by T. Austin-Sparks
Chapter 6 - The Secret Fellowship and Communion with the Father
Reading: John 5:19-20,30; 16:13; Rom. 8:2,6.
These statements of the Lord Jesus from the fifth chapter of John's Gospel contain two or three elements.
The first is that they constitute a clear and definite statement of what we may call a negative fact. "I can of myself do nothing" "The Son can do nothing of himself!" That is a plain statement, but there are in that statement two inferences. One is that inasmuch as He is, at this very time of speaking, doing things, even as He had declared: "My Father worketh even until now and I work" - and that is connected with the healing of this man as recorded in the first part of the chapter - and also saying things, and none of this activity is out from Himself, then He must have another source of action and word; another secret source is in operation. It is not the case that, because He can neither do nor speak out from Himself, He is therefore silent and inactive. The fact that He cannot do nor speak out from Himself has neither arrested utterance nor checked action, but He is full of utterance and of action, which means that another secret source of expression is operating. That is, of course, the first clear inference.
There is a second, which is that the positive statement draws a contrast and marks a difference. The difference is between Himself and others. To get the force of that you can stress a certain part of the sentences: "The Son can do nothing out from himself" "I can of myself do nothing." Here is One Who is alone in this matter, Who is unique, Who is peculiar in this direction. It is a statement which immediately draws a line between Him and all the rest of men; for that which marks the natural man is the fact that he does speak and act out from himself. It is the mark of all men in nature to do that, simply because their first father did so in such a way as to involve all his progeny. This was the very essence of the fall. Adam deliberately acted out from himself when God's clear, expressed will for him was that he should not do so, but that he should act out from God. He broke away from God as the source of his thinking, and his acting, and thought and acted independently, out from himself. That brought about the fall, and all men in Adam now think and act out from themselves. It is the mark of the natural man. But here is One Who does nothing after that principle. It is a contrasting statement, and shows us at once God's Own mind about man, and what God is seeking to do in the case of all those who come into a living relationship with Him.
Note how this thing works out in the chapter before us. Because the Lord Jesus never thinks, speaks, nor acts out from Himself the result is life - "For as the Father raiseth the dead and quickeneth them, even so the Son also quickeneth whom he will" (verse 21). The result is life. You have a contrast presented in the chapter, which opens with the healing of the man at the Pool of Bethesda. "And a certain man was there, which had been thirty and eight years in his infirmity" (verse 5). The Lord Jesus healed him, and then the Jews said to him that was cured, "It is the sabbath" (verse 10). Later, it is said, "And for this cause did the Jews persecute Jesus, because he did these things on the sabbath" (verse 16). And further, "For this cause therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only brake the sabbath, but also called God his own Father, making himself equal with God" (verse 18). Firstly they persecuted Him because He did these things on the sabbath, and then they sought to kill Him, because He brake the sabbath and called God His Father. You can see the opposite action, can you not? There is a working of death. Why? Because they were thinking, reasoning, acting, and speaking out from themselves; that is, out from their own interpretation of the law, instead of out of a Divine revelation of the law. They had the law, but they construed it according to their own judgment, interpreted it according to their own mind, applied it according to their own will, and the result was death. The Lord Jesus had a secret source of knowledge and understanding which they had not. He was drawing upon that and not upon His Own reasoning, not upon His Own interpretation, not upon traditional grounds but upon spiritual. His activity was therefore always in the direction of life. You see in this chapter the conflict between those who think, and speak, and act as out from themselves - albeit in a religious way - and One Who is not thinking, speaking, acting out from Himself, but in the Spirit. There is conflict always between the two sources, and the two effects are life and death, death and life.
What is the word upon which all that hangs? "My Father worketh even until now, and I work." The Sabbath day! Yes, but how shall a man judge of it? How shall it be known what becomes it? How shall he deal rightly with the Scriptures regarding it? Again, these Jews called God their Father, and knew not how they contradicted such a claim, nor how their ways bore record that theirs was no living faith in Him, so that when the Lord Jesus said: "My Father worketh even until now..." they sought the more to kill Him. But the Lord Jesus is working in life on the basis of a secret fellowship with the Father, by which He knows what the Father is doing, how the Father is doing it, and when the Father is doing it. It is a secret source of fellowship and communion, resulting in life. Without that there may be religious activity, everything according to tradition, and yet the issue be death.
The Relationship that of a Common Life
We want to bring all this together into a few definite statements. We see that what lies back of the life of the Lord Jesus is a secret fellowship and communion with the Father. Then the first thing which becomes quite clear is that it was a relationship of life by the Holy Spirit. This particular relationship between the Lord Jesus as the Son of Man and the Father, as distinct from His relationship in essential oneness, and deity, and Godhead as the Son of God, was on a basis of a common life, one life with the Father. That life was the secret of this fellowship, this communion.
That is a simple statement which everyone should be able to grasp, and it vitally affects ourselves, for we find that, after the Cross of the Lord Jesus, when He is risen from the dead, our relationship with the Father in Christ is on the basis of sharing a common life. "God hath given unto us eternal life, and this life is in his Son." That is the life which was, and is, in the Son, and we have it in Him. Thus as partakers together of the one life we have been brought into a relationship which is to work out in fellowship, in communion, in intercourse. Everything springs out of that.
We need not stay further with this, save to point out how many and varied are the things to which people fondly cling as a basis of true relationship with God. I fear that multitudes of religious people, people who would come under the title of Christian people, church-going people, believing that they have a relationship with God, have a wrong basis for that belief. The basis may be that they have had a Christian home, and Christian up-bringing. It may be that they have accepted the tenets of the Christian faith, the creedal presentation of Christian principles, that they attend Divine worship, say prayers, read the Bible, and many other things like that. They believe that their relationship with God is a perfectly sound one, and that all is well with them on such grounds as these. Now unless I have sadly misread the New Testament, the one and only true basis of a relationship with God is that of sharing God's Own life by its impartation to us in regeneration, new birth; the possessing of the very life of God Himself, which no man possesses by nature. That hardly needs to be said at this time, let alone stressed, but by way of explaining what we mean by the relationship between Christ, as Man, and the Father being the same as that into which we are brought by new birth, it is necessary to see that the relationship is that of life by the Holy Spirit, even as He said: "As the Father hath life in himself, even so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself." It is a Divine impartation and only given to certain people.
The Law of the Spirit of Life
The second thing is that the relationship works itself out in life. It is a relationship of life fundamentally, but it is a relationship which works itself out by life. If you read quietly again through the life of the Lord Jesus, with your eye watching for the indications of a government which does not lie on the surface, but which gives rise to what is seen on the surface, you will find a great deal which makes it perfectly clear that everything in His life was coming from another, secret source.
The times of His movements are governed times; they are not impulsive movements, they are governed. You cannot get away from the fact that these times, these set times, these fixed times, are not haphazard. We are not in this having to do with something incidental, there is a fixed time for His movements. Any time will not do for Him. Man's time will not do. He has to have the true time for everything. We have sought to show that His life was very largely governed by that principle, and the watchword of the Son of Man was, "Mine hour!" "Mine hour is not yet!" "The hour is come!" His mother very early in His life sought by an appeal of need to persuade Him to act in relation to the exhausted wine. No appeal of circumstance, of need, of persuasion, of sentiment, of human affection, nor of anything of the earth, of man, of nature, could persuade Him. His rejoinder immediately was, "Mine hour is not yet!" But that time came very quickly. The feast did not proceed much further before evidently that hour came. It seems to follow almost immediately. "Mine hour is not yet!" Then there appears to have been just time for His mother to say to the servants, "Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it," and the hour was come. But if there is only the space of three minutes, five minutes, He will wait for it. He will not anticipate it by a minute. His times were governed. "I go not up yet unto this feast!" Then when His brethren were gone up Jesus Himself went up. What was the governing thing? "Mine hour is not yet!" Now evidently His hour had come. But it only took apparently a little while. It may be but a few hours between, "Mine hour is not yet," and the arrival of the hour. There is something in the heavenly realm holding as to times. The times are governing His acts, and His acts are the expressions of set times.
With His words it is the same. He speaks not His Own words. He is counting upon the Father for the words all the time. He is receiving the words from a secret source. Times, acts, words were all governed by the Father.
But now the question confronts us, By what means did the Father govern? How did the Father govern times, acts and words? To put that round the other way, How did the Lord Jesus know when the time had come, and what the words were, and what the acts were? I think the answer is undoubtedly this: By life, by the quickening of the Spirit, the life-giving Spirit. There is a law of the Spirit of Life in Christ, the Spirit of life in Christ, and a law of the Spirit of life in Christ.
We speak about natural laws. What are natural laws? Take the law of nourishment. Provided that law is complied with, honoured; and at the right time the body is given what it needs, not more, not less, the law of nourishment deals with that and quite spontaneously works out in development, growth, to express itself in various ways. It is the working of a natural law spontaneously. You do not sit down with the law, and watch it, and worry about it. What you do is to feed yourself, and leave all the rest to the law. If you violate the law you know all about it, but acting rightly in relation to the law you will not be fretting all day long about the law of nourishment, you will simply be taking your meals and getting on with your work. The result is that you are able to work, able to go on; you are nourished.
The law of the Spirit of life in Christ is like that. It is a law of life, and it works out in a practical way when respected and honoured. It works out spontaneously in certain directions. It has its own results quite naturally. The law of the Spirit of life in Christ is that law by which we become aware. That is the simplest way of putting things. The Lord Jesus knew that at a certain time He could not act, could not speak; He had no movement of the Spirit in quickening, no life so to do at that time; in His spirit there was no movement of life; the law was not active in the positive way. But when the Father, Who knew what was required in speech or action, saw that the time had come, He did not bend down and speak with an audible voice into His ear, and say, Now is the time! Say this! Do that! He simply quickened Him inwardly. The law of life became active in that direction, and He knew by an inward quickening what the mind of God was. That is what Paul means when he says, "The mind of the Spirit is life."
If you want to know the mind of the Spirit about anything, you will know it by quickening, by life in that direction. If you want to know what the Spirit is against, you will know it because there is death in that direction in your spirit, you have no life, you say, in that direction. All right, that means you know the Lord, you know the Spirit, you know what it is to move on the basis of the law of the Spirit of life in Christ. The Father governed Him by that law. He governs us by exactly the same law when we are joined to the Lord, one spirit. Guidance, direction, is a matter of life in the Spirit, life by the Spirit. The Lord Jesus had His life ordered, governed, conducted, arranged in every detail by the quickening Spirit; the Spirit of life in Christ.
This it is, again, that provides the contrast. These Jews came along and said: Here is the Scripture, and the Scripture says, You ought not to do certain things, and You are doing them; You are all wrong because the Scripture says this! When Christ so acted was He violating the Scripture? Or was He giving God's meaning to the Scripture? When God gave that law, did He not have a fuller meaning than what men see just on the surface? Was there not a spiritual interpretation? Was it not pointing on to something, which when it came was to supersede - I do not mean break but transcend - simply because higher, fuller, deeper meaning was reached? Christ is God's Sabbath. It is in Christ that God comes to rest in all His works; His new creation. But they said, You must abide by the letter! We put it in that way to show the difference between taking the letter and having the Holy Spirit's illumination of the letter. Life and the letter are often contrasted in the Word. The letter killeth, the Spirit maketh alive.
I wonder if you are recognizing this fact, which should be quite clear from what we have been saying, that this life, this particular life which God gives by His Spirit, is not just a deposit in us. It is a gift, but not just a gift. If I were to take a penny from my pocket and give it to my boy, he would take it, and he would say, Thank you! and he would put it down in his pocket, where it may stay, as good a penny as ever was, with all the values of a penny. It will accomplish all that ever a penny could accomplish, but it is down in his pocket; he has it; it is a gift; he said, Thank you! and took it. He realizes that there is a value bound up with that penny, and he keeps it tucked away there in his pocket. The day may come when, in an emergency, that penny will save the situation. That emergency day may lie ahead, and it will just be that penny that will get him through. Now, it may be exactly the same with eternal life. The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Thank you, Lord, for eternal life! And it may be taken and, as it were, put away, with the thought that one day it will save us from hell and get us through. Is that all that eternal life is meant to be? No! Life is not just a gift, a deposit to be stored away. There is far more bound up with life than that. It has to do with all that we have been speaking of. Our whole course is to be governed by life. That life is God's basis of ruling, ordering, and of revelation. We shall only have a growing knowledge of the Lord as we have that life. Revelation is by life. Revelation to the believer is only on the basis of having Divine life. The increase of that life means the increase of light, for light comes by life. "In Him was life, and the life was the light of men."
The Relationship Established in Resurrection Union
All that needs to be said for the moment in conclusion is that this relationship and fellowship is available for all who are on resurrection ground, in resurrection union with Christ. On resurrection ground, in union with Him as risen, His risen life is for us. Then, if that is so, all that that life means is for us: fellowship with the Father in life unto increase; communication; secret knowledge of the Lord.
I am most anxious that you should recognize that. One of the crying needs of our day, in the case of those related to the Lord by the possession of eternal life through new birth, is this personal knowledge of the Lord, of having the life governed inwardly by the Lord, having that inward intelligence of the Lord, the Lord's mind, the Lord's time, the Lord's way; personally knowing the Lord in a living way. One can simply be a Christian, saved, and living upon all that is external to oneself of Christianity, but that is quite another thing.
Do you know the Lord personally for yourself? Do you know what personal fellowship with God is? Do you know what it is to have the Lord inwardly quicken you in relation to His mind about things, so that there is no need for any one to tell you when a thing is wrong and not according to the Lord, or what you ought to do in certain matters, or what is not becoming to one who professes Christ and bears His Name; you know. Your life is ordered and governed by that inward knowing of the Lord.
It is most remarkable how those who have life conform to the mind of the Lord even in ordinary things such as dress and behaviour. Life governs everything, and that life causes a shedding of things which are not according to Christ; they drop away; there is an adjusting. There is no need whatever to tell anyone in whom the Lord's life is active, in whom the Spirit of life is governing, whether they ought to go to certain things, or ought not to go to certain places, or do certain things. The Spirit of life will govern and direct them by that inward life. How often we have been approached and asked about certain things, and reluctantly have given our mind, and the individual has said, Well, I knew before I asked! How did you know? It was the law of the Spirit of life in Christ making you to know. You knew quite well that you had no life along a certain line, that that was death, that was arrest, that was a check, and that the witness of life lay in another direction. Perhaps you vacillated, and as you wavered, as you postponed the deliberate obedience to the law of life you found yourself getting into confusion, losing your peace, and losing your testimony.
This relationship and fellowship is common to all who are in risen union with Christ, partakers of His risen life, but it demands recognition. Do you recognize that it is for you individually? It demands recognition. You have to look this thing straight in the face and say, That kind of life, a life governed by the Spirit of God inwardly, is for me; not for special people, but for me! Life is the common basis of all believers, not the special privileged basis of certain highly developed saints. "For in one Spirit were we all baptized into one body..." Do you recognize the fact? Then it demands obedience. We must be quite sure that we have no controversy with the Spirit of life. We must be quite sure there is no avoidance of, or resistance to, the Spirit of life, and equally that we are not neglecting the dictates of the Spirit of life, but are obedient. Not only must we shun a position of positive resistance, but we must give equal diligence not to slip into a careless one, where we say, Well, it is all right, it does not matter very much! It does. It matters tremendously. It is possible for death to begin to take hold, to grip, to work, and for us to be altogether unconscious of it. It works so subtly that we do not realize what has happened, until we wake up to find that we are a long way away from the Lord, and have a tedious path to travel back and a lot to encounter on the way. It is a very costly thing to recover ground like that. The law of the Spirit of life in Christ demands obedience, active obedience, and not merely passive assent.
This demands a walk in the Spirit. That means a going on, and that walk in the Spirit represents not only an abiding in a certain realm, but development or progress in what that realm represents. I mean this, that none of us knows the will of God, the mind of God, perfectly. Let no one think that what we have been saying means that because we have the life we shall at once know what the Lord wants on every detail. I doubt whether there is a person in this world who has that measure of knowledge. There will always be those things about which we are exercised as to the Lord's mind, but for which the time has not yet come for us to know it, or related to which some further factor remains in our knowing of the Lord that has to be dealt with first before such knowledge can be ours. We do not come to perfect knowledge of His times, and His directions, His thoughts and His deeds all at once, but we have the law, and as we move with the Lord we become more and more sensitive to that law, and therefore more and more able to judge of what the Lord's mind is. It is progressive, a growing thing. We must walk in the Spirit, and as we do so we shall prove progressively and continuously what is that good, and perfect, and acceptable will of God. It is the law of the Spirit of life which produces, shall I say, an enlarging organism.
You see what is available to us; the nature of our relationship with the Lord; the tremendous power of life; the secret resource which is ours through that life, and how through that inward life we are to be governed by the Lord. The Lord establish in us His law of the Spirit of Life in Christ.
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