by T. Austin-Sparks
READING: Heb. 1:1-3; 2:5-12; 3:1-2, 7-8.
This letter to the Hebrews seems to grow bigger and bigger. I sometimes think it is one of the biggest things we have. Here are some clauses given, which are clues to the letter, but also clues to something far bigger than the letter.
In chapter 2 and verse 5, we have these words: "The inhabited world to come, whereof we speak", or, more literally, of which we are speaking. Does not that strike you as being tremendous in its significance? You ask the Apostle what is in his mind, what has led him to write, what has governed all that he is writing. He will say, "The inhabited world to come, whereof we speak", of which we are speaking. Everything in this letter relates to that. It shows us all the ways and means of God for securing, not only the kind of inhabited world to come upon which He has set His heart, but the government of that world. Thus what is being spoken of in this letter is the dominion of the inhabited world to come, and we are being spoken to as related to that in God's purpose.
We will break that up, and see several things which arise.
God's Original Purpose
That comes out clearly in chapter 1 and in chapter 2. God had a special concept, man, that which is meant by a humanity created as expressive of God's thought, namely, that man should have dominion over the creation. "What is man that thou art mindful of him, or the son of man that thou visitest him"? The latter phrase may be more literally rendered "that thou makest mention of him". "Thou madest him for a little while lower than the angels; thou crownedst him with glory and honour, and didst set him over the works of thy hands: thou didst put all things in subjection under his feet". That was God's intention. That was what was in the eternal counsels of God; to have man in dominion over the creation, the inhabited world. That was God's original purpose.
Then comes the great tragedy of the fall, and man never reaching the full measure of God's purpose. Man who had but entered upon that, at its very beginnings fell and lost, not only the position which he did hold, but the position which he was intended to hold. We are confronted with the tragedy of man's fall and all that came in with it. Thus the next thing that comes up in this letter is
The Securing of the Original Intention and Purpose
This is brought about by means of (1) The incarnation of His Son; (2) The atoning and redemptive work of His Son. "God... hath at the end of these days spoken unto us in his Son... who... when he had made purification of sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high." God secures in His Son the original intention.
So the Apostle says, Now we do not see, so far as man himself is concerned, all things under his feet; we do not see God's original intention realised in man, but we do see a Man, God's Son, the Son of God and Son of Man, crowned with glory and honour, because of the suffering of death; and, so far as He is concerned as the representative Man, all things are under His feet. "Sit thou on my right hoand, until I make thine enemies the footstool of thy feet". This is said to the Son. "We see Jesus". It is always the title of incarnation, the title of the Son of Man, that which has to do with the humanity of that Divine Person, that is used. Thus we see, in the second place, the securing of the original purpose in Christ through incarnation and the Cross.
Then the third thing which arises is
The Heavenly Calling and Partnership of the Sons
"Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of (partners in) a heavenly calling consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession..." The Apostle says later, "We are become partakers with Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our confidence firm unto the end" (R.V. margin). This means dominion over the inhabited world to come in fellowship with Christ, not just to be on the inhabited earth to come. It will be a good thing to be in that world, a great thing to be there, and not to have been dismissed and wiped out in judgment and have no more place. But that is not all that is here; it is the government thereof, which is something more, and not everybody who is on it will be in the government of it. It is the people of this particular dispensation who are being called out for the government of the inhabited world to come. It is the Church which is to be the governmental instrument of that world. It is to be through His Body that Christ is to administer His rule. There is a difference between being in the new heaven, with a relationship to the new earth, and merely being on the new earth which is to be, when the fire has purged it and it has been renewed and adjusted. It seems very clear that not only has sin entered into mankind and upset the human race, but there has been a great cosmic disturbance, so that the very world in its cosmic position has been deranged. There is a prince of the power of the air, who has a lot to do with atmospherics. All that is going to be done away. There is to be a new heaven and a new earth, and it is going to be a glorious earth. There will be nations thereon, but we are further told that there is to be a heavenly city, a new Jerusalem. That is only figurative language. It is a figure of the Church, and the nations are going to walk in the light of it. It is the government of the city which is in view.
That is the heavenly calling. It seems that, at the time of his writing to the Ephesians and Philippians, the Apostle Paul had come to see in a very full way that there was something more than just being saved. We recall but one passage, and that the well known passage in the third chapter of the letter to the Philippians: "Forgetting the things which are behind, and stretching forward to the things that are before, I press on toward the goal unto the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus". Paul never had to do anything to secure his salvation, but he had caught a glimpse of something more than of merely being an inhabitant of the world to come. He had seen throne-union with Christ. "To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne..." That is the calling of the Church, and that is what is here meant by the heavenly calling.
The Apostle gives us an historic link by way of illustrating what he means. He takes us back to Israel in the wilderness, to the generation that failed to enter the land, and recalls the word of warning of which they became the occasion: "Wherefore, even as the Holy Spirit, saith, Today if ye shall hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, like as in the day of the temptation in the wilderness, wherewith your fathers tempted me by proving me, and saw my works forty years. Wherefore I was displeased with this generation... as I sware in my wrath, They shall not enter into my rest". The generation that did go over, the subsequent generation, had the land and the peoples in it subjected to them. It is to that the Apostle is referring by way of illustration. The inhabited world to come is to be brought under the dominion of those who today are being called into the heavenly calling. The Lord says, 'Do you hear My voice? Then do not harden your hearts and miss what I intend'. God intends dominion over the inhabited world to come. This, then, is what is meant by the calling and the voice, and by partnership with Christ.
The Training of Sons
The next thing which arises in this letter in connection with this purpose and this calling is the training of sons; because this calling is going to be realised in sonship, and if we are to attain unto sonship we must be trained. Thus after opening his letter on the note of sonship, and striking that note again and again, and repeatedly mentioning that related word "brethren", and after working his way through the great redemptive process of the Cross, the atoning work, the priestly activity, and dealing with all that which has to do with man's redemption, so that he can come back to God's original purpose, the Apostle reaches chapter 12 and the matter of sonship is taken up as to its training. Here you are being dealt with as sons, and you are inclined to feel that it is too much discipline, too much chastening, too much of strange experiences and trials. But stay a moment: dominion of the inhabited world to come, partnership with Christ, and all that this is to mean of glory and value, is by way of chastening, discipline. Paul says that the Lord "scourgeth every son whom he receiveth". That does not relate to us merely as children of God, but is something beyond, and the Greek makes it quite clear and says, "every son whom he receiveth" (or literally, places). The son is something more than the child. A son is one grown up in the house; a child is one born in the house. When sonship has been reached, then the father places the son in a position of honour and responsibility. We speak of someone being our "right hand man", and the Bible speaks of "the son of the right hand".
The Apostle has something further to say to us on the matter. "If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons". This follows upon a previous observation that "whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth". Then the Apostle continues: "Furthermore, we have had fathers of our flesh, which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of our spirits, and live?" The Father is dealing with our spirits. It will be in the inhabited world to come that those whose spirits have been developed, who have been spiritually brought to maturity, will reign. These are going to govern in the inhabited world to come. It brings us very near to our subject, the relationship between life in the Spirit and God's ultimate purpose. The question is one of spiritual education, spiritual development.
Sonship Defines God's Purpose in Man
Now we have one or two more things to say in this connection. The first is that this word "son", or "sonship", defines for us what is in the mind of God in creating man. Man is man, but it is man in a full sense that God has in view for this particular purpose, and man in a full sense is set forth in the term "son". Now you will understand what we meant when we said that God has as His thought, a representation of Himself. When He said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness", He was only saying, in other words, Let us make a representation of Ourselves.
You can see how in various ways that illustrates things for us. We may instance the sending of a representative into any realm or part of the realm. That representative is as ourselves there. He has our mind about things. He has authority from us concerning things, and the way in which he is treated is the way in which we are treated. We are one. That is the precise meaning of that term which occurs so much in the Old Testament in respect of the prophets, namely, "Son of man". If you look at the context, you will see that it is God speaking in His representative, and the treatment received by the prophets was taken by God as treatment to Himself, and the term "Son of man" was simply the term which means "representative". God is going to govern the inhabited world to come by a representative, a corporate representative.
Representation, then, is through sonship. Let us remember that sonship is that point of maturity where responsibility is taken, and a man's son in the full sense, (especially amongst the Greeks, who would have understood this term immediately) is one who represents his father. We speak of a son as a child sometimes, and know what we mean, but amongst the Greeks that could never have been. It would have been a shameful thing for any father to speak of his son who had reached his majority as his child. When the child reached his majority he was placed in a position of responsibility and trust and honour, because he was now regarded as mature, as a fullgrown man. Sonship, being more than childhood, is that which stands for representation. God is represented in His Son, and then that Son brings many sons to glory. Sonship becomes an inclusive term of Christ and His members brought to maturity, to govern an inhabited world to come.
Sovereignty Inherent in Sonship
There is this further thing that comes out quite clearly in this letter, that sovereignty or government is inherent in sonship. The two things go together. If we are in God's Son, "whom he appointed heir of all things", then "we are fellow-heirs". We are called into fellowship with God's Son, but He is working with us to make it possible for us to take that position by reason of spiritual intelligence, spiritual growth, spiritual maturity. If you go through this letter you will see that such things as the inheritance or heirship are related to sonship all the time.
This representation in sonship and sovereignty has also certain features.
Firstly, it is related to a resurrection position. While the Lord Jesus was God's Son at His birth, He was especially marked out as God's Son in resurrection. That is said by the Apostle emphatically and precisely. In literal language he said, "Marked out as Son of God by resurrection from the dead, according to the spirit of holiness". Resurrection ground is the ground from which all that is of the flesh has been put away. On resurrection ground sonship is brought into view, and sonship, therefore, speaks of a relationship in which all things are out from God. If you take it as illustrated in the life of the Lord Jesus you see that as God's Son that was very true of Him.
That leads to this next point, that this representation by sonship is by the Holy Spirit. Nothing comes out from ourselves, but everything is of the Spirit, and herein is the relation between the life in the Spirit and the purpose of God. A son is one who is governed by the Spirit in all things. "For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God".
Then there is the third thing. This representation in sonship and sovereignty is in the Divine order. Order becomes a great matter here. This Divine order means, to begin with, subjection to Christ as Head, and subjection to the Father of our spirits in His dealings with us. Disorder is, of course, to assume any kind of personal government or control in the things of God, and to refuse to allow the Lord to deal with us in training. That upsets everything at the outset, and God can never reach His end where such conditions obtain.
The Need of Adjustableness
Another thing is the need of adjustableness on our part. That is a very important thing with God. Are we adjustable? We have many examples or illustrations of the principle of adjustableness in the Word of God. The Apostle Paul speaks of serving, "in newness of spirit". If any man knew the meaning of that, he did. Look at his spirit in the old days before he was saved. It was a spirit of personal domination, personal aggression. But now he thus speaks of serving "in newness of spirit". Paul no longer serves in a "self" spirit, in the strong self-will of Saul of Tarsus. There is a new spirit, and you cannot help seeing the newness of spirit in his service. The point is that he was adjustable. The Lord could do nothing until Saul of Tarsus humbled himself and said, "Lord, what wilt thou?". It is doubtful whether Saul of Tarsus had ever been of that disposition. It seems that again and again he had to adjust. He assayed to go into Bithynia. Had you put Saul of Tarsus in that position he would have gone, and not have asked anybody's guidance; but as Paul the Apostle he knew the leading of the Spirit was against that, and he did not go. Again, he was inclined to go into Asia, but being forbidden of the Holy Ghost he did not go. Then, knowing him to be conscious of that inward check, the Lord presented another course, and Paul took that course. He was adjustable.
You can take the eleven disciples as an illustration, and you see the adjustableness of those men, how they adjusted to the risen Lord. They had very strong ideas about the kingdom, and right up to the last, whilst He was yet with them, they were still saying, "Lord, wilt thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" Did they go off in a huff at His reply? They went back to Jerusalem, and delayed, waited there, to adjust to the new situation.
That is what you have in the whole of this letter to the Hebrews and in the letter to the Galatians. It is a case of adjusting to a new position. The Hebrews had been brought up in Judaism, in the rigid course of the temple service. Now the Apostle is telling them that Christ has fulfilled all that was there set forth, and that, having come as the anti-type of all the types, those types are done with; there is no more temple, no more priest; there are no more sacrifices, no more of that at all in God's eyes; it has all been flilfilled in the Person and put away. It meant that they had to adjust. It was no longer the earthly system, but the heavenly. To be gathered together in the Name of Jesus is the temple. The sacrifice is gathered up in the atoning work of the Lord Jesus, and likewise the priesthood in the present priestly work of Christ in heaven, where He ever liveth to make intercession. The whole question is of what God is able to do with us, of determining what God is able to use, of His having a free way to reach His end by our being adjustable.
That is all very clear in the Word, but it is very practical when it becomes applied to us. Many of the Lord's people stop short at adjusting to the truth. It very often means breaking with something that we have regarded as very important and very precious. We have come to see that, after all, that was only our conception of it. In God's view that does not occupy the place at all that we had thought it occupied, and it has to be left behind; we have to adjust to something higher and fuller than that, to a more spiritual and heavenly conception of things.
The issue for these Hebrew believers was just this, that were they to adjust themselves to the new situation, then the temple at Jerusalem must be as a thing past and gone in their eyes, seeing that it was as a thing no more in the eyes of God. All its service was now finished and gathered up in Christ, and for them, therefore, the temple and all its service was at an end. If they leave it what is going to happen? The whole of the Jewish community would be set against them as apostates. Thus the Apostle raises the issue and says, "Let us therefore go to him without the camp, bearing his reproach". Is that what is going to happen? Is that what it will cost? Does it mean we are going to be outside of the camp? What camp? The camp of the whole accepted, recognised religious order maybe. They would be under reproach. What reproach? His reproach. Are we adjustable? We are not if we are halting over the cost; and if not adjustable, then God cannot reach His end. God's end is dominion over the inhabited world to come.
You see our calling, you see what is necessary if we would reach that calling, and you see the great, inclusive thing, life in the Spirit, life under the government of the Holy Spirit. Oh, the urge and exhortation in the light of the great end, the purpose which governs this dispensation, namely, the securing of a Body out from the nations to govern the redeemed nations which are not of that Body, to rule the inhabited world to come.
You can look more fully into it, and see if that is right. I am sure you will see that is what the heavenly calling is.