by T. Austin-Sparks
The starting point, the very first word, in the whole letter to the Hebrews, is "God". For the third time, the whole of the divine unveiling contained in the Bible, from beginning to end, in relation to the momentous movements therein, is shown to take its origin and source in God.
The Bible begins with "In the beginning God..." That was when the creation of the world was in view. Then there was that great intervention in the history of the world, when God's Son was incarnated for all the immense purposes of redemption and again, it is the same: "In the beginning was... God." (John 1:1). And here, as the revelation unfolds and we are able to see the nature and meaning of its unfolding, we read once more; "God, having of old... hath at the end..." - God. And, of course, that means in the very first place that everything must be viewed from God's side, from God's standpoint, that is, we must see what God meant and what God purposed and intended; what was in the mind of God. We can understand nothing until we get God's position and get alongside of Him and view everything from His side.
The Bible is, of course, an unveiling and unfolding of what was in God's mind at the beginning. In regard to this letter to the Hebrews, we have already pointed out something of the immensity of that which it comprehends; that it, to begin with, uncovers the spiritual background of the whole long dispensation up to Christ, and shows us what lay behind the ways and the means of God through those many centuries. This letter takes the veil away and shows us the spiritual meaning of it all; the spiritual interpretation, the spiritual background of all that is in the Old Testament; and that is no small thing. But then it proceeds to show that all that spiritual meaning is the inheritance of a people in this dispensation.
When we take up this letter, and begin to read its first sentences through, we find ourselves in the presence of no lesser thing than this as being the mind of God from the beginning; the intention of God to express Himself, to give Himself expression. It is a very profound thought that God, in all His self-sufficiency, self-existence, complete self-fulness and independence, should decide that He will put Himself into expression in a created universe; that He will come out from His hidden and remote place, where He is not known or seen and not only show Himself, but show Himself in the works of His hands; enter upon a great creative activity and produce a vast system with a certain order of being called Man at its centre, in which He should be revealed. There should be an "express image" of Him.
An 'image' is an expression, a representation, a setting forth of something, in a certain concrete form. God, in the beginning, decided and purposed that He would so express Himself, and that that expression, in the first place, should be an expression of His character - what He is in His essential nature. The Bible, from beginning to end, contains that progressive and ever-developing expression of what God is like in His nature, in His character. It moves on until, when you come to the Son, the supreme and dominating thing is - "God is love" (1 John 4:8,16). He is many other things as well; He is righteousness; He is truth; He is everything that is good. But for the moment we just confine ourselves to this: in the beginning God intended to express Himself and to express Himself as to His essential nature and character. And finally, when God reaches His end, His created universe will be an expression of what He is. That is the deep meaning of these first lines in this letter, and we should read them in that light.
But then, He intended to express Himself in His divine capacity. I mean by that His divine wisdom, His divine understanding, His divine knowledge; and then His divine power and energy; and then His divine endurance, His unfailingness, His eternity. These are the things which belong to God, which are His capacities. And these are the attributes which He determined to express; and for an expression of these very attributes He created all things.
But, with all the character - the nature and the capacity of God, in wisdom, in knowledge, and understanding; in power and energy; in endurance and unfailingness - all the essential essence of God in all these things is spiritual. It is something other than what we mean by knowledge, what we mean by power, what we mean by energy and what we mean by wisdom. It is spiritual because God is Spirit; that is His essential nature, and everything that belongs to Him and emanates from Him is spiritual. It is of another order and kind altogether from that with which we are familiar.
That lies behind everything and that is what is here.
2. The Purpose Taken up in God's Son
Secondly, we see that the purpose is all taken up in and by God's Son. This great purpose for the expression of God in character and capacity - to fill all things with Himself, and make His created universe a representation of Himself in those two comprehensive ways - is all taken up in the Person of His Son and by His Son. Here it is: we are told that the Son is His "effulgence", He is His "express image". In the Son of God we touch a character which is different; we touch a spiritual character. (As has so well been said, there is something mysterious about what God makes of a man. On the outside, you may think you know him; but when God has got on the inside, you don't know him; he is a mystery; he is a problem for this world - as, indeed, a Christian should be; a problem that the wisdom of this world cannot solve. If you are not a problem to this world, you should raise serious questions as to whether God is on the inside). However, here in God's Son incarnate, we find a character that is different, and it is spiritual in its essence.
Then you find a capacity that is different. There is a wisdom that is quite different, that the world cannot understand, indeed it altogether misunderstands and misinterprets; there is a wisdom about Jesus Christ which altogether defeats and defies all human attempts to explain. Here there is an energy and a power that is other. All the time He is going beyond. Yes, men can go so far, and do so much; but the Son of God has come, first to put things beyond man's capacity, and then to intervene. That is Lazarus! And that is many another thing in His life. You have a man born blind and then given his sight. This is something beyond. This is not healing, this is not repairing; it is creative. It is a power and energy that is different. We see it again in His words. "Whence hath this man this wisdom?" they were asking (Matt. 13:54,56). Look at all the questions asked and implied in the Gospels. See how all the time this Man is beyond. It is God Who is here. All this is taken up in Him, in His Person.
Again, we see it in redemption for which He was incarnated; to redeem the intention of God for the creation, not only for man. Paul tells us quite clearly in the Roman letter that it is the creation itself which shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption. Redemption for man, redemption for the earth; but more than that - redemption for the universe. Redemption of what? Of this purpose of God to express Himself in it all and make Himself known. And then He is taken up to glory.
There is much made of the glorification of the Lord Jesus at the end of His earthly work, showing that in Him God has reached His end, God has got His purpose fulfilled and man is perfected; God is revealed. I am keeping closely to the content of this Letter to the Hebrews which shows that that Man in glory, seen on the Mount of transfiguration and seen through the cleft heaven by the martyr Stephen and seen in the Spirit by many another; this One, at the right hand of the Majesty in the Heavens, is there as the security, the title-deeds, of God's eternal purpose to express Himself - His character and His capacity. You will recognise what an immense field this is and how difficult to comprehend it and state it in a short space.
3. The Purpose Taken up in Man
But then there is a third movement. The first movement - "God...", the second movement - the Son. In the third movement, we see the purpose taken up in man. "What is man", the question is asked, "that thou art mindful of him? Or the son of man, that thou visitest him?" (2:6). Another translation renders it: "What is man that thou hast him in mind? What is man that thou shouldest make mention of him?" The writer goes on to answer, firstly in the comprehensive and inclusive terms of man in the plural and then reducing it to man - the Man - in the singular, as representative. But the point is that here the whole purpose of God is taken up in relation to man. And in order to make sure that it is not going to fail again, to make certain that there is going to be no second tragedy such as that of the first movement, to see to it that this time it is going to be realized, God chooses out a body (as we know from the letters of Paul) here in the midst of mankind. It is an elect body among men, chosen, foreordained, predestinated, as God's human security of His purpose.
You say: Where do you find that in the Letter to the Hebrews? Well, that very truth and that thought is embodied in all that is here about the conclusiveness of the work that the Son has done for man. Here is something that is finished - "one offering for ever" - no more. There is an end to the journey, the veil has been entered, the rest has been reached and entered into; in Him it is secured and settled. But then, as you read on you find that with Him a family comes into view. The writer brings in a group of quotations of Scripture:
"He is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the assembly will I sing thy praise."
"...I and the children which God hath given me" (2:11-13).
A family comes in. This is a chosen family, an elect family; a family secured by God. It may be a nucleus of a universe. But God has revealed quite clearly, through His servant Paul (I am not saying that Paul wrote this letter), that he is taking no risks with the second creation. Oh that we grasped the ground of our security in Christ! Here it is. The purpose is made sure, made sure in its Representative in Heaven and made sure in this which is called the "elect".
We ought, of course, to turn to other Scriptures where that word occurs. Speaking, for instance, of the great illusions and deceptions that will come on to the earth in the last days the Lord Jesus said that, "if it were possible, the very elect would be deceived" (Matt. 24:24). "If it were possible"! Why put that in? Well, I do not know who the "elect" are, but evidently there is an "elect" who cannot be deceived. In the end, there will be a body of people who pass through all the deceptions and all the illusions unscathed, undeceived. In that multitude of people at the end, there will be that people who pass through Babylon, and Sodom and Gomorrah spiritually and their garments are not defiled. They have come through undeceived; they are the "elect".
This third movement is a marvellous movement as the great purpose of God to express Himself is transferred to man, and then within man, to this "elect". This is one of God's methods of making sure.
This is a part of this Letter which is of tremendous value to you and to me. We have said that God in His character and God in His capacity of spiritual wisdom, spiritual knowledge, spiritual understanding, spiritual power and spiritual energy, determined to express Himself. Now, in this Letter you will find that the bulk of it is taken up with God's activity towards doing that in believers. What is God trying to do with you and with me and with His people? What does it all mean? What is it all about? Let us be quite clear and settled on this matter. What are your ideas as to what God is doing or wants to do in this world? Do you think God is wanting to set up Christian Fellowship Centres? Do you think that God wants to make churches? Do you think God wants Missionary Societies? Do you think God wants any of these things that so largely constitute Christianity as we know it? What does God want? What is He after?
Well, whether it be through fellowships or through churches, or through any agency which He may adopt if not create, God is after one thing: an expression of Himself in Jesus Christ in this universe. Your church counts for nothing if it is not that! Your fellowship counts for nothing if it is not that! Your institutions and organizations have no divine meaning at all unless that is their effect - an expression of Christ in this universe.
Let us put first things first. God is not out to set up any thing such as an organization, or fraternity, or movement, God is interested in only one thing. It is not this religious 'thing'; not what is seen at all in the material and in the temporal; that comes afterwards. We cannot make anything spiritual by having the most ornate, the most artistic, the most beautiful, the most aesthetic, the most wonderful that we can create. We can make nothing spiritual by that. If a thing is spiritual, it will have a beauty of its own; it will not be shoddy, disreputable, slovenly or careless. Spirituality makes for order, it makes for beauty, it makes for punctuality, it makes for everything outside.
But mark you, God begins on the inside. All these things are simply, shall I say, by-products. The explanation of all fellowships and churches, and everything else, is that they express God Himself in Christ. And God is so concerned about that, that if anything which has existed in relation to himself, at any time ceases to fulfil that vocation, He says: "I will remove it out of its place." As with the tabernacle in the old dispensation, God just dispensed with it and left it, vacated it, and it became an empty, hollow tent. So now, in the new dispensation, He says: "Repent, or I will remove thy lampstand out of its place" (Rev. 2:5). "I can do without the thing if it ceases to fulfil the function." That governs everything. We have got to ask ourselves: Is this expressing the Lord? Is there here some seeing or meeting with the character of God? Are we really expressing God's character? - the grace of God; the love of God; and all those virtues of the divine nature? That is the fruit of the Spirit, we are told. It is very searching.
Then what is He doing? He is seeking, first of all, to get the character. That explains everything. In Hebrews 12 we have again a quotation taken out of the Old Testament: "My son, regard not lightly the chastening of the Lord... for whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth" (verses 5,6). You know that that word 'chastening' is not what we mean by 'chastening' at all today. The original word really means 'child training', or 'education'. Go back to the beginning of the letter and bring the end into that: "God... hath spoken, or revealed Himself, in a Son..." - the expression of Himself, His character, His capacities. And now we have God making sons; not Deity but the sons like the Son whom, it is stated, "in bringing many sons unto glory, as the pioneer of their salvation, He made perfect through sufferings" (2:10).
What is it all about? Son-making, for the expression of Himself in terms of sonship. Contrast Moses as a "servant in all God's house" (3:5) a faithful servant, a devoted servant, but a servant. Here is "a Son over His house, whose house are we" (3:6); this is a house of sonship: a house of the Son, and a house of sons. But note that the whole idea of sons is an expression of the father's character.
What is it all about? Why this son-training, this discipline, this way that seems so hard, that sometimes makes us almost cry out to the Lord as to why He so deals with us as His own dear children, for whom He has declared His love? Why the end of all our wits and wisdom, our knowledge and our understanding? It is to bring us into spiritual knowledge, divine knowledge; another kind of knowledge, another kind of wisdom. If we were able to see the transition that was taking place in us through all our baffling and confounding experiences, we should find that we were moving into another kind of understanding, another kind of wisdom.
Sometimes things seem to go wrong; altogether different from and contrary to what we had prayed for and even trusted for and expected. They go the other way, the thing is upset and we are baffled, perplexed, bewildered, defeated. But wait! There is an 'afterwards' here. And is it not true, that again and again, afterwards we say: "Was not the Lord wise in that?" We thought He had abandoned the whole thing, that He had no interest in it at all, but it has turned out very much better than it would have been, to far greater gain.
It does work like that. In little things, so often, that have gone wrong, as we thought; but afterwards it was the very best thing that could have happened! We had to worship because we would not have done that. Our wisdom was quite another kind of wisdom. But there was a wisdom into which we were being brought. Alas, we are so slow in this business; but we do come nearer to the point when, the next time it happens, we say: The Lord knows; it will be all right afterwards, we know it will be. And that is the highest wisdom.
What about the power and the energy side? Why is all our power and energy sapped and drained, and brought to weakness? What a discipline it is, especially if you are of the energetic kind, the active temperament, one who is forceful and strong, and it is all undercut and broken down, and you are brought to the place where, with all your masculine disposition you can do nothing, you are helpless; your strength has gone - perhaps even spiritually. Paul has a lot to say about that, about 'His strength being perfected in weakness' - "when I am weak, then I am strong"(2 Cor. 12:9,10). There is another kind; it is a spiritual kind, it is different.
That is son-training; that is spirituality. It is the expression of God - so other, so different, so remote.
4. The Process
Now we come to the fourth movement: the process. It has two sides. The process begins firstly with the evangel. Our evangelism at the present day lacks something; our evangelism is too small. We should have a far different calibre of convert if we had a greater evangel. The evangel in the New Testament is in the light of this immense purpose of God. It is not just to hook men out of hell and get them to heaven and make them happy on the way; they are "called according to His purpose". That is the heart of the evangel; the great call, the call in the nations, the call according to purpose. It is not just what we can have by salvation, but what God has purposed for Himself in salvation.
Perhaps for some that is almost a platitude. The evangel is this: God's purpose, relating to mankind, realized in fulfilment in His Son, and secured in an elect. God will never tell any man or woman whether he is 'elect' or not. Hear the evangel, feel the touch of the Spirit, find yourself reaching God-ward - you are of the elect. That is how it works; it is the call. But mark you, "called according to purpose" not just to get saved, not just to escape the misery of your sin and the complications of your life, but into this vast, immense purpose of God from eternity. That is the evangel, that is not something extra to the Gospel. The process begins with the evangel in the nations.
Secondly, it begins in everyone who responds to the call. The experience of every true believer, everyone who truly answers to this call, gives God a Yes from the heart, and really means business with God, will be that he finds himself in this school of son-training. And although the great Teacher is very understanding and sympathetic with the little kindergarten, and allows us time and much room; if we are going on in this school, it will not be long (and I hope I do not cast any heart down) before we find ourselves at wits end, up against something for which we have no resource in ourselves. We have got to learn a new language, a new wisdom, a new ability.
Are you there today? That is quite all right, that is how it should be; that is the normal Christian life! It is God's school. It is the way of the eternal purpose to get us delivered out of what we are by nature and into what Christ is as God's Son - the effulgence of His glory, the express image of His person, the embodiment of His character, the manifestation of His power. It is conformity to the image of God's Son.
It is an immense thing that the Lord has brought us into. But it is all of God; "In the beginning God...". God... God... God has brought this about, things have not gone wrong when it is like this. Oh, for grace to believe it when we feel the screw is being turned too much and the strain is becoming more than we can bear. Oh, to believe that, by the breaking down of our own nature to make a way for Him, we are going to make some new discovery, we are coming into some new measure of God's character and God's likeness.
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