by T. Austin-Sparks
In the book of the Acts, chapter 2, and the first verse: "And when the day of Pentecost was in the course of fulfilment" or, "being fulfilled". We are, in these gatherings, having our attention taken up with the crisis of Pentecost and the significance of the Holy Spirit; we continue with that this morning.
Now, when we take up the Bible we find that there are two books which are the seed plot from which many succeeding generations take their character and their explanation. They are the two books of genesis, one in the Old Testament (which in the English Version goes by that name) the other in the New Testament which goes by the name of the Acts. You must remember that the writer of this second book never gave to it the title of "The Acts of the Apostles". To him it was simply The Acts. Others have appended definitions. In that very fact you have the first similarity of beginnings, genesis: the books of the acts of the Lord.
Both of these books, one in the Old Testament and the other in the New, are books of the beginnings of creation. The first, the beginnings of the material creation. The second, the beginnings of the new and spiritual creation. That is a very simple statement, but it is one to keep in mind always, because, especially this book of the Acts is so often taken up on its fragments, its parts, its components, and looked at, and handled, and dealt with, as things in themselves. We preach on the various incidents; spend a lot of time with the details of the book, the chapters and their contents, the movements and the happenings. That is quite right and we shall continue to do so more and more, but we shall be particularly helped if we always keep this in mind: that this whole book is a book of genesis, as truly a book of genesis in the New Creation, as the other is the book of genesis in the material creation.
No one would take one part of the Old Testament book and look upon it (I refer to the first chapters particularly) as something in itself. We look upon all that we have there in the first two chapters of Genesis as of one piece; all making up the creation. We have to do that with the book of the Acts... to see that everything here belongs to this new order which has been introduced on the Day of Pentecost.
Both of these books follow a certain clearly defined line, the same line. The one in material things, but the other exactly the same line in spiritual things, the spiritual principles are the same in both books. In the one those principles are perhaps hidden, enshrined, embodied in temporal things, in material things, in earthly things. In the other they are manifestly spiritual things; we might say, nakedly spiritual things, but in principle they are identical. That is for one simple reason, and yet profound reason: that they both come from One Mind. They both emanate from a single Mind with a single purpose. There is not one purpose in the material creation and another in the new creation. Behind them both is the one thought, and one purpose, as I think we shall see.
Now, if you just make a summary of some of the major features of the beginnings in the Old Testament, it is not difficult to make your transition to the New. That we shall do. In the Old Testament book you have these seven beginnings, the beginning of the revelation of God. The fact of God, and the knowledge of God. Begin there. Secondly, the fact and the layout, or constitution, or order of the universe. Thirdly, the fact of the nature of man. Fourthly, the fact of corporate life and its nature. Fifthly, the fact and nature of sin. Sixthly, the cause and the occasion of nations. And lastly, the promise and the principles of salvation. All those seven things are at their beginning in the book of Genesis in the Old Testament.
In our thought, then, we pass over to the book of the Acts, and here we are confronted with that first and primary fact of the Bible, unmistakable:
"In the Beginning God"
"In the beginning... God..." that's where the Bible begins, that's where the old creation begins, with the primary fact of God. You will remember that when the apostle Paul made his so-rich, full statement that, "In Christ Jesus there is a new creation; the old things have passed away, and all have become new", he was careful to add: "but all things are of God". As truly in the New Creation as in the old, it begins with God. It all comes out of God and when we come to this book of the Acts, we are encountering God at every point and at every turn. It is God with whom we have to do, in this book. In the days of these happenings, these many wonderful happenings, that was the thing that was being brought home more and more to everybody, the encounter with God.
And we might just pause to remember that in the Old Testament statement, "In the beginning God", the word is "Elohim" the Triune God. The Triune God, it is the plural term for God. You come to the book of the Acts there is no doubt about it that you are dealing with the Triune God and They are so one, and yet so distinct, that sometimes you don't know which of the Trinity you are dealing with. There's no doubt you're dealing with God the Father here, for the book begins with the ascension, or receiving up of the Lord Jesus. And all the teaching about that is that "God raised Him from the dead, and set Him at His own right hand". The position in which you find the Lord Jesus throughout this book, is the direct act of God. And to take the words of the writer of the Hebrew letter, "And of the Son he saith, Thy throne, oh God". And it was just at least the possibility that it might be so that brought that pause when Gamaliel warned, warned and said: "Let these men alone. If this thing be of God, you might be found fighting against God!" We would like to think that it was not just a philosophical statement, a bit of human wisdom, but that Gamaliel was seeing, or discerning, or sensing something in this movement that was more than human, but whether that was so or not, the fact remained and remains, that what we have here is the encounter with God and God's encounter with man. On the one side, it did prove to be fighting against God and there are few people in this record who found that that is, at least, a precarious thing to do. Herod, outstandingly, found that: "The Lord smote him". Ananias and Sapphira discovered that. Simon, the sorcerer, discovered this fact: that here it is not just God's representatives, not apostles, not a new teaching, not a new religious system, not a new cult, but God. Immediately, directly: God!
Dear friends, we do not hurry on just to accumulate truth and material. I'm sure you agree that the need today, above all needs, is that men should encounter God in the church, encounter God in the preaching, that it should be the bringing of God into the scene and the situation; the impact of God, the Triune God. We need to recover that sense when we meet together, for when they met together, that was the dominating consciousness, and when others came in, they fell down and said: "God is in the midst of you!" In the beginning, God..." out of that everything takes its rise and its character.
We are dealing with God. It is a very solemn thing, a very solemn thing. Should it be less real now than it was then? Is this another dispensation? Have we moved out of the dispensation of the Holy Spirit, of the book of the Acts? No, we are still in that age. We are still under that aegis, but, oh, for this recovery, this restoration, of the tremendous solemnity of the personal Presence of God in everything.
Of course we believe these things, but we take so much for granted, don't we? We assume so much... If we had the consciousness that they had of God, the presence of God, the Spirit of God... if our belief was a living belief, which means that the thing was real to us, how much more careful we should be, we would take the warnings from these tragedies of this book and walk softly before God. That's on the one side, there's a warning in this. Any company of people, be they but one hundred and twenty (for that was all in that room at that time, just one hundred and twenty; might be even fewer) you don't have to have one hundred and twenty, you can have a dozen or less, but any company anointed with the Holy Spirit has to be regarded as having the presence of God, as meaning that God is there. And as it worked out in this book, not only in the company and the companies, but in the individuals, the individuals! And they were not all apostles of the twelve; that is why you dare not call this book "The Acts of the Apostles", because the apostles are hardly mentioned; only one or two of them figure in this book. People who do figure here in outstanding service were not apostles, but they were filled with the Holy Spirit; they were anointed and what resulted was that when men met them, they met God, and had to reckon with God. To touch them was to touch God! Pentecost means that, you see, right at the beginning. It is the beginning of things, it's the beginning of things and you get nowhere until this is recognised, for all comes out of this - the beginning is God.
Let us pray earnestly for a recovery and restoration of the sense, and power, and holiness of God... in our own personal lives, in our personal lives: "Know ye not that your bodies are a temple of God?" That's personal or individual. To the same people the apostle addressed a word as to them corporate: "Know ye not that ye are a temple of the Holy Ghost?" That's corporate, a company in Corinth. Now, in the Old Testament, we do know especially at the beginning, before the great apostasy, what the Tabernacle and the Temple meant in this respect: the Presence of God. It was glorious! It was joyous, but it was terrible - it was terrible! Now, we speak about that side, because it is very important, dear friends, that we have a new sense of God, but on the other side, the presence of the Lord, in His presence... in His presence... there is joy, there is gladness. When the Lord filled the Sanctuary, the song began, the Song of the Lord began.
Well, I need not, and I am not going to enlarge upon this, the first of these many features of beginnings, out of which everything else comes, but notice first, the primary factor in the New Creation, is God. There is nothing cheap about this; nothing common-place about God; nothing ordinary about God. Perhaps our God is too small. Perhaps we have made Him like ourselves, and we do! We do think of the Lord as being according to our own minds. I so often have to remind people who come to me, and tell me of their deplorable state: that they have done this, and done that or they have failed to do this and that, and therefore they have fallen out of the favour of God, and they have lost their salvation. And when I come to say, "What is it you've done?" They focus it all down on to some fault, some mistake, some thing. And I have to say, "Is that the size of your God? Is He no bigger than that? Is He not capable to deal with a thing like that? To handle a matter like that? He has been handling tens of millions of things like that all through the centuries, and clearing them up. Is He so small as your one delinquency? Is that the size of your God?" And I know in many other respects, dear friends, we need to get the true dimensions of God as the background of everything. We will not get through unless He is an adequate Lord, unless He is God over all. And that's what this book has as its background.
The second characteristic or feature of the creation, of the two creations, is:
The Brooding Spirit.
"The Spirit of God brooded over the face of the deep..." that's the Old Testament statement. When you come to the book of the Acts, you cannot but, if you are entering into the spirit of it, the atmosphere of it, dwelling with it, not just reading on to read a book, or a story, a narrative - if you're quietly thinking and feeling your way from the beginning, giving time, you cannot but feel that in chapter one of this book (and there were no chapters when Luke wrote it, it just moves quietly from phase to phase in one unbroken narrative) that in what is in our arrangement "chapter one", there is a pause... but a very pregnant pause. There is... something suspended and something going to happen. I think if you had been with the one hundred and twenty there, that would have been the thing that you would have felt: we are in a kind of parenthesis, we are in a pause. We are holding our breath; something is going to happen... there's something, as we would say, "in the air".
It is only in the book of the Acts, remember, that we know anything about the forty days after the resurrection. Although Luke wrote his Gospel, and brought us to the time of the Lord's ascension, he never said anything about the forty days, plus ten. When he wrote the "Acts", he put that in - a period between two periods; a parenthesis, but a waiting, an expectation, a wondering... a sense of something going to happen. I am quite sure that that is exactly what obtained in the Old Testament when, over the chaos the Spirit brooded. It was just not negative, nebulous, abstract, there was something of a tension, something there with a meaning, something positive in its way - something's going to happen! Whether that was so or not, there is no doubt about it here.
This waiting, this waiting, this tarrying commanded by the Lord - tarrying in Jerusalem - was a tarrying which had a positive element in it. You see, if you're waiting for something, that you have been told it is going to happen, you might go out shopping while you are waiting. You might take a walk around in the country while you're waiting. Well, we have got to wait, see you're just waiting, that's all, and so you occupy the time. But they were not like that. They were on poise. They were together, it says; they were all together. They are under the government of something that is about to take place, "the brooding Spirit", creating this sense of suspense, if you like, even tension. But note again the correspondence in the Old Testament in the first material creation, the Spirit brooded over a state of chaos, of un-order (forgive me creating a word, I prefer it to "disorder") un-order. If you look at everything from the moment that the Lord Jesus was crucified, died, you find something akin to chaos. All integration has been lost. Things have gone to pieces! No one knows what to do, where to go, how to behave. There is no pattern, no plan, no ability to do anything. Everybody is governed by one big question: "What does it all mean? Where is it leading?" Well, in mind and heart they were truly in chaos. You can see it, all of them like that. No order, no system; no assurance, certainty, confidence; all at a loss to know what to do. The Spirit brooding over it all... So it was as this New Creation is about to be brought into being.
I wonder what was happening during that pause of fifty days. Of course, from the Old Testament we have some indications from the types, that is, the presenting of the first-fruits to God before the harvest. We have all that, but have we not something more than that? I trust this is not imagination, I think there is Scripture for this. There is that statement made by the writer of the Hebrew letter about the Lord Jesus (and you know that that letter is about Him, and particularly in its beginnings, about the Son, the Son) "And having tasted death, and been made perfect through suffering, was crowned with glory and honour..." there is this statement: "Whom He appointed heir of all things". "Whom He appointed heir of all things..." that appointment may have been made before the first creation, but it would seem to be like this: that, before God came out in creative activity in the first creation, before He began what we have in that first book of the Bible and its first chapters, He had appointed His Son Heir of all things. Then, "through whom He made the worlds." The creation demanded and required that the Son should be in the Divinely appointed place. Nothing can be done until that happens. He was the Heir! A usurper came in and stole the inheritance, but the Son came forth and cast out the usurper, and recovered the inheritance in His cross, and now takes His place, Divinely appointed place, as Heir of all things. And from that the Spirit of God proceeds to secure unto Him a new creation in Christ Jesus. What was happening during those ten days, in particular? We have intimations that even during the forty days He was appearing in the Presence of the Father, but we'll not make everything of that. During the ten days after He had gone, was He taking His place, Divinely appointed from all eternity? Was He being given the place of God's right hand, which was His by right - the Heir of all things? I think that's what the Word teaches very clearly, that's what is happening. And when He is in His place, as the heir of the whole created universe, the Spirit begins the New Creation in Christ Jesus. The rest of this book is the Spirit proceeding to give to the Son His rights in this universe.
The Appointing of the Heir of All Things...
From eternity, through redemption, now installed forever... We will have more to say about that probably, later on, but note: so soon as the Son, the Heir, is in His place established, where Stephen saw Him, the Son of Man... (wonderful thing... that is the only time, after Jesus used that title of Himself, that it is used in the New Testament: Son of Man), standing at the right hand of God. Where Paul saw Him, seated on the right hand of the Majesty in the heavens. When He is there, the Heir in His place, the suspense is ended, the parenthesis is blotted out, the Spirit comes. And what a breaking of suspense it must have been! What shattering of tension! It is as though everything in the universe said: "This is what we have been waiting for!" And when we say that, what an abundance of Scripture rushes in: "the promise of the Father", "the promise made to Abraham", "the promise made to David"... all fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost, the promise was the promise of the Spirit. "The promise made to Abraham, that we might receive..." or "that upon the Gentiles might come the promise..." that we might receive the Spirit.
When He is there, the suspense is broken. Our brother was saying something to us yesterday afternoon about this. It's still true; it's still true in spiritual experience, your life and my life may be in a state of suspense. The Lord may have purpose... the Lord may be wanting... the Lord may be, on His side, prepared... but the Son is not in His place and everything is in suspense. How much is held up on this one thing: that Jesus is not yet absolutely Lord! He is Saviour... ah, yes, but that's what we get! We're quite happy about Him being Saviour, because that's for us! Lord means what He gets. And it isn't always so pleasant. Do you notice this book is just the book of the absolute Lordship of Jesus Christ? As they went down before Him, as they proclaimed Him - Jesus Christ as Lord - something broke. Something broke. It's a principle, dear friends of the spiritual life, the individual spiritual life.
The Lordship of Jesus Christ is the key to so much release... so much release. And what is true of the individual may be true of a company of the Lord's people anywhere. In the company together, as a whole, without one of its parts standing out, resisting, rebelling, acting contrary... where there's a company with Jesus as Lord completely, you will find release. But where it is not so, there's suspense; there's suspense. The Lord just cannot find His way, He cannot go on, He is bound by this is the Spirit, the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ. He's bound to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. He's committed to that. He will not depart from it and He will have it utter, and He will say, "Yes, on seven points you acknowledge it and accept it, but there are three points where you don't. Or nine points, but there is one point where you don't."
Many of you, if you did not know him, know of him, when I speak of Dr. F. B. Meyer - a man greatly used of God, undoubtedly. And those of us who knew him personally, knew the fragrance of Christ in that life. Do you know how he came to be such a fragrant life, and such a used servant? He tells his own story, indeed, he was never tired of telling his own story, giving his own testimony, and it's on record now. And I heard him tell it personally. He said, "Up to a point in my life as a minister, I was very earnest, I was very sincere. I gave myself with all my might to preaching, and to working for God... And there was a considerable amount of blessing. But I knew that it was not all well; in my own heart I knew there was something that was standing in the way of what I felt ought to be the fullness of the Spirit. I longed for the fullness of the Spirit, I prayed for the fullness of the Spirit, and this great craving and longing steadily brought me lower and lower until the day came when I cast myself at the feet of the Master, and said, 'Lord, I hand up the keys of my life, and put them into Your hands.'" He said, "The Lord looked at the bunch of keys, and said, 'There is one missing!'" One missing! He said, "I thought I was getting away with it with the Lord. I thought that I was going to get through, and I knew about that one key in my life that I hadn't included, that I had kept back, that I had taken off the bunch and was holding in reserve. And the Lord knew it as well, and the Lord said, 'We're not going to get any further until you bring that key. Oh, there is a large bunch of keys, all this you offer Me... all these things you will do for Me, and be for Me, but... but.... And the whole is held up for the one thing. We're not going to get through until it is a complete surrender.'"
Now, I happen to know what that one key was, I'm not going to mention it because it might not be your key at all. It might just divert the point and you'd say, "Oh well, that's not my trouble!" Ah, but it might be something else. But Meyer let go... he broke there and he said, "Lord, here it is. You take it. I give it. I have nothing more in reserve." That day the blessing came into his life, and a wonderful blessing it was, for he got a new lease of life for twenty years - twenty years. And some of us saw the tremendous change that took place at that point, and what was afterward of fruitfulness.
Now, I am not concentrating upon the matter of an experience like that, but I am simply concentrating upon the principle of the old and the new creation. It is the heir of ALL things - not nine-tenths, but all things in His place as Heir. "Whom He appointed heir of..." not this and that, and a few things, or many things, or most things, but all things. When that is so, the Spirit proceeds as He did at that time. Jesus was Lord.
And I may not stay with too much detail, but you, if you will just look into it, will see that there were two sides to this matter. There was what took place in heaven in the exalting and the instating of Jesus as Lord. But you know, there had been quite a lot of things amongst these very people, the hundred and twenty, even the twelve, that they were not prepared to let go of. Some had said: "Um, Lord, we have forsaken all for Thy sake, what shall we have? What shall we have? What are we going to get out of it?" There had been an enquiry for the top place in the Kingdom, a quest for that, you see. There were jealousies and rivalries and it all amounted to personal interest, didn't it? Personal interest, even in the Kingdom of God. The Lordship of Jesus had to come upon all that, come upon all that. When that was settled, the Spirit went on.
If we would take one further feature this morning, and it is quite clear that we are not going to get through this morning... when you are dealing with a universe you want more than an hour or so! But the next, the third feature in these creations, is what we may call the "Divine fiat".
The Divine Fiat
And God said, "Let light be! And there was light". That is in the old material creation, the starting point of real activity down here. When things are right in the presence of God, the Son is in His place, in His appointment, then down here things begin. And there was this Divine fiat: "And God said, Let light be, and there was light". We can leave the Old Testament, and see the correspondence to this in Acts.
There is no mistaking this, that the Day of Pentecost was a day of revelation, of marvellous illumination. Why, immediately Peter stood up with the eleven, he said: "Men of Israel, be it known unto you..." That's a new movement for Peter, "Be it known unto you..." the day of the beginning of a new revelation. And then you go through his discourse, his discourse; what a revelation is in it! He's taking up the Old Testament.
If Peter had really seen all this before Calvary, he would never have denied his Lord, but it's broken upon him now, and he begins to use the Old Testament in an all together new way. The book has become alive and alight! "These are not drunken as ye suppose, but this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel." This is that! That's something new to Peter; he knew Joel, but he had never "seen" Joel. And he goes on, goes on with David. What a large section in that discourse there is about David, David; what David said, and what the Lord said to David, leading right up to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. David saying, "Thou wilt not leave my soul in Sheol, neither wilt thou suffer thy Holy One to see corruption" and Peter says, "All this is before you now fulfilled!" His Bible has leapt into life and light. God had said, "Let light be!" - the Spirit of revelation had come! His eyes were opened and how profound is his insight when he says that the things which had happened at Jerusalem were all according to... what? "The determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God." "Oh, Peter! Peter! You denied the Lord Jesus because you were afraid that you might be involved in the trouble. Peter! Is it you speaking? That all that which caused you the utmost consternation, and made you go to the utmost limits to save yourself from being involved in it, is it you speaking, Peter? 'This was according to the foreknowledge, pre-determinate counsel of God...' this was all planned and met long, long before it happened, in the counsels of God?" Yes, truly, this was the day of the breaking of the light for a new creation.
Now, that is not all words, friends, it's not all words. Believe me, it is true. It is true to principle. It is! There is such a thing as the Bible leaping into life, which was a closed book. And because it was a closed book, it never led you, it never saved you, it never meant very much to you. But something happens, something happens, God said, "Let there be light!" and the Bible becomes a new book, what we call "an open heaven". It lives. It lives, it throbs. Many things still we don't understand, but the thing is living. Our understanding is growing. There is light.
I bid you read this discourse of Peter again, and see, the light that this man has got from the Bible, and in the Bible! It is just wonderful, just wonderful! There it is: the Spirit brooding. The Heir in His place. The Divine fiat, "Let there be light" and there was light. The effects...
The very first effect of the Holy Spirit's coming at Pentecost over this scene and in this realm of, to begin with, the one hundred and twenty, and then moving out. The first effect was to change all their sense of disorder or un-order, and chaos, into a mighty sense of purpose and plan. They're now an integrated people. They are now a one people. I want to dwell more fully upon that at some time, but they are not all fragments, bits scattered here and there. They are not only gathered in one upper room, they are gathered now under one mighty Spirit making them inwardly a unit. And what is it that does it? By the Spirit they have become possessed of this consciousness: "We are in a mighty movement God, in a mighty going of God, in a mighty plan of God. There's meaning in life; there's meaning in things." Very simple, but there it is.
You don't get anywhere until you have this sense, this strong sense, that you are called according to purpose. And you never have that sense until the Holy Spirit comes in. And the Holy Spirit never comes in until Jesus is Lord. That's the sequence of things.
The sense that we are now, we are now saved from a state of disruption, and disintegration, and emptiness, and void - meaninglessness - we are now in something, we are in something! Oh, that every life, and every young life here this morning might come under this, this tremendous effect of the Holy Spirit, that you become governed by a sense that God has called you for something, laid hold of you for something, that there's a meaning in things; that you're in a movement and a purpose of God. Have you got that? It's an early thing, where Jesus is Lord. It's an early thing where the Holy Spirit is in possession.
Meaning and purpose, then order. I am following, mark you, the Old Testament line. After the meaningfulness came in to that erstwhile, meaningless creation, or state, then a new order began to emerge - a wonderful order, a beautiful order... what the prophet calls, "the ordinances of the heavens, and the ordinances of the earth". A beautiful order about everything, isn't there? It's an ordered creation. And when you get order you always get growth. Order and growth come together.
We do know that disorder is a very paralysing thing. Disorder... well, if it means growth at all, it means the growth of more disorder, and confusion, and regrets. But a real Divine order produces a wonderful development, increase. So it was in the natural creation, so it is in the spiritual. Look at Acts... not through this second chapter, so-called, before you find it: "And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' teaching, in fellowship, in breaking of bread, and in prayers". Lovely order introduced and it goes on. And growth... and growth. So it should be under the aegis of the Holy Spirit: fruitfulness and reproduction. Surely they are characteristics of the book of the Acts, aren't they? Spontaneous fruitfulness and reproduction. There's a striking absence of a lot of things from this book that men today think necessary to get results and fruit reproduced - no mention of any organised campaigns, no mention of any machinery set up, no mention of any committees or boards; no mention of all these things - it happened! It came about... spontaneous fruitfulness and spontaneous reproduction. Very beautiful and very simple, and not very costly in terms of material things. Tremendous expenditure there is to get a little result, but here it is. Oh, for recovery of this!
We will have to pray again, very much and earnestly about this whole matter, and seek from the Lord whether this is right doctrine or not, I don't know and I don't care, but let us seek from the Lord a renewed fiat from heaven, a renewed act of God to bring this new creation on to the basis and ground that it was on at the beginning, and make it possible for us really and honestly and truly to say "As it was in the beginning, is now... and ever shall be". We must break off there, not half-way through that section, but it is enough for the present.