by T. Austin-Sparks
Reading: 1 John 1.
John wrote for the last hour, "Little children, it is the last hour..." (1 John 2:18) and he brought the beginning up to the last hour: "That which was from the beginning..." (1 John 1:1). But while John has these time marks, he is concerned with what is timeless: and so we see between the reference to the beginning and the reference to the last hour the mention is made of that which abides for ever: "The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives [abides] for ever" (1 John 2:17). So here we have the beginning, the last hour, and the "forever".
We mention that because all that the letter contains is bound up with that. And in this letter there are all the elements of the special character and purpose of this dispensation, and what this dispensation is intended to produce for God of an ever abiding character. Of course, there is not here the full order of the mystery as it has come to us through Paul, but we have all the spiritual elements of the dispensation, the great basic spiritual realities which govern God's dealings with us in this dispensation. For instance, we have Christ in Person and in Headship; we have union with God in Christ in terms of fellowship; we have the great governing realities of the Blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, the Word and the Spirit; we have the great basic law of eternal life; the counterfeiting work of Satan in Antichrist; the relationship of believers, and all that is said here about mutual love; the life of holiness. Surely these are great factors and spiritual elements which have to do with God's work with men in this particular dispensation.
Our concern in the first place is with something of the significance of this first clause: "That which was from the beginning". We must be very careful to recognise that the end is governed by the beginning. It is a very important thing to take that into account, and to bear that in mind. "Little children, it is the last hour..." In relation to the last hour, that which was from the beginning is brought out into a full presentation. That which John is doing can be clearly and easily seen. In other words, John is saying: My little children, we have come to the end, we are standing at the end; now we want to know what all that is that has come in from the beginning, so that we may stand in the good of that at the end; so that what came in at the beginning shall be here in fulness and clearness, and in definiteness, without loss, without weakness at the end. All that John has to say (and there is a very great deal gathered up into a small compass) is the going over of what came in at the beginning, which is to be found intact in the Lord's people at the end. In being led to take that course he is, in effect, saying: We are going to be judged, everything is going to be judged at the end by what came in at the beginning. We at the end have got to measure up to that, and at the end we have to stand well in the light of that.
Let us seek to break that up simply, so that, as far as possible, we may grasp the importance of it.
Firstly there is the fact that
The Beginning Remains the Governing Standard to the End
God never departs from His initial and original position. God never accepts anything less. He does not deviate, He does not abandon, He does not forfeit or sacrifice one iota of His original position and intention. It remains the standard by which God governs everything right on to the end, and in the end God will sovereignly work in relation to His beginning.
If we had spiritual perception enough we should see that that law is being applied today in a most impressive way. Everything today is coming up for testing; everything that goes by the name of the Lord, everything that has an association with Him; His people, that which is called the Lord's work; everything is coming into a place of testing. There will be testing in the nations, testing by the fires of national and international and world conditions; testing by the instrumentality of the forces of evil. Everything is coming up now in a new and perhaps more intensive way than for a long time, to be tested: and God's testings, by whatever means He tests, are all in the light of His original position, in the light of "that which was from the beginning". He is, in effect, saying: We will see by testing how this stands in the light of the original standard. That means that God is intent upon having at the end what He had at the beginning, and He is working sovereignly in that connection.
We cannot escape that. Judgement begins at the House of God. The judgement of the world, the sinner, and the ungodly will follow, will be subsequent. What is the basis of divine judgement beginning at the House of God? It is "that which was from the beginning". So it will become very necessary for us to know what was from the beginning, and it may be that is what the Lord has in mind to show us at this time. We work our way towards that. The first thing which we note is this, that it is a fact that the beginning remains the governing standard to the end, and that in the end God will act sovereignly in relation to His beginning.
A Special Emphasis
There is no mistake in words where inspiration is concerned. Here we do not read: He Who was from the beginning, That obtains in John's Gospel. At the beginning of the Gospel by John the word is: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God". In the Gospel the Object in view is Jesus Christ as the Son of God. So John might have commenced his Gospel by saying; He Who was from the beginning! For that is what it means. But in the Epistle it is "THAT which was from the beginning". That means it is the Person plus all that came in with the Person by incarnation. All that came in with Christ is included in this mighty comprehensive "that".
It is important to notice that there is also a difference here between the two beginnings as well as between the two objects. The "beginning" in the Gospel by John is one beginning. The "beginning" in the Epistle is another. John's Gospel takes us back into the "before times eternal" to a dateless beginning: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." But this is not the same. "That which was from the beginning" here relates to what came in in incarnation, for you will see how the thing is here defined or broken up: "That... which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and our hands have handled..." That is another beginning. That is something coming out of eternity into time and marking a new movement of God.
Thus we have two things. Firstly, Christ is God's new beginning. Secondly, that which Christ brings in as God's mind. "That" relates to the Person; "which" relates to the content.
Christ as God's Beginning
That which comes up for immediate attention is Christ as God's beginning; the beginning of a new dispensation, the beginning of a new order, the beginning of a new revelation; and what this implies - for it does not definitely state - is that this dispensation is governed by what has come in with and in Christ, or with this whole dispensation right through, and at the end will be governed according to Christ. Christ is the great governing reality of this dispensation.
Then we must understand Christ. Christ in the first place is
A Heavenly Revelation
Christ is God's full thought in Personal expression. He is not only a Person, He is more than a Person. He gathers up into His Person all the thought of God, which thought God willed to be revealed to men for practical purposes in the life of men, to bring men into that thought for living expression. So that (to use the phrase of the apostle) "we should be conformed to the image of His Son". Before ever there can be that conformity there must be the revelation, because God does not work independently of ourselves in this matter, but God calls for cooperation in the realisation of His thought, and He has so ordered the dispensation that everything forces us to the place of either co-operating with God in His thought or dropping right out of His thought.
That can be seen in many ways. Take, for instance, the fact that although sin has been fully and finally dealt with in the Lord Jesus in His Cross, or although Satan has been fully and finally dealt with in the Cross of Christ, sin and Satan are never very far from us. There is no question about their destruction, it is not theoretical, not merely judicial, but actually sin has had its power destroyed in a Man for man, by a Man Who allowed Himself to come under the power of sin in order to break that power. Not that He sinned, but under the power of sin He was made sin in our place to destroy sin. In like manner He allowed Himself to come under the power of Satan and of darkness, so that the whole power of evil pounced upon Him, enveloped Him, wrapped Him about. He dealt with both sin and Satan to their utter breaking and destruction; yet, although that is true, both sin and Satan persist and continue in close proximity to the child of God, so that sin is not finally and fully destroyed in us, that there is no more sin; and Satan is never very far from any of us and is always giving us any amount of trouble. Why is it? For this reason amongst others, that there must be cooperation with God in His thought before God's thought can come to full expression in us. It is to be intelligent and deliberate co-operation with the revealed mind of God.
Now, we have said that Christ is a heavenly revelation, many-sided (so many-sided that we shall never exhaust all that Christ represents and brings from heaven as to the thought of God), it is our entire life's work to learn Christ. Christ is a great lesson book, with lessons on almost every conceivable matter relative to our union with God and God's relationship with us. It is possible to go round Christ, and see some different aspect of divine thought in the mind of God from almost every standpoint; you constantly come upon fresh meanings of Christ, what Christ means in this matter, and in the other matter, in this connection, in that relationship. And we are brought into manifold experiences which we should never come into in the ordinary course of life. The believer is led by the Lord into a multitude of experiences and situations which the believer would never come into in the normal course of things apart from the end of the Lord, in order that in these extra realms, unnecessary to us in our natural life but essential to us in our spiritual life, we might discover some further meaning of Christ, some new value in Christ, some new thought of God in Christ. We learn Christ by the extraordinary, unusual experiences of our lives, into which the Lord leads us. They are strange paths. I venture to say that a very great deal of the life that we have to live as the children of God would never be known to us were we not under the hand of the Lord, and this is the Lord's way of teaching us what He has revealed in Christ, so that we learn Christ. He is the great comprehensive revelation of God's thought for us, unto which thought He wills to bring us in a living experiential way, so that we conform to the thought of God. Faithfulness to God's thoughts is the test of every believer's life. Just how far we will go on and give diligence concerning all God's thought determines where we stand with God in the end as to administrative usefulness in the ages to come.
Your thought will immediately leap back to Caleb and Joshua, who alone of all to whom the revelation of the land was given were diligent to go on to God's full thought. The others were discouraged from the full thought, the others allowed other interests to weaken their diligence. They came short of the full thought of God, although they knew that that was God's full thought. But Joshua and Caleb were diligent, and in the end they came into that administrative position with the Lord.
We are not touching on the matter of salvation, but on the whole matter of the Lord's people coming to the place where eventually in the ages to come He may have His instrument for government. Yet apart from any position to be resultant, the whole question of devotion to the Lord arises as a question in itself; devotion to what has been made known as God's will. The question of God's will is summed up in the revelation of Jesus Christ, or in the Person of Christ, and the whole will of God is bounded by subjection to Christ, abandonment to Christ in all details; not in one general act of consecration, but in the multitude of details where it is necessary for Christ again, and again, and again to be given His place of pre-eminence.
A Heavenly Fulness
We have said that Christ is a heavenly revelation, but Christ is also a heavenly fulness. If God has revealed His mind, His thought in Christ; if all that God intended has been brought to us in a Personal revelation: God has followed that up by the fullest provision in Christ for its realisation and its attainment. So that every need of ours is supplied according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. In Christ there is not only a standard set, but every kind of provision for attaining to God's standard. All the secret resources of God to reach His end are there in Christ for us. If He has come out with the mind of God in fulness, He has also come out with the resources of God in fulness. All the fulness dwells in Him, and we are made full in Him (Col. 2:9).
God could never judge us at the end by His standard of revelation if He had not made all provision for our realising of that standard. So that the two things go together. In the end we are to be judged. Judgement begins at the House of God in view of (1) the revelation of God's mind, and (2) the supply of God's resources.
Christ has Gathered up Everything and Transferred it into Heaven
The next thing (and for the moment the last thing, but not by any means least in importance) is this: that Christ has gathered up everything and has removed it, transferred it, to heaven. God's thought is centred in Christ in heaven, and God's resources are centred in Christ in heaven. That means that the Lord's people in this dispensation are essentially a heavenly people, and that means that it is quite impossible to attain unto God's thought or to know God's resources in Christ until we are a heavenly people. If in any way (and we are speaking to the Lord's people now, and speaking of the life which we would call the Christian life), or in any measure we are earthbound, it will be in that measure impossible to attain unto God's thought, and to know God's resources. God only takes responsibility to supply and to carry on that which is essentially heavenly, and in the measure in which a thing is heavenly, and only in that measure (but surely in that measure), God takes responsibility for it. If it is in any way linked with this world, becoming a part of this world system, related to this earth, it has got to take responsibility for itself to carry its own weight, to find its own resources, to see its own way through.
Now we come back to what we stated earlier. In the end everything is going to be sovereignly tested by those heavenly realities. Where are we today? One of the tests that is being applied today is: How far can that which claims to be of the Lord go on in fulness, in life, triumphantly, without any kind of dependence upon this? How far can the thing go on in famine, in drought, in depression, in all conditions into which this world moves, so that its resources are no longer available? Can it go on mightily, strongly, as though it mattered not what the world does; where God's work, God's interests pursue their way in a glorious independence? God is going to place that issue. One of the tests at the end will have to be: How much is this of heaven and how much is this of earth and of man? How much in all this has been man's? Yes, it may have been endeavour for God, but it may not have been a work straight out of heaven by God. There is all the difference between those things. How far has this been a great deal of busy activity for the Lord, and how far has this been the direct activity of the Holy Spirit from the Lord? There is a big difference between those two, and the test is going to be to be applied severely.
Christ now is in heaven, and when Christ returned to heaven, He transferred the basis of operations to heaven; He transferred all the resources to heaven; He transferred all the the knowledge of God to heaven. And the Lord's people through this dispensation have to get their knowledge from heaven, their resources from heaven, all their government from heaven. Since the Lord returned it has never been centred and seated in this world.
We can only know Christ after the Spirit, so that Christ for us in this dispensation is spiritual in the sense that all that we know of Him or can have to do with Him can only be in the Spirit. "Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know him in this way no longer." (2 Cor. 5:16). He is known after the Spirit.
Our resources are spiritual. The weapons of our warfare are spiritual. Everything has got to come to us from above. The one great effort of the enemy, which is again and again successful through this dispensation, has been to bring the things of God down to the attachment with this world, attachment to this earth, to make them something here.
Now we come back to the New Testament, and you only need to read John to see how unattached everything is, how everything is lifted clean out of this world, and everything is bound up with the fact that Christ is in heaven, and that the Lord's people are here but not here, here but not known, in the world but not of it; a mystery people in this world so far as the world is concerned... unrecognised, unknown. And yet by that very means and for that very reason, the most potent force that this universe knows: the spiritual, hidden, secret people of God in this earth.
To take hold of Christianity and mould it, and shape it, and systematise it, and crystallise it, and make it some mighty Movement here; with its roots here, with all its associations such as man can see, appreciate and approve; to register itself upon the ordinary consciousness of this world as being something; all of that is contrary to the Word of God and is contrary to spiritual life and spiritual power. Christ is in heaven, and we are lifted out, translated, seated together with Him in the heavenlies. Our present purpose in this world is testimony only, by which others will be taken out of the nations, a people for His name.
Perhaps one of the things which you and I and the Lord's people everywhere need to recognise more than anything else at an end time is the fact of our heavenliness. There is going to be a testing of everything which bears the Lord's name by the law of the beginning governing the end. In the beginning they were a heavenly people, with everything for them in heaven, in Christ, and being drawn from Christ in heaven. All their government, direction, resource came from Him and was in Him as in heaven. The Lord comes back again and again to test things by that beginning, and in the end the test is going to be applied very stringently. We are going to see the outward form of things, which is earthly, man-made, man-constituted, an imitation or a representation of spiritual things, breaking down, shaking at its very foundations. All the organisations of our work are going to be shattered. In the nations all that framework will be broken up. That which alone will be left will be the people themselves, and they will probably be scattered. Then the test will be as to how much of this is Christ here. If there has been dependence upon orders, churches, systems, even meetings and conferences, the many things which in themselves are looked to as the means of support of the Christian life, when they are gone, broken, the question will be, How much of Christ is here? What is the measure of Christ, the heavenly Christ?
You see how that was the crisis for the disciples. They had three years with Him, but there was an outward detachment, an outward dependence, a physical, sentient association. In those days they could say some very bold things, they could make great confessions and professions, they could declare themselves as to Him, Who He was, what they thought of Him, what they believed concerning Him, what they would do for Him. Then He was taken from them, and what was left? No Christ, no life, nothing to live for, everything gone! When the life of senses ceased, the outward order came to an end, they had nothing left, they were in despair, their faith was shattered.
There is much of that today. We do not know how much there is until the break comes, until we are no longer able to do anything for the Lord, until we are no longer able even to pray and read the Word of God, and carry on the usual devotional exercises, until we are no longer able to meet with the Lord's people. Multitudes of the Lord's people are coming there now. Over wide stretches of the earth the people of God are being driven, scattered, having everything outward taken. The question is: Why does the Lord allow it? Why is it so, if the Lord is wise, and almighty, and gracious? It is to discover how much the Heavenly Christ is to His people, and how much they depend upon the earthly order of things, even the Christian order.
"That which was from the beginning... Little children, it is the last hour... the one who does the will of God lives for ever". Do you see the link? If at the end, at the last hour, it is as it was from the beginning, then it will abide for ever, but if it has become something else, it will go. This whole question of heavenly relationship with the Lord is a tremendously searching one, the fact that Christ has transferred everything to heaven and that nothing less than a life in heavenly union with Him will stand the test at any time.
We will ask the Lord that He will take this - if it really is the truth - and search us. It may be that some of us will find comfort, because we shall see this is exactly what the Lord is doing with us. Why isolation? Why the testings? Why the loneliness in spiritual life? To save us from things unto Himself, even Christian things, so that God's end that Christ may be all and in all shall be reached; not things, but Christ; not Christianity, but Christ; not Christian work, but Christ.