by T. Austin-Sparks
Reading: John 4:31-34; 6:28-32,34,38,53-58; 7:17.
In verses 32 and 34 of the fourth chapter of the Gospel before us there are certain implicit facts. The first is that of a secret source of strength - "I have meat to eat that ye know not". Then there is shown to exist a link between the will of God and this secret strength, that the strength of Christ is maintained in relation to the will of God. Then, further, there is shown to be a link with a Divine purpose, the complete fulfilment of which is alone true satisfaction, in the same way that suitable food is satisfaction to the body when in need. If the body craves food, and is utterly satisfied only by food suitable to its need, the same truth holds good here in relation to God. That is to say, there is a Divine purpose, and the complete accomplishment of that Divine purpose is the only way of answering to the deepest need and bringing complete satisfaction, of removing the pangs of hunger and transcending all the attendant weakness.
Obedience the Way of Fulness
In all that we have said one thing is clear, that obedience is the way of fulness. By these Scriptures the food question is brought into view, and its elements are very simple. One is the maintaining of life. Another is satisfaction of need. Yet another is that of growth, increase, development, progress, maturity; the attaining unto the full measure. Carrying those into the realm of things spiritual, we see how important the food question is to the inner man. You do not take one meal for the whole of your life. Spiritually interpreted that means that the Lord does not want us to be just saved, but desires us to grow. Children of God who are unnourished, undeveloped, not built up, are a terrible tragedy.
I was listening recently to a brother who from time to time visits a certain part of Europe where large numbers of people have professed Christ at special Gospel meetings. Of the many that are reported to have been saved it was said that ninety-nine percent of them backslide. On being asked why this should be, the answer, which was given without any equivocation or hesitation, was this: There is no spiritual food to build them up. They have no ministry and no help beyond what can lead them to simple faith in the Lord Jesus. If that is true in one part of the world, in one small country in Europe, the same can be said of a much wider area, and must therefore represent terrible tragedy and be a very sound rebuke to all who would say, Get people saved and that is all that matters! Surely it represents a further demand for a ministry of Christ in fulness.
Apart from those who backslide, what about those who, while not backsliding, never go on? May the cause not be the same? Surely there is no justification whatever for condemning a ministry which is wholly given to the feeding of the flock, to the healing of a situation like that, to the meeting of need of that kind! The food question is a very acute and very serious one, and there is a great deal bound up with it. That is true in the natural, and it is also true in the spiritual, and perhaps with far more serious consequences.
So much, then, for an introductory word of a general character upon the food question.
The Nature of the Food
The food of God; the meat of God; the bread of God! What is this? In answer to that question we are to think first of the Lord Jesus in His life here on the earth. Then we shall see later that what was true of Him here is to be true of us. His basis of life is to be our basis, His sources of life are available to us.
As we turn then to think of the Lord Jesus in this particular connection, let us note the following statements: "I have meat to eat that ye know not" "My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to accomplish his work." "As the living Father hath sent me, and I live because of the Father..." We only quote the last verse so far because the latter part has to do with ourselves. "I have meat..." "My meat is to do the will of him that sent me" "I live by the Father." Such words clearly mean that His relationship with the Father was connected with a Divine purpose for the sake of which He was here on this earth; that His life in every detail was governed by a specific expression of the will of God, His Father. That is to say, the will of God for Him meant and represented a certain work. For that work He had come, and to that work He had dedicated Himself. But in the doing of that work He needed to be sustained. That sustenance was found in a maintained fellowship with the Father on all matters, and as that fellowship with the Father on all practical matters was maintained He was able to go on, and on, and ever on: running without being weary, and walking without fainting; for there was being meted out to Him in a secret way supplies of strength, sustenance, and nourishment. The will of the Father was comprehensive as to a purpose and detail, as to times, and methods, and means. Not only was He one with the Father in the Father's object and intention, but He was one with the Father in His method of reaching that object, and in His times in the working out of that object.
It is one thing to have a conception or apprehension of the purpose of God, and to be given up to it, but it is an extra thing to know how God would realise His purpose. It is still another thing to know the means He would employ. There are many who have a true conception of what God's purpose is, but the means which they employ are not God's means, the way in which they go to work is not His way, and therefore they find that the Lord does not support them. They may be in a true direction, but being out of fellowship with the method or means they are compelled to take responsibility for the work themselves, and to find the resources. Thus they find themselves oftimes exhausted, brought to a standstill, and having to resort to all kinds of methods and means to raise the resource to carry on God's work, because they are not in the real enjoyment of His Own support. The work of God becomes a burden upon their shoulders, and the Lord cannot order it otherwise because there is not the fullest fellowship and sympathy between them and His ways, His methods, His means, His times, and the details of His purpose.
Now, in the case of the Lord Jesus it was quite the contrary. In the details He was in secret fellowship with the Father. With Him this represented a detailed obedience unto one comprehensive purpose. The only explanation needed by Him in any given matter was simply that of knowing that the Father willed it, and without any further word He did it. That was the basis of His relationship. Never do we trace in Him a sign of waiting to question why a thing should be done in a certain way, or at a certain time and not another, or why certain means should be employed and not others. It was enough that the Father willed it. The explanation came in the justification and vindication that followed. The doing of the will of God was a matter of that obedience which never moves out from self but always out from the Father. As that held good in His case the spiritual resources of sustenance, maintenance, strength, and energy were supplied.
To Abide in the Will of God the Secret of Growth and Rest
This also was the secret of His growth. Perhaps the growth of the Lord Jesus is something about which we have to be careful, and yet, while perfect in His moral nature, while sinless as to His essential Being, the Word makes it perfectly clear that there was a progressiveness even in His life. The Word definitely states that He was made perfect through sufferings, and that "though He were a Son yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered". That is a strange statement. I do not profess to understand all that it means, but it at least indicates that there was progressiveness in Him. There was progress from a perfect state to a perfected state. You cannot explain that, but there is the Word for it. He moved onward with the Father, but that onward movement was by development, by expansion, as the reaching of a point of fulness by one who has started at the beginning. He had laid aside for His humanity, for His manhood, all the fulness of Deity. It was His by right, and was retained for Him, and as Son of God He was still in possession of it. As Son of Man He had relinquished the right to command the resource of Deity, and had accepted a life of complete dependence upon the Father, and that, therefore, a life of faith. Such being the case, His steps were steps of faith, which brought Him into an increase, and when He finished His course He was filled with all the fulness of a Divine replenishment of perfected humanity. We behold a Man filled with the fulness of God! In Jesus crowned we see not only God, but Man filled with the fulness of God, into which fulness we also are called, as is made perfectly clear in the Epistles.
The truth of these statements is well seen in such passages as Philippians 2:6-9: "Who being in the form of God, counted it not a thing to be grasped to be on equality with God, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men; and.... he humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the cross. Wherefore also God highly exalted him (because of this obedience), and gave unto him the name which is above every name". Then there follows the universal acknowledgment of Him in His exaltation: "That in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things on earth, and things under the earth". Again in Hebrews 2 we read: "...we behold him who hath been made a little lower than the angels, even Jesus, because of the suffering of death (that is humiliation and emptying), crowned with glory and honour..." That is but a way of saying, filled with glory and honour. So that on His part there was a moving by the way of obedience toward ultimate fulness. There was a progression. God was filling Him as He obeyed. That is what it means. The fulness was coming to Him as he obeyed. The way of obedience is the way of fulness.
The food, then, is the doing of the will of God, and to do the will of God is to abide in a relationship in which nothing is done without consultation with the Father. It not only means to inquire as to the Lord's will in some emergency, some turning point in life, some dilemma, some crisis, but to have the entire life governed by God, so that everything is submitted to Him and brought under His hand. In that life there is no loss, no narrow restricting; development, growth, increase, enlargement, new satisfaction, and a coming to Divine fulness are the marks of it. There is no deeper sense of satisfaction than that which is resultant from knowing that the Lord is satisfied, the Lord is well pleased. To know that the Lord's will has been done, and not to have a shadow of a doubt about it is to bring to the heart the deepest contentment. No good meal ever satisfied the body of a man more than the knowledge that the Lord's will has been done, or is being done, satisfies the spirit of the child of God. There is a comfort, a fulness, a satisfaction about it.
This accounts for the remarkable tranquility in the life of the Lord Jesus. There was about Him no fret, no anxiety, no strain, no feverish concern. He seemed always to be in a realm of spiritual content. Not that He was content with things outwardly, but deep down in His heart there was a rest, resultant from His utter abandonment to the will of the Father and His knowledge that the Father's will was being done hour by hour. This was no self-complacency, but the witness of the Spirit of life in Him, the Father continuing to say, "In thee I am well pleased"! Such was His life of obedience which led Him on progressively unto fulness.
The Believers Participation Through Union with Christ Risen
That brings our relationship with Him into view, and explains the bulk of this sixth chapter of John's Gospel, which foreshadows union with Christ in resurrection life. Union with Christ in resurrection life is here set forth as spiritual feeding - "He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood..." "Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, ye have not life in yourselves". What does that mean? Of course, there is a background to this chapter, as you see from verses 4 and 5 - "Now the passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand". The feeding question was just then very much in view. It was the time when they would feed upon the pascal lamb; for the Passover was a meal. When feeding was thus in view, feeding upon the Passover lamb, we have the presence of a hungry multitude. You see the timing of everything. Here is a multitude hungry, and the thought of feeding before them, the Passover at hand. The Lord Jesus stepped right in at that point and performed a symbolic miracle, feeding them as from a secret source. As to the feeding of the multitude the question had arisen: Whence bread enough for so great a multitude? The "whence" was a mystery. Bread was provided, but it did not come from the shops or from any quarter in the town, nor in its fulness did it come from the boy's basket. There was a hidden source in heaven. The multitude were fed, with bread enough and to spare; there was a large surplus. There is a great deal more in that secret cupboard than you and I need, a great deal more. There is always plenty over when our immediate need has been met. We do well to thank the Lord that it is so.
I want you to notice this twenty-seventh verse. "Work not for the meat which perisheth, but for the meat which abideth unto eternal life, which the Son of man shall give unto you". The Lord will tell us presently what that means, but for the moment He says, "...for him the Father, even God, hath sealed". This is said to a hungry multitude, with the Passover meal in view. The Lord Jesus steps right in at that point with His secret, heavenly source of sustenance, and then goes on to teach that He Himself is to be the source of supply for their deeper need - "for him the Father, even God, hath sealed." He has carried them away to the Passover. What happens at the time of the Passover? Every household takes a lamb, a lamb without spot or blemish. Who is to judge of that? Who is to say that this lamb is satisfactory? The priest is the one who carries that responsibility. So it was in the case of all the sacrifices which were offered to God, and not only of those in which the lamb found a place. The sacrifice was brought to the priest, who was expert in discovering anything wrong, and after his expert examination had been carried out and the sacrifice, whatever it might be, was found to be according to the standard required by God, without spot, or wrinkle, or blemish, or any such thing, the priest sealed it with the temple seal. It was sealed as satisfactory according to God's mind. Nothing could pass until that seal was on it. Nothing could be offered to God without that seal. Apply that in particular to the Passover lamb. It has to be sealed if it is to be God's means of sustenance, and then the slaying of it means that that lamb is acceptable to God on God's standard. With what fulness of meaning do the words then fall upon our ears, "In thee am I well pleased" "For him the Father, even God, hath sealed". Sealed by the Holy Spirit in the hour when God said, " In thee am I well pleased".
I would like now to go off at a tangent and pass onto that word of the Apostle: "Whereby ye are sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise" (Ephes. 1:13). What is the seal? Accepted in the Beloved, justified in Christ; perfect acceptance, because of what He is, and what we are in Him. God is well pleased, satisfied. But we must leave that at this time and not enlarge the compass of our meditation.
Here is Christ, sealed to be God's Own satisfaction, and therefore given as God's satisfaction to His people. He has done the will of God perfectly when He becomes the Passover Lamb, and because the will of God has been perfectly done and God has been perfectly satisfied, God gives Christ, Who is His satisfaction, for our satisfaction; that is union with Christ and our eating of Him. It is faith's taking of Christ in resurrection life to be our energy. Christ becomes our energy, our vitality, our strength, our sustenance, when our relationship to Him is exactly the same as that which existed between Him, as Man, and the Father. "As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father; so he that eateth me, he also shall live because of me" (John 6:57). How did He live by the Father? By taking the Father's mind, the Father's will, the Father's thoughts, and desires, and intentions to be the basis of His entire life, and no other. On that ground the Father gave Himself in life to Him. Now having perfectly satisfied the Father, having become the Father's full satisfaction, He then becomes the basis of our life. We live by Him. Christ our life! Christ our sustenance! What does it mean? It simply means that in Christ are found all those vital moral and spiritual elements which we require to live upon. They are provided for us. This perfection of Christ is a living energy, a vital force. It is something that can come to us in the power of the Holy Spirit in a living way.
Man According to God's Mind
We mark that in John 6:53 the reference is to Christ as Man - "Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, ye have not life in yourselves". What is the meaning of that designation? It speaks of man perfected according to God's mind. There is only one such man, the Man Christ Jesus, and it is because of what He is as Man according to God's mind, and through our faith union with Him, and faith's drawing upon Him, faith's living upon Him, faith's appropriation of Him, that moral and spiritual strength is imparted to us. It is exceedingly difficult to define or explain the mystery of how Christ gives Himself to us through faith, but there is the fact. The difference is between our effort, and struggle, and wrestle to overcome and our taking His overcoming by faith, meeting every situation, within and without, on the basis of what Christ has already done and of what He now is. Such is the tremendous foundation that God has put for our feet in Christ risen. God has put full and final accomplishment of everything right under our feet. To change the metaphor, He has spread a table with every commodity that we need for our spiritual life, and we may draw upon that bounty as we will. Christ is provided as the Bread from heaven, the perfection of moral victory, of spiritual ascendency, and our part is to learn how to live on the basis of what Christ is. "I live because of the Father." "He that eateth me, he also shall live because of me"! The alternatives which are presented are whether we will try to proceed in relation to the will of God on the basis of what we are by nature, governed by our natural resources and the conditions that may obtain in spirit, soul, and body at any given time, or whether we are going to recognise that there is another secret source which is more than that, which is the source of certain triumph, and live on that. "He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same beareth much fruit: for apart from me ye can do nothing." In those words in His parable of the Vine the Lord sets forth this truth of which we are speaking.
What is abiding? Abiding in Christ, as we have often said, is the opposite of abiding in ourselves. To abide in ourselves is simply to try to do this living, and this working for the Lord, of ourselves; asking the Lord to help us to do it, instead of recognising that a life wholly pleasing to God has been lived and that faith appropriates that accomplishment in Christ. Abiding in Christ is simply doing everything, meeting everything as out from Christ. It is a sure ground. There is no need for question and reasoning: Can it be done? Can I do it? Or, I am not sure about it. It is done. The Lord Jesus has met everything that you or I will meet, and in all things has done what is needful. That is available to faith, and faith says, Well, in myself the thing would be absurd, and to attempt the thing would be ridiculous; as to myself it would be folly to contemplate it. But it can be done, because it is done; I can meet this demand, and I can stand up to that one; I can go through with this, and I can do that - "I can do all things ("all" is a big word) through Christ, which strengtheneth me". It is what Christ is as our secret source of strength, of sustenance, of nourishment.
This is a school, and we learn this lesson in a progressive way. He learned, and we learn, though in our case there is a difference to be noted. We are learning to draw upon the fulness which He consummated, working out from a fulness as we press onward to the goal. We are learning how to come back to a fulness, He moved on toward a fulness. The Cross for Him was the end, for us it is the beginning. We have to learn how to come back to His fulness and we learn progressively, step by step, like little children, first of all learning to walk and to talk. Like them we are confronted with things which we have never done or even attempted before, things which are all new and strange; a new world, sometimes a very terrible world. The contemplation of taking his first step to a little child is a most terrifying proposition. You and I are brought into this realm of faith, wherein the simplest thing at the beginning, the taking of a first step, is sometimes fraught with horror for us. But there are arms stretched out, and those arms now represent for us the accomplishment of what is required of us, the thing is done. The strength is there, available for the matter in hand, a strength which has been proved. Recognising those arms and trusting, taking the step, we learn to walk by Christ, to live by Christ; and the next time we shall be able to go a bit further. Each time capacity is being enlarged and we are coming to a fuller measure of maturity. The fulness of Christ eventually will be that all that ever Christ accomplished will be made good in us. All! Whether here or there, it will be done. I do not know that we have ever yet caught a glimpse of what a perfect humanity is going to be like. A perfect humanity in glory hereafter will be one of tremendous capacity, tremendous ability. The accomplishments and achievement of that perfect humanity will be the occasion of great wonder. Christ in fulness!
The Offence of the Cross
Let us remember that this way is a way that is a constant offence to the flesh, to the natural man. The Jews strove with one another, saying, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" But not only did Jews, the religious people in their religious self-satisfaction, strive together, but it is also written, "Many therefore of his disciples, when they heard this, said, This is a hard saying; who can hear it?" Even disciples could not go on sometimes. When they came face to face with the implications of such a saying, they were no longer willing to be associated with Him on a basis of that kind. The flesh loves to have it in itself to be doing, to be laying the plans, arranging the programmes, organising the work, superintending it, and getting it going. The flesh revels in that, and when you come and say to that whole order of things, The way of God is the way of utter dependence and faith, with the Holy Spirit in entire charge, and you must keep your hands off and be willing to do only what the Lord tells you and no more, (that which is meant by the declaration, "I can do nothing out from myself") it is an offence to the natural man, even in religious matters. We come up against that constantly, do we not? It is the difference between meeting together as they did at Antioch to pray things out and get the Lord's witness as to His will, and having a committee meeting to discuss a proposal and make plans. If the natural man is not doing the whole thing, and arranging it, and ordering it, and running it all, he cannot think that progress can be made at all. Unless you come out with your plans, and announce your programmes, and declare what you are doing, present your statistics, the naturally minded Christian thinks that nothing is being done. It is possible to have wonderful things done without any of that kind of activity. We cite such a thing purely as an illustration. Application can be extended in many directions, but this is just to help out the thought.
The whole accomplishment of God in Christ is on the basis of Divine life mediated through faith. That is another way of saying, Christ has to be the basis of everything in a spiritual way. This is an offence to the flesh, but a satisfaction to the Spirit.
We gave to this meditation the title of "The Hidden Manna". That as you know is a word spoken to the Church at Pergamum in Rev. 2:17: "To him that overcometh to him will I give of the hidden manna..." Why was that said? Because the people of that Church were indulging in feeding upon the sacrifices of paganism. Do you perceive the character of the idol sacrifices of paganism? They had the counterfeit principle. These mystic rites of paganism in the eating of sacrifices offered to gods meant that there was an imbibing of the powers of the gods. There we have a true principle carried into a devilish realm, associated with all the most evil things, and Christians were eating of sacrifices offered to idols, to demons, to nourish their spiritual life in a mystic way. Think of it! They have grasped the idea - We get strength from the gods! It was, you see, spiritual strength they were after, but they had gone into the wrong realm for it. The Lord says to the one who requires spiritual strength, "To him that overcometh, to him will I give of the hidden manna..." The hidden manna is Christ in heaven. The thought carries us back to the Most Holy Place in the tabernacle where was the Ark of the Covenant. In the Ark was a pot of manna, hidden in the Ark in the Most Holy Place. It was hidden in the Most Holy Place. When we were speaking about the opened heaven we saw that the Most Holy Place represented heaven, the Holy Place earth. The manna in the Most Holy Place typifies Christ in heaven. "I am the bread of life I am come down from heaven...." Seven times in this discourse in John 6 that phrase "down from heaven" is used. Christ in heaven is the Hidden Manna, the Secret Source of sustenance.
We are struggling to explain the inexplicable, to define the indefinable. We can never explain the mystery of how Christ becomes the spiritual strength and nourishment of His own, but the fact is there. The practical course left to us is to act upon the fact that Christ is our sufficiency, no matter what the demand, and never to fall back upon what we are, or make our natural condition or circumstances the ground of decision. That is not the criterion, that is not the argument, that is not the conclusion of the matter. "Not what I am, O Lord, but what Thou art," this must rule in the presence of need, and in the obedience of faith we must step out on Him. We are brought to the conclusion of John 6, that the work of God, the will of God, is to believe in Him Whom He hath sent. What is it to believe in Him? How do we believe in Christ when we feel bad, when we feel ill, when things are difficult? The answer has been given. This belief, as we see borne out by the whole of this story, is appropriation. It is eating. It is one thing to say you believe in certain foods, but here that passive kind of belief has no place. Belief in this food involves the taking of it.
The Lord show us the meaning of the secret source of strength.