The Pathway of the Heavenly Vision
by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 2 - Circumcision of the Heart

We are occupied at present with the pathway of the glory. In our previous meditation we took up a good deal by way of getting our setting in this matter, and laying a foundation.

Before going on with the outworking of the matter, I am going to try to make it quite clear in a concise statement as to what we feel the Lord is really wanting to make known to us at this time, and it seems to me to reside in that little phrase from Romans 2 which we have just read - "circumcision is that of the heart". Circumcision of the heart.

There has come into this creation a deplorable and very terrible state of mixture, confusion and corruption by 'affinity with Satan'. Human nature is a terrible mixture. The heart of man naturally is full of conflict and contrary elements. We are a terrible tangle, we have inwardly a morass, we are all mixed up, we have lost the way, we are confused, we are a mass of contradictions and inconsistencies. The more we come into the light, the more we come to know that. The more the Spirit of God teaches us, the more hopeless and helpless we feel as to our own natures, our own hearts. It is no mark of understanding, intelligence, spiritual knowledge or maturity that we are lacking in such a consciousness, or characterised by anything in the nature of self-satisfaction or complacency as to ourselves. Really, under the enlightening work of the Holy Spirit, we come more and more to the realization of utter hopelessness, so far as we are concerned. That consciousness may be the background of the pathway of the glory.

This phrase, 'circumcision of the heart', is a tremendous phrase, cutting clean in between two whole sets of conditions, and dividing asunder; putting things in their place; ruling out and putting away, completely cutting off one whole realm that is in us and bringing us out into that other realm of the Divine glory. That is what is resident in that phrase, "circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit not in the letter", and it is that with which the Lord is concerned now.

We have brought before us Abraham's place in that whole course of the glory. In our previous meditation we saw what a large place Abraham has, especially in the New Testament. We saw how he stands with two eternities on either side, linking those counsels of God concerning His Son with their realization, counsels from eternity past realised in eternity to be. Abraham stands, as it were, bringing together those two eternities in the purpose of God, and shows the way through.

Circumcision a Covenant Sign to Abraham

It is with Abraham, as you know, that circumcision was introduced as the covenant sign, and here in these New Testament passages, we are shown that it is a spiritual matter and not a natural thing at all, not an outward thing. It is something right deep down in the innermost being of man. It is a cutting right down to the very roots, and undercutting all this confusion, all this chaos, all this corruption, all this mixture; getting right down as with the knife of the Cross, to undercut the whole thing and put it asunder. So that, on the one hand, that which came in is now put out by the Cross. This is what God intended to be and is to be brought in by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

So we turn to see a little more of the outworking of this law in Abraham. It is, as we strove to make clear in chapter one, the law of heavenliness, the law of what is spiritual and heavenly. It is not earthly. Circumcision is not outward in the flesh; it is of the heart, of the spirit; it is inward. And while Abraham is used and taken up by God to show on the earth the outworking of the law, he is entirely governed by what is heavenly. Everything taking place in his life is the application of a heavenly truth, of a spiritual principle.

Well then, we are able to come to this most remarkable man. How great a man Abraham was! I trust we shall see something of the outworking of the law of heavenliness, which is the pathway of the glory in this man's life. I quote here a little paragraph from the recently published life of Mr. D. E. Hoste, late Director of the China Inland Mission, a statement by Mr. Hoste himself.

"When God raises up a man for special service, He first works in that man the principles which later on are, through his labours and influence, to be the means of widespread blessing to the church and to the world".

He might have been speaking of Abraham! How true that is. The principles of God's intention, of God's purpose, had got to be wrought into the instrument, into the vessel. God does not just call to office, to a work to be done. He takes a servant, an instrument, and begins to work in that servant or instrument the very principles of the work. How true that was of Abraham.

Abraham's Natural Background

Let us consider something of Abraham's natural background. We know his natural home was Ur in Babylonia. Babylonia was a land of cities, and Ur was the largest of the Babylonian cities on the West bank of the Euphrates. Now, let us get quite clear about this man's background. I do not know what your mentality is about Abraham, whether you think of him as a poor nomad, a wandering shepherd, or a semi-heathen. If you do, you have an entirely wrong idea and you will never get really to the heart of the spiritual meaning of God in Abraham's life until you are quite clear on this matter.

Ur, as one of the cities of Babylon, was a centre of a very high and advanced civilisation in Abraham's time. It was a centre of great wealth, a centre of learning and high education. You younger people who have to wrestle with the problem of higher mathematics, will be surprised to know that the young people of Ur of the Chaldees did exactly what you are doing now. They were as advanced as we are in these particular sciences. Their architecture was wonderful, their houses were beautiful; some magnificent. Their literature was very rich; they had great libraries in their cities. And Abraham was a citizen of that kind of city, with that kind of setting. He was no ignoramus, no poor, uncivilised nomad or shepherd, but a man of considerable learning and status. And yet with all its civilisation, Babylonia was very corrupt, sinful, idolatrous, morally corrupt, polytheistic, and Ur itself was the centre of the worship of the moon god, Sin. So very much like our advanced civilisation with all its sciences, its education, its arts, it was deep down corrupt, sinful and idolatrous. You can get a cameo of the creation, you can see the state of the fallen creation in a small representation in Ur of the Chaldees or in Babylonia. On the outside, all this that looks good and wonderful, in which man boasts himself; inside, it is corrupt, mixed, evil, two sides contradicting one another, all the time completely inconsistent; so strongly that everything is wonderful, progressive, civilised and clever, and yet wholly empty, corrupt and evil. That is the creation in small representation. It declares Abraham was in the heart of that and he belonged to that.

Further, the earliest name of Babylonia was The Place of the Tree of Life, and right up to the time of Alexander the Great, the tree was the symbol which they put on all their coffins, graves and sepulchres. If they wanted to mark something off with their particular sign, they put the tree on it, the symbol of The Place of the Tree of Life. This brings us to the Bible.

God Governs Now By the Law of Heavenliness

Since the earthly type of Paradise was closed and lost, and Paradise was removed to heaven and taken off this earth, God has been governing everything on this earth by the law of heavenliness. That is, by the law of relationship to heaven, not to earth. He has removed the centre of things from the earth to heaven, and He is governing everything here by this law of heavenliness. He is not trying to build Paradise again on this earth.

Men who think in terms of making this world a Paradise, trying to bring Paradise back here on to this earth, are deluded with the madness of the devil. Paradise has gone, it has been removed, it is a Divine reserve, and God, in His activities in relation to this earth, is governed entirely by this law of heavenliness, not as to this earth. So far as this earth is concerned, the Scriptures make it perfectly clear that this earth is a reserve for fire. What happens after the fire is another thing, but for the present it is reserved for fire, and Paradise is a reserve for glory.

The Working of the Heavenly Law in Inward Circumcision

Now, Abraham, being a full embodiment and expression of that heavenly law, comes right into view as to the working of that heavenly law in inward circumcision. That is, separation right down to the very depths of his being. A progressive separation is going on. Oh, how God is pressing this heavenly law in the life of Abraham! Stage by stage He is working it out. It governs even Abraham's 'lapses'. He comes to know that law more strongly by the violation of it; he comes to recognise the glory bound up with that law by obedience to it. But the point is that, all inclusively, Abraham is a centre of the working out of the law of heavenliness unto the glory.

At least six times God visits Abraham, and every time at different points, at different stages in His visiting of Abraham, it was with the object of going further and taking Abraham further. You notice, it amounted to this: Now we are going on to the next stage; here is what I am after, and here is the way to what I am after. And very often it was a costly thing, it was a ploughing deeper of the Cross. You will see that in the final appearance. "Take now thy son, thine only son..." (Gen. 22:2). Oh, how deep the Cross went, ploughing right down to the very subsoil of Abraham's soul life, and every appearance was like that. It was God wanting to go further. That sojourning on the earth of Hebrews 11 in reference to Abraham, as that chapter shows and we saw, turns out to be a spiritual journey and not an earthly journey at all. He is steadily coming to see that this earthly side of things is not it at all; he has walked up and down in this country, he has ranged it, but he dies without possessing it. He dies in faith, seeing afar off, and then Hebrews comes in and says about that, "now they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly"; so that the earth has not fulfilled his expectations, it is a heavenly country. Abraham has sons and grandsons, a growing family, and he is able to see the natural earthly seed as a great nation, but even so in Galatians and in Hebrews, we come to see that that is not the end that God is after. The seed of which God has spoken is a spiritual seed. So that Abraham's is a spiritual journey, it is a heavenly journey; that is, it is governed by this heavenly law of God which is moving steadily away from the earth, steadily towards what is heavenly and away from the temporal to what is spiritual.

The point is this, God shows Himself as wanting to go on to a full spiritual end. All these visitations show God wanting to go on. His goings on involved Abraham and all that Abraham represents - spiritual seed. God wants to go on, and so He is pressing step by step, stage by stage. He is pressing for this going on, this inward progress, by deepening application of the circumcising knife of the Cross, ploughing, cutting deeper all the time. That is the law of spiritual progress unto the glory; it is unto spiritual fulness.

A Parenthesis

Now, I want to pause here, because we have to take into account certain reactions which often come from Christians, especially from young Christians: "This all may be true, it may be very wonderful, but is it necessary? Can we not have just a simple, happy Christian life? Are there not many earnest, true, devoted Christians on this earth who are enjoying the Christian life and basking in spiritual blessing, and they do not know anything about this? Is this necessary? Can we not get on without all this?" Now, if you are inclined to have such a reaction, listen! First of all, what does the Word of God say about it? Both in the Old Testament and in the New, the emphasis is all the time upon this matter of spiritual progress, of going on. The Word of God, from beginning to end, is just full of this matter of going on with God to spiritual fulness. There is no doubt about the Scriptures on this matter, but because so many do not go on, and there is such an amount of spiritual smallness, some have tried to reconcile the two things. On the one hand, this clearly indicated and revealed mind of the Lord, and on the other hand, the comparatively few who go on that way, the great majority who are content with just a happy, everyday Christian life, serving the Lord, and being in earnest. Because of these two things, people have had to take account of this apparent contradiction. They are up against the fact that here is the state of Christians. What are you going to do about it?

I am only saying this to try to help you. It is just at that point of difficulty and apparent contradiction that all those doctrines arise and gain their strength which try to solve that problem. I can mention some of them. Out from this very letter to the Hebrews and other parts of the Bible some build up the doctrine that if you are once saved, you are not necessarily always saved, you can be lost. Now, that takes its rise from this difficulty, that there are those who do go on, but if you do not go on, you are in jeopardy of losing your salvation. That is one.

There is another and it is very strongly held, that all believers are not necessarily in the Body of Christ. The Body of Christ is one thing, and all the rest of believers may be another. I say, I am not discussing this, and I am not saying where I stand on these matters, but there is the fact. So a doctrine springs up and gains strength from this contradiction.

Then again there is what is called "selective rapture", that some will be translated at the Lord's coming for His people, others will be left behind (I am not saying whether rightly or wrongly) but I am saying such things find their rise and gain their strength largely from this problem of God's full thought revealed, and, on the other hand, so few going on.

And still there is another large body of people who believe, although you may be saved, be born again, you do not have necessarily the indwelling Holy Spirit; that is why you do not go on.

Do not worry about those problems and try to decide about them, but I am pointing out that here you are confronted with a fact, and, whether these things are the right way of solving the problem or not, you cannot get away from the fact. However you try to solve the problem you cannot get away from the other fact that the Bible is just full of revelation that God means you to go on, and fulness is God's irreducible minimum for His full satisfaction.

Initial Circumcision Unto Glory

Let us look at Abraham again and see how God takes up this matter of inwardly dividing, inwardly separating, inwardly circumcising, and He begins in Ur. How does the beginning take place? We are told in Acts 7:2 through the lips of Stephen what the nature of the beginning was. "The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia...". "The God of glory appeared". It is the way of the glory right from the beginning to the end. Glory is the ultimate thing in all God's intentions, and God brings the ultimate thing right to the beginning and begins to work at the beginning upon the ultimate principle.

A Definition of glory

What is glory? Well, if it is ultimate, it is finality; it is perfection in nature. That is the end, and that is governing the very beginning. Glory is the very nature of God in satisfaction expressing itself. That is, all that God is in His essential being is completely, beautifully, wonderfully satisfied. God is satisfied, and when God is satisfied and that comes out from God and finds its expression in creation, that the creation answers to God's essential nature and gives Him absolute satisfaction, that is glory. Even in our human life, our whole being craves for satisfaction, it craves for love or it craves for some other thing. It is not just an idea, a whim, but our whole being craves for that, and when that is given, and we have it, our nature is answered to fully, finally. What a wonderful sense of satisfaction, of joy! We have what we have craved for all our lives, and we can only use one word for it - it is glory. That is, if the thing is not evil and wrong, if it is a legitimate thing. You can see it in anybody who has an object of love and craving for that object and the love to be given by that object and to be lavished upon that object, and at last they have that object. Then they are very happy and satisfied and smiling, and it is all glory for them.

Now think of God on so much higher a level. The nature of God is holiness, righteousness, truth and purity, everything that is perfect morally. When God is able to say: "I have got, fully and utterly, all that My nature craves for, and I have it in man, and I have it in the creation" that is glory! And that satisfaction of God goes out and is felt vibrating through the whole creation. That is glory in the creation. That is glory. Glory is not just some wonderful light and adornment. It is the expression of an internal condition, an inward state, which is God satisfied. And in little ways, so small and yet enough for us to understand, when at any time after some conflict, some controversy, some battle between us and the Lord, the Lord has put His finger upon something and been making a demand, indicating a way, calling for an obedience, a letting go, that has gone on for a time and it has been anything but glory - it has been misery, darkness, shadow, suffering. At last He conquers, at last we yield, at last God has all that He has been after. What is the sensation that comes to us? Oh, the relief! Oh, the rest! Why did I hold out? Why did I fight the Lord? Why have I been so slow? If only I had known! Oh, the satisfaction! Yes, in little ways, it is glory. That is, the satisfaction of God's heart found in us, in our hearts. God is well-pleased. There is nothing in God's universe so wonderful as feeling God's good pleasure. If only God could say to you, to me, "I am well-pleased!" There is no sense possible to us more gratifying than that.

The Glory of God in Man

Now "The God of glory appeared unto our father". What does this mean? Oh, God is going to bring this man along the line of the glory that in the end He will be able to express His full satisfaction in that man. Could you think of anything more satisfying, more heart ravishing than for God to come along, Almighty God, the God we know Him to be, so perfect, so wonderful, to lay His hand upon you and say, "My friend..."! We can hardly think of it. But Abraham was God's friend. "Abraham my friend" (Isa. 41:8), said God. My friend! What is this that satisfies God? What is this friendship of God? It is the result of this deep, inward circumcision, where two things have been put apart. What is of ourselves by nature, all that corruption, all that contradiction, all that mixture, all that affinity with Satan, all that conflict within, the knife has cut clean through it and put it out, put it aside, and now God's will, God's way and God's thought prevail.

God's Starting-Point

Now, no more do we, than Abraham did, come to that in a day, but my point at the moment is God's starting-point. Right in the conflict, right in the contradiction, right in the corruption, right in the midst of all that has come in through the fall, the God of glory comes as the God of glory, and says, "I am going to take you in hand and get rid of all this and make you a heavenly citizen, fit for heaven, belonging to heaven, a reflection of heaven. This earth is entirely corrupt; I am going to take you spiritually out of it and begin a process and progress by which you will be of another order of creation, a new creation, different altogether." The God of glory... you see the God Who says, "I am going to get rid of everything that can never be glorified and I am going to create a state of things which will result eventually in glory in the sense of My absolute satisfaction." That is the spiritual pilgrimage of Abraham, and it is ours. The God of glory appeared and said, "Get out!" This is God's initial, inclusive decision. That is going to be worked out in detail, that is going to be applied stage by stage, but there has to be a basic and inclusive beginning, the all-inclusive act of obedience, recognising that however full, rich, wonderful the world may be, it is no place for us. It is, after all, doomed and reserved for fire. We do not belong to it, we have to quit in an inward way. And that is going to be pressed home as we go along.

I trust enough has been said at the moment to indicate what God is after, what the end of God is, and how He is seeking to bring more and more of the glory into our lives by piercing deeper and deeper, cutting between ourselves in every form: self-will, self-content, self-conceit, self-centredness, self-strength and self-opinionation, etc. What a clock self is! Every second of that clock, self shows itself in some way. God is going to apply that knife of the Cross - Col. 2:11,12 - "a circumcision not made with hands, in the putting off of the body of the flesh, in the circumcision of Christ" which is of the heart, not external but inward. That is the way of the glory, and God is making a way for the glory by ever fresh applications of the Cross, deeper yet, still deeper, initially but still more. And if we did but know it, every time the application is made and felt, the sharpness of that knife, we sense the exactingness of that Cross, the suffering right to the end, "Take now thy son". If only we realised it, it is the way of the glory, it is the way of the Divine good pleasure and satisfaction, the way by which more and more God's delight is going to be found in us. It is the God of glory Who is doing it. The enemy says He is anything but the God of glory, but rather the God of despair, the God of shame, the God of loss; it is all working out just the opposite. No, it is the God of glory Who has taken it up right in the midst, and if we suffer with Him, we shall be glorified together. Even these bodies of corruption, of humiliation, are going to be changed and made like unto the body of His glory. It is going to be glory. This is the way of glory. May the Lord give us grace to allow Him to take us all the way.

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