The Church of the Firstborn

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 2 - A True Beginning and a True Walk

Reading: Numbers 8:13-19.

We shall be occupied at this time with some finer breaking up of one or two of the matters mentioned in our last meditation.

No Mingling of the Old and New Creations

We want to lay one further emphasis upon the word with which we concluded. We were speaking about the complications of the old humanity, the inextricable tangle of elements, and how that the Lord has no intention whatever of disentangling them, but that His way is to bring in a new creation.

Then we went on to point out that so much of the confusion and consequent failure, weakness, arrest and breakdown is due to an overlooking of that basic fact that the Lord does not take up something that has advanced in the old creation, something that has a history, but He begins again at the beginning in the meaning of the firstborn, or in new birth. 

It is quite clear that the Lord does this, because of the incidents on record of where He shows His very strong disfavour of a bringing in of other elements in relation to His testimony. We remember so well the instance of the ark in the hands of the Philistines, and then the ark being put by David on a new cart, and other than the Levites taking charge of it. In both cases (the ark, of course, represents Christ and the Testimony of Jesus) the touch, the contact of non-Levitical elements with the ark resulted in judgment, and in a very severe action of the Lord against such as brought in those elements. In the case of Uzzah it was judgment unto death, arrest of the whole course of things, and a prolonged period of paralysis, of spiritual death. Then David discovered the nature of the mistake, and put it right, quoting the Scripture on the matter as He did so, that the Lord had said that none but the Levites should bear the ark.

All this is figurative, symbolic, and it stands to show that the Lord will not allow old creation elements to come and take hold upon new creation realities. Let us put that in another way: the Lord will not allow the old man to be associated with the new man. Or, still in another way, the Lord will not allow what is not Christ to be brought into harness with Christ. The Levites stand for that which is Christ, all of Christ, and they alone can bear the testimony; that is, Christ alone can express the mind of God and do the work of God, and if we bring other features in, and relate them to God's thoughts, and God's activities, we only come into the realm of judgment and certain spiritual death. So the warnings are very strong, and the teaching is very clear; we must not mix what is of man with what is of God in Christ. There has to be an end.

Having re-emphasized that point we are going back to some of those things which were said quite early in paving the way concerning the meaning of firstborn.

Becoming as a Little Child

You will remember we said that "firstborn" means a new beginning. We quoted the Lord's words as recorded in Matthew 18: "Except ye turn and become as little children, ye shall in no wise enter the kingdom of heaven". That certainly is a new beginning, and such a beginning obviously means certain things. When you start with the little child (and the word is the diminutive there, 'babe'), there is this to your advantage: that you have a clear course. It means that there is no history to be undone, nothing to be given up, gone back upon, but you have a clear way from the start, and everything lies before you. Thus it is when you turn and become a little child. It is interesting and helpful to remember the simple meaning of the word "repent". It is translated in the Revised Version as "turn". It simply means that you go back and start again; you reverse the course that you have taken, and come back to a new beginning, and so you become as a little child.

The Lord would not have His people childish, but He would always have them childlike, and there should be a cry in our hearts. God forbid that we should ever be other than childlike, that ever we should get beyond the place that is represented by the little child! We know all that the Lord says about growing up, about maturity, but there is this that we always seek to bear in mind, that real maturity is only possible to the childlike in spirit. It is the people of the childlike spirit who grow fastest, who make the swiftest progress, who arrive at things more promptly than other people. Remember that when the Lord uttered these words He was dealing with the question of greatness: "Who then is greatest in the kingdom?" Now the question of greatness is bound up with childlikeness.

The standards of God are so different from the standards of men. When John (in the book of Revelation) looks to see what he believes must be something phenomenal as the explanation of all that he is hearing, he sees a Lamb. That is a standard altogether different from this world's standard of power.

There is so much history to undo. That is the thing that is holding us up all the time, the tremendous history that lies behind and that counts for nothing, and has all to be undone. Yet we stand to the point of what we have just said, that it does not matter at what time this great event takes place of turning and becoming as a little child. That is, it does not matter how old we may have grown in this life and in this world, it is still possible for us to be in a position where there is no history to be undone.

New Birth the Essential Beginning

What is this beginning? What is this childlikeness that is essential, vital, and indispensable? It is just our own firsthand, personal knowledge of the Lord. Nothing else counts with the Lord at all, and we can, quite rightly, set everything else aside. It may have been a long set history in the world of sin and godlessness, indifference or hostility to the Lord; or, mark you, it may have been a long life of close association with the things of God, our having been either born in, or later been a part of, a Christian home where around us were all the things of God: much teaching, much truth, much that was related to the Lord, and we were right in it, and in a way a part of it. Yet, in both cases - as God-rejecting in the world, or as right in the centre of a strongly religious order of things and yet not ourselves of it - there was no real personal, firsthand knowledge of the Lord, and both of those things count for nothing where the Lord is concerned. The Lord says, "Whether you have been utterly outside and against, or indifferent, or whether you have been physically, by reason of your life here on earth, right in the midst of things which related to Me, but not yourself living in the knowledge of Me, those things do not count, that is not history with Me. What is history with Me is just your own personal knowledge of Christ, and at whatever point you enter into that, that is the beginning with Me." History begins there with God.

The church of the firstborn is not a traditional thing. It is not a thing of creed, which has been taken up generation after generation, not a thing of adopted truth, however full and deep and true that truth may be. The succeeding generations do not become the church of the firstborn because they accept the truths which their fathers held, the truths into which they were introduced, perhaps by their natural birth and with which they have been associated by reason of their family relationships. That is not the church of the firstborn. The church of the firstborn is that which has come into a firsthand personal history with God, and all the rest does not count. It is possible, in the briefest time, to move into a very real knowledge of the Lord if you are truly born, but if we bring over something or try to carry on something, or adopt something which is not of our own walk with God, we complicate the whole situation.

That word, of course, is set against a certain order and a certain course; but, oh, the value of it on the other hand! What a burden a history can be, and what a set-back a history can be, if we allow it. Of course, we may also allow years of unrelatedness to God to cause us a good deal of distress, and make us feel that because so much time has been lost in our lives we can never come to any fulness, and must be content with a very little. Now, that is a wrong attitude entirely, and it is not the attitude that the Lord takes. The Lord can bring us into a great measure of Christ's fulness in what we might call a comparatively short time, provided we take the attitude towards all other history that He takes: that it ends with the Cross of the Lord Jesus, and spiritual history begins in resurrection union with Him. That gives God a clear way. Then again, in the other case, oh, how often religious upbringing has been a hindrance! It is not always a helpful thing to be brought up in a hothouse atmosphere of spiritual things. Thank God for anything that can be a help when once we are on the right line and in the right position, but until we have our own personal knowledge of God, all that can be a great burden, and a great weight, and a great death to us, and not a help at all.

We do not have to think that we have to adjust ourselves to all that truth, and that teaching that is around us. Not at all. We have to begin as babes, and with God none of that other counts for us. All that counts is where we begin a personal, direct, immediate spiritual knowledge of Him. There is no government of time in our progress. Time does not govern the matter of spiritual progress. It is our escape from ourselves into Christ that governs. The thing that holds us back is some kind of occupation with the old creation. If only we knew the clean cut of the death of Christ between ourselves by nature and Himself, then we should know the way of spiritual growth which is not a time matter at all. It is the utterness of our acceptance of the meaning of His death to all that is not the living Christ in our own hearts, whether it be religious or irreligious. That is what we mean by the way back, the clear course being opened. You do not have to deal with what is not living at all; you have to rule it out. God rules it out and puts it aside. What we have to be concerned with is the point at which we come to a firsthand, personal, living knowledge of the Lord, and that from that point we do not bring in the old creation and make difficulties for the Lord, saying; "Yes, but Lord -." We must not have a lot of "buts" with the Lord, but a clear way of faith's obedience, without any of the complications of our reasoning and our wanting, or not wanting, our likings, and our not-likings, our going to, and our not going to. Our need is of a clear, steady, swift response to the Lord, and the progress can be very rapid, and the knowledge of Him can increase in a wonderful way. I am quite sure that the thing that holds us back is the fact that we are taken up with a history that the Lord has finished with, be it a religious history or a non-religious history. The Lord has finished with it altogether, and so He says, "Now then, back from that point, that is not the way; turn and become as a little child." The church which is the church of the firstborn is those whose history is nothing other than the history of a firsthand, personal, inward knowledge of the Lord, and that is open to all.

The Essence of Childlikeness

This childlikeness which gives God a free, clear, full way is a teachable thing. The essence of it is teachableness and adjustableness. If we know anything, and think we know anything, that very mentality is the hindrance to our progress. So many of us perhaps have been held up by a tremendous amount of knowledge that we think we have had of the things of the Lord. Oh, we do not know what a hindrance such a mentality is to spiritual progress.

The mark of maturity, of growth, is this: that the more you know and the further you go, the less you know that you do know, and the more you realize your need to know. That is where the spirit of the child is carried right through to the end. It is a teachableness, resultant from the consciousness that, though we may have been on the road for a life-time, we are yet only on the fringe of things so far as the Lord is concerned. That is a mark of the Holy Spirit's power working in us. That we should at any time come to the place where we think we know - we refer to that knowledge which brings us to a place where we deem ourselves authorities or experts - is not the work of the Holy Spirit. We do come to a place where we are able to say: I do know the Lord on that thing; I do know the Lord in this. But in that full sense of knowledge we have ever to be coming more and more to the place where we realise how little we know, simply because we are seeing more and more of what there is that we ought to know, need to know, and that there is to know in Christ. You can adjust a child. A child is ready to be adjusted. But that is the trouble with so many of us, we are not just like that, we are not adjustable.

There was a beautiful childlikeness and simplicity about David, although he was king. How marvellously adjustable he was! You notice that whenever David made a mistake the Lord had no difficulty in putting David right. He adjusted to the situation every time. He did not stand out against the Lord, he let go, he yielded, and whenever a new position required that he should adjust himself to it in the Lord's interests he did so. What a rich life of the knowledge of the Lord David's was. There, on the one hand, is this beautiful simplicity, this teachableness, and this adjustableness, and on the other hand, a wonderful walk with the Lord. How much his Psalms mean always! What a fulness of personal, simple walking with the Lord is in those Psalms. That is becoming as a little child.

The Issues of the New Birth 

By this new birth we come into a new world altogether, where none of the old abilities stand us in any stead, if we did but know it. We are so long in recognising and realising it. We may have in this natural life certain abilities - we can do things, we can think things out - but when we come into the kingdom of heaven we come into a world where all this old natural faculty is of no use at all. We have a new life, and that life has its own particular laws, and the old natural life is useless in that realm. You and I cannot live by our natural life in the realm of the Spirit, in the realm of the things of God. We have to have a life that is suited to the kingdom of the heavens.

Now we find ourselves possessed of this new Life, a different life altogether. It requires certain things that we cannot provide it with from our natural life. We have to learn how to live according to this new Life and what its requirements are, and we discover from time to time as we go on that things are not right, they are not well, that new Life is not getting on; what is the matter? Then, by the very suffering of that Life, that sense of strangulation in our spiritual life, we learn some law of that Life. We have been violating it in some way, we have been depriving it of its demands, we have not been cooperating with it. It is something in itself which has its own laws, and we have to discover the laws of that Life and live accordingly. It is all a new, strange thing. It is a wonderful education to live according to Divine Life, which has its own Divine ways, and will not adapt itself to this other life that we have by nature. It is a new and different Life altogether. It is "the altogether other-ness" that we are talking about of what Christ is from what we are.

We have a new walk. We have never walked before. It does not matter how long we have been walking according to the course of this world, we have never walked in this sphere before, and we have to take our first step in the spiritual Life just in the same way that a babe takes its first step in the natural life. It is a new kind of walk, and we learn how to walk after the Spirit very often by the tumbles that we have and the mistakes that we make. This walk after the Spirit is all new, and partakes of nothing of the natural, of self-confidence. Self-assurance is a disastrous thing. We have said to our children in the beginning of their exercises, "You were too sure of yourself and you came to a crash. You thought you could do more than you could. It was your own self-assurance!" It is like that in the spiritual life. Walking after the Spirit and not after the flesh is a new kind of walk, and there is no place at all for self-assurance here.

It is a new knowledge. We have found ourselves in a new world of things of which we know nothing. "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man", but God is revealing these things to us by His Spirit. It is a new knowledge that we have not possessed. It is all fresh, strange, and we have to realize that this new world in which we are now to move is one where our experience is that of a growing newness. One of the blessed realities about a living, personal, inward, spiritual walk with God is that you have always something fresh coming; there is always something new, you never exhaust things; things never become stale or stagnant, there is new wonder all the time. How often we have thought that we had reached the end; and then there has followed the next deep, dark crisis and painful experience, and out of the depths has come something new altogether; a new revelation, a different aspect of the fulness of Christ. We think that now, of course, we have reached the very peak, there is nothing further! That is how it seems. What more can there be? The only thing now is for the Lord to come, we have reached the end of all revelation! We live perhaps for some years in the wonder of that, and then again the same thing happens. We go down to the depths, and everything seems to have gone, and out of the experience comes something more that never was before; and once again we wonder if there can be anything beyond this. We have had experiences enough like that to make us know that there must be yet much more. We never reach the end. That is the wonder of this Life. Everything is open, everything is possible if there is a clear way for God.

Now, why all this? It is this that is a true life according to the law of the firstborn. It is not something that is merely a matter of religious teaching, and truth, and doctrine, and interpretations, and crystallizings of truth. It is not just tradition, it is not just creed, it is not words. It is a living, wonderful, growing knowledge of, and walk with the Lord, which is marked by these movements, these crises, which bring fulnesses into view that were undreamed of before. 

It is so dangerous to think that a big experience you have had is the end of all things in the matter of experience. So many are living on something that happened to them years ago, and they say they have had "an experience". It is put in different ways. We may have what is called a baptism of the Holy Spirit, and call it our baptism of the Holy Spirit. But let us not think that is the end of all mighty things. Many people do. They are always saying, "When I received my baptism...". Why, there is something more, and yet more beyond that!

It is a clear road when all is in the way of the firstborn; it is becoming like a little child and giving God an open way for all His fulness. 

The Incarnation and the Gift of the Spirit

Christ came on that basis. He started as a babe. Why did the Lord Jesus come as a baby, and live to manhood here on this earth? Had the work of the Cross alone been in view, God could have incarnated Himself in a fully developed Man, and appeared amongst men, made His great proclamation, uttered His challenge, and been crucified just as definitely as Christ was crucified, without the years up to thirty-three and a half.

There are several answers to that question, and there is truth in them all, but we may further say this: The Lord Jesus came here to live a life, and to walk a walk, that had never been lived and walked before by any man on this earth. There never had been a man on this earth who walked that walk, and lived that life, and there was not another in all creation living that life, and walking that walk, that He came to live, and walk. It was something unique, something "altogether other". What are we to say of it? It was the life of God among men, and the walk of God among men. It was as God would live, and as God would walk, if He had a chance in men. If God had a chance to do what He wants to do, He would live and walk as Jesus Christ lived and walked. The Lord Jesus was the human expression of God's thought for man, as to his life, and as to his walk.

With Him it was a matter of faith and of dependence. He accepted the position that it was not in Himself, but it was by faith in the Father, as living out from the Father. And so He weighed everything before He said it, or did it, making sure that He was not doing it independently, but in perfect fellowship with the Father: "The words that I say... I speak not from myself"; "The Son can do nothing (out from) himself." That was His life and that was His walk as out from God.

Now listen! That is Jesus Christ. He is the only one who has ever done it. He is the only one who ever can do it. You and I know that quite well. "The imitation of Christ" is rubbish and pious nonsense. If Christ does not live His life in us there is no imitating Christ. Why has the Holy Spirit come? He is the Spirit of Christ come that we might, by the Spirit, walk even as He walked. What does that imply? Not the life of Deity, but divine Life in man, the Life of God in man, lived by faith, lived by utter dependence, lived by obedience. "Though He were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered." Think of that concerning the Lord Jesus Christ, God manifest in the flesh!

The Holy Spirit has come that you and I, and all who trust the Lord, might learn how to live, and how to walk, as He lived and walked. Shall we put it the other way, and the more accurate way, and say that the Holy Spirit has come that the Lord Jesus might live His Life, and walk His walk, in us. That is what is meant by being conformed to the image of God's Son. It is being brought on to His basis, and by the Holy Spirit made to live, and to walk, as He lived and walked. That is a progressive thing, which will be consummated in the perfect likeness of Christ. That is why He came, and that is why He lived, that God should have a Man who lived and walked according to His own thought, and that having got that Man as the great Representative, He could send the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of Jesus, the Spirit of God, to bring that walk, and that Life of Christ into us, and have us learn by the Spirit how to walk even as He walked. It is all Christ. "Apart from me ye can do nothing." It is impossible apart from Him, but if Christ is within it is possible, and that is the church of the firstborn. It is Christ as a living reality within; it is a personal, immediate knowledge of Him in an inward way.

We can all profit by being reminded of the nature of our life, and what it is God is seeking to have: a church, a company, a corporate body, which is the expression of what Christ was. So we are not to walk in the flesh. If we live after the flesh we shall die; if we walk in the flesh we shall fulfil the lusts of the flesh, and that is all contrary to God; but if we live after the Spirit then we shall by the Spirit put to death the doings of the flesh, and Christ will be formed in us.

We could resolve all this into this one thing: it is a matter of our own immediate, personal walk with the Lord. That is the beginning of history with God. No other history counts, nor need it bother us. It must not in any way influence us, and certainly must not be the ground upon which we stand, whatever it is. History with God is that where the knowledge of Him in a living way begins, and there is no other history.

So much, then, for what we were saying about a new beginning.

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