by T. Austin-Sparks
Reading: Hebrews 12:9; 2:6,10; 3:1; 4:12; 5:8,12-14.
There are some words in these passages which we must note — teachers, senses, experience, full growth, learn. All those words relate to relationship in the sense of sonship, and training in sonship. The government of the inhabited earth to come is to be with the sons in the Son, so that spiritual sonship is essential to God’s purpose in coming ages, which is not just relatedness to the Lord but with all that sonship means as so much more than childhood.
1) Israel in the Wilderness — A Warning
Having got our setting we note, in the first place, that this going on of which the apostle speaks, and to which he urges, is linked in the letter to the Hebrews with Israel in the wilderness. They are taken as the tragic example of people who did not go on. Seeing that the apostle links this particular verse concerning full growth as the end of going on, full growth evidently corresponds with the land which they missed, unto which they did not go on. The wilderness, therefore, corresponds to immaturity, babes; the wilderness is therefore the place of the training of children in the matter of sonship.
I am impressed with the fact that it is in connection with Israel in the wilderness that that remarkable word in verse 12 of chapter 4 occurs: “The word of God is quick and powerful... piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit.” You notice the context. Israel in the wilderness and what leads up to it: “...they shall not enter into my rest”; “Today if ye will hear My voice...”; “If Joshua had given them rest...”; and so on. All that follows that word in verse 12. In the wilderness God was dealing with the inner man in type; “the Father of our spirits”, not of our souls — of our souls in a secondary sense, but primarily of our spirits; and it is in our spirits that the Spirit of God’s Son resides. God is not soul, and therefore relationship cannot be with our souls in the first instance. Relationship is spirit with spirit: “...that which is born of the spirit is spirit”.
God seeks such to worship Him, such as worship Him in spirit because He is a Spirit. God is Spirit; therefore we must worship in spirit, not in the soul first of all. Here training is related to the spirit, and if you ask for the spiritual interpretation and explanation of Israel’s failure to go into the land, on to full growth, and perishing in the wilderness, it is because they lived in their souls and not in their spirits: that is, they lived on their feelings, they lived according to their outward reasoning, they lived on the basis of what they wanted. The inner life was not linked with God in oneness, therefore living in their souls they did not come to God’s appointed end, the Kingdom, the fulness of Christ, the land, which is the type of God’s eternal purpose, the covenant with His people.
If we live on the level and basis of mere soul-life instead of living in the spirit joined with God, the Holy Spirit, we shall not make spiritual progress, we shall simply go round and round in the wilderness, we shall never get through to God’s end, we shall never attain unto sonship, and therefore we never shall have dominion over the inhabited earth to come whereof we are speaking.
I think that is a very true summary of the situation, so that what God is after is not just to have a people out of Egypt or out from the world, called His people; not just on the basis of atoning blood, related to Himself as His children, not delivered, even, from the kingdom of darkness. That is not enough for God, for Israel came out on that basis, and in that relationship, and much more, representing all that salvation in its initial stages means, but yet they missed the object. God is not satisfied just to have a people saved from the world and from sin, called His people. He is the Father of their spirits to train them in sonship for a Kingdom, a dominion which is the realisation of His full thought from eternity.
2) The Need that the Foundation be Laid
The second thing, the thing which follows, is that full growth or sonship requires that the foundation shall be fully and finally laid. That is the word in the section from what is chapter 5 verse 11 through into chapter 6. You can never get through to sonship unless your foundation is established. All that is being said here about needing to be taught when the time was more than past for their being teachers relates to this matter of foundations. The foundations had been presented; they had been taught the foundations, but they were still occupied with foundations in the sense that it was not an accomplished fact; they were not settled, and therefore they could not go on. So the urge comes: “Let us cease to speak of first principles of Christ, and press on to full growth.” For full growth, or for sonship, the foundation has to be finally laid. Then the apostle presents the foundations and calls them first principles of Christ.
First Principles of Christ
Let that govern. A lot of commentators have said that these six things following are Jewish ordinances, but this says “first principles of Christ”, and they are:
a) Repentance from dead works
In the case of these Hebrew believers it was repentance from Judaism as a dead system, dead works. As we have already said, the very significance of the divine preservation of this letter after it had fulfilled its immediate purpose to Israel means that it is a message for the church, for if the dates fixed for its writing are correct then it was only two years after the writing of this letter that its purpose was fulfilled. It was written in view of the imminent destruction of Jerusalem and the passing of the temple and the Jewish system, in order to get Jewish believers attached to heavenly things and detached from earthly things. That shaking came about very shortly after the letter was written. But it has persisted for all these centuries and generations, and is full of life now, which means that the Lord intends this letter to apply to the church as well as to Judaism, and to say that Christendom can become a dead system, that Christianity can decline into spiritual death, and that there is a call, therefore, to believers to repent from dead works; that is, not just repent of their sins as unbelievers but change their attitude, repudiate dead religion.
Of course, it embraces everything else that you can call by that name. There are the dead works of the sinner who labours for the bread that perishes, labouring for this world’s good, and glory, and pleasure: dead works. But it reaches right on to the Christian, who is simply labouring in dead traditional Christianity, and the call is to repent.
b) Faith towards God
I think we need not stay with each of these clauses. One or two may call for a little further comment.
c) The teaching of baptisms
You notice it is in the plural, and the word to be stressed is the word “teaching”. What the apostle is saying here, as I understand it, is this, that you have got to understand the meaning of the different baptisms: that is, the baptism of John, and the baptism of Christ. And if you want that explained just insert at that point the paragraph in Acts 19:1-7. These people were baptised twice, and on the basis of having the two baptisms explained to them. They were taught the difference. Now I am not saying that you have to be baptised twice, but I am just saying that this is what this passage means as I understand it.
Perhaps some of these people were saying, Oh, we were baptised with John’s baptism; that is quite good enough! And then they had been told that it is not good enough; that that is one thing, but baptism into Christ is baptism into His death, into His burial, into His resurrection. It is identification with Christ, not John. There are the two different baptisms. They were still evidently going round this question, circling round in this wilderness, and getting nowhere. Now, says the apostle, you have got to get that first principle of Christ established and settled once and for all.
I do not suppose the difference between John’s baptism and Christ’s troubles you very much, but you may be held up on the baptism question all the same, and the Lord would say you have got to get that settled before you can know freedom. You may think you are going on but you are not; you may go on for fifty years and at the end of that time have to come back and settle that question. The Lord has never given up. The Lord has never left that point, and, sometimes with humiliation, there has to be an acknowledgment on the part of those who have gone on many years, that they left undone the first things, and from the Lord’s standpoint sonship does not come in. The result is that we have many people like these Hebrews who after years and years have been called by the Lord’s Name, and ought to be teachers, are still babes to be fed, still unable to take spiritual responsibility, still getting everything from the outside instead of from the inside. Why is it? The foundations were never settled; they have never really gone on. Sonship demands that each first principle of Christ should be a settled matter in the life.
d) Laying on of hands
One word in this connection I think is necessary. If you look at this matter in the New Testament you have, I think, got to come to one of two conclusions. Either something was delegated by the Lord to certain men at a certain time, that by the laying on of their hands something was imparted and something happened, but it remained with them and belongs to the first times, it has nothing to do with now; you have got to take that view, and your difficulty will arise when you discover that it was not always apostles that did it; sometimes it was someone such as Ananias who laid his hands on Paul so that he received his sight and was filled with the Spirit, so that you cannot say it was apostolic. Or you have to take another view, that this was a representative thing which embodied a principle, the principle being that of the oneness of the Lord’s people in and under one anointing of the Holy Spirit. And that, therefore, the act of laying on of hands was not an official thing but it was simply a representative act, setting forth a principle that these who have received the Lord and have been baptised into Christ are members of one Body, and that it is the Holy Spirit who forms that Body and who constitutes its oneness, and therefore when the principle is set forth in a merely representative act the Holy Spirit bore witness to the truth that Christ is one with and in all His members: the Body is one.
The book of the Acts is a book of foundation principles. It is not necessary that throughout the whole dispensation there should be the same divine, heavenly manifestation or attestation. Even in the book of the Acts it was not always so. Not on every occasion do we read that, being filled with the Spirit, they spoke with tongues, but here the Holy Spirit in laying the foundation of the dispensation gives clear evidence that this is the truth, and we are called upon to accept the truth in faith, not merely to demand the evidence. So that laying on of hands, on the one side, represents simply an act by which a testimony is borne to the fact that the Body of Christ is one, all in Christ are members of Christ and of one another, and that under one anointing which is upon the Head for all members, and the Holy Spirit confirms that. So that everything becomes related to Him, and related in His Body. Life is a related thing; service is a related thing: for they laid hands on in connection with service, ministry. No one has a detached ministry, but it is the ministry of the whole Body, and there may be a value in taking account of that, that this is not my ministry, this is the ministry of the whole Body of Christ; that is, the Body is expressing itself and its purpose through the ministry that I am fulfilling. It is a related thing, and there are spiritual values in that for the Holy Spirit encamps upon that ground.
We are not going fully into the meaning of the one Body, neither are we going into the full range of the meaning of the laying on of hands, but here are the alternatives. I do not see another course in this matter. I only see the apostolic one, that this was a matter which apostles were delegated to carry out and they had special powers from the Lord and the thing was bound up with them and ended with them. But there were difficulties, one that it was not always apostles who were delegated, and many others. I do not believe the Lord was ever official in any of His appointments but always spiritual, and what is spiritual is timeless. We must get behind this system of officialdom in Christian organisation to the realm where things are spiritual. If you can find me a third alternative I shall be very glad to have the opportunity of at least looking at it, opening my heart to the possibility of it being true, but I have not found it, and so I have come to rest on the second of these two, and I find that it works. This laying on of hands is a testimony to oneness, identification, not only with Christ but also in Christ. The meaning of the act is that we are one in Christ, under one Spirit, one anointing which embraces the Head and all the members.
This is something to be settled, and, like all the other things, is related to sonship. And is it not borne out by the whole truth of sonship, that sonship is a Body matter? It is sons in the Son on the representative side of the Lord’s person, not as Godhead, as God’s Son in that initial deity sense, but on the side of His representative person, the Firstborn among many brethren. Sonship is an inclusive and embracing term, bringing in sons, so that ultimately what will obtain is a great corporate son under the sovereign headship of the Lord Jesus to govern in the ages to come. “Wherefore, holy brethren, partners in a heavenly calling...”. This oneness in the Body, this oneness of the Spirit, is vitally linked with the whole question of sonship and the purpose of it.
e) The resurrection from the dead
We will not stay with that.
f) Eternal judgement
You have no need that I comment upon this. The two we have stayed to deal with more fully are the least generally understood and accepted.
The point is this, that these things, being foundations, are in the direct line of God’s end, and they are foundational to training in sonship, and until we have got clear here and got settled here we cannot go on, and so the urge is, “Let us cease to speak of first principles of Christ...”; we ought to have settled this thing.
We shall go on talking about these matters to those who need that, but for us at this stage we cease to speak about these things, and press on unto full growth, for these matters are related to a living spiritual state, and until they are settled the apostle here says that a state of infancy and lack of capacity remains.
Now, following on from that into sonship, “Solid food is for full grown men, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern good and evil.”
I am very strongly tempted to put in here something which I am afraid quite a lot might not understand, and I do not want to confuse any, but it might be helpful to some, and if you cannot grasp it do not worry about it. That phrase, “good and evil”, takes us a long way back to Genesis 2:17 and 3:5 and 7.
Firstly let us note that these are not two categories, things which are good and things which are evil. That is not what is meant here. If we come back to this passage in Genesis, “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil”, in its outcome it came to mean the evil of a right thing. What was right became evil because of the governing motive. It was good, but it became evil because of the way in which it was taken hold of. In the first place it was the soul taking ascendency over the spirit, the soul listening to the reasoning of Satan, the soul yielding to the persuasion of the enemy and the soul acting upon the basis of the reason and the emotion. That is the soul. So that they went out in their soul. If they had remained in the spirit and acted according to the spirit they would never have done what they did, and yet the very thing would have taken place in perfect purity: there would have been no evil in it. It was the reversing of God’s order. It was soul, and body, and spirit, instead of spirit, soul and body. The nature of man was upset; he disturbed the balance of his constitution, so that good and evil was not that there was a set of evil things and a set of good things; it was the evil of a good thing, a good thing made evil because of the motive. “The word of God... piercing...”. And what does it do? Well, look again at exactly what it does, “...quick to discern the thoughts and intents of the heart...” (Hebrews 4:12). It was just those intents of the heart that brought Israel to death in the wilderness, the soul. It was not wrong to be in the wilderness, it was not wrong to be babes, it was not wrong just at that time not to be in the land, but it was wrong so to live in the soul-life and not in the spirit as to be kept where they should not have remained.
Now the soul triumphed over the spirit, and there came about the knowledge of good and evil. With what result? Death! The knowledge of good and evil led to death. God never meant that. Do you think that God planted that tree (taking the figure, the type, the symbol) of good and evil in order to work death? Did He plant it in order to hold death over man’s head? Death is not an institution of God. Now if we may speak in spiritual terms more directly than in symbol, if man had been obedient to the Lord in spirit, man would have become possessed of a living knowledge, a knowledge of God which would have led to life, for it is in the spirit that we come to spiritual knowledge. That is the point we are coming to here.
Spiritual knowledge in the spirit by obedience through faith is sonship, but moving in the realm of our soul we come back into 1 Corinthians 2: “Now the soulical man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him; and he cannot know them, because they are discerned by the spiritual.” This knowledge of good and evil was death; death coming by good things becoming evil, because of the intent of the heart, the motive, the soul element taking pre-eminence, governing the life. And so as the soul triumphed over the spirit, death came. It was a kind of knowledge, but a knowledge that men would fain be without today, a knowledge that is a curse, a knowledge that is death. The Lord would have us be people of knowledge, and He would have us know good and evil in another sense, but He would have us know good and evil in the spirit and discern, discriminate between and keep clear of that which we in spirit discern to be the evil of the good thing.
Now that phrase, “the evil of a good thing” can embrace such a lot. It is not just the one thing in Genesis: it can embrace a lot. We believers are up against this very question all the time. Yes, it is a God-appointed thing, it is instituted by God, it is a good thing. Yes, that is all right if you keep it in its right realm. If you in your soul begin to take hold of it then it will become evil. Man in his own soul-life has taken hold of God’s things, God’s truth, God’s work. Man comes along and takes hold of all sorts of things that God has appointed and instituted, and the thing which is of God becomes evil.
See the work of God. See man sporting himself in the work of God, man getting into view, getting a name for himself in the work of God, man managing, governing, lording it over God’s heritage. That is a good thing made evil, and as you expand that principle it covers such a lot of ground. Now the apostle is saying that sonship means discriminating between good and evil in that sense. Yes, that is of God, let it remain of God, and do not put your hand on it, do not begin to take hold of it. God has begun something; do not bring it down to earth and begin to manage it and advertise it. Let it remain God’s pure, Holy Ghost work. Keep out of it in so far as your soul is concerned. That is sonship; that is maturity; that is spiritual growth. When this reaches its consummation in glory it will be all the glory of God, and the only place we shall have in it is that His glory rests upon us, and we have no glory of our own. That is sonship consummated, perfected. Man’s soul-life is directing him all the time, and making all things bad; he brings his name, and his title, and his degree into the work of God, thinking that is going to secure success for the work of God, and it is the whole realm of soul brought in; and with it comes spiritual death.
If you cannot follow all that we have said do not worry, but I think it is of value to recognise exactly how the Holy Spirit gets down to the root of things. The Holy Spirit inspired this letter, and He gets down to the root of things, and it is there that we find the abiding value of anything written by God, that it is not for any one time. It has a principle in it which ranges all the ages; it is eternal. Here in a little fragment in Hebrews you are taken back to Genesis, and you are touching a primary principle that a good thing can be made bad by man’s soul taking hold of it instead of it being held in the spirit. Sonship is the holding of everything in the spirit, and not taking hold of things in the soul.
3) The Exercise of Spiritual Faculties and Senses
You will recall that phrase, “have their senses exercised”. Senses! Do you see the force of senses now? There are faculties for discriminating. These senses are those which are given to us with our new birth; for with new birth we have a new set of senses. As in the physical our five senses are seeing, hearing, tasting, touching and smelling — every normal babe has those — so in the new birth, that which is born of the Spirit, there is a new set of spiritual faculties or spiritual senses; that is, faculties for seeing spiritual things which the natural man cannot see; hearing, “He that hath an ear...”; tasting, touching, scenting. These are very real things in the spiritual life, but every newborn babe truly born of the Holy Spirit has these faculties, though they are not yet properly functioning. And when you put all the senses together you can sum them up in two words, spiritual perception or intelligence; that is, that by which we know, as differing from study, making ourselves aware of things simply by studying their existence, and as differing from information, being informed, receiving it as in someone else and not in ourselves. The difference lies there. There is a word used very much in the New Testament instead of perception. It is discernment. “He that is spiritual discerneth...”.
It would be impossible to place too much emphasis upon the value of spiritual discernment, spiritual perception. It is an inclusive faculty of fundamental importance, the faculty of spiritual intelligence, perception, discernment. For want of this the Lord’s people are kept in infancy, and the church is kept in infancy, and the church and the Lord’s people are therefore a prey to all sorts of things. They are a prey to anything that is presented to them in a persuasive way. They are open to anything that has a real, sound argument based upon Scripture. They are a prey to anything that comes along in any guise using the language of Scripture. Oh yes, the range of perils for the undiscerning is almost limitless, and how necessary for all the Lord’s people to have in the midst of them those who have discernment, spiritual intelligence. So a vessel, an instrument related to God’s full purpose, to His fullest thoughts, is one characterized by this factor in sonship, spiritual intelligence, senses exercised to discern. Oh, that amongst the Lord’s people there were more of those who saw through, “quick to discern”, quick of scent. This is a need. It is a matter of absolute importance, and it is an indispensable thing to real service, that there shall be spiritual discernment, spiritual perception, the power of discriminating, senses exercised.
This is just the opposite of impulsive or mechanical action. So many receive a kind of impulse, a presentation, a soul-impact, an appeal, a vivid picture, a thrilling story, a romance, something pathetic or tragic; and that is made the instrument of appeal to go out to serve the Lord: it is pure soul, and a lot go out under the impact of such an appeal. I have known of young people going to a series of missionary meetings extending over a week, and one night it was China, and the next night it was India, and the next night it was somewhere else. The first night they were sure they were called to China, and they were going to offer themselves to China; and the second night they were sure they were called to India, and were going to offer to India, and the third night they thought they were called somewhere else; and if they had done what they decided to do, they would have offered themselves to every country during the week. It is the difference between impulsive mechanical action and senses exercised to discern. It is the difference between external instruction and the Spirit of the Lord inwardly making known. It is the birthright of every child of God to know the voice of the Lord in his or her own spirit. It is maturity when we come to that and all the other is commanded to stand back while we listen to the Lord, while we detach ourselves and let all the emotion and heat of the hour fall away, and our heart hears the voice of the Lord. That is maturity, that is sonship, that is spirituality, and that means God entrusting with responsibility. He needs such a personal walk with Himself in which all things are tested in His presence.
4) The Organ and Faculties Not the Final Issue
We do not listen to our spirit; the Holy Spirit in our spirit is the intelligence of God, and the intelligence of the inner man. Let us beware of that danger, that peril into which many have fallen. We hear strange language: “I listened to my spirit”; “My spirit said so-and-so.” Do not let us make the organ the end; it is only the means. We can get a kind of false spirituality that way, and we have found very often that people who have listened to their own spirits have gone and done things which violate the Word of God in its most obvious meaning. That is false leading. Let us remember that the Holy Spirit indwelling governs us through our spirit, and becomes our intelligence, and it is a matter of absolute dependence upon the Lord. We must not become lords ourselves. Some of these very wonderful people who are always listening to their spirit think they can never make a mistake, they always know at once what the Lord’s will is. They are the people whose language is always so pat, that the Lord told them to do this, and the Lord told them to do that. I confess to you that I do not always know right at once what the Lord wants.
Note: This is where the message ends and was probably the end of the tape rather than the end of the message.