by T. Austin-Sparks
READINGS: Isaiah 48:6-11; 2 Cor. 5:14-18.
In the latter passage (2 Corinthians 5) the statement is very complete. It says, in the first place, that by reason of our death with Christ, in that His dying was the death of all, "all died in Him," henceforth we know no man after the flesh; then that our knowledge of Christ is no longer after the flesh but after the Spirit. A further statement follows, "...if any man is in Christ there is a new creation..." all things have become new, and all things are of God. Our knowledge of Christ is after the Spirit, that is, the relationship is a spiritual one. "If any man be in Christ there is a new creation." That clearly means that the new creation is a spiritual creation. Christ is known spiritually. All our intercourse with Christ now is of a spiritual character. Christ is a spiritual reality, and all that Christ is is spiritually known and apprehended, so that the new creation is spiritual union with Christ. Christ sets forth the nature of the new creation. The statement is that it is not after the flesh. The new creation as represented by Christ here is essentially spiritual. Christ is the new creation. Spiritual relationship with Christ brings us into the new creation. There all things are of God. That means that everything is spiritual, as related to Christ.
That may sound a little difficult and technical, but we must get the significance of that, because it is all-important. Let us put it simply. The new creation is Christ. We come into it when we come into Him, but, in order to come into Him, and, therefore, into it, there has to be a spiritual thing done, we have to become spiritual people.
The word "flesh" as used here is comprehensive and general. Not knowing Him after the flesh, and not knowing one another after the flesh means really what we should think if we were to say we do not know one another naturally, in the natural realm. Whatever that might be, that is all-embracing. We know one another as we know Christ, spiritually. The context here sets forth that our relationship with Christ in the new creation is purely a spiritual thing, and therefore our relationships with one another as being in Christ are spiritual relationships. The whole new creation is a spiritual matter, because it is Christ.
That leads us to this specific point, which goes right to the heart of things. In this realm the thing which dominates is the measure of Christ. Everything here is determined and governed by the measure of Christ. Christ fills this whole realm; Christ dominates this whole realm in a spiritual way; from this realm of the new creation everything which is not Christ is excluded: all things are out from God. We might say that God's world is Christ, so far as we are concerned. The entire sphere of God for us is Christ. For us as believers there is nothing else whatever in relation to God but Christ. Nothing is accepted by Him but Christ. Nothing is blessed by Him but Christ. Nothing is used by Him but Christ. Nothing is seen or considered by Him but Christ. Here, filling God's entire realm so far as we are concerned, is Christ, only Christ.
That is the realm of the new creation. It is "in Christ." That is why the Cross stands right at the very threshold of the whole realm of the "all things" of God, "henceforth know we no man after the flesh..." All died in Him. Everything that is of the old creation has been, by that Cross, cut off, and not one fragment of it ever enters the realm of God.
The Fire of the Cross
The passage in Isaiah 48 is full of significance when read in the light of 2 Corinthians 5 "I have shewed thee new things from this time, even hidden things, which thou has not known. They are created now, and not from of old; and before this day thou heardest them not." Now you notice certain things follow. One is: "I have refined thee, but not as silver; I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction." Now note! "For mine own sake will I do it; for how should my name be profaned? and my glory will I not give to another." That is New Testament teaching in very essence. A new thing; a new creation: then a Divine activity in the fire; and the motive - the object - God's own honour, God's own glory, that all things may be of God!
Let us put it this way. The profaning of the Lord's Name, and the taking away of His glory, is the inveterate habit and course of the old creation nature. Should you see any of the old creation getting into the realm of the things of God, what is the result sooner or later? That man takes the glory, and dishonours God. Is not that the tragic, dark story of "the Church"; man in his old creation powers and life pressing into the things of God, and making a name for himself? The Church has been the happy hunting ground of men for reputation, position, influence and all such things. The flesh always does that. It takes God's glory away, it profanes God's Name. In order that that might not be so there must be a new creation, where all things are of God. That creation is based upon the Cross, and inasmuch as you and I have accepted by faith the meaning of the Cross, and are now in Christ, what is the next thing? It is the application of that Cross in the terms of the fire which refines, the furnace of affliction.
Now note - the furnace of affliction is not for the ungodly. The fire of eternal judgment is for the ungodly, not the furnace of affliction. The furnace of affliction is for those who by faith are in Christ. What happens in the furnace of affliction? What is it that is dealt with in the fire? Is it you, and is it I, that are refined in the fire? Are you refined in the fire? Am I refined in the furnace of affliction? I say, No! emphatically NO!! If we say, Yes! well, let us look at the furnace of affliction, the fire with the metal in the crucible. What are you doing with that metal? Well, you say, you heat the fire intensely and all the uncleanness, the corruption, comes to the surface; this is skimmed off, and when that process has been carried through to its end, there is left pure gold! Then if you say that is you or that is me you will have to abandon your doctrine of total depravity, and you will have to come back to the place where you say there is good in us, after all! You will have to say there is good and bad in us, and the furnace of affliction is to get the badness out of us and leave the goodness! Is that true doctrine? No! The furnace of affliction is not for the removal of the bad out of us so as to leave the good that is in us, and secure it! Then what is its purpose? Is it to refine Christ in us? We need not discuss that! Christ needs no refining! What is it for? It is to divide between what is us in fallen nature, and what is Christ, and to get rid of the one in order to give full place to the other! The furnace of affliction is the application of the Cross to the getting rid of you and me, in order to leave the whole place for Christ. It is the measure of Christ that God is after, not to cut in between the good and bad in us, but to cut in between what is Christ, and what is ourselves. That is what the Lord is doing. He is after increasing Christ, and in order to do that He has to displace self, the old creation. It is all the measure of Christ in this realm. The realm of God is not going to be refined self, reformed self, or any kind of patching up of self. It is going to be none of self, and all of Christ.
That is God's standard. That standard has been fixed in the Cross of the Lord Jesus before God commenced. God is working to a fixed standard. He has applied the rule from the beginning, and He is working to bring us to that measure. The measure is none of self and all of Christ. The new creation is that of all things of God, and the activity of the Lord in our lives is simply to get rid of us as to the old creation, and to bring us in full measure into the new creation, which is Christ.
I want that we should be taken hold of by clear, precise, definite truth in Christ, and that, if the Lord will, this shall be fixed upon us in a new way, so as to grip us. We speak much about the Testimony of Jesus, and we say the Testimony of Jesus is our concern. Now what we have just seen brings us back again, perhaps in another way, to the defining of the Testimony of Jesus. What is that Testimony? It is simply the testimony to the fact of the utterness, the absoluteness of the Lord Jesus as in God's sight, that He is the centre and the circumference, He is the absolute sphere of the Divine interest and concern, that has made Him all and in all, and that outside of Christ in the consideration of God nothing is acceptable, usable, or a ground of blessing. God's entire concern by the Holy Spirit is to put Christ in, and to enlarge Christ until there is nothing but Christ.
This cuts a clear line between all things being of God and our coming in in some way in the realm of the things of God, either in life or service. This explains why it is that in such an absolute realm of Divine thought and intention it is altogether impossible for man to come or be brought in any way whatever.
What a True Believer Is
It is this which first of all establishes the nature of the believer. What is the believer? In God's sight the believer is one in whom Christ is implanted, and God never looks at Christ in a limited way. He always looks at Him in an absolute way, and when Christ is implanted at the beginning of our life it is not as though God implanted Him in a fragmentary way. God's thought was that the end should be bound up with the beginning, and that Christ should be All and in all. That is why conversion is never an end in itself. It is only the first step toward the full end of God. It defines the nature of the believer in God's sight, that it is of Christ. You cannot make that. No decision cards can accomplish that. You can never make men and women Christians by inviting them to make certain decisions, to assent mentally to certain propositions of Christian doctrine, though perfectly true as to the Person and work of the Lord Jesus. There has to be something which constitutes in that individual, right at the very centre of the being, a living union with Christ, and a deposit of Christ. Anything other than that is a false conversion. It is the depositing of Christ at the very centre of the being, with a view to His spreading to the very circumference, that is the nature of a believer.
What the True Church Is
What is true as to the nature of the believer is true as to the nature of the Church. You are taken from Romans to Ephesians, and you find that the Church is the Body of Christ. It is Christ! It is the fulness of Him. The Church is Christ, and in God's thought the Church simply sets before the universe the fact that here is an expression of Christ in fulness. No one can join the Church. You can never invite people to the Church. That is so pathetically contrary to the Divine thought, this spiritual relationship to Christ to which we referred at the outset. The Church is Christ. Christ is planted right at the centre in order to fill all, and it is only in the measure in which Christ is there that the Church realises its Divine being and purpose. The Church is to be the registration and impact of the living, exalted, heavenly Christ in this universe.
What True Ministry Is
What is true as to the believer, and as to the Church, is true of every other aspect of life in relation to God livingly in Christ. What is ministry? Ministry in the New Testament is not giving addresses, preaching sermons, taking classes, giving lessons and all or any of the other aspects of an organised work of Christian activity. Ministry, according to the New Testament and God's thought, is simply Christ being imparted; a ministration of Christ. That requires a living, spiritual relationship with Him. You cannot fulfil that ministry by writing out addresses and reading them. I do not say that Christ has never been ministered in that way, but you cannot do it that way of purpose. No! Ministry is simply the measure of Christ that is being passed on. It is ministering Christ. That has to be vital, that has to be living. There is something more than words in that. It means that through ministry those ministered to receive an accession, an increase of Christ; not an increase of doctrinal intelligence, but an increase of Christ. And as for the minister behind the ministry, what makes you a minister? It is just the measure of Christ, just in so far as Christ fills you, dominates you, governs you, just in that measure you are a minister of Christ.
You see the pathetic hopelessness of trying to propagate anything by organised means and methods which really is all of God. It simply has to grow, it simply has to be. Ah, but when it is so it is mighty, it is indestructible, it is incorruptible. Nothing can stand in the way of Christ. It is that which rouses hell and the energies of the Devil. He does not mind all the other doctrine, work, profession. That may often serve his ends as a great deception, misrepresentation; but bring Christ in, bring Christ through, realise Christ, and then you meet every force in this universe which is antagonistic to Christ.
The Unveiling of Christ
The New Testament is occupied entirely with the unveiling of Jesus Christ to the believer, in the Church, and through the Church to the universe. The word "apocalypse" is a very interesting word in the New Testament. We bind it up with the Book of the Revelation and call that the Apocalypse, the unveiling of Jesus Christ. But you will find that the same word is used as to believers. The Lord Jesus was apocalised in Paul: "It pleased God to apocalyse his Son in me" (Gal. 1:15,16). Christ has His apocalypse in the Church. He is revealed in it. Christ has His apocalypse through the Church unto principalities and powers. Then Christ will have His apocalypse to the whole universe later on. The New Testament is occupied through and through with this unveiling of Jesus Christ.
Without venturing to proceed along that line we suggest to you that every letter in the New Testament embodies some aspect of the revelation of Christ, as set over against the old creation.
Romans. The revelation of the Lord Jesus in resurrection! The primary factor in the letter to the Romans is resurrection life in Christ. Through universal death, sin, judgment, and the curse, at last you come on to resurrection ground, and then everything which is of God begins. It is Christ in the power of His resurrection.
1 Corinthians! Christ in the Spirit, as over against believers in the flesh; or, more exactly, in the soul. The whole trouble throughout the first letter to the Corinthians, the trouble which you find indicated in the first chapters, is in connection with believers living in the realm of "nature," the word there being "soul." Recall all that follows in that letter. Believers - not unbelievers - coming into, or seeking to come into, the realm of Divine things with their own natural equipment, intellect, emotion, will, and a terrible mess consequently. Therefore the emphasis is: "Now the natural man (the soul man) receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him; and he cannot know them, because, they are spiritually judged, but he that is spiritual..." (1 Cor. 2:14). That strikes a note of the "all things" of God. Therefore, in order that the Lord's Name should not be dishonoured, and His glory taken away by another, which is the flesh - "I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:2). "Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God" (1 Cor. 1:24). The same Spirit is at work to bring Christ spiritually into the full place, to set aside this merely soulish kind of Christianity. Not that the soul itself has to be set aside, but the merely soulish Christianity. Many people think that because soulishness is wrong the soul is wrong. When soulishness is spoken of, we do not mean that the soul is wrong, and has therefore to die; we mean that the domination of the soul in things spiritual is all wrong. Christ has to be known in the Spirit, and to be lived in the Spirit, as against that old nature in the realm of spiritual things.
2 Corinthians! Here it is ministry. "We have this ministry" is the governing note. What ministry? "God, that said, Light shall shine out of darkness, who shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Cor. 4:6). We are pressed, pursued, perplexed, cast down, we had the sentence of death in ourselves! What is all that for? What else is this but the fire of affliction to apply the Cross, in order that everything should be of God; "that the exceeding greatness of the power may be of God, and not from ourselves" (2 Cor. 4:7). It is all things out from God. We have this treasure in vessels of fragile clay, pressed, we are pursued, we are perplexed, we are cast down! Yes, but it is all to this one end, "that the exceeding greatness of the power may be of God, and not of ourselves." It is the undoing of man by nature, in his strength, in order that the Divine glory in the face of Jesus Christ might be shown forth.
You will find that every letter is occupied with the presentation of Christ in some way, over against the old creation, and the object is to bring Christ into His full place, because it is that that matters, that is all important.
I feel that we should recognise the necessity for real exercise of heart in this matter, that everything for us in the future should be valued according to God's scale of values, that is, how much it represents Christ. You cannot accept me in the things of God on any other ground whatever save of how much of Christ comes to you through me. You cannot accept me for the volume of words and ideas, the number of messages given, and how much truth comes to you through me, or any other thing, save how much of Christ is ministered to your spiritual life. That thrusts back upon the Lord, and makes ministry not professional, but a matter of my knowing the Lord for your sakes, living on the Lord for your sakes. That applies to all who in any way minister. It is not the wonderful arrangement of messages, of truth, or anything like that, but just the measure in which Christ is being ministered. That is the standard. An assembly must be estimated according to that standard, not because of any other thing save the measure of Christ that is represented there. If we talk about a fellowship, it will not be simply because we come together and have good relationships, but it will be fellowship in Christ, which means that by that fellowship Christ is ministered to one another, so that we have an increase of Christ. Do you see the principle? It spreads itself over everything that has to do with God. It is the measure of Christ, and anything that is not Christ is not reckoned in at all by God. "...henceforth know we no man after the flesh..." That means that we can only know one another in Christ in so far as there is Christ in each other. I cannot go on with you, and you cannot go on with me, only in the measure in which Christ is met. Christ is the mutual ground of our relationship, our fellowship.
I see the appalling state of things today amongst the Lord's people everywhere; death, weakness, limitation, defeat, failure, inability to stand up, to go on; and, without being critical, censorious or judging, you have to come to the conclusion as you speak with so many, that the measure of Christ is pathetically small. Sometimes when you speak about the Lord to people, who have borne the name of Christian for many years, they gape at you as though you were talking a strange language.
Let us ask the Lord that, so far as we are concerned, there may be an increase of Christ in every way. Let us seek grace for any fiery furnace in the light of the explanation, that it is neither what is of Christ that is being tested in us, nor any good within ourselves, but that what is not Christ should disappear, that it should be Christ, only Christ. At last this universe will know nothing but Christ. He will fill all things, and that will be a great day! May He be fully formed in us.