by T. Austin-Sparks
READING: John 16:12-15; 1 Cor. 2:9-16; 12:4-14,27.
The Lord has been directing our hearts toward the matter of life in the Spirit. All that we have been saying is related to that. It is well for us to be reminded, and always to bear in mind the tremendous importance of the Holy Spirit. Everything now for us depends upon the Holy Spirit, and apart from Him absolutely nothing is possible. The Lord Jesus Himself made that clear, and in comparing two great values, namely, that of His own physical remaining on the earth with His disciples, or of His going away and the Holy Spirit coming to take His place, He strongly upheld the latter and said it was expedient for them that He went away, for if He did not go away the Holy Spirit would not come; clearly indicating that in His mind the coming of the Holy Spirit was far more important than His remaining in physical presence.
In that connection you notice what He says, that while here with them there were many things that He wanted to say, that He had to say, but it was quite impossible for Him to say them because of the lack of capacity in them; and it was clear that no matter how long He remained that capacity was not likely to alter, to grow. The surmounting of the difficulty was plainly not a mere question of time, but of something being done in them, which He personally, in physical presence, could not do, but which the coming of the Holy Spirit would achieve. Then all that ever He wanted to say and do would be said and done. Is it not striking that Paul should say these words: "Things which eye saw not, and ear heard not... unto us God revealed them through the Spirit". How evident this was in the case of the Apostles themselves. It is a striking proof that the Lord was right, and a forceful indication of the supreme importance of the coming of the Spirit. So we must know the meaning of the Spirit's coming.
The Meaning of the Coming of the Holy Spirit
I want to break this up into fragments, though fragments that have a great deal in them. To begin with, we must turn from the immediate matter of the coming of the Spirit and stand back on to the rim of things, the circumference, and remind ourselves that the Word of God reveals that there is a Divine purpose and a Divine plan. That we know and believe. That is where we begin. God has a great scheme (if we may use that word), a great plan, a great purpose, which has moved Him to the creation of this universe. That plan or purpose has a far-reaching, comprehensive, and minute order, and it involves faculties and functions.
It is important to recognise the meaning of those technically sounding words. We have used three words; order, faculty, function. Those things are written in God's universe, and in every part of it. They are written in the central feature of God's universe, man himself. Man occupies the central place, and we have only to look at ourselves to see that we are constituted on that basis, and everything for the realisation of our object depends upon our being in order. If we are out of order physically or mentally then we shall not realise our destiny. There is a recognised order, and the whole of a great science has been developed to deal with disorder in the body. Then there is function, and faculty. God's universe has these things back of it for the realisation of its purpose.
We must remember that the things which are seen are intended by God to be but indications of things unseen. The material, the seen universe, is a parable, and the Word of God teaches quite clearly that things here, when they are according to God's natural order, are illustrations of a spiritual order. The fifth chapter of the letter to the Ephesians makes that perfectly clear in the matter of domestic relationships, speaking about husbands and wives, wives and husbands. The bringing together of these, the utterness of the oneness, the nature of their relationship, clearly indicates that this relationship, when it is a right one, is an illustration of something spiritual, the relationship between Christ and the Church. Adam and Eve are the great types of Christ and the Church. We could trace that through the Word in many connections, but we will stay only to mention one further instance. The tabernacle in the wilderness is distinctly said to be a pattern of things in the heavens, not the very things themselves.
So on earth the Lord has instituted a complete order for the purpose of illustrating a heavenly order. If you consider any of these illustrations you will see that these three things obtain and govern. How particular God is about order! If you upset the order you destroy the object. If you violate the order you defeat the end. That is illustrated very clearly in our own physical frames. So it is in the universe. Back of everything God has a purpose and a plan, with a minutiae of order, faculty, function.
The second thing is this, that because the order has been upset by sin, by the fall, the natural man, as he is called, is utterly devoid of the faculty, the capacity for knowing this purpose and plan of God; and, not being able to know it, it is quite impossible for him to function in it. It takes a good many Christians a long time to recognise it, but the fact is stated, and with God the fact is final. Whether we recognise it or not, it is so.
The third thing is that the Holy Spirit knows that whole purpose, plan, order of God. "The things of God none knoweth, save the Spirit of God": but He does know. He shall guide into all the truth because He knows it.
This present world-order is a lie, a falsehood. The Holy Spirit knows the truth about this universe; what God means, what God intends, God's thought about it. Then the Holy Spirit knows all that is included in that. Only the Holy Spirit knows what the Divine order is for a universe which is to answer to God's mind. He knows what the faculties and the functions are, in relation to God's purpose. The Holy Spirit, knowing the whole truth, is committed to it; that is, it is His business. He is the executive member of the Godhead in relation to the whole purpose of God, and He is committed to it.
The fourth thing is, the spiritual alone can know and enter into God's purpose.
That leads on to the fifth. (We are getting away from the circumference to the centre now.) The Spirit, therefore, begins by making people spiritual. To reconstitute the disordered universe as an ordered whole according to God's intention, He does not begin upon the circumference of the universe, He starts at the centre, namely, with man. He begins by making people spiritual; that is, by giving His own nature and endowments or gifts to man. The spiritual nature renews the spirit of man, and indwells that spirit as the new life of man's spirit, and to impart spiritual gifts, spiritual endowments. These gifts are various, but they at once bring us into the realm of spiritual faculty and spiritual function. It means that by new birth, and the consequent indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we have faculties which are other than those we have by nature; faculties for knowing, for understanding, for discerning, for judging, for examining, and much more; capacities which by nature we do not possess, for doing, for being, for achieving, for attaining. This should be a tremendous comfort to us, for what we are saying is not merely so much technique. Whatever you may lack by nature of natural gift and qualification, that does not handicap you at all in the things of God. The Holy Spirit gives gifts, endowments, and not only makes up what is lacking in nature but goes beyond what nature can do.
Those five things lead us to this further point, that a life in the Spirit is absolutely essential, and indispensable.
There we have six things on the positive side, but the scale does not come to spiritual perfection until you add one more and make it seven. This is more on the negative side. It is that a life in the Spirit requires a setting aside of the life in the flesh.
Now, to some extent we see what it is to be spiritual, or what a life in the Spirit is, and how important a question that of the Holy Spirit is. The Lord Jesus knew this, and that is why He put such value upon the advent of the Spirit.
The Spiritual Man Defined
For a few moments we will think further about the spiritual man. What is the spiritual man? He is one who has received the Holy Spirit, and has been constituted something which corresponds to the Holy Spirit in faculty and function, and in capacity. "He that is joined to the Lord is one spirit". That is correspondence in likeness, in nature. It is not only a kind of nature, a quality of nature, it is a capacity. It means that there are characteristics, features of a practical nature resultant from this. So we have such things as spiritual discernment, spiritual perception, spiritual knowledge. The Apostle prays that the Word may dwell in us in all spiritual understanding.
Now this is the difference between the action of a force upon something which is moved simply as a consequence of the impact, without there being anything within the object that corresponds to the power and can co-operate with it, and where the movement is purely mechanical. The difference is that in our renewed spirit there are introduced those faculties which correspond to the faculties of the Spirit, and there is intelligent union.
Let us illustrate this. We are told at the beginning of the Gospel by Luke that there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and he was a righteous and devout man, looking for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. Now it says that this man came by the Spirit into the temple at the time that the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for Him after the custom of the Law. Some people seem to have the idea that there had been a previous arrangement, and that Simeon was the priest. The record does not say so at all. The narrative here is so natural. They brought in the child Jesus to present Him to the Lord. This man was not there as the officiating minister, ready to receive Him, but he came into the temple at that moment. We should say, he happened to come in just at that time. No! He came in the Spirit, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus there is nothing to indicate that Simeon knew who the child was. No one had said, This is Jesus. He was brought in by His parents much as any other parents might bring in their child. He was like any other child from all outward appearance; no different perhaps from the hundreds or thousands that came into the temple; ordinary parents with an ordinary babe. Simeon, a man living in Jerusalem, came in at that time in the Spirit, and when they brought in the child he took the child in his arms and began to say the most astonishing things: "Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: for mine eyes have seen thy salvation". They were taken aback. What is the man talking about? How does he know all this? Where has this come from?
Do you see the implication of that? Simeon came in by the Spirit. His movements were by the Spirit, and his movements were timed by the Spirit, and when he had taken that babe into his arms the same Spirit witnessed to his spirit, This is the Christ. There was nothing else to indicate who the babe was. The Spirit bore witness to the Christ. That is to say, Simeon, because the Spirit was upon him, had spiritual perception. When he was in the presence of Christ he recognised Him in his spirit.
Now you see what a spiritual man is. Simeon is an illustration, though not the full expression of the later, post-Pentecostal spiritual man. A spiritual man is one who moves by the urge of the Spirit, whose movements are timed by the Holy Spirit, and whose knowledge of when he is to move is by the Spirit; who, in moving in the Spirit, makes discoveries of the secrets of the Spirit concerning Christ, and thus is in possession of a faculty of spiritual perception, that when the Lord is doing something he has intelligence about it. The faculty leads to the function in relation to the great purpose of God.
That may sound difficult to you, but that is the normal life of the believer, according to Romans 8. It is true that we do not enter into it fully at once; we grow up into it, as Paul's words remind us: "Grow up into him in all things". But this is what the spiritual man is.
Not an Outward Order but a Way of Life
In our last meditation we referred to the Priestly company. Here are priestly features. Simeon undoubtedly performed priestly functions. Priestliness is not official, it is spiritual, and true priestliness is constituted on the basis of these things, namely, of being led by the Spirit, instructed by the Spirit. These are the sons of God, even those who are led by the Spirit of God. Simeon is in the true spirit of sonship, and therefore is a true priest in the spiritual sense.
It means that if the Lord's people are going to be spiritual, and if they are, therefore, going to come into all God's purpose, they must come into everything by the way of life and revelation of the Holy Spirit, as differing from entering into things mechanically by book, or by tradition. It is there that there is such a great deal of need on the part of the Lord's people. After all these centuries of Christianity we find Christianity as a kind of set order or system in this world, where everything that is in the New Testament has been taken up and systematised and projected, as it were, into the world as something fixed, something set. For example, the command "Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel..." has been taken up and become a sort of fixed thing, and everybody has to do it if they are going to conform to the recognised Christian system. The idea of the Church, again, has become something very set and formal. It is the development of spiritual things into a fixed, mechanical order and system, and now that is traditional Christianity, and so you are called upon to conform to it, and do accordingly. That is perhaps one of the greatest handicaps to spirituality. If we had not had all that history, if we could be right back at the beginning, things would be so much more simple, and we could get more immediately and directly into the true spiritual condition; but we are all the time labouring with this great weight of things, and it is just there that there has to be the cleavage.
That which is called Christianity is essentially a spiritual thing, and not an earthly order or system, and every fragment of it has to be entered into in a spiritual way, by way of life and revelation. There is all the difference between imitation and life. Oh, what a difference there is between seeing a thing in an objective way and coming into it in life! It is just there that the wonder, the glory, the vitality, the energy, the power of things is found. You have perhaps talked for years about things in the Word of God, as in the Word of God, and you believed them and gave them out as truth, and after doing that for years suddenly you saw what they meant, and the whole thing came in another way. All your talking, and preaching, and believing before was quite true, quite right, correct as to doctrine, but what effect had it on you? Now that it has broken like this it is transfiguring, and has brought real joy and delight, life and ecstasy. That is what we mean by entering into things by life and by revelation. In other words, it is coming into things by the Spirit and seeing.
Many another man in Jerusalem could have come in at that time and seen this babe, and perhaps have gone through the same performance, taken up the babe and said some prayers, asked a blessing, put the babe down again and gone out, and that would have been the end of it; but this man came in by the Spirit and made a discovery. There was a spiritual faculty in him, and he discerned something which no ordinary person would have seen: "A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel". Simeon entered in by life, by revelation. In other words, he came in by, or in, the Spirit. The Lord needs that His people should be of that kind.
That applies to the whole purpose and plan of God, and all the details in that plan. We have not to worry our heads about all the things that are said to us here, we have to get the inclusive and basic secret of these things, and we shall find that it works out in this way. If we become spiritual in this sense, if the Holy Spirit is the commanding reality in our life, and we are walking by the Spirit, we are bound inevitably to come into all God's thought. The Lord wants a people to come into His full thought. That is only possible as they cease to be governed by some outward order of things, and learn what it is to move with God in the Holy Spirit.
This life is a very vast life. It reaches into God's great purpose, and we are a part of it; we are "the called according to his purpose". We want to know the purpose; we want to know our place in the purpose; we want to know our faculties, our functions. How shall this be? Not by studying up what they are, but by being in life. It may be very interesting to have a scientific knowledge of the workings of our human bodies, but it is not necessary in order to live. Live, and the thing happens. You never have to consider whether you will take your next breath, to sit down and make a mental problem of it. You do it, and everything else is bound up with it, and follows in proper order. Breathing properly has a great deal bound up with it. Well then, live and everything else will follow. That is only saying, in other words, Move, have your life in the Holy Spirit, and all the plan and order of God will follow. You are bound to come into it, you cannot help yourself.
Thus the object is to get the Lord's people to a place where they walk with the Lord, and are so open to Him that they are prepared for all that walking with Him means. Sometimes it will mean that they will have to leave a great deal that is of a secondary character; perhaps forsake many things, even religious things, the accepted things, to walk with the Lord. There may be a price attached to it; misunderstanding, and loneliness, and much besides; but if you are so open to the Lord that nothing else matters, and you mean to walk with God whatever the cost, no matter what people say you ought to do as (in their thought) a part of a great Christian order or religious machine, you will come into all God's secret thought as naturally as a flower opens to the sun, and you will be making discoveries and finding that there is a vast realm of meaning and possibility and capacity and power that you never dreamed of.
The Lord is not going to stretch it out before us, and show us it. We shall discover it as we walk in the Spirit.
The Relatedness of Believers
We will pass to a brief word on another aspect of this, which is touched upon in chapter 12 of the first letter to the Corinthians.
Paul speaks in Ephesians of the Body being the Church: "the church, which is his body", the assembly. The assembly of the Lord's people is the anointed vessel of the Lord, for the Lord's purpose. While it is true that the individual believer receives the Spirit and is anointed of the Spirit, it is the whole Body of Christ which is the anointed vessel of the Lord, inasmuch as Christ is one, and the Holy Spirit brings Christ into all true believers, and by doing so makes all true believers one, because Christ is one and indivisible. It is the same thing, in other words, to say that the anointing is not distributed, as it were, in fragments. The anointing is one anointing. We are all baptized in one Spirit into one Body. That is how the Lord looks at things from above. He looks upon this one corporate entity as under one anointing. That means that the true Church is essentially spiritual, because it is constituted by the indwelling Holy Spirit. In its nature it is spiritual, and all that we have said about the spiritual man, is true about the Church according to God's mind. This is important, because of the practical value bound up with the assembly as God's anointed vessel.
The first practical value of this is life. You may not have any experience that can support what we are going to say, and you may not therefore at the moment see the importance of it, but store it up in your heart; because, if you are going on with the Lord, you will discover this, and you will need this. Life is bound up with the assembly, as God's anointed vessel. Unless we recognise and stand upon the value of the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, which is the fellowship of believers (not just something between the Holy Spirit and ourselves, but something which is of the Holy Spirit between all believers) we shall be broken. That is why Paul put what we call the benediction at the end of the letter to the Corinthians. It is perfectly clear why he put it at the end.
"The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ..."
That is an offset to all that was going on in Corinth. How bent they were upon wisdom, and how all-important to them was the matter of gifts. Then Paul reaches chapter thirteen: "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal". Though I have all these gifts, prophecy, faith, and so on, and have not love - what is that? It is not gift, it is grace. So he concluded, "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ..."
"...the love of God..."
There are many diversities. One says, I am of Paul; another, I am of Apollos; another, I am of Peter. It is, I. Paul speaks of "the love of God".
"...the fellowship of the Holy Spirit..."
You are all at sixes and sevens; one goes to law against another of the same assembly before the world. This is anything but the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. So Paul says: "...the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all".
The assembly comes into view as a matter of the relationship of believers in the Holy Spirit, the fellowship of believers in the one Spirit; and for believers that is absolutely indispensable for their life. If the Lord relates you to a spiritual company of His people, you will commit spiritual suicide if you break away from it, away from where the Lord has really put you. The Lord does not put us together just to have companies, to have numerical representatives. The end He has in view is life. It has been proved again and again that a child of God has been recovered and saved as to his very life by the restoration of broken fellowship with other children of God, by the renewing of a broken fellowship with God's people.
It can be tested in simpler ways than that. When you are jaded, tired out, discouraged, and you join the Lord's people for an hour, what is the result? You start the day afresh! It means life to you. It is spiritual life. It is the Lord's order, and life is bound up with the spiritual assembly, because it is the Lord's anointed vessel. One of the great objects of the Devil is to destroy the life of the Lord's people by getting them scattered, separated, isolated. This means that when the Lord has two or three, or more if possible (the minimum is two), then there is a strength which is greater than the strength of the individual.
Fulness is bound up with the assembly. Get a real, living, spiritual assembly in the Holy Spirit, and what an enlargement, what an increase of the Lord there is in light, in life. What perils of limitation there are in isolation, in detachment.
The Question of Balance and Proportion
There is another very important thing bound up with the fellowship of the Lord's people in assembly life, and that is proportion. Isolation or detachment usually leads to an unbalanced state, a loss of proportion, some kind of an extreme which is dangerous, and which is not the true thing. Keep the fellowship, and you keep the balance. We need one another to keep one another safe, to keep the balance, the proportion. When spiritual people are in danger of becoming unbalanced, the Lord's corrective is to get some new adjustment to the other children of God. It lies in the direction of a recognition and an enjoyment of fellowship.
How this reveals that back of assembly life, back of the relationship of the Lord's people in a practical way, there are heavenly, eternal, spiritual things of tremendous importance and significance. The Lord never does anything just for the sake of doing it, but He is always governed by some other important and vital interest. It is quite clear that the assembly means an enlarged measure of Christ, by reason of many members.
When the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost, one of the immediate results was that they continued in fellowship. Fellowship is the result of the Holy Spirit. The result is life. Let Ananias and Sapphira violate the fellowship principle, and they die. Death is in that direction. Life is in fellowship. It is strength, it is fulness. All these marks are there at the beginning when the Spirit had come, and there was balance, proportion, because of the enlarged measure of Christ by reason of members being together.
It simply means that there is an enlarged measure of the anointing. We can only know a very small measure of the anointing as individuals, but if we come together that measure is found in a larger degree. The anointing is the Lord Himself present. The anointing is God coming Himself, committing Himself. Thus it is written, "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I..."
That may raise some questions, but we are just now laying down laws of the life in the Spirit. The outworking is for you to prove, and if you go on with the Lord, if you are spiritual, if you are being led by the Spirit, if you are coming in by the Spirit, if your life is wholly committed to the Spirit, you will come to this. It may be slowly, or it may be you will leap into it, but you are bound to come to it. That is what lies behind the Word of God. It is the heavenly, eternal thing. What a different thing is the mere outward form without the inward meaning.
May the Lord guard our hearts in relation to His Word.