Knowing God in Christ

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 9 - The Nature and Order of the Assembly

Resurrection Position and Resurrection Values

One of the very comprehensive facts about the New Testament assembly is that of its essential spirituality. It is essentially spiritual in all respects.

We have been saying much about the great forty days after the resurrection as setting forth the elements and constituents of the life of the church for the rest of the dispensation at least. You will remember that one of the things said in that connection was that everything of the three and a half years preceding came in a new way into life during those forty days. Presently we shall say more about that, but at the outset there is one particular thing that must be said in relation to that. It is this, that a resurrection position is necessary and is indispensable to resurrection values. We have spoken, and shall speak again, of the resurrection values; all that comes of new life, new meaning, new power, new effectiveness with the resurrection of the Lord Jesus demands that there shall be a resurrection position on the part of those who are to know those values.

What we mean by a resurrection position is this: we saw that the disciples were bound by terrible limitations in themselves during their time with the Lord on earth. As to understanding Him, either in His sayings or in His doings; as to seeing through to His meaning or in any other way, they were simply defeated all the time in themselves. They could not do it. The end showed that altogether they were out of court so far as He was concerned in all the meaning of His person, His life, His words and His acts. We cannot blame them. We have often felt very angry with them, but the Lord Jesus Himself was never angry with them though He was sometimes astonished. Certainly He was surprised, and intimated that from time to time: "Do you not yet understand?"; "Oh you of little faith". It is the amazement of this thing, and well might we be amazed at the result of the terrible touch of the blinding hand of the devil upon men. However, there it is, they were like that, and the only thing to do was to end that sort of thing, and it must come to a full and final end. So the death of the Lord Jesus saw, as it were, the seal put upon that. It was sealed up and finished as a kind, as a nature, as a state, and it went down into His death. That kind of association with Him, that kind of apprehension of Him all went, and now it is gone and they know it.

If they had thought at any time that they understood Him, and probably they had thought that - for such is this nature of ours, that in our blindest hours we think that we see, and we talk about things that we know nothing about - now at length in His death they know the thing has stopped for them. They have no delusions or illusions about themselves, everything is finished, and the need now is for them to stand on new ground, in a new position, with "finished" written definitely and finally over that particular kind of relationship with the Lord. It is that kind of relationship with Christ which is the relationship of teaching, of truth, of doctrine, whether it be inherited or by which we have been brought up, or which we have received later on. It does not matter what it is, it is that kind of relationship with Christ which is purely historical. That has to go. Then we have to stand on a new ground where we know that even our Christian doctrine is no good to us. All the mighty bundle of inherited and received teaching is useless to us, it does not work, it has not saved us in the hour of real need, it has not come to our rescue in the time of deepest trial. So far as we are concerned it is not working.

It is as well that we do get there, and we take it bit by bit, and every bit of doctrine finds us sooner or later in a position where it is no use to us, something has got to happen to make it of use to us. He said all these things, but what is the good of it to us? We have seen all this, but what is the value just now? The question arises, 'Was He right, or was He wrong? The alternative was, What was the matter with us if He were right? Granted He was right, what has been wrong with us that we landed into a position like this after we have seen it all?' The trouble is with us, and the sooner we come to that position where we recognise it is no use naturally, merely humanly grasping, apprehending divine things, the better; for it gets us nowhere. It is just possible for us to be able to remember what the Lord has said and done, and have it all fresh in our memory so that we can talk about it as a wonderful range of truth and historical fact, and yet it be of really no spiritual value to us whatever and there be a terrible contradiction to it all in a deep hour of trial.

A new position is needed on our part. There is nothing wrong with the truth, nothing wrong with the Lord. He has not been wrong, He has not misled us, misinformed us, deceived us. On that side everything is right; what is needed is a position on our side.

Well then, they came to the place where they had that whole level and realm of things concluded, and, being concluded so far as they were concerned, and their knowingly being dominated by something altogether other, that gave the Lord the opportunity that He needed. What did He want to do? Did He want to give them new revelation? No. Did He want to teach them fresh things? No. He wanted to make all that they had heard and seen, to live. That is what happened in the forty days.

We shall speak about that more perhaps presently, but the point is this, and it is of great practical importance and value: that we need a resurrection position unto resurrection values.

Let us enlarge that and say we need resurrection conditions in order to have resurrection values. There may be a whole realm and range of things, which are quite true as to the Scriptures, in which we move. We may even be teaching those things, and yet the real, mighty working power and life, energy and fulness, and spontaneity and joy of all that may be lacking. Then the Lord brings into a place where all that comes under the hammer. You cannot go on with it any longer, and you have to come out of it somehow, it is finished. It is impossible to go on. You ask: 'Can it be that we are wrong?' No, there it is in the Scripture. We are not wrong as to terms, and as to Scriptural truth, but what is the matter? We are in the wrong realm, we are not in a realm of living conditions. We have taken it up in a way that is our apprehension of it, and we are not in the living position.

You may be in an earthly system of the Christian religion, for instance; that is, you may be in the traditional realm of things, and everything there may be, so far as the Bible is concerned, quite sound. The Bible may be taught, it may be quite Scriptural in its form of expression and practice, and yet it may all mean such a grind, such a burden, such death; there may be such strain. You have got the truth in a way, but you have no expression of it. There is everything that contradicts it until the whole thing breaks you. Then the Lord works to deliver you out of that whole realm of things, at great cost perhaps, and constitutes a simple, pure, open fellowship of living believers. The old ecclesiastical line of things is gone, the old order, and now it is on the simple basis of fellowship with the Lord Himself, and in the Lord, on the part of some of His people. What happens then? You do not learn things that you never knew before, so far as the Scriptures are concerned, but there is a difference, the Word lives, you have got new values altogether. It is resurrection position.

You can see beyond what we have said. We have only said this by way of trying to help you to grasp this important thing: that you cannot take New Testament teaching into any realm and have it living; you have got to be where it has its required conditions for it to live. There must be a resurrection position for resurrection values. The resurrection position is the entire cutting off and sealing up of all our natural (though very religious and devout) dealings with the Lord and His things in association with Christ and His teaching, and a coming to the place where, knowing the utter inability of man even religiously and devoutly to understand Him, to know Him, and to move with Him in a living way, the Lord has a new position for coming in and making all things new. 

That is a very important thing as we go on in this matter of the assembly, because it applies to the assembly in a peculiar and particular way. You can take up the New Testament assembly here. You can get it all by reading the New Testament, and then you can, by way of teaching, make it set, put it into a "New Testament" mould, and say, 'We will have it like this, and so we will have a New Testament assembly.' It cannot be done. You could do everything but put divine Life into a thing, and what is the good of the most beautiful thing if the divine Life is not in it? It may be perfect in its articulation, and its symmetry, and its make-up, but supposing it still remains without the divine Life? We are better without it.

So a New Testament assembly demands a resurrection position, and it is concerning that that we want to say what should be said at this time. We have said that it is essentially spiritual in all respects; that is, as to the presence and knowledge of and communion with Christ. There are more ways than one in which Christ may be other than spiritually present. We may have Christ present in a sense that is not the true spiritual sense in this way. We may have the fact of Christ, that He was and that He is, purely as a historical fact. We may have the creed, which declares those other facts about Him, as to His eternity, His incarnation, His deity, His redemptive and atoning work, His resurrection, His ascension, His coming again; and yet we may not have Christ present. Many people have made a mistake in thinking that to be fundamental is all that is required, and that secures all that is needed. Not at all. The true Christ, the Christ of God, the Christ of the Scriptures, the Christ of eternity, the Christ of the incarnation, the Christ of the earthly life and teaching and miracles, the Christ of Calvary, the Christ of resurrection, the Christ of ascension, and the Christ of coming again, may all be present in an intellectual way. We may have that kind of Christ, but we only have Him in an intellectual way. It is possible to be like that, even as an assembly of what is called the church. It may be in a mystical way, an artistic way, but not have Christ present in a living, spiritual way. The church is not that, and the assembly is not that which is Christ present after this manner. It is that in which Christ is spiritually, livingly present as truly in Person as He was here in the days of His flesh.

We want to try to distinguish between those two things that we have mentioned, Christ present in a spiritual way and Christ present in a mystical way. What is spiritual demands that something is done in our very constitution. What is mystical is but the development and projection of the psychic elements which are already in our constitution. There is a vast deal of difference. For spiritual fellowship with Christ, something has got to be done in us, something that was not there has got to be made to function. We have got to be made different beings altogether for spiritual fellowship and communion with Christ. That is not so with the mystical. The mystical is simply the projecting of certain elements in our own beings as psychical beings, and you can go to great lengths with the projecting of those psychical, mystical elements in the human soul. You can produce almost anything. We have heard of one who so projected those elements in her being, as she concentrated upon the physical death of the Lord Jesus and His agony, that the result was her hands began to bleed, and her feet also. We believe that is something which can be established as a fact. You can produce by this soul-life anything if you concentrate enough. You can get any kind of sensation. You can kill yourself by sheer soul force.

You could enter in that realm into contemplating Christ present, you could dwell upon Christ present in that realm, and go out away from people into the street, into the countryside, into the wood, and into the field, and with an intensified projection of your own soul you could become mystical and contemplative of Christ and His things with strange effects upon yourself: feelings, mighty emotions, even hearing voices. And you could come back and say you have had a great experience, you have heard the voice of the Lord, and you can build up something on that ground. That is the tendency of all that is artistic and ornate as far as the external is concerned; it is to project upon the imagination that which relates to God so that there is a sense and a sensing of things divine. That is one realm that demands no constitutional change in humanity; that is simply the bringing up of what is more or less latent in the human soul and that is not living or a spiritual touch with Christ. These two things are two different realms altogether, and it is as well that we know it.

One is of God, and of God alone. The other is of self strain. One is true, the other is false. The false thing is exceedingly dangerous, and very often its hallmark is that it is not practical. Practical things of everyday life are not looked after by these mystical people. Such a commonplace thing as punctuality comes in here; they are too much up in the clouds to be punctual. The Holy Spirit is the best former of character and constitution of a moral integrity. The mystical people are very often much wanting in these practical, simple things. They are intensely and religiously devout. Then there are the perils of deception. It is always dangerous to project your soul life in relation to the things of God. It is just what Satan has always tried to get people to do, in order to set up his counterfeit of God and God's things.

So we are speaking about the church as not being something mystical (we always fear the term "the mystical body of Christ" because so many people have this other idea, that it is a soulish thing); we are speaking about the essential spiritual character which has come about because there is an end of that other thing.

No doubt some of the disciples were mystical, and had all these elements well developed in their lives. Some of them were exceedingly practical, we do know. Andrew stands out as a practical man, but there were others who were mystical; but they all came to the same end, they all had to come to the winding up of what they were before ever they could enter into the living values of Christ. Something new had to be done. That is what we mean by the spiritual presence, the spiritual communion with Christ and the things of Christ.

So we see that in resurrection the teaching and works of Christ are taken up in an altogether new way, and a living way. That will take us once more to something already intimated: the prospective nature of everything related to Christ in the three-and-a-half years. There was His teaching. His teaching in the main was of two kinds, the direct and the indirect. What we mean by the direct is clear, plain statements of facts; such a statement as what is called the sermon on the Mount, the beatitudes and all the rest. It is a direct statement of teaching, of truth; or such things as we have in the Gospel by John. If you like you can begin with chapter 3 of that Gospel, and read the direct, plain statement to Nicodemus, "You must be born again", and such things. Or read chapter 4, the talk to the woman about the well and the water. Or see chapter 5 and chapter 6. This is all direct statement, direct teaching, but it does not want much arguing that that was all prospective. It has no meaning until the resurrection of Christ. It has no value until the resurrection of Christ. It is of no value until you get resurrection conditions.

It is all very well to talk about applying the sermon on the Mount to this world. It can never be done. Human nature being what it is, and remaining what it is, the sermon on the Mount will never, never be possible of expression. You must have Kingdom conditions before you can have the practical working of the teaching of the sermon on the Mount. Go to the world such as it is today and talk about being poor in spirit, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, and all these things. It comes into direct collision with human nature. Something has got to happen to human nature before that can be made effective. That is just the thing; it has got to happen. So the whole thing is prospective, it waits for the Cross and the resurrection. The word, "You must be born again" waits for the resurrection, the work of the Cross. The well within and the water springing up unto Life eternal waits for resurrection. So you see all the direct teaching of the Lord Jesus was prospective.

It was equally true of the indirect teaching of the Lord. By that we mean His parabolic teaching. There is no doubt about it that He taught by that method. He deliberately hid or veiled things with a view to another day. He knew quite well that it was impossible to understand, and that something must be done, and so He must put things in simple illustration and hide their real meaning, and they did not grasp it. The disciples came and asked Him to expound the parable unto them, and it all had a day in view; but the resurrection did make it all live. What was the one word that governed His teaching? "The kingdom"; "The kingdom of heaven is like..."; "...cannot see the kingdom of God".

What was the word that Luke used concerning His speech during the forty days? Acts 1:4 is perfectly explicit, that during those forty days He was teaching them the things concerning the Kingdom. What was He doing? It would seem that He was now making live that Kingdom teaching. If Luke 24 is a sample, they were not ignorant of the Scriptures. Surely they were not ignorant of Moses and David and the Psalms and the prophets; but He opened their eyes that they might understand the Scriptures, and spoke to them by the space of forty days concerning the Kingdom of God. Surely it was illumination concerning what He had already said, 'This is what I said to you! Do you remember that I said certain things would come to pass? Well, here they are.'

That is what we mean by the spiritual knowledge of Christ and His things. It is resurrection; and the church and the assembly is called into being for the very purpose of being the repository and the sphere of living truth concerning the Lord Jesus after that kind. That is the spiritual nature of the church, that it has the knowledge of Christ in a spiritual way, which is a living way. It is for every one of us to have it in a living way.

You probably know in your own heart and experience the difference between these two things, between one period in your life when it was teaching out of the Bible, and then the other part of your life when - not teaching other than out of the Bible, other than the Word of God, but with some other feature: that element of divine unfolding, unveiling; that it is not just teaching concerning things as from a manual of truth, but it is speaking these things in a living way.

The Lord needs the assembly for that. We have already said that the assembly is necessary to the Lord, and it is in this way that it is necessary to the Lord: He must have a living assembly for living Truth, the living knowledge of Himself. It is necessary to Him. That covers the whole ground, both as to the presence of the Lord, and the knowledge of the Lord, and the communion with the Lord. It is of that nature: spiritual.

As to the works of the Lord, the same perspective rested upon them. Take His miracles. They are all pointing on to a coming day. They are in different realms. For instance, they are in the realm of nature, the feeding of the five thousand or the four thousand with a few loaves and fishes. You know that immediately He began to speak about Himself as the Bread of Life, broken. It was unintelligible without the Cross and the resurrection. It all looks on. This explained that through the Cross and in the resurrection Christ gave Himself in a spiritual way as the Bread; He could not give Himself in a literal way. That is why the question was instantly raised: "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" The natural man could not understand that. With the natural man there is always the big 'How?' But these men through the forty days knew, and they knew from Pentecost onwards, because one realm of impossibility (the natural) was finished, and now there was the new realm of the Spirit. We know what it is to be able to receive the Lord in a spiritual way. We may not be able to define it, but we know it. This is Life, this is health, this is strength to have Christ ministered. The miracle looked on.

In the realm of men those miracles were prospective also. Whatever His miracles were, as to raising the dead, healing the sick or opening the eyes of the blind, they were all prospective in their significance, looking on to another day. So Paul will say concerning His appearing to him in resurrection: "Last of all... He appeared to me also..." (1 Cor. 15:8). The risen Christ, appearing to His servant, commissioned him saying, " whom I am sending you, to open their eyes" (Acts 26:17,18). This is something bigger than opening physical eyes.

The miracles were all prospective, whatever realm they were in. Were they in the realm of demons, the casting out, the muzzling? That was prospective, it pointed on to the day when God shall put Him far above all principality and power, all might and dominion, all rule and authority, above all powers in this universe. It was all looking on to the resurrection time, and all this becomes alive with new meaning on resurrection ground.

We must not go further without reminding ourselves of the great value lying at the heart of this, the value of Who Christ was. This is not a matter of what Christ said, and what Christ did; it is all at heart the matter of Who He was: that is, God in Christ. As they had never known and recognised that before, they realised it in resurrection; but for us it does mean an immense thing. All hangs upon this one thing (as simple as it may seem) that if Christ is present (which means nothing else than that God is present) anything is possible at any moment. Are you waiting for some day when things will be better? It is not a matter of time at all, it is a matter of Him. He says, 'I am time and eternity all in a moment, and you need not accept anything in the matter of time; you accept Me, and you may be wellnigh dead in the morning and be very much alive before the day is over.' "I am the resurrection and the life."' Martha said, "I know that He will rise again in the last day." For her resurrection was a matter of time. Oh no. Resurrection was right there! When He took those loaves, as I think the hymn says,

"He took the loaves, it was spring time;
And when He break, it was autumn

As long as it takes to break a loaf you have gone from seed-time to harvest. '"Do you not say, There are yet four months, and then comes the harvest?" (John 4:35). I am here, and there can be harvest at any moment when I am here.' It is not a matter of time, of circumstance. We are dealing with God, and He is not bound by anything that is known to our human life at all. Eternity dwells in any moment when He is present. All things are bound up with any moment when He is present. The centurion said, "Just say the word and my servant will be healed". 'You need not come. Distance does not matter, time does not matter, just speak the word and it will be done.' The Lord said, "I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel". The word was uttered, and when the enquiry was made as to when it happened it was found to synchronize with the moment when He spoke. He takes everything into His hands, and says "My hour...", and when that comes, there is no postponement.

Oh, that we should lay hold of that more, live on that, never surrender to conditions, never surrender to the inevitable from the standpoint of the human, but say, "We have Him; He is our future, He is our circumstance." Anything can be at any moment with the Lord present.

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