life. It is an intelligent organ, a functioning organ.
Now that spirit is where our new creation begins. It is there that new birth has its place and its meaning: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” You cannot have anything more definite than that. Now birth is there, and it is that. The spirit of man is born from above, renewed with divine life, and indwelt by the Spirit of God’s Son; and from that moment all God’s interests are centred there. Oh yes, they are going to affect our souls very definitely, they are going to affect our bodies, but they begin in our spirits and it is through our spirit that everything else that God does is accomplished.
The first thing that God is concerned with is to see that our spirit has its right place, and its right place is dominion. Dominion begins in the spirit, and dominion ends in the spirit, and the spirit is indwelt by the Spirit of God’s Son. It is sonship, therefore, in the spirit where dominion begins, and all the training for dominion goes on, and dominion is consummated.
I am more and more impressed and convinced with the importance of this matter. It is my life’s work, very largely, to help others, to look to their spiritual well-being, growth and maturity, and, of course, we meet with a large number of people. It is more than ever patent to me that the clue to everything lies in this discrimination between soul and spirit. If the Lord’s people could really get hold in a living way of this distinction and understand it, they would be saved from so much. They would make so much faster progress, and the church of God would be delivered from all kinds of entanglements and confusions and contradictions. It lies here, in seeing with spiritual eyes the difference between spirit and soul. The soul not under the government of the renewed spirit, indwelt by the Spirit of God, sets up a counterfeit kingdom of God, it is a psychical kingdom of God. It counterfeits conversions, purely psychological or psychic. You can have everything that is in the New Testament counterfeited in the realm of the soul, the psychical. The people who dwell in the realm of their souls become a complete contradiction to what true life in the spirit is, and, oh, what havoc the Devil has made; what confusion, what chaos and what dishonour to the Lord along that line! God’s first concern is to see that the soul is brought under the spirit: that the spirit indwelt by the Spirit of His Son is dominant over the soul.
The soul is the sum total of human emotions. You can get anywhere in the realm of human emotions, but this is all false so far as spiritual things are concerned. You can get everything in the realm of the reason. Some people’s battlefield is the realm of their own emotions and feelings, they live there; they have different emotions, some of elation, carrying them away in that way; other emotions of depression, morbid; swinging between these two frequently, so that you never know exactly how you are going to find them. You say something to them that is not very cheerful and bright and down they go into the depths; they cannot stand up to any kind of faithful speaking, and you are afraid to speak to some people faithfully: they go to pieces if you do. That is not living in the spirit; that is in the soul. In other cases the battlefield is the realm of the reason, the head, the intellect always getting in the way, and everything must be analysed there, everything must be dissected there, everything must be properly articulated and constructed there; and there they live. Their spiritual value is practically nil. They are living in their soul, on the intellectual side. With other people it is all action, all doing; they must be on the go, and their whole world is taken from them if they have to sit still for an hour; if God should put them aside so they cannot do anything they have lost everything.
That is why, in order to develop sonship, to train in sonship, God has to bring us up against the hopelessness of everything in these realms, break down, break down this habitual mental analysis, investigation, probing and all that goes on in our emotions; bring us to a breakdown perhaps, lay us aside so that we cannot do anything. God is after our spirit, and to bring the spirit into control, so that He may speak to us through our spirit and we may have spiritual understanding.
You say, where does the soul come in? As the instrument of the spirit. I trust that that is holding good at this time. How do we know these things? Not by study but by revelation in our spirit. How do I pass them on to you so that at least in some little measure you are able to intelligently grasp them? I mean, how do I make them even in a little measure intelligible to you? Through the working of my soul, my reason, but I do not get it that way. I never got it by sitting down with books to study it. It came through the spirit. Oh yes, the soul has its place, but it has to be the instrument; and my soul has not to become the dominant thing in any of these departments. I must know not just in my soul but in my spirit; I must feel first of all, not in my soul but in my spirit. Paul said that he went bound in spirit. The Lord would govern our lives in every way, knowing, feeling and doing through the spirit, and that by the spirit of His Son, so that what is expressed is Christ, not ourselves.
I think we have said enough to indicate that this training for dominion begins there. That is the realm of our schooling, and the smiting of that will be a humanity of a spiritual order, not disembodied spirits floating about in space, but humanity spirit-governed and of a spiritual order. Do you see Christ in resurrection? There you have Humanity. “Handle me and see, for a spirit hath not flesh and bones...”. What they meant by a spirit was something vapoury, and yet that Humanity was not fettered at all by the ordinary limitations and barriers of this life. He can be there in an instant, and can be miles hence the same instant. Time does not obtain there. The material has no power there; He can come through closed doors. That is Christ in resurrection. That will be the church when this corruption has put on incorruption, when this Body is made like unto His glorious Body. It will be a humanity, but a spiritual humanity; but that is the consummation. It begins now in our spirit, and we are learning the nature, the constitution, the order of a new Kingdom, a Kingdom that is not of this world nor of this creation, another Kingdom altogether different from this Kingdom, and yet we are learning a little here what the laws of that Kingdom are, what the faculties of that Kingdom are, and so we are receiving the Kingdom which cannot be shaken, because that which is shaken, says the apostle, is of things which are made, but this is not something made, this is generated by the Spirit of God.