Filled Unto All the Fulness of God

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 5 - The Tremendous Necessity for Going On to God's End

The governing word for our meditation is in the 19th verse of the third chapter of the letter to the Ephesians: "...filled unto all the fulness of God".

The book of Joshua is the historic book which illustrates that. The letters to the Ephesians and the Colossians are the letters which spiritually correspond to the book of Joshua.

The book of Joshua is divided into three main sections. The first twelve chapters are occupied with the conquest of the land and all that has to do with the conquest - from the commissioning of Joshua and the sending of the spies to Jericho; the crossing of Jordan and the memorial stones; then the actual preparation for conquest; the siege and capture of Jericho; the failure at Ai; the sin of Achan and the judgement of Achan; the renewed assault on Ai; the reading of the law at Mount Ebal; the strategy of the Gibeonites; war with the five kings and the completion of the campaign.

Then with chapter 13 there commences the apportioning of the land, the appointing of the inheritance. That goes on to the end of chapter 22. First the portion of Reuben, Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh; then the provision for Levi and the portion of Caleb. That was followed by Judah's inheritance then that of Ephraim, of Manasseh, of Benjamin, then Simeon, Zebulun, Issachar, Asher, Naphtali and Dan. Then the cities of refuge are established and the cities of the Levites. Then there comes in that section which has to do with the relation between the two and a half tribes on the other side of Jordan, and the nine and a half in the land. The final short section, in chapters 23 and 24, has to do with the departure of Joshua. There is his farewell, the renewing of the covenant, and his death and burial; also that of Eleazar, the priest.

The one word which predominates throughout the book is the word "inheritance", which occurs forty-four times.

To understand all that spiritually, and to derive the real benefit from it, we have to come mainly to these two New Testament letters: Ephesians and Colossians. It will prove helpful, in the light of the book which we have just outlined and more so in the light of any more detailed and microscopic study of the book of Joshua, to read in these two letters.

The question which is before us is: What does all this mean spiritually? The answer is clearly given in these following fragments out of these letters.

Ephesians 1:3-4: "Blessed by the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ; even as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blemish before Him in love. The fragment "every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ" surely opens the whole book of Joshua from the standpoint of the divine thought. It is the inheritance.

Ephesians 1:10-13: "Unto a dispensation, of the fulness of the times, to sum up all things in Christ, the things in the heavens, and the things upon the earth; in Him... in whom also we were made a heritage... to the end that we should be unto the praise of His glory... in whom, having also believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise...". Joshua represents, in type, the energies of the Holy Spirit in relation to all the Word of God which came through Moses; and Joshua's function, as representing the Holy Spirit in energy, is to bring into the good of all the promises. There you have "the Holy Spirit of promise".

Verse 14: "Which is an earnest of our inheritance...". The sealing of the Holy Spirit of promise, as an earnest of the inheritance. The Word of the Lord to Joshua was that He had given him all the territory and all his enemies. Everything was already given in Joshua; in Joshua the people possessed everything. The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of promise, possesses everything, and when we have the Holy Spirit we have the earnest of the inheritance: "Unto the redemption of God's own possession, unto the praise of His glory."

Verses 18-21: "Having the eyes of your heart enlightened, that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what the exceeding greatness of His power to us-ward who believe, according to that working of the strength of His might Which, He wrought in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and made Him to sit at his right hand in the heavenlies, far above all rule...". It is quite impossible to keep the first and second chapters of Joshua out of that portion. The power of His resurrection, by which we are brought, through conquest, into the inheritance.

Chapter 2:1: "And you did He quicken, when you were dead through your trespasses and sins". That brings us into Joshua 3, on resurrection ground. Verse 6 is the completion of that: "And raised us up with Him, and made us to sit with Him in the heavenlies, in Christ Jesus".

Verse 10: "We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God afore prepared that we should walk in them" (ASV). How truly characteristic of the Joshua line of things that last verse is!

Verse 22: "In whom you also are built together for a habitation of God in the Spirit". There is the object which God has in view, that they should be a habitation of God in the Spirit.

Chapter 3:10-11: "To the intent that now unto the principalities and the powers in the heavenlies might be made known through the church the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which He purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord." There again the Word fits so suitably into the Joshua record. "Now unto the principalities and the powers... through the church the manifold wisdom of God" made known.

Verse 16: "That He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, that you may be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inward man". Again we remind ourselves of the constantly reiterated exhortation to Joshua: "Be strong"; "Only be strong and very courageous"; "Have not I commanded you, Be strong". It is in-strengthening in view of the inheritance. There are the energies of the Holy Spirit in Joshua, and he is to be strong in those energies to enter in.

Verses 17-19: "That Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; to the end that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be strong to apprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth". "May be strong..." what for? "To apprehend... the breadth and length and height and depth". If that had worked out in its historic aspect in the case of the people under Joshua, what a different book would have followed instead of the book of Judges, as we have it now. When you come into the section of the book of Joshua dealing with the apportioning of the land, you find the measurements are given and the line followed such-and-such a course for each tribe, and that was the bound of their habitation. And they were to occupy that to the full, exploit that to the full, make that good without reservation. This prayer in the third chapter of Ephesians is just in connection with that: being strong, rooted and grounded in love (for unless there is the deepest and fullest fellowship in this whole matter there will be limitation) to apprehend the breadth, the length, the height, the depth.

Verses 20-21: "Now unto Him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, unto Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus unto all generations for ever and ever". "Above all that we ask or think...". It is never because of inability on the Lord's part that there is failure. He is able to super-abundantly do. In that last verse we get the fulness of God's thought, to which man has never yet attained, but which remains undiminished.

Chapter 4:1: "I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beseech you to walk worthily of the calling where­with you were called". All that has preceded is the calling; now there is a beseeching to walk worthily of the calling. What is it to walk worthily? Verse 2: "With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering...". (Take up the book of Joshua mentally as we go along). "...forbearing one another in love. Giving diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace".

Verses 4-6: "There is one body, and one Spirit, even as also you were called...". Verses 17-19: "This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you no longer walk as the Gentiles also walk, in the vanity of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardening of their heart; who being past feeling gave themselves up to lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness". That can very well be fitted into the book of Joshua, when we see how the Lord called so strongly for an utter separation from the life and walk of the nations, in the midst of whom they were moving.

Verse 20: "But you did not so learn Christ." That is a great phrase! What is the object? It is Christ. Everything is a matter of our apprehension of Christ.

Verse 30: "And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, in whom you were sealed unto the day of redemption". How do you grieve the Spirit? Verse 31: "...bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and railing... with all malice". They are the things which are contrary to Christ. Chapter 5:3: "But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be named among you, as becomes saints". Once more a touch with the nations round about.

Verse 6: "Let no man deceive you with empty words...". We can fit the Gibeonites in there very well.

Verse 18: " filled with the Spirit". That is the only possible way of reaching the fulness of the inheritance.

Chapter 6:10-12: "Finally, be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of His might. Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenlies". Those are all Joshua features. If we do nothing more than get that clear understanding and apprehension, we have something of profit and of value.

We turn now to the letter to the Colossians.

Chapter 1:9: "For this cause we also, since the day we heard, do not cease to pray and make request for you, that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding". That is one of the "all spiritual blessings" in the heavenlies, part of the inheritance.

Verses 10-12: "To walk worthily of the Lord unto all pleasing, bearing fruit in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all power, according to the might of his glory, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness; giving thanks unto the Father, who made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light". "The inheritance of the saints in light" does not refer to the saints who have gone to glory. The saints in the light are those who are now here. If we are the saints in the light, then the inheritance is for us now. We are made "meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light". Why should that clause "the light" apply only to saints in glory? "We are not of the night, nor of the darkness"; "you are all sons of light, and sons of the day." The inheritance comes in here very distinctly.

Verses 13-14: "Who delivered us out of the power of darkness, and translated us into the kingdom of the Son of His love; in whom we have our redemption, the forgiveness of our sins".

Verse 19: "For it was the good pleasure of the Father that in Him should all the fulness dwell".

Verses 21-23: "And you, being in time past alienated and enemies in your mind in your evil works, yet now has he reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and without blemish and unreproveable before Him; if so be that you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard...".

Verses 28-29: "Whom we proclaim, admonishing every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ; whereunto I labour also, striving according to His working, which works in me mightily".

"Whereunto (to which end) I labour also...". The end: "perfect in Christ". All admonition is unto that end.

Chapter 2:2-3: "That their hearts may be comforted, they being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, that they may know the mystery of God, even Christ, in whom are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge hidden". Verse 6: "As therefore you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him".

Verses 8-12: "Take heed lest there shall be any one that makes spoil of you through his philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world and not after Christ; for in Him dwells all the fulness of the Godhead bodily, and in Him you are made full, who is the head of all principality and power: in whom you were also circumcised with a circumcision not made with hands, in the putting off of the body of the flesh, in the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism, wherein you were also raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead". Also much in keeping with the position in Joshua.

Verse 15: "Having put off from Himself the principalities and the powers, He made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it". Verse 20: "If you died with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to ordinances...?"

Chapter 3:1-4: "If then you were raised together with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated on the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are upon the earth. For you died, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, our life, shall be manifested, then shall you also with Him be manifested in glory". Verses 11-13: "Where there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, bondman, freeman; but Christ is all, and in all. Put on therefore, as God's elect, holy and beloved, a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, meek­ness, longsuffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving each other, if any man have a complaint against any; even as the Lord forgave you, so also should you." Verse 16: "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom...". All that, in both the letters, is the meaning of the book of Joshua.

It is very necessary for us to recognise the tremendous necessity for going on to God's end. We cannot be too strong in our emphasis upon this. And if we contemplate the perils of not doing so, we shall assuredly come to see how important it is that we should be fully stretched out toward the Lord's end. There is very little doubt but that failure to go on to God's end is, and has always been, the root out of which there have sprung most of the failures of God's people. It is a root failure which has many branches, and many shoots of failure. The tragic (the pathetic, we might say), the appalling conditions which have come to prevail and obtain amongst the people of God from time to time, can usually be traced to this root: failure at some point to go on. People stop at quite a lot of things.

A great many people stop at conversion. We dare not use the word "salvation", because it is a comprehensive word, and salvation goes on to the end; but we refer to that first phase of salvation: conversion. Multitudes stop there. Stopping there produces quite a large number of unhappy, unfortunate, and unsatisfactory conditions, not the least of which is that with many, after having been converted for a long stretch of years, there is very little more of the fulness of Christ than they knew at the beginning; and they are very little more capable and responsible people in relation to the purposes of God than they were when they were converted. They are still dependent upon everything outside of themselves; dependent upon what is given them for their food, dependent upon what is told them or advised them for their guidance, dependent upon things and persons for their support, dependent upon outside resources for their spiritual energy.

The root of the matter is not in themselves and so the Lord has a very, very large family of children who have grown old, so far as time is concerned, and never developed so far as spiritual faculties are concerned. That is a terrible tragedy. People stop at conversion, and so, whereas the Lord ought to have in all His people those who are able to take responsibility in His Name and teach the children spiritually and lead them on, multitudes, even after years, still have to be treated as children and led on from the outside.

I saw three little swallows sitting on the gutter of the roof outside the window this morning, closely huddled together, having never yet learned to fly and get their own food; and the mother bird was coming and going all the time, just dropping things into those large, wide-open mouths. That was a very beautiful sight, and a proper thing, but if I had seen three full-grown swallows sitting in that position, and another one feeding them, I should have said: There is something wrong here. And yet that is the condition spiritually of not a few of those who have known the Lord for many years. Paul said: "Warning and admonishing... to present every man perfect" (complete, full-grown). Many, then, stop at conversion and many evils follow.

Many stop with tradition. They have either been brought up in a tradition, or they have accepted a tradition, or have been introduced into a tradition in the early days of their Christian life. And the traditions, which have become the encompassment (the scaffolding, shall we say), have remained, and they have remained a part of the tradition. And that tradition - which may have been good in measure - intended to lead on to something else instead of being a scaffolding in which a structure should go on which should outgrow the scaffolding, has become a prison. Multitudes of the Lord's people are in an imprisonment to tradition; something which has become set and static. This bondage to tradition is a terrible tyranny. They see nothing beyond that set thing which is merely the outward mould, and any appeal to many such Christians, made along the lines of a fuller knowledge of the Lord and a fuller presentation of the Lord, is met with: "Well, I have not been brought up to think like that. I have not been taught to accept that. All my training, all that in which I have been nurtured, all that in which I have lived my Christian life had no place for that." Tradition, whether it be church, or ecclesiastical system, creed, or any of the things which are traditional, become a prison house for many. So many stop there, and it seems impossible to move them out of that rut.

Further, many stop with truth. This is just as dangerous, and perhaps pernicious, in its results as any other. That may apply in two ways. It may apply in the direction of a set conviction. There may be no question about it being the truth, but that thing becomes a set conviction. People can become so set in their convictions that they are not prepared to accept any further light. There they stop with their convictions instead of being open to add to their faith, knowledge. This is a barrier which is very difficult to pass. We often meet such people who have settled the thing finally, and, while there is no desire whatever to oppose their settled position as to truth, the very fact that they have settled there is, in their case, a hindrance to something more that the Lord would give. They seem to think - though it is in truth - that to move on is of necessity to move away from their position. That does not necessarily follow.

There is another way in which we may stop with truth, and that is with the fascination of truth. Here is a dangerous thing. It is the fascination of discovering new ideas, new thoughts, something original in the Word of God. It is, shall we say, the freshness, the originality, the interest as something in itself with which many stop. They have found a new interpretation, they have got a new thought, a new idea, and they go on just concentrating upon that line of things. That works out too often in a strained, straw-splitting, hair-splitting fancifulness in the Word of God that sometimes becomes almost nauseating. It is reading into the Word something; it is taking out of the Word something that is not in it; and for even a masculine mind it seems to be just like children playing  with toys, toying with the Word of God. There are multitudes who are doing that. They have got truth, and they are staying with it and playing with it and turning it over and exploring it, to find something fresh, something original; always looking into the Word of God to get a new idea; something that has not been seen before. There is a fascination about getting new ideas, and the Word is used like that. It is a perilous thing; the greed of the mind - we might almost say the lust of the mind - to get freshness about the Word of God, for freshness itself.

There is all the difference between that kind of thing, and the Holy Spirit breaking through and giving the insight that challenges, that perhaps startles; that touches as with a touch of life, but creates a crisis. We may have the most fascinating presentation of Biblical truth without any challenge, without any practical value. The Lord deliver us from that. It is a realm that is barren, that is unfruitful. There are those who can give you the last interpretation, the unique thing about any portion of Scripture. But what about spiritual progress? What about the spiritual growth? What about the increase of Christ? What about the conquest, the fighting power? What about the enlarged manifestation of the Lord? That is quite another thing. So you meet people who have a wonderful comprehension and a detailed and perhaps unique grasp of truth, with terrible contradictions in their moral life, in their business relationships, in questions of integrity, in the realm of love, forbearance, longsuffering, kindness and gentleness. These two things do not go together.

The letters to the Ephesians and Colossians make it perfectly clear that the increase of Christ is spiritual. It is not the increase of knowledge as such, but many stop there, and oh, what results follow! Whereas at the beginning when the Lord was giving light, things were living and there was an increase of the Lord and something of the Lord being manifested, there has come about this mental laying hold of that truth and playing with it, breaking it up, making something more of it mentally, and in the end you have something which, though large, is very dead.

We must be very careful about this lust of the mind for uniqueness and originality and freshness of idea, because secretly that only means that there is a desire for power. There is power in being able to pass over something that has never been seen before. There is a subtle, lurking danger when people are able to say: "I have never seen that before." That puts the one who has passed on that which has never been seen before, in a position of influence and very often that one wants a fresh idea, and still another, and will pursue ideas because of the influence it gives.

We are not out to criticise or condemn; we are showing the necessity for spiritual growth, for the increase of Christ, for going on. If we stop with any of these other things then terrible contradictions will arise.

There is another thing with which many stop, and that is with experience. Not a few of the Lord's people are simply living, after many years, with an experience that they had years ago. They are making everything of some experience that lies back there in earlier years. There is a sense in which an experience should be carried on right through; but the point is, is that experience in its power up to date? Or is it something which happened, and there it finished so far as its virtue, its value, was concerned? It is useless for us to try and live upon an experience, the real energy and vitality of which ceased long ago. Is there a present value in that experience? Is it a memory, or is it something living now? Paul had an experience on the Damascus road, the power of which remained right to the end, and was his stimulus in the day of trial and carried him through.

But there are many who have had experiences which have become something in themselves, and they are simply living upon a past. As to their present history, there is no real vitality about them. There is no going on now because they had an experience and that is the sum total. Let us be careful that we do not live upon the past. It is like a commercial institution, trying to live upon a reputation. Sooner or later it is found that a reputation will not carry through all the complications of the present day, and old established firms find that they have to come up to date, or else, no matter how good their reputation was and is, they will be superseded, and all experience has got to be brought up to date. It is not what Christ became to you so long ago, and what you experienced then. It is: What is Christ to you at this very moment? Is He more now than He was then? If not, the experience is only a limiting thing.

All these things are full of danger if we stop at any one of them, and we could mention others. It is all one strong emphasis upon the necessity for our going on to God's end, which is the fulness of Christ.

Let us say a word about what progress is. Of course, in a word, it is Christ. The apostle, in representing the race, says: "Looking off unto Jesus". In other words: "That I may gain Christ". Gaining Christ is progress. We have read: "You have not so learned Christ." It is learning Christ that is progress.

To bring that nearer home: What is gaining Christ? Let us take an illustration from the Old Testament. In the book of Joshua, Israel failed to take full possession of the inheritance. One tribe after another failed to possess their possessions. The result is the book of Judges, covering four hundred years of tragedy, because they did not dispossess and possess. They did not cast out the enemy; they allowed the enemy to remain and live side by side with them. That, in the course of time by reason of relationships and inter­mixture, brought them down under the power of the enemy concerning whom the Lord commissioned them to exercise absolute dominion, exterminating dominion. When we come to the book of Judges and see the result, we have a whole series of illustrations of what it means to fail to gain Christ. The very first enemy being dealt with in the book of Judges is Cushan-rishathaim, who is the king of Aram. "Aram" means "exalted"; "Cushan" means "black man"; "rishathaim" means "double iniquity". Exalted, black man, double iniquity! Is not that embodiment of all that the Scriptures have to say about the sin of pride? What is pride? It is a double-iniquity! It is the blackest thing in God's sight, an abomination with the Lord. The Israelites did not exterminate that foe, and that foe got the upper hand. What was it? Pride!

Turn to the Ephesian and Colossian letters again, and you will see that the gaining of Christ is in all lowliness and meekness. That is the first thing in those letters to do with the inheritance: "Walk worthily of the calling wherewith you were called, with all lowliness and meekness." Becoming possessed of the inheritance is not some romantic thing in the atmosphere, some abstract thing; it is gaining the humility and the lowliness of Jesus Christ. What is the value of that? "He humbled Himself... God highly exalted Him...". This is a very real thing. "In all lowliness and meekness". That is one of the riches of Christ; one of the superlative values of Christ; one of the most powerful factors in Christ. Othniel, the judge raised up to deal with this particular adversary, is marked peculiarly by the spirit of faith in utter reliance upon God.

You see how at the back of all this history there are spiritual principles. The man who is the embodiment of pride, the double-iniquity, exalted, is dominating the people of God. They have fallen to pride. How shall they be delivered? By the man who is marked by the spirit of dependence upon God. What is humility but utter dependence upon God? How did Christ conquer? By His dependence upon the Father: "I can do nothing of myself." That is how we gain Christ. Being increased with the increase of Christ is simply becoming more humble, more lowly, more dependent upon God. In other words, more selfless. It is very practical. There is nothing which will rob of the inheritance more quickly than pride. Spiritual pride is a ruinous thing as to coming to the inheritance, to God's end. You may take it that if you meet spiritual pride, you have not met any of the fulness of Christ. It always assumes to have a good deal of fulness; that is its nature. Those who are truly humble, and meek, and lowly in heart, are those who are very conscious, and are marked by the consciousness, of how little they know and have of the Lord. They may be the people who really do know the Lord. You may say about them: I wish I knew the Lord as they know Him; and yet they themselves know nothing of the Lord. They think they have everything to learn. That is a mighty thing. That is advance; that is progress; that is gaining Christ.

The biggest battles that rage in our experience are the battles with pride. It is because so many have been used of God that they have fallen there; through popularity; through being used; through having opportunity. They have ceased to grow; they have stopped; and come under arrest.

What is true in the case of this first adversary is true of all the others; they represent spiritual things. But we have simply indicated this thing. What is progress, the inheritance? It is the increase of Christ. What is Christ? First of all: "Learn of Me for I am meek and lowly in heart...". That is spiritual elevation; that is what it means to be in victory. We shall never know what power over the devil is, until we know what it is to be meek and lowly in heart. We shall never know what the riches of Christ are until that is a feature of us.

This comes home. We are getting away from the historical, away from the abstract. Come back to Ephesians, and see that the increase, the inheritance, is there. It is all spiritual: "in all lowliness and meekness...". You find that the bounds of the inheritance are: "...the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge...".

We find ourselves confronted with the real spiritual value of this whole matter. Every bit of the gain of Christ will be fraught with conflict; but that makes it all the more precious, and that causes it to become all the more settled and established.

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