by T. Austin-Sparks
I am taking up the matter at the point which we have reached - the bringing in of the collective and corporate means for the carrying on of the testimony of Life. We ought to be impressed with the simple fact that the Lord in a definite heavenly system and order, in a spiritual movement, did make that transition from the number of individuals who had come into a very real and very deep knowledge of Himself under His own dealings with them, but who still remained individuals. The Lord did make that movement from such individuals definitely to the collective and the corporate. It was in the foreknowledge of God. It was not just something in the way of an evolution, a development, something that came about.
Everything that we know from the Scriptures about Israel's existence, election and history, makes it perfectly clear that it was in the sovereign foreknowledge and purpose of God that Israel was chosen, elect, and in a very definite sense. So that when we come to the point of transition from Genesis to Exodus, we are only moving in a clearly arranged and fore-intended plan of God. It is all foreshadowing, of course. While it has its own meaning and value on the earth in an earthly way, it is foreshadowing that movement which is so clearly marked and discernible in the New Testament from a number of individuals who were very individual - their individualism, not their individuality, was often a great difficulty with the Lord - but they had been brought into some very real association with the Lord and knowledge of Him. But then we note a very distinct movement from the individualistic to the corporate according to plan. And there again what we are made to know from the later New Testament in the revelation that comes out through Paul and Peter and John is that this was in the eternal counsels of God, that this corporate company called the ecclesia, the church, was elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.
You are familiar with that, and it need not be argued out. We simply point out the fact of a distinct transition. It is a thing to be noticed in both connections of Israel and the church, that it was the outworking of this great principle: this law of death and resurrection, that issued in the reality of corporate Life. I do hope you have got that. The very application of the principle, the working out of the principle of death and resurrection, spontaneously issued in corporate Life.
That, of course, in itself contains a law that individualism as such; separateness, independence, scatteredness, detachment, and all such things were the result of a scattering work which was evil. It was the result of death. Now death in every realm, death in all its forms, is a disintegrating thing. Through death you disintegrate, you fall apart, you go to pieces. It is true in the body, it is true in every organism, it is true in every realm, that the fruit of death is separation, is detachment, is the destruction of relatedness. Life is limited by the measure of our detachment. It works both ways. Death works to detachment, to disintegration, to division. Division, separation, detachment, means the limitation of Life, which, of course, means the opposite - that Life works towards oneness, unity and corporate Life, and relatedness means more Life. That is simple and quite clear. It can be proved in any realm where there is any life. God knew what He was doing.
The full testimony then, of Life triumphant over death, is not to be found in so many individuals as such, apart from others. That testimony is limited by our independence or our detachment and our unrelatedness, but that testimony of Life triumphant comes to its fulness in a full corporate body, in full adjustment, fellowship and relatedness. And so it was quite in keeping with the very law of Life that this movement should spontaneously and inevitably take place from so many God-fearing individuals and God-loving individuals, to one corporate whole, one Body.
Did you notice how in the case of the death of the Lord Jesus, when the death took place the effect was scattering: "I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad" (Matt. 26:31). "Ye shall be scattered, every man to his own, and shall leave me alone" (John 16:32), and how scattered they were, how detached. There was nothing whatever of a corporate representation in those hours of the death. But did you notice how, immediately the fact of His resurrection is brought to light, the opposite begins to take place? Steadily, progressively, the bits are brought together. There are two here, there is one there, there is another one out there, and there is even one who, isolating himself, says he will not come in. Poor Thomas! So they are scattered, in different places, unrelated, a disintegrated company, and then the very presence of the living Lord begins this reverse movement, and these bits, these parts, these bones begin to come together, and at last they are all together, about five hundred at once. They are all together, but it has been a progressive movement. It is very wonderful. Steadily this detachment, this isolation, this refusal to come in with all its reasons is overcome. There is a gravitation together on the basis of Life, and so it proceeds. A corporate vessel is in existence to take up the great testimony of Life.
And as ever it was in the old, so it is in the new and has ever been through the ages, the one focal point of all adverse activity from the powers of evil is that oneness. The testimony of the Christ, the testimony of His great victory over death, the testimony in the existence of a death-conquering Life in this universe and in this world has got to be destroyed if possible, and the key to the whole situation is the corporate oneness of the people of God. In literally countless ways, great and small, from great divisive movements - strangely enough all backed up by Scripture, making Scripture contradict itself - to mere details. Here there is nothing 'mere', that we might call little things, but enough to bring a shadow, enough to let in something of the arresting power of spiritual death: question, some suspicion, some fear, something just to get in, and the Life is checked and the vessel's ministry suspended. It is like that.
The Relation of the Individual to the Whole
Well, that is the situation as a whole. It is not new truth to many of you, but pray that we may never pass from the time when we realise very keenly the necessity for this. When this becomes a mere bit of our accepted teaching, that may be one of the enemy's successes to nullify the reality of it. Immediately the thing becomes a cold creed or a mere tradition and a bit of our doctrine, we have lost the very meaning of it. Now let us follow that.
You notice that in the case of Israel, as now in the case of the Lord's people, no individual was ever regarded by God as a separate detached individual. It worked in both ways, good and bad. Every individual had to be baptised into the meaning of the whole. I expect there were many in the multitudes of Israel - the people that we call nowadays the rank and file, the ordinary people, the people of the crowd, the people of the multitude, of the whole - who wondered why it was that they, ordinary people, holding no conspicuous place, having no special name or designation or office, but just lost in the crowd, why it was that they had to suffer with all the rest and go through the experiences through which they were going with all the rest. They might have felt that they were not responsible, they had no responsibility for this matter and they were caught in something for which they were not liable. They might often have asked themselves that question, as doubtless you ask nowadays sometimes - Why should it come to me? I am just an ordinary person, I am not in the forefront of the battle, I am not making any real mighty assault upon the powers of darkness, I am just in the crowd, I really do not count very much, why should I be involved in it all? You are having your personal bad times and you are inclined to turn it on to the personal and wonder why you, a person of no great responsibility or measure, should go this way and have this or that difficult experience. You see, Paul explains that quite definitely, and you ought to know that. But here is the fact, that when God is seeking to have that fuller thing of a corporate vessel, every bit that constitutes that vessel is baptised into the meaning of the whole. It is brought into the responsibility of the whole. The least member of that Body is involved in the significance of the whole Body. The whole Body is affected by that least member for good or ill.
It was not long before this relatedness was brought out in Israel as a nation, both in the wilderness and in the land. One person defaulted, rebelled, one person disobeyed, one person opened the avenue for death, and the whole nation was affected. When that happened, as on some occasions, the order was not - 'Bring that person to the door of the tent', but, 'Gather all Israel.' Then you can bring the persons, single them out, but 'Gather all Israel.' All the tribes had to come out of their tents to this thing which was a public and inclusive matter, and all Israel were affected. Over in the land - one man, Achan. Well, why not deal with Achan and have done with it, deal with this thing in secret - he is the guilty party, let us deal with Achan and leave the rest. No - gather all Israel! God works to His principle both ways, for good and for ill.
We are a part of a Body. Many of our sufferings are not on our own account at all. Many of the sufferings of the children of God have nothing whatever to do with their own faults or their own failing. They are suffering in a related way, they are suffering for the Body's sake, they are entering into the battle; the conflict of this one great testimony. Sometimes it is almost uncanny when the Lord has something in view in relation to His testimony of Life, how for no reason whatever, on no account at all, we discover that we are involved and ours is not an isolated experience. All sorts of people all over the place are having the same kind of experience - a terrific sense of pressure, upset, annoyance, anything to frustrate - it is happening all round, testifying that in the spiritual realm, in the realm of the Spirit, there is a fine, sensitive oneness which matters to the Lord, and therefore matters to the enemy. Do not always take your sufferings as some controversy that the Lord has with you. That is the twist the enemy often gives. Be open to the Lord to be checked up on anything, but do not always take it that the things which are happening to you and causing you trouble and suffering are due to your own failure or wrong. You are involved in something very much more than that.
The Testimony of Life in the Church
Now, if this is true and if it is in this way that the Lord is going to fully answer this great thing that has arisen in His universe, this invasion of death, if it is by means of the church, the Body of Christ, that He is going to answer it (and, mark you, He is) although He has answered it in the Person and work of His Son, the full answer and the full outworking of that is to be through His Body. Surely that is the only explanation of the church's history in conflict and pressure, the only explanation of those final scenes of the Bible where wars against the Lamb and the followers of the Lamb are set before us. The only explanation, the only logical explanation, is that His full vindication has to be in a new creation where death has been swallowed up.
Now, if that is the truth, then ought it not to affect us very much in our entire mentality and outlook? Is it not just on this very matter that Christianity has deviated? When we begin with the risen Lord, we see this integrating movement of new Life, this drawing together and consolidating into one organic whole. That is the beginning of the working of this life in relation to Christ. We see that develop, we see that established, we see that manifested on the day of Pentecost and for some time afterwards. And what a power it was, what a record of world conquest! In spite of tremendous forces against and many difficulties within and without, oh, what a record!
It has been said that if things had continued just a little longer as they commenced, world evangelisation would have been completed in two generations. Where are we now, in that matter alone? But, you see, it stopped. It came under arrest. Why? For this very reason - the great revelation of the heavenly nature and corporate oneness of the church was lost and Christianity became an earthly system and quickly began to disintegrate and to divide up into sections and sects. The denominational movement very soon set in, and oh, how it has grown and how it is still growing.
I picked up a book in America recently - it was quite a book, which contained only the names of the known sects and denominations of Christianity. It ran into hundreds, into thousands, and it is going on. Are you surprised, should we be surprised that that first mighty impact upon this world ceased so soon and is not even now? When Israel was one and focused upon that great central object of the ark of the testimony - in that, held by that - they were one people. There was not a nation, however great, that could stand before them in all the earth - but again it is the type. There was no nation able to stand before the church at its beginning. They went down and down, and when the mightiest nation in history up to that time challenged the church with a determination to blot it out, it was that nation, Rome, that went down. Yes, it ought to affect us in our mentality and our outlook. I am not asking you to go and denounce denominations and denounce as heartily as you can denominationalism and denominations - well, leave them alone, there are true people of God in all of them. But oh, that they recognized that and lived on that, that they were much bigger than their section; their section, if it must be, well it is, after all, of very little account in itself - the thing is the people of God.
We ought to be affected by the great eternal truth, the great divine facts and God's thoughts, and if we are we shall find that there is Life and the testimony will be unmistakable. It will not be the testimony in phraseology, in terminology, or necessarily in interpretation of doctrine. I do not know what many of you people mean when you talk about the testimony. Are you talking about or thinking about this Life which is death destroying? Is that what you mean, when you say you are in the testimony? I hope you mean that, that you are in the reality and the experience and the manifestation of the Life which destroys death. That is the testimony of the Christ and there is no other. Let us be very clear about that. The testimony, being the testimony of Life and not of form or of expression, not all the components of doctrine, although the doctrine, of course, will have to be true; the impact, the registration, the effect, will be Life. That is the answer. Oh, it is true that we can be so orthodox, so correct, so absolutely precise in terms of teaching and doctrine in the utterness of our fundamental position on the verities of Bible truth, and to be dead as anything can be. And that is not the testimony. It does not mean that we can be other than correct and right in doctrine, but there is a plus without which the testimony is not there. The testimony is that plus when God gets things as He designed - that is, a people in the true organic oneness of this Life and living on that basis, with their whole mentality adjusted and governed by it. And when God gets a people like that, you meet those people and you find that somehow there is Life, even if you may not understand what they are talking about! The answer to your spirit is Life, it satisfies you before you understand. The answer is Life. The criterion of everything is Life in the risen Lord expressed in His Body.
A New Creation
Just now I used the words "in a new creation". Luke, at the end of this chapter with which we have been occupied, leads the company who have been gathered and regathered, out as far as Bethany. There the Lord blesses them, and, as He is blessing, He is taken up from them. John gives an extra fact. John says "He breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Spirit" (John 20:22). What has He done? He has gathered a Body and put the Life of new creation in it in figure. I believe it was potential, it was prophetic, not actual. He was securing them unto the day of Pentecost, it was as good as done. The symbolic act was that He brought the corporate new Man into being. That was, of course, fully done on the day of Pentecost and the church was born. But figuratively He did it then. He breathed on them. We can say He breathed into them typically: "Receive ye the Holy Spirit" He is the Spirit of Life. And He did not go from one to another doing it. He did it on the company. It was a company on the day of Pentecost that received the breath from heaven as it was with that company at Bethany. The new creation is a company, it is a Body indwelt by the Holy Spirit, actuated by the Holy Spirit, actually made one by the Holy Spirit. "In one Spirit were we all baptised into one body" (1 Cor. 12:13). The oneness is the oneness of the Holy Spirit. "Giving diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit" (Eph. 4:3), not to make it but to keep it. A new creation.
Well now, of course that is just the key that opens the door to everything when you see what new creation Life means. And with that you introduce the whole matter of the proper order, the proper regulated order, of heavenly Life. Heavenly Life is according to heavenly law. It is not lawless. Each member of this body is not a law unto himself or herself. We are bound by this integrating, regulating law, that we are not allowed to be independent. Here the Holy Spirit forbids it. We are not allowed to take the law into our own hands. We are not allowed to act as individuals; the Holy Spirit will not allow it. There is a regulating order with this Life. This Life expresses itself according to its own laws, as life does in every part of the organic creation. It follows its own lines. That part of the creation follows the laws of the life which it possesses, and this is the Life of the Spirit, and you have not to organise or systematize this. Immediately you begin to do it, you bring death in. It is as fatal to try and make a New Testament church after the New Testament pattern as it is to have no pattern at all! It can be deathly to do that. The thing happens if the Life has its way. We have learned this, yet, much as we know about the truth, we are still so much governed by our own natural life, even in our spiritual activities. There is disorder and running before the Spirit. However, we are all in the school, and we are just stating the laws, the principles and the truth that here you have no need to go and organize something on a New Testament basis. It will come about if the Holy Spirit is really having His way in terms of Life.
How do you test it? You can test this in many ways. So often when somebody just acts in their own life, off their own bat, everybody feels bad. That is not right, that is out of order. They have not a written code of laws and regulations by which they are governed, and they do not say, 'That is not according to the Blue Book of our rules and regulations for the procedure in public worship', but it is inside, something inside feels bad. You feel, 'There is something wrong about it, that is out of order, that is out of place; my feeling about that in my spirit, as I seek to understand what Life with the Lord is, is that there is something not quite right about that.' There is the law of Life at work. Is it not the best way? Far better than drawing up our Blue Book of regulations and throwing it at the head of the delinquents.
God's Sovereign Beginnings
You can see all this that I am saying, and very much more, in the government of the life of Israel. You have only to take this phrase that the Lord used in resurrection, or that He spoke after His resurrection, as to what He had said before; dividing the Scriptures into Moses, the psalms and the prophets. You have only to take this first phrase - Moses, meaning the books of Moses, and in those very books and their titles you have what I have been saying. Genesis - the book of beginnings... "In the beginning God". And Paul, many centuries afterwards, understanding the spiritual significance lying behind the natural creation, said, "If any man is in Christ, he is a new creature" (there is a new creation - A.R.V) (2 Cor. 5:17). "If any man is in Christ, there is a new creation: old things are passed away; behold, they are become new. But all things are of (out from) God". In the new creation, all things are out from God. "In the beginning God..." and that is being applied. It is not just some static fact that lies back there at some remote beginning. Look at it being applied. Whenever things deviate from God's thought, He begins again out from Himself. Each one of those men of whom we have been speaking - Abel, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and Joseph, represent an intervention of God at a certain point to start again; if you like, an innovation from heaven, God steps in. Abraham away there in Ur of the Chaldees - the God of glory appeared. The initiative is with God. "In the beginning God". All the way along, be it individuals, be it the world, be it Israel deviating, going away and moving off of God's basis - all right, let them, God will begin again. Again and again He reacts to these deviations by "in the beginning God", and this is God's new beginning.
It is in the history of the church. Christendom as a whole deviates and God begins again. Look down these Christian ages and see the new beginnings. And God, again and again when the church as a whole has deviated, see God's movement... with Moravians, Waldensians, with Luther, Wesley, and so God steps in and starts again where there has been deviation. That is God's new beginning where things have gone wrong. He is doing that now. Genesis - the principle continually applied, not something back there so many thousands of years ago, but now - Genesis: all things out from God, nothing out from man, nothing conceived by man or brought into being by man. God the Source, the Spring, the Beginning of everything - an abiding principle.
Exodus - here is the principle carried over to a nation. "In the beginning God." How does Exodus begin? "Now these are the names of the sons of Jacob"? No, "Israel". Was that God intervening and bringing to an end something - Jacob, and beginning again - Israel? Exodus begins with something that God has brought into view, and then the story of the Exodus is God taking the initiative. If it says one thing more than another, it is that God is doing this, even in spite of the weakness of the people with whom He is doing it and for whom He is doing it; God is doing this. In spite of Pharaoh and all the evil powers, God is doing this. This people is produced by God. The exodus is out from God. So He constitutes now a nation, a corporate body, by His own initiative, created of God.
Leviticus - what is it? it is the centralizing, the focusing, the coordinating of this whole people in a priest, in a High Priest, as a priestly people focused in the Ark, the Holy of Holies, and the High Priest. That governs everything. They are made one, they are gathered around that. They are the corporate whole because of that centre, that High Priestly centre.
Numbers - what is that? Well, is it not the ordering, the putting into right order, of this people with a view to action? It is not just to have a beautiful order. While it is good to have that and God wants to have beautiful order, perhaps for its own sake, but here God is saying that the next step unto effectiveness of testimony must be an ordered people. There they are numbered, there they are arranged. There they are brought into a regulated and coordinated life for war and for service and progress, because progress, real progress, can never be by a rabble, a mere crowd, a mob. Real progress, real development, real advance - and now we must speak in spiritual terms - spiritual advance, spiritual progress, spiritual fulness, spiritual enlargement, demands spiritual order, heavenly order. Get out of that heavenly order and your spiritual progress is arrested.
Deuteronomy - what is that? The reaffirmation of the whole, God coming back, and saying, as it were, 'You must not just take this as something done, something that lies back there in the past; this is something to be ratified and confirmed right up to the end.' It leads to the death of Moses; the end of God in that particular economic. The last thing is ratification and confirmation of the testimony. Deuteronomy is the confirmation of the testimony in all its terms. That is where we get in the book of the Revelation - a confirmation of the testimony in the churches being reminded that this is not static doctrine which belongs to the past and has become a tradition. It is right up to date in relation to Him that lives and was dead and is alive for evermore. It is the testimony of Life ratified.
Well, you see how much ground I have tried to cover, and what a lot there is bound up with this. It could take us on for a long time. But what is the point of emphasis now? It is this after all, that God has set His heart upon and is still seeking to have an expression of this corporate testimony, this vessel, this corporate vessel of testimony. He is still set upon it, He is still wanting it. It does not mean that all Christians from all over the world and all connections are going to form themselves into one body under one designation. That would not last long, it would very quickly become not corporate but composite, a poor show and pretence and an imitation of something. But in the Spirit, in heart, in our minds, in our activities, our relationships, we keep this fact dominant: though there may be things with which we cannot agree or do not agree with the position to which we have come, wherever there are children of God they are related to us by one Life and we to them. And that is going to be a secret of strength, a secret of fulness.
We would that we should all come to the full knowledge of the truth, we should all come to see the same way. Would to God that that could be, but we must leave the whole matter of the measure of that with the Lord. The point for us is to recognise what the Lord wants, how it is to be brought about and for what He wants it - the testimony of His Son, the power of a mighty Life which is going ultimately to vanquish death entirely, that there shall be that in the earth which holds that testimony. The Lord help us!