by T. Austin-Sparks
I would like to lay a foundation for our meditation in the Word of God by turning you to several passages. Firstly, in the letter to the Galatians. The letter to the Galatians chapter 3, at verse 13: "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us. For it is written: Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree; that upon the Gentiles might come the blessing of Abraham in Christ Jesus; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith".
Let us abbreviate that statement - "Christ redeemed us
from the curse of the law... that upon the Gentiles might come
the blessing of Abraham in Christ Jesus; that we might receive
the promise of the Spirit through faith". Verse 26: "For ye are
all sons of God, through faith, in Christ Jesus".
Chapter 4, at verse 5: "That He might redeem them that were under
the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because
ye are sons, God sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts,
crying, Abba, Father. So that thou art no longer a bondservant,
but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God".
The first letter of John, first letter of John and chapter 3: "Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called children of God; and such we are. For this cause the world knoweth us not, because it knew Him not. Beloved, now are we children of God, and it is not yet made manifest what we shall be. We know that if He shall be manifested, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him even as He is".
Then the letter to the Romans, chapter 8, verse 16: "The Spirit Himself beareth witness with our spirit that we are children of God..." 21: "The creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God..." Chapter 9 and verse 8: "It is not the children of the flesh that are children of God; but the children of the promise are reckoned for a seed. For this is a word of promise, According to this season will I come, and Sarah shall have a son".
It's sometimes helpful right at the outset to state precisely
what it is we are going to think about and talk about, and be
occupied with; not because it is fitting to the season, but I
believe because the Lord has so led, we are going to be occupied
with the great crisis of Pentecost and the immense significance of
the Holy Spirit.
It would be difficult to over-emphasise the importance of the
Holy Spirit. We have heard so much, perhaps we know so much, that
the mention of this matter may fail to stir us as it ought to on
every fresh remembrance. What we need, perhaps as much as
anything, is a sense of the freshness of everything with
which we are so familiar - that particular and peculiar joy that
comes with a sense of freshness in old and familiar scenes. I
expect many of you know what I mean when I say that we may be very
familiar with certain scenes, certain places, certain
associations, and we may have been familiar with them perhaps all
our lives, or for many years. And then we take someone who has
never before seen them, we take a friend, and as we point out this
and that, describe this and that, tell the story of this and that,
and we see the freshness of appreciation in the friend, how the
old thing becomes new to us! And yes, we begin to see
things that we have never seen before, as we point them out and
under the inspiration of their enjoyment of something quite new.
That's true, isn't it?
Some of us have been over ground so many, many times, and then we
have taken someone who has never gone that way and in their
enjoyment and pleasure, or almost ecstasy, we have been surprised
and perhaps a little ashamed that we never saw it quite like that,
or that it had lost its real attraction for us. And yet, it's
something quite old. Don't you feel, dear friends, that it's
something like that that we need to recover in relation to the
familiar things of the Word of God?
Let me put it like this: if you and I were complete strangers to
Christianity and to the Bible and were really very anxious to
know the meaning of Christianity and the meaning of the Bible, we
really were concerned to know, so that we sat down and with all
diligence, earnestness, and thoughtfulness began to read the New
Testament... (And here, as a parenthesis, I may suggest to you
that it is a very useful thing to do, to try to forget that you
know it and make yourself imagine that you have never read that
before. Come to it as though it were for the first time. You try
it; you'll find there is a real value in that.) Well, supposing
that you were really doing that for the first time, what do you
think would be the thing that would press itself upon your notice,
perhaps more than anything else? If you took up this New
Testament, and thoughtfully, carefully, read... read through the
Gospels, found yourself in all that vivid life and movement of the
book of the Acts, and then on into the remainder of the letters
and the consummation. Seeking to get one distinct impression, what
do you think that would be? I suggest to you, dear friends, that
it would be this: this, of course, this book is all about one
Person, and that Person is called Jesus, that Jesus lived on the
earth for a time, talked and worked, and then was put to death.
But this book everywhere declares that God raised Him from the
dead. That is the outstanding thing everywhere: God raised Him
from the dead, but that is not all.
This book is just alive because that raising of Jesus from the dead has become a living experience in the people concerned, by the power of the Spirit of God. Don't you agree that that would be the thing that would impress you most as a stranger to the story and to the book? God raised Jesus from the dead, and the Spirit of God has made that a living reality in the life of a whole multitude, and an ever-growing multitude of men and women. The Holy Spirit, for them, was not a theme, and a subject, a doctrine, and a truth to be discussed and argued about, but an experience, and an experience of Jesus being alive after having died. When you have really put your hand upon that (and I can see that it makes very little impression upon you... it doesn't strike you as anything very wonderful, because you are so familiar with it) but there you are, having put your finger upon that, you have put your finger upon the whole key, secret; the wonderful significance of the Holy Spirit. There is far more, of course, bound up with that than I have indicated.
Christianity is built upon these two things: God raised Jesus
from the dead, and the Holy Spirit makes that a reality in the
lives of believers.
Jesus Risen, The Holy Spirit Given
The two great foundations of Christianity, but it carries you into a very large realm. You will see that this has its backward aspect. The Holy Spirit throws full light upon Jesus from His birth to His Cross and explains everything in His life. You will never come into the good and the value of the life of the Lord Jesus from His birth to His Cross without the Holy Spirit interpreting, explaining, and making live. You will only have an earthly story, a bit of history and biography, you will have no Life out of those years and all that was in them, until the Holy Spirit takes up the incarnation, the walk, the teaching, the working and the dying, and makes them live. We require the Holy Spirit - He is indispensable to the understanding of the coming of the Lord Jesus and His being here on this earth at all.
Now take one inclusive factor in that: why did He come? Why did He come? Why was He here? For what did He live and work and teach and die? Only one thing, you might answer it in many ways, but the one inclusive thing was to bring man back into a living, conscious union with God. That sums up the whole meaning of the life of the Lord Jesus on this earth, and His death. Let me repeat: To bring man into a living and conscious union with God. Do you recognise that that is a feature, the feature of Christianity, which distinguishes it from all other religions in this world? A living, conscious union and fellowship with God. But if that is true, if that is why He came, lived, worked, taught, and died, it was all in vain until the Holy Spirit came and made it real and live. He came in vain, He lived in vain, He taught in vain, He worked in vain, He died in vain, until the Holy Spirit came. Therefore He puts this tremendous importance upon the Holy Spirit: "It is expedient for you that I go away; if I go not away, the Comforter will not come, even the Spirit of truth".
There is no effecting of the meaning of the Life of Christ apart from the gift and indwelling of the Holy Spirit. And the very first thing that the Holy Spirit does is to make all that for which Christ has come, instantly real, "The Spirit beareth witness with our spirit that we are children of God", if that doesn't mean living, conscious relationship with God, what does it mean? "The Spirit Himself beareth witness with our spirit." All the meaning of Christ's coming is made good immediately we receive the Holy Spirit, or it begins to be made good, it is taken up and made real. And what is true of the life of the Lord Jesus here is true of everything else, which we need not pursue. There is no real knowing, or living, until the Holy Spirit comes and comes in.
In our readings this afternoon, we have underlined one word (I trust that you did it as we were reading) the common factor of all that we were reading, all those passages, and there are many more that can be added. In John's statement, for instance: "Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us that we should be called children of God" - 'children of God'. "Now are we the children of God." And you know that it is a basic statement in relation to the coming of the Lord Jesus into this world, that through faith in Him, believing on Him, we should have the right to be called children of God; the right to be called children of God! That is why He came... that is why He came: to constitute this heavenly, spiritual family... children of God and sons of God. That is the end in view. Now, having just made that statement, dear friends, we are going to allow the book of the Advent of the Holy Spirit, the Day of Pentecost, to take us a long way back.
You know that the Bible is a book of crises, that is, of turning points which contain different features. "Crisis" and "critic" are from the same root. And a critic is someone who takes up a matter at a certain point, and indicates the differences - how differences of view and interpretation are to be seen at that point. And that is a crisis, it is a point reached where things are going to change, and there is going to be a difference and you are going to see a difference from what has been, and what is going to be. Now the Bible is a book of crises.
There are four major crises in the Bible, with a great many minor ones between. The first great crisis is that of creation. Indeed, it was a crisis. It was the intervention of God in relation to purpose - God's reaction to vanity, to what is void, to what is without purpose and meaning, serving no real end. "Now the earth was without form and void..." God intervened, and that was a crisis, and the difference, of course, is quite plain.
The second great crisis was that of redemption, God intervening to recover. The third crisis was that of Pentecost - the intervention of spiritual fullness as against mere figures and representations and fragments - now to bring in the real and the full, for the word "full", or "fullness" is always associated with the Holy Spirit. By Pentecost heaven intervened unto spiritual fullness. I could enlarge upon that, no doubt very much comes to you in relation to the Holy Spirit. If I only hint at the number seven in relation to the Spirit, you know that it signifies spiritual fullness. There was a great intervention of heavenly fullness on the Day of Pentecost. Then the fourth great crisis, of course, is that of the coming again of the Lord; the intervention for universal restoration and restitution - with many aspects, but that is what it is, and for that crisis we wait.
Now note that every one of these major crises, the Holy Spirit is
very distinctly in view. "The Spirit of God brooded over the face
of the deep", was the agent and the energy of creation. Everything
to do with the crisis of redemption is in the hands of the Holy
Spirit. The Redeemer is born of the Holy Spirit, the Redeemer is
anointed of the Spirit, the Redeemer offered Himself without spot
unto God through the Eternal Spirit. All the way through the work
of redemption, the Holy Spirit was the energy, and power, the
agent, the custodian.
It goes without saying that the third great crisis of Pentecost
was in the hands of the Holy Spirit. He took over everything at
that point. Even the Lord Jesus very, very strongly stipulated
that nothing was to be done, no attempt made even
to preach, until the Spirit was come. He gave commandment and Luke
says, "After that, by commandment..." What was His
command? "Tarry ye until ye be endued." That was the
commandment - no movement, no attempt at anything. The Holy Spirit
came and He took over the whole programme. Will it be less
in the final crisis of His coming again?
The coming again, dear friends, will be but the consummation of
the Spirit's work in this age. Then He will have done His work, He
will have brought to birth the sons for manifestation, He will
have effected their spiritual growth and perfection. He will, like
Abraham's servant, bring the Bride and present the Bride to the
Bridegroom. So, the end of the book of the Revelation is, "The
Spirit and the bride say, Come!" He is in evidence in every
connection of the whole outworking of Divine purpose. But when you
have said that about the four major crises, and the many minor
ones between, what is it that is there in the foreground all the
time? There are many other intelligences and created beings in the
background looking on, sometimes being agents and instruments in
the great drama, but in the foreground, or right in the centre of
the stage is a creation called 'Man'. A unique creation, a
particular creation, the crown of creation; he stands right there
as the centre of all attention, interest and activity, through all
the ages. He holds heaven's attention.
The Bible is the story, from one standpoint, of heaven's interest in man, heaven's concern over man - an active interest, a great interest. From time to time we see heaven and heaven's agents breaking in for men, but they are the incidents. It is one great story of man standing there in the centre of the stage and all heaven looking on, all heaven concerned, all heaven active. Look through your Bible again with that thought in mind.
God has created an order called "man". There is no other order called "man".
An Order Called "Man"
God is seen from the beginning as the centre of heaven, concerned with man all the way through. And all heaven is with God in that concern: angels and archangels, and heavenly counsels... they're all concerned with man. He holds heaven's attention. It is a great, great statement, that statement of the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews: "Not unto angels hath He subjected the inhabited earth to come, but one in a certain place hath said, What is man that Thou art mindful of him?" Not unto angels... but unto man. Heaven is concerned and all hell, all hell is focussed upon this particular order of creation. He holds the attention of the whole system of evil; it is focussed upon man. It is a kingdom, but it's a divided kingdom.
It is well that we do remember that the kingdom of Satan is a divided kingdom, divided in itself. Jesus said it. He said it was divided. He didn't put an 'if' about it, He said, "A kingdom divided against itself..." "A house divided against itself..." it is. And you can see how, in a contradictory way, that kingdom of evil works in relation to man. On the one side, it gives itself with such application, determination, and subtlety to degrade man, to make man less than he really is, to lower him, to dishonour him. Evolution can have that effect; robbing man of his dignity in the mind and thought of God.
All the terrible history of war... what is it? What is it if it
is not the result of a lost sense of the sacredness of human
life? The sacredness of humanity... gun fodder! Food
for the sword and the cannon. And you see where evil is most
prominent, and God is most rejected, human life is cheapest. The
liquidation of man as though he didn't matter. The cheapness
of human life... to degrade, dishonour, and make cheap this great
creation with its destiny bound up with it, is one side of the
activity of this divided house.
On the other side, in its contradiction, to make man without God, something more than he is; man without God something more than is true of him. There you get all that goes to make self-importance, self-sufficiency, arrogance - to arrogate to himself rights and abilities and authority, independence, pride... A whole host of things to make man without God more than is true of him without God.
The destruction of man, dear friends, the destruction of man, spiritually, morally, and finally physically, is the object of that great system of wickedness. God has a great judgment, the Word says, in store for those who destroy, those who destroy - which means undervalue His creation.
Now, what is all that to do with the Holy Spirit? Well, we can never understand Pentecost, the advent of the Holy Spirit, until we recognise that it is by the coming in of the Holy Spirit, and only so, that God gets the "man" that He has ever intended to have. The purpose of man's creation was that he should be a child of God, that men should become sons of God. As Paul says: "foreordained unto the adoption as sons, to be conformed to the image of His Son". Pentecost, therefore, takes us right back to the original thought and purpose of God in the creation of man and brings that right up to date. So that when you and I, or any believing man or woman, receives the Holy Spirit within, all that God intended in creation starts up; comes into the first phase of its realisation. It can never be until then. And you can see, as we perhaps shall see later as we go on, the tremendous change in the kind of person that resulted from the Day of Pentecost.
You will not tell me that those men and women before Pentecost, although so closely associated with the Lord Jesus in His walk and work, answered to God's thought originally. But look now: the Holy Spirit has come on and in. They are different creatures. You might say that they are a different order of being, the change is so great in so many respects, that they pass from one kingdom to another. Here indeed are the manifestations of sonship because the Son Himself, by the Spirit of sonship, has entered in.
I repeat: we cannot understand the meaning of Pentecost until we recognise God's intention in making man. And immediately you recognise that, then you see the key to the coming of the Holy Spirit. Everything has been pointing toward that. In touches and activities of the Holy Spirit through the old dispensation, there are some eighty-eight references, direct references, to the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament. You notice that they are partial, they're indicative, they're symbolic, they're representations, they're pointing on to something.
Now do you see something more in that fragment from Galatians: "that upon the Gentiles might come the promise to Abraham"? The promise to Abraham! What was the promise to Abraham? Universal sonship in Jesus Christ. Wasn't it? All that said perfectly in the letter to the Galatians. Universal sonship by faith in Jesus Christ. We're all sons of God through faith in Jesus Christ. It was a universal thing. "Thy seed, thy seed... as the stars of heaven... as the sand..." vast, vast! But Paul brings it all down and says, "the seed is not many seeds, it is One Seed, it's Christ!" It's Christ! The promise to Abraham was sonship to men in Jesus Christ. And now, says the apostle, that is made good by the gift of the Holy Spirit - the promise - that we might receive the Spirit.
This universe is eventually to be peopled with sons of God. "The creation groaneth and travaileth... is subject to vanity, waiting for the manifestation of the sons of God". Peopled with the sons of God. "Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called children of God, and such we are!" "It is not yet, it is not yet manifested what we shall be, but we know that when He shall be manifested we shall be like Him" that's John. And Paul just butts in there and says, "Yes, foreordained to be conformed to His image... the image of His Son... we shall be like Him". The consummation of the Spirit's work is in sons conformed to the image of God's Son. That is what He is doing now, bringing in the sons, bringing them to birth, born of the Spirit, training them as sons, "God dealeth with us as with sons..." perfecting sonship.
I do wish, dear friends, that this could come to you with due force; that you could really get hold of this. This is not just teaching and truth, it is the most wonderful thing that has ever been revealed in God's universe. This is grace, this is mercy, this is power, this is wisdom: everything of God, All-Wise, All-Knowing, All-Gracious, is centred in this bringing many sons to glory. It holds the centre of the stage of this universe. Presently I shall say something more about that from another angle, but this afternoon, it is just to get in view the object: the great meaning of Pentecost.
Oh, how we have limited Pentecost... how we have put the emphasis in the wrong place! Yes, with the best of motives, seeing the great importance of the Holy Spirit, rightly seeing the great importance, we have put our emphasis all in one place, all along certain exclusive lines. All the lines, all the lines and all the emphases focus here: the Holy Spirit of God from creation to consummation is occupied with one thing - making for God a family of sons conformed to the image of His Son. That explains everything and all His dealings with us. The Lord write the object deeply in our hearts.