by T. Austin-Sparks
Reading: Joshua 1:1-11; Hebrews 3:14-15.
In the first place it is necessary to translate correctly the first part of Hebrews 3:14: "We are become partners with Christ if we hold fast the beginning of our confidence firm unto the end."
We are become partners with Christ, that is the true rendering. The correct understanding and apprehension of what is here is very important, because it is strictly in keeping with the whole object of this letter. The letter has as its object partnership with Christ. The object is intimated at the beginning of the letter by such words as "Son" and "heir"-"God... hath at the end of these days spoken unto us in his Son... whom he appointed heir of all things..." The words "Son" and "heir" are key words to the whole letter.
Follow on from that point, and it will not be long before you find a quotation from the Psalms: "For not unto angels did he subject the inhabited earth to come, whereof we speak. But one hath somewhere testified, saying, What is man, that thou makest mention of him? or the son of man, that thou puttest him in charge? (literally) ...And didst set him over the works of thy hands: thou didst put all things in subjection under his feet." As to the complete fulfilment of this the writer of the Hebrews goes on to say, "But now we see not yet all things subjected to him. But we behold... Jesus... crowned with glory and honour..." Then follows that wonderful unveiling of the relationship of that exalted Christ to the race, to the redeemed out of the race-"Since then the children are sharers in flesh and blood, he also himself in like manner partook of the same...." And again, "For both he that sanctifieth and they that are sanctified are all of one..." Hence the force of the opening words of chapter 3: "Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling..." What, then, is the heavenly calling? Partnership with Christ." For we are become partners with Christ if we hold fast..."
So you see that the correct translation here is very important, and much hangs upon it. The whole of the letter is represented in this single phrase, "partnership with Christ," or, to sum up in another word, the fulness of Christ and our coming thereto.
If we want to know what that partnership means when it is fully realized, we must go back to the words of the psalm: "Thou madest him to have dominion" (Psalm 8:6). It is partnership with Christ as exalted, crowned with glory and honour, with all things put in subjection under Him. That is no small thing to contemplate. Into that consideration is packed the whole of this letter.
Associated with that great, consummate object are all these elements of urgency and appeal, expressed in such words as: "Let us" (twelve times repeated in the letter); "Lest" (repeated seven times, and always a word of caution, of warning); "Go on"; "Full growth." What is this full growth to which we are urged to go on, and concerning which we are so steadily and persistently warned of the possibility of falling short? What is the reason of all these earnest pleadings and exhortations? To what do these relate? They relate to this fulness of Christ as the heavenly calling, or, in the words of this phrase, to our being "partners with Christ."
The Correspondence Between the Letter to the Hebrews and the Book of Joshua
There is a close correspondence between the letter to the Hebrews and the book of Joshua, and it is our purpose as the Lord leads to move from the one to the other, to see from the book of Joshua the historic illustration of this spiritual movement that is set forth in the letter to the Hebrews. Three things in the main will occupy us; firstly, the object to which we have just made reference; secondly, the urgency; thirdly, the process, including the principles by which the object is attained.
1. The Object
The object, as we have said, is the fulness of Christ, or partnership with Christ. The fulness of Christ as the governing object is represented by such various figures as the promises, the covenants, the description of the land, the Sabbath rest. Let us consider each of these separately.
(a) The Promises
If you read through the letter to the Hebrews you will find that reference is made to the promises on at least twelve occasions in the letter, and those references will be found to refer you back to the promises which were made by God unto His people. Those promises were bound up for Israel, in the main, with the land, so that the land became known as the land of promise. All the promises were to have their fulfilment historically in the land; they related thereto.
When you realize that the letter to the Hebrews is the spiritual counterpart of the book of Joshua, which was the material or the literal side of things, and that Christ as exalted in the place of fulness is the object in view, it is significant and impressive that there should be so many references in this letter to the promises. Surely that expresses quite clearly what was said by Paul on another occasion, that all the promises of God are in Him, Yea! and in Him, Amen! to the glory of God (2 Corinthians 1:20). So that just as the land was the land embracing all the promises, so now for us Christ is the land in which, in Whom, all the promises have their fulfilment and their realization. Every promise is gathered up in the Lord Jesus, is fulfilled already in Him in glory. It is important to realize that. There are no promises unfulfilled so far as He personally is concerned, though there is much yet to be of a further outworking. There is a sense in which He is yet to come into something. But His position now, as crowned with glory and honour, declares beyond any approach of doubt, or question, or chance, or risk that every promise is fulfilled. His exaltation is a present exaltation far above all rule and authority, principality and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but in that which is to come. He is established on high. So that in Him and in His present position every promise is fulfilled. For us that means that in Christ the fulfilment of every promise is already secured, and that there is such a thing as putting our foot down upon every promise and appropriating it by reason of full fellowship with Christ, of standing in Christ in fulness of faith. "Every place that the sole of your foot shall tread upon, to you have I given it..." That land is the land of the promises, which again is Christ.
It is a matter of importance to our faith and to our procedure to recognize that in Christ God has already secured for us the fulfilment of the promises. I believe that is why there is so much said about faith that is unwavering. In our asking, in our praying, we are bidden to have an unwavering faith, and the law which governs us, from the standpoint of the Divine mind, is that God has already in Christ secured everything. It is necessary for you and for me to recognize and fully grasp the fact of the completeness of the Divine work in Christ. Is it not true that a good deal of our failure is due to the fact that we have some doubt, some question, as to the outworking of things; or, to put that in another way, that we have not fully and sufficiently recognized that in the exaltation of the Lord Jesus the complete work of God is accomplished? It is only honouring to God to believe that His work in Christ is perfect, the whole work is done, in Him. There is nothing to be added to the work of God; it is complete, it is final.
There is a sense in which Christ will never be more exalted than He is now. He will be exalted amongst us, He will be exalted by us; but He Himself is already exalted, and in that sense He will never be in a higher position than He is in now. He has reached the highest. That means that God's work is full, complete, utter, final in the Lord Jesus, and, if that be true, the fact, again, proclaims that all the promises are settled in Christ. That is the ground of faith's advance unto possession. It is a question of putting the foot down upon something that God has done. That is the point of view of the book of Joshua-"I have given..." The Lord never says that He is going to give. It is an accomplished fact with Him before ever He says that they are to advance. Before the foot was placed in the land He said, "I have given..." "Every place that the sole of your foot shall tread upon, to you have I given it..." which, in effect, is to say, Go in and possess. That for us, then, applies to the promises of God.
Those promises are only ours in Christ. This means that a spiritual position, and a position of faith is basic to the realization of the promises. Our difficulty is not, as sometimes we may think it is, to get God to fulfil His promises, but rather to come to the place where we believe sufficiently to take it as a settled thing that the promises are fulfilled in Christ.
What are the promises for? The promises were never intended to be a matter of personal pleasure, either in the case of Israel or in our case. Perhaps that is a realm in which we never do come into the enjoyment of the promises. As the Lord's children we are often found in situations of personal embarrassment, personal difficulty, personal suffering, in a place where things for us are hard. At such times we are apt to take hold of some portion of the Word of God, and take that to the Lord and claim it for our deliverance. That may sometimes be all right, and yet if the motive should ever be definitely a purely personal one, we can take it for granted that the promise will have no fulfilment. How many have found that that is how it works. In a certain situation, by reason of some difficulty, trial, suffering, some adversity, you have gone to the Lord, taking His Word and pleading it before Him for a change of the situation, a deliverance, the bringing to pass or the removing of something, and you have found that you were up against a stone wall. You have discovered that you were knocking yourself to pieces, and you came to a standstill; you could get no further. It seemed that the heaven was closed, that there was no way through, no answering voice, no sense of a listening ear; and with deep heart exercise about the matter you have been tempted to doubt the promise, question the faithfulness of God, raise questions as to the truth of His Word. But in the final issue the Lord has shown you that something needed to be done in you.
You were reaching after some object that you wanted, which you thought was necessary and very important, but somewhere there was a secret personal interest, personal concern-unconscious perhaps, but in God's sight very real-which was making it impossible for you to accept that situation. You have come to see at length that your seeking of the Lord was not altogether because of the Divine interests bound up with the situation, but, at bottom, because of the way in which it affected yourself. The Lord had to bring a crisis in your experience, where you were perfectly willing to accept that trial in the will of God; that if so be the Lord wished it then you gave your full consent, and said: "Well, Lord, if this is Your will for me I accept it wholly and fully. All that I ask is to know that it is Your will, and, given that, then I accept it from my heart." When you reached that point the wall disappeared, and you had a sense that you were now getting through; and very often the thing for which you had been standing before the Lord was granted; deliverance came, a change took place. That is not always so, but it is very often the case.
In such experiences we learn that the promises are not for us as things for our personal interest, but wholly and utterly for the glory of Christ, to bring about a greater measure of the fulness of Christ in us. Thus, once more, through an ordeal, we have come to the place where it is " no longer I, but Christ." That is God's required ground for the fulfilment of His promises.
If you turn to the book of Joshua you will see that it can be interpreted very largely from that standpoint. Whenever personal interest came in there was a check in progress, an arrest upon possession. The promises are all intended to realize God's object, which is the fulness of Christ. When we put our feet down upon the promises with personal detachment and whole-hearted devotion to God's end, we are in the way of the fulfilment of the promises; or, more correctly, we come into the fulfilment that has already taken place in Christ.
So the promises are set forth in the Old Testament in relation to the land as comprising the fulness of Christ, and in the letter to the Hebrews the many references to the promises are brought into that particular relationship. Christ is now in full view: the promises are seen to be fulfilled in Him; and the promises thus secure are held in Him for us.
(b) The Covenants
What is true of the promises is true also of the covenants. Here again in this letter the word "covenant" is of frequent occurrence. At least nine times the word is mentioned, and that has its own significance. We know that these covenants were called the covenants of promise. Go back to the Old Testament again with its covenants, and you will find that they had reference to the land. The covenants made with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob, all pointed on to the possessing of the land by their seed. God covenanted with them concerning the land.
In the letter to the Hebrews two covenants are specially mentioned, an old covenant and a new covenant; the covenant made with Israel concerning the land, and now the covenant made with the Church concerning the fulness of Christ. One was a type, an illustration, a foreshadowing of the other. And just as types and illustrations all fall short of the actuality, so the first covenant was but a shadow of the second, the last covenant, the covenant in His blood. The point is that it is covenant!
God covenanted to bring the children of Israel into the land, and here, again, is the ground of faith's strength as to coming to God's end. God from His side has made a covenant with us in the Blood of His Son, and that finds God giving Himself to the utmost; for that is the meaning of a covenant. If you study covenants in the Scriptures you will find that they represent a mutual giving in utterness on the part of those entering into the covenant.
We will not stay to illustrate that, but it can be clearly seen. There are always two sides to a covenant. That is why, in making a covenant, the sacrifice was divided in two. The one entering into the covenant stood by his half, and likewise the other. And in the making of covenants the essence of the declaration was that the parties to the covenant respectively gave themselves and their all to the other for a purpose; they held back nothing.
We have a marked illustration of this in the life of Abraham, in the familiar scene of Genesis 15. There we see the sacrifice divided in two, each half laid over against the other, and Abraham taking his position by his part of the sacrifice, and the Lord also represented as being present. In effect, God was saying: From My side I swear by Myself, by all that I am and all that I have, that I give Myself to this end! Now Abraham had to take that position on his part and say: As for me, all that ever I have and am is given to God for His end! We read that in the course of time "it came to pass that God did prove Abraham." "And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son, whom thou lovest... and offer him..."
Did you mean your part of the covenant, Abraham? Did you really mean everything, even your very life as bound up with that child if need be? And Abraham stood faithful to his part of the covenant. Then God came in and said further: "By myself have I sworn... that in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed... because thou hast obeyed my voice"; "...because thou... hast not withheld thy son..." That is the utterness of a covenant, and God has given Himself by an oath that so far as He is concerned He will leave nothing undone to realize His end. This letter to the Hebrews is a call for an equal utterness on our part, along with the utterness of God in Christ, so that the covenant shall have a full realization.
So the letter concludes with one of the most glorious declarations and statements as to God having stood by His part of the covenant: "Now the God of peace, who brought again from the dead the great shepherd of the sheep with the blood of the eternal covenant, even our Lord Jesus, make you perfect (complete)..."
God's everlasting covenant could not be ratified if He left Christ in the grave. He has gone all the way, and in the raising of Christ from the dead He has done the utter thing to secure the end that He has in view, for you, for me, for all His own. The covenant concerns the fulness of Christ.
Now, we are made partners if we hold fast (Hebrews 3:14). There is nothing lacking in God. We shall never find that God falls short, and in view of the utterness of God's purpose we should be at pains to come into all that the Lord has designed. So this letter goes on earnestly and persistently to sound its appeal to us in various ways. To cite but one example, we turn to the close of chapter 5: "For when by reason of the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need again that some one teach you the rudiments of the first principles... Wherefore let us... press on..." The covenant concerns the fulness of Christ in the Church. As Paul expresses it in the letter to the Ephesians, the Church is "the fulness of him that filleth all in all" (Ephesians 1:23).
(c) The Description of the Land
As to the third thing very little need be said here. We are speaking of the fulness of Christ as the governing object represented in the Old Testament in these various ways: firstly, by the promises; secondly, by the covenant; thirdly, by the description of the land. You are familiar with the description of the land, and can read it again. It is a goodly land, says the Lord, a land flowing with milk and honey, barley, oil, olives, pomegranates, and with minerals in the hills (Deut. 8). I have been wondering if it is a fact that these resources have been very richly discovered in that particular land, or whether they have never yet been exploited. But here is the word about these various mineral resources in Palestine. The Lord gives a wonderful and glowing description of the land, and we know that the land has been the envy of every nation from the beginning. There is probably no country in this world which has been more the centre of rivalries than this particular country. All the great empires that have been have fought for it or over it. The Lord knew what He was doing when He chose that land. He did not choose Iceland, or Labrador, or some place like that. It would not have been suitable to His thought. He chose this particular land, which geographically is the centre of the world, and is such a land as to make possible tremendous enrichments.
Corresponding to the spiritual thought of God, this land would be an illustration for all time of His Son, the Lord Jesus, in Whom are all the riches of wisdom and knowledge, of Divine grace, the fulness of God. The description of the land is a wonderful revelation of God's thought concerning His Son.
(d) The Sabbath Rest
The letter to the Hebrews carries us back to Joshua. At one point, in the fourth chapter of this letter, referring to the sabbath rest, we read: "If Joshua had given them rest, he would not have spoken afterward of another day. There remaineth therefore a sabbath rest for the people of God." That clearly indicates that God's thought of the land was that it should be for them the place of His sabbath rest. They never entered into that. For us there is the spiritual counterpart, and in this letter seven times at least the sabbath rest is referred to. Christ in fulness is God's Sabbath rest. He was that personal Sabbath, Who said: "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls" (Matthew 11:28-39). Christ is the Sabbath rest in the land. The fulness of Christ is the Sabbath rest in experience.
There is a sense in which we find rest immediately we find Christ, in which our restlessness ceases when we come into a living relationship with the Lord Jesus. There is a further sense in which that rest enlarges as we go on with Him. To put that in another way, the more we livingly discover of Christ in an experimental way, the deeper our rest and satisfaction become. We have not yet entered into all that the Sabbath rest of God means, because we have not yet reached all the fulness of Christ. The urge in this letter, even concerning the Sabbath rest, is to believers. It is not occupied with the warning to sinners, lest they fail to come into Christ and initially find Him as their rest, but with believers, lest they fail to come to the fulness of Christ, which means God's Sabbath rest in completeness.
All this is what the Lord is seeking to bring us to. All these things in the Old Testament are gathered up into Christ, and the Lord's great desire is our going on, as set forth in these various and very real ways. What that going on is and means we have yet to consider, and by the grace of God we shall do so presently. For the moment we recognize the first implication of this. The Lord calls us by every urge, every exhortation, every encouragement, and even warning to go on. That going on, as we shall see, will be fraught with conflict, adversity, withstanding. Nevertheless, it all leads to God's end, it all leads to that final fulness. The challenge is as to whether we are willing to go on, in face of a mighty organized resistance and withstanding, an opposition working in various ways, openly and subtly, all to cause us to come to a premature standstill, to yield some ground which ought to be ours. That is the challenge. It comes to us right at the beginning.
There is the need and call for a resounding of this challenge and this exhortation. We are spiritually very much in the position in which these Hebrew believers were, and which gave occasion for this letter. They had just gone so far in abandoning earthly things, earthly religion, for heavenly things, the true spiritual realities, and in so doing they were coming up against a tremendous cost. They were put outside the camp and bitterly reproached for Christ's sake. Their standing, status, reputation, all came under a shadow, a cloud, and they found themselves in very great difficulties, even amongst the religious people, those who would call themselves the people of God, and were brought almost to a standstill. Yes, they had even begun to entertain thoughts of returning to earthly things; not worldly things necessarily, but earthly things, earthly religiousness. Because of the peril, because of what had already set in to stop their going on, this letter was written. It shows the promises, the covenants, God's great full-orbed desire for His people, and then says: Let us! Let us! Let us! Lest! Lest! Lest! Let us go on to full growth! These are the dominating words. Let us hear them in our hearts in a day when we too might sometimes feel that the way is too costly, that we are meeting too much in consequence of the position we have taken. Let us hear the word: "...we are become partners with Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our confidence firm unto the end..." The Lord help us.