by T. Austin-Sparks
Chapter 2 - A Ministry from the Heavens
Daniel 4:26; Romans 1:20; Heb. 9:11,23,26.
It was the rule of the Heavens which Nebuchadnezzar had to come to recognise, the thing to which the Lord brought him in a very severe and drastic way and He said, "Thy kingdom shall be sure unto thee, after that thou shalt have known that the heavens do rule." And it is into the content of the meaning of that great Divine statement that I feel the Lord would lead us at this time. I am more conscious than ever that in order that we may come to a spiritual understanding of this, we need the Holy Spirit to give us very especial enablement. We are speaking of things that will not be understood or grasped only by the Holy Spirit's very definite enablement. We are going right back to those spiritual principles upon which God has hung everything with reference to Himself - the Heavens ruling.
And the significance of that statement is just this, that, while you may have presented in the Bible a system of things pertaining unto God, with many phases and aspects, many details, many forms of expression, those are not the things. They are only representations of heavenly, Divine, spiritual laws and principles. The earthly things are made after the pattern of things in the heavens, and the earthly things and the natural world for the most part are not the realities. They are only reflections and representations of reality which is heavenly and spiritual. That is why we passed on to Hebrews where that is stated. There was a tabernacle, but it was not the tabernacle. And all that was related to the tabernacle was but a representation, a system of sensory expressions given to a great, heavenly system, and it was the embodiment of spiritual laws and spiritual principles. And the type was destined to pass to make room for the realities.
Here is this fact. There is a heavenly system which is entirely spiritual, which cannot for one moment be apprehended by the natural senses, but God has illustrated it by types and figures and various means, never intending that men should take hold of and perpetuate that which is only a type, but that they should come to recognise that, lying behind all that, there is a spiritual system which God wants them to enter into. We know this in a sense, but we do not recognise it adequately, and because we do not know this adequately, Christendom is astray. It has laid hold on representations and made them realities, and so made the earthly thing an end, and failed to see the spiritual principles lying behind everything.
If you are only occupied with the thing, you will find sooner or later that that leads you nowhere. It cannot carry you through, and it simply becomes an end in itself. But immediately you get the spiritual principle back of that and are delivered from the mere thing in itself, then you get right through into what is altogether beyond limit. And God is governing by those spiritual laws. It is the heavenly system that is ordering everything. It is what lies behind in the unseen with God that is final, ultimate.
That being the case, we are able to understand why everything that relates to what is utterly of God demands spiritual revelation. It must and can only be revealed by the Holy Spirit, and that means that there must be a spiritual state on the part of the individual. They must be spiritual beings in the truest sense of their nature. That is the statement of Paul with which we are so familiar. He says that the natural man (the soulical man) receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, neither can he know them; they are foolishness unto him. "But he that is spiritual judgeth [discerneth] all things."
Everything to the natural man which relates utterly to God is a mystery and can only be apprehended by spiritual revelation on the ground of the man himself having become a spiritual being. It is here you see that mere cleverness is already ruled out. It does not stand here. Intellectual development and power, as such, is set aside. Scholarship, as such, has nothing to do with the things of the Spirit. The natural man cannot come in here, good or bad. Human efficiency cannot come into this realm. The natural man will count on the things of nature, and so God must rule him out. The proud cannot enter into the things of the Spirit. And yet we do very often come before man as if we knew something. We have here on the earth certain advantages and abilities and we display them before men. That is just the terrible danger of the present system which makes something of man and puts man in a certain place and gives him a position of power over crowds of people.
God beholdest the proud afar off, and when you want the real essence of spiritual blessing you have to come to the one who has been broken and shaken and ground to powder and who in himself is absolutely nothing. And then God begins to pour of Himself through that one and He has got what He wants. What God wants is spiritual people in this deepest sense, wholly spiritual, that He might give revelation and show that the heavens do rule.
Again, this represents the great necessity for everyone who is coming into the things of God essentially. What is the essence of what is from God? That they should come into it from above. You can come to things on the horizontal - through a certain amount of college preparation or other preparation for it, and you can enter into something here on the earth which is called the "ministry," or you can enter into Bible teaching on the horizontal. You may know it and you may be able to cite it. You are into all the doctrines of the Scripture. You come into it this way because you have "taken it up." You can come into the church that way. You call it "joining the church," and when you come in that way, you are not in it at all. You are in a false position entirely. The only way to come into the things which are especially of God is that you have come in in the Spirit and by the Spirit, and by way of revelation.
Then the "ministry" is no longer a matter of churches and pulpits and congregations, etc. The ministry is not governed by anything outward. It is that God has given you a revelation and you have a fire burning in your bones. You have a message from God for the hour in which you live. The heavens are ruling. You may come into the Word of God by cleverly mentally apprehending it, but the Holy Spirit has something back of the Scripture. It is not a wonderful presentation of the Bible to people. When that is over they say, "That was a clever address"; but is there a mighty change? The dynamic impact of God upon their innermost being - what about that? What does it do with reference to their conformity to the image of God's Son?
You come into a ministry from above, not horizontally. No servant of God fulfils the full measure of the Divine purpose except as he comes into it from above. And that represents something in the nature of a terrific upheaval in one's life when you come in that way. This is why imitation is so fruitless. The imitation of Christ is cold, there is no dynamic in it. It is very beautiful and mystical but it does not change the very sub-strata of your being and conform you to the image of His Son. You cannot put things into Scriptural mould and have life. Everything that is of God has got to be wrought out by the Holy Spirit.
There is a great need today that there should be the rule of the Heavens. But the Holy Spirit has got to do it, and we have got to come to recognise the fact that what we see in organised Christianity is not it. The spiritual people of God are more and more feeling separated from the old system of Christianity and churches and ecclesiastical systems. People are recognising a deep dissatisfaction with what has held the ground so long, and there is a cry for spiritual reality. Many sermons are clever and full of mental ability, but they are starvation to the spirit. There is all the activity, but it is not spiritual life, and I believe the Lord is going to show us the nature of the thing that is in the heavens. The thing that man has brought down on to the earth and taken up and perpetuated is only at best a poor imitation of things in the heavens, but in a very large realm it is a caricature of heavenly things.
Man has taken hold of heavenly things and brought them down to earth and made them earthly things. That is where things all went wrong at the beginning. At the first, things were of the Spirit. The people gathered in their homes or anywhere. It was not the place. It was not the ministry. It was the Lord, and they were circled around Him. But then the day came when they said, "We must have public buildings," and then the architecture became a factor, and so things developed, and they became something on the earth for men to take note of. They wanted man to be attracted, and that was the first step in one of the greatest perils that has overtaken the church. For prestige, recognition, the world to be attracted, there is the result that you get the mixed multitudes in the Church. If you can attach some big names to it, you can attract the people, and one of the devil's greatest measures has been popularising the church. The pre-eminent thing is lost, that the church and Christ is a mystery to the natural man and that it is no use to expect the natural man to appreciate it. The church is essentially a spiritual thing according to the mind of God. What really governs everything is God's conception of things, not ours, and if we are going on with the Lord there is going to be a whole system of change and we are going more and more to view things from the heavenly standpoint. You have got to get into the heavenly system to get heavenly results.
The Meaning of "Heavens"
In speaking of the "rule of the heavens" the word "heavens" is uppermost in our thought and we want to understand something of the symbolic meaning of the heavens in the Scripture. The first thing represented by the heavens in Scripture is universality. If you will trace through you will always find they represent universality - the all-pervading, all-encompassing, all-including universality of the heavens. They bound everything. Everything that there is is inside the heavens - no matter what planet you visit the heavens will be outside. It is a universal principle in the very thought of the heavens. It is there that you begin to understand the spiritual order.
That universality is bound up with the Lord Jesus and the Lord Jesus is bound up with it. He is the heavenly One, the heavenly Man, the heavenly Lord. How constantly was He re-emphasising that fact on earth - "I came out from heaven" - "you are of the earth, I am from heaven," and the use of the word "heaven" or "heavens" by His lips is full of tremendous significance because He is the representative One of all that pertains unto God. This principle represents that which pertains unto God as absolutely universal.
The first chapter of Colossians reveals the wondrous universality of the Lord Jesus swooping back to the times of eternity, bringing Him on to the time of creation - "by Him were all things created" and "of Him and through Him and unto Him are all things" - sweeping the ages in His Person and leading you on to the timelessness of eternity. The Person of our Lord Jesus revealed in that one chapter is absolutely universal - all ages, all realms; and Ephesians sees Him as above all heavens. The universality of the Lord Jesus Christ is the thought and purpose and intent of God the Father. He, then, is the inclusive representation of all that is of God, and whenever you come into what is of God spiritually you immediately come into what is absolutely universal.
Of course, here is the explanation of the Cross of our Lord Jesus and the crucifixion of the old man and all that is related thereto. The explanation is just this, that that cross represents the bringing to an end, or winding up of what is less than God intended. For things were pulled down to a lower level than God intended. There came in divisions, alienation, circumscribing of man and of things, limiting God and His purpose for man in the world, and the Cross represents the undoing of all that. The resurrection speaks of emancipation into the limitless - into the universal. In the Person of our Lord Jesus it meant He was no longer being bound to those few miles of Syrian soil, time was no longer a factor nor was geography a factor, distance did not come in. The resurrection represents universality because it brings you into spiritual realities - delivered from the flesh and brought into the spirit, delivered from what is of man and brought into what is of God. We may not be caught up in the body like Philip, but there is a universality about our new-creation life and about our ministry. We have lost every form of limitation. Though we may be at this place tonight we are not bound thereby - we can touch every corner of the earth by prayer. We are now set free and brought into the kingdom of heaven's emancipation on resurrection ground. Under the anointing of the Spirit we are brought into the universality of the Lord Jesus Christ. That is the explanation of the Cross.
Here the whole question of sonship comes into view. Sonship is always related to the resurrection. In the case of the Lord Jesus He was especially designated the Son of God on the ground of resurrection. This does not mean He was not the Son of God before. Sonship comes in on that ground. This is typified in the Jordan - the Father's voice attested Him the Son on typical resurrection ground. "Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten Thee" - bound up with the work of the Cross.
What is sonship? It is absolutely universal. If you take up Colossians 1 you will see that sonship is timeless. It is related to resurrection, for resurrection is coming out into the timeless and the coming in of timeless life - life that is the life of the ages. That is resurrection life and with it comes sonship which is timeless. You will notice in Ephesians you are taken back before times eternal by way of the Cross and shown that before this world was, God had us in view. Romans says the same, and with the revelation of the eternal mind and thought and purpose of God it seems we were there in His thought before the world was. We were chosen of Him - "For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son." We have been raised together with Him, "and you hath He quickened who were dead in trespasses and sins." In connection with that the eternity of sonship comes into view - foreknowledge and predestination. Sonship is not merely eternal, it is universal - not merely a thing of this earth but in the heavens. We are now partakers of the spirit of sonship, "Abba Father."
Notice the universality of the birth of our Lord - every universal element enters into His birth. You have the heavens coming in there.
When you come into sonship you come back into the place where God intended man to be originally at the centre of His universe with everything gathered around Him. He was determined in the purpose of God to have dominion over the works of his hands. That will be the end when that one new man - "the church which is His body" is perfected - glorified. All things governed through the church, and everyone who comes into sonship comes into sonship universally. It is a wonderful thing to be made a son - much more than having sins forgiven and being saved from hell. There should be an adequate background to our preaching vocation. Saving from hell is only the first minor step in the great eternal sweep of God's purposes concerning man. Sonship embraces eternity - all ages. "Heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ." Sonship is timeless and universal because sonship is spiritual.
There is nothing merely local in the heavens and the things which belong to the heavenly spiritual system. Everything here according to God has a universal connection according to the thought of God and we must see the universality of everything that is of God.
Paul is a great example. He was peculiarly related to the heavens. When on the road to Damascus the heavens opened and he heard the voice of the Lord. Later he again had heavenly revelation; then again he was caught up into the third heaven, and how much he has to say about the heavenlies! He was a wonderful example of emancipation from the limitations of earth.
Take him nationally. If this were the only thing it would be a miracle of miracles. Here is that rabid Jew and Judaiser - and there is no more radical a fundamentalist on earth today. See what he will do for Jewish tradition and interest. He stands at nothing and flings to the wind every fine sensibility. He had received authority to cast into prison all who were of this Way, men or women, there is no fine feeling - he is an utter radical. Here is a young man whose face has been seen to look up into heavenly glory and from his lips were heard the words, "I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God," but Saul of Tarsus crushed down all that because of his Jewish blood. He was a man like that, but see him afterward an apostle to the Gentiles. See him withstanding Peter because he went in to eat and drink with the Gentiles, but when the Jews were come down he withdrew himself - "I withstood him to the face..." This is the man who will write about the church. It is a heavenly revelation, nothing less, that will change a man like this. It was he who later wrote "where there can be neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female..." where nothing that is of earth has any place. Yet today there are spiritual people still on that low level - there has been no loss of earthly distinctions, no vision of one Body. You and I are not British and other nationalities - we are citizens of heaven and you are not knowing me after the flesh but after the spirit. If there is that then there is one spirit-sonship. We find our common ground there. Unity of the Spirit is oneness of the Spirit - that is universality - the heavens are ruling. From God's standpoint they do rule.
This is what brought the Corinthians so much trouble, "every one of you saith, I am of Paul: and I of Apollo: and I of Cephas," limiting a choice of men whom they preferred. Because they were circling around men Paul wrote, "I cannot write unto you as unto spiritual but unto carnal." This is a working in of a mighty principle, and when those things come in the Lord goes out.
Paul in every other way represented the rule of the heavens ministerially. He had become the embodiment of the principle of the heavens so far as nations were concerned. Nations no longer existed for him as such - that out of all nations should be formed the one Body, so his ministry was a heavenly one - a ministry from the heavens. It is a tremendous mark of his transcendency, of what is heavenly, that his universal writings come out of such circumstances as the prison, chains, Roman Court, and yet the most common expression of those days was "in the heavenlies." He was ministering universally while naturally in limitation. He had said, "henceforth know we no man after the flesh." "Though the more I love the less I be loved." This man has transcended the things which are of man. The love he had poured out for the Corinthians, and yet in that letter Paul quotes things that were said about him - about his personal appearance - by them. Paul was above earthly feelings - the heavens ruled. Get outside of that which is petty and small and into the universal. We see a real example of sonship in the man who wrote so much about it. Read Romans 8 and the Epistle to the Galatians and see how sonship means absolute emancipation and freedom from all earthly limitations of man - his mind, his thought, his judgments, his attitudes, his appraisements. He has been set free by the Son, and whom the Son makes free is free indeed.
The new man is being renewed after the image of Him who created him. The image is universally embracing. Look at the Lord Jesus. See the universality of His birth, His baptism, His death. The celebration of the Lord's death has been made largely a matter of a ceremonial ordinance. But there is one Body eternally conceived of God gathered out of all nations and gathered into the universality of eternity. God meant that the gathering around His table be clothed with what is of heaven and should be a living testimony. There is all the difference in the world between a ceremony and having a celebration of a living thing. The heavens do rule. The Lord wants to recover the spiritual meaning of these things.
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