The Lord's Assembly - Part 1
by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 1 - Its Constitution and Nature

Reading: Exodus 35:1 - 40:38.

I think first of all for the Bible Students I would like to say a few general things about these five chapters by way of giving you a basis for study. There are five things that can be said about these chapters.

First of all they are a comprehensive representation of Christ as tabernacling among us.

Secondly, they are a detailed definition of the testimony of Jesus.

Thirdly, they are a typical setting forth of the Body of Christ, the Church, in (1) its object; (2) its nature; (3) its ministry.

Fourthly, they are a most valuable disclosure of the spiritual principles of the life and service of the people of God.

Fifthly, they are a complete embodiment of Christian doctrine.

Now that is fairly comprehensive. While I have no thought of going into all that here, we shall be touching it in a general way.

We come to chapter 35. But before we can deal with the content of these chapters we must remind ourselves of the background and main setting, and the ultimate thing which is in view, and that can be stated in this way. What we have here is one of those breakings into this world of the God of glory. God has broken into this world at different intervals in its history and this is one of those breakings in of the God of glory. You read back immediately before this and you have God descending from the heavens, breaking through to the mount and meeting His servant there at a place mid-way between heaven and earth with a purpose concerning this world. The glory of the God of Israel fell upon Moses and he brought it down out of the Divine presence into this world, and it was reflected in his face as the mediator between God and man.

Then the purpose of that breaking through and breaking in of the God of glory was unto the setting up, or constituting of a vessel for His testimony. That there should be here that which according to His own mind was for Him the instrument of His self-manifestation, and typically it was in Christ. It was to be in effect God here manifesting Himself in His heavenly power and glory amongst the nations, registering in the earth His own sovereign supremacy. Now that is the setting of all this and brings us back to the whole theme of this conference; the testimony and its vessel. With that background clearly before us we are able to come to this section of the book from chapter 35. Here the mediator of the Divine glory is before the people with that glory shining forth from his countenance, and we listen to his first utterances. I am quite sure that your minds have already leaped on to another dispensation, and you are in 2 Corinthians 3 and 4, the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ shining in our hearts, and we have this ministry. I mention it to remind you of the link and to indicate immediately what it is we are after.

The Assembly Constituted upon the Sabbath of God

Now the first utterances of the mediator upon whom rests the glory of God: "And Moses assembled all the congregation of the children of Israel, and said unto them, These are the words which Jehovah hath commanded, that ye should do them. Six days shall work be done; but on the seventh day there shall be to you a holy day, a sabbath of solemn rest to Jehovah: whosoever doeth any work therein shall be put to death. Ye shall kindle no fire throughout your habitations upon the sabbath day."

Be reminded again of what is in view, a vessel for the testimony, the heavenly testimony of God in Christ. That is going to be constituted, constructed; and the first words which lead up to the constituting relate to the Sabbath, and that carries with it a very great and important truth, that the Sabbath is the ground upon which the tent of meeting will be constructed. That is the ground upon which it can be constructed, and the only ground upon which it can be constructed, because that Sabbath represents the end of the works of God and the entering by man into the finished works of God, and only a man of rest can build the House of God. Solomon was a man of peace, or rest, and because he was such he could build the House. His father David, having been a man of war, was forbidden on that ground to build. The vessel of the testimony can only be constituted on the ground and principle that those who have a part in it have come definitely and finally to rest in the perfected works of God.

We have been seeing in these gatherings that the testimony and its instrument have a specific relationship to the whole kingdom of hostile forces, principalities and powers and world-rulers of this darkness, and so on, and that in that realm the establishing or maintenance of the testimony represents terrific conflict, warfare, wrestling, and the only hope of the triumph of the testimony, the coming through to finality of the instrument of the testimony, is that before ever it enters into the conflict it has the victory in hand, it is at rest in the perfect assurance that the end has already been secured.

Uncertainty, A Satanic Strategy

We have covered ground like that many times here but it has not been covered too often, I do not know that it can be covered too often. One of the enemy's most successful activities against the testimony and its vessel is to bring about uncertainty, unrest, and a lack of assurance as to relationship to the Lord, and as to the Lord's relationship to them. In many ways he seeks to create that state, that condition; introspection, self-analysis, self-judgment, self-occupation, the accusations of the enemy, the bringing of feelings and impressions to bear upon one's soul, the wrapping round of the mind with blankets of uncertainty and doubt and questionings. All manner of means are used to break in upon the restful, confident, assurance of faith in relation to the Lord; by fears and forebodings; and mark you, beloved, there is nothing which will paralyse the Lord's servants so quickly and so utterly as fear. In this connection the Apostle, would say to us: "And in nothing affrighted by the adversaries." The Adversary would get us affrighted, and if he does that we are paralysed, we are helpless, it means that we have lost the Sabbath.

The Sabbath in principle is a spiritual state, not a period of time, a spiritual state into which we have entered, a state of restful assurance that God has reached the end of all His works and has nothing more to do, has secured finality in Himself and in His Son, and it is a matter of the apprehension of the completeness of Calvary's work which brings rest, assurance; and you cannot fight and you cannot build until you come there. People who have not come there are useless as vessels of the testimony. Now, if we are always fretful and worried and agitated and restless and concerned about our spiritual life, about our acceptance, our standing, our fellowship, and the Lord's attitude toward us, and there is a state of disturbance in our spirit, well, we cannot touch this building, we have no place in the constituting of this vessel: we must come there first.

That is something to immediately lead us to exercise before the Lord; and so it is simply that the mediator with the light of the glory of God upon his face, speaks first of all in relation to the setting up of this vessel of the testimony about the Sabbath.

Man's Natural Interests Cease on the Sabbath

Did it strike you as strange that one thing about the Sabbath was emphasised? Elsewhere you may have many other things said about the prohibitions of the Sabbath, but only one is mentioned here. "Ye shall kindle no fire throughout your habitations upon the Sabbath day." It is the only one. The Holy Spirit, of course, knows exactly what He means and what He is doing when He singles out a thing like that and makes it the only thing in relation to the Sabbath. What does the Holy Spirit intend to say by that? As far as I can see (I will be glad if you can help me with more light, doubtless you can) that kindling of fire in the habitations represents looking after your own comfort. It is the personal, natural interests, comforts and pleasures which are represented by that, and what the Holy Spirit says here is, that if you are going to constitute the vessel, build the tent of meeting, the Sabbath means for you an end of all personal, natural interests, the setting aside of self-consideration. I look elsewhere in the Scripture to see if I am borne out by the Word of God and I think undoubtedly I am borne out by the Word in Is. 58:13: "If thou turn away thy foot from the Sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on My holy day; and call the Sabbath a delight, and the holy of Jehovah honorable; and shalt honor it, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words; then shalt thou delight thyself in Jehovah: and I will make thee to ride upon the high places of the earth; and I will feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of Jehovah hath spoken it." We are borne out are we not?

To know what spiritual ascendency is in the testimony, to be on the high places, the uplands, moral elevation, the places above only and not beneath, means first of all we have to enter into God's rest in His completed work and then cease from our own personal, selfish interests and pleasures. Self goes out on the Sabbath. That is simple enough, but it is a principle basic to all that follows in the testimony and its vessel. It means that our labours and our self-interest are ended in Christ's mediatorial work, and that tabernacle service demands rest Godward. So we see the significance of these first utterances of Moses.

The Assembly is for God's Pleasure

Now we go on in the chapter and we see what a fine state of things prevailed here. The whole assembly is moved in response to God's pleasure. If you like, run your blue pencil underneath the constantly recurrent words and see the willing-heartedness here, two things going together, a willing heart and a wise heart. I am tremendously impressed with the recurrence of that word "willing." A willing heart, a willing spirit, everyone whose heart made him willing, everyone whose spirit stirred him up; they are all moving in response to God's pleasure, for everything here is unto the Lord. The Lord has made known what He would desire and you must notice that it is not a command from the Lord that is here. In another place the Lord commands to bring the offerings; offerings are commanded because when it is a matter of sacrifices there is no fellowship with God without, and therefore it is a matter of command and demand, and the Lord commands that they should be brought; but here you are setting up a vessel for the testimony which is something for God's pleasure, God's heart satisfaction, and the Lord does not command that these things be brought, He simply says: "Whosoever is of a willing heart, let him bring..." This is voluntary activity for the pleasure of God, and it is that which gives character to this whole thing.

The beauty of it all is that there is a spontaneous movement of all hearts for God's pleasure. It is a heart movement. Now I think we shall have to recover this feature in relation to the testimony of the Lord Jesus and our being vessels. I am afraid we have regarded it as somewhat onerous to be vessels of the testimony, something imposed upon us, something required of us which is a demand so difficult to meet; a requirement so hard for us to respond to; and we vessels of the testimony go about so often with faces as though we were carrying the weight of the universe upon our shoulders because we are in this testimony, because the testimony is entrusted to us and deposited in us. I may be just as guilty as anybody else of that failure, and so I need talking to as much as or more than anyone else, and I am being talked to here - and allowing myself to be thoroughly dressed down, I feel perfectly at liberty to press this upon you!

When we think of the Apostle Paul of whom we have been speaking earlier in the day, as the representative vessel of the testimony, well, with one exception, no one who has ever borne the testimony had to pay a higher price than he did. It has cost no one more than it cost him, but it is marvellous how even at the end, writing from his prison in Rome, where, being looked at from the outside, people might have said: "Poor old Paul, his work is done"; he is sending out: "Rejoice in the Lord always: again I will say, Rejoice." That Philippian letter throbs with joy, and shall we not say that that was the testimony. The power of the testimony is in that: "As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing"; "Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instantly in prayer." We may not be there, beloved, but we are here tonight to try and help one another in these matters, and it is the heart response to the Lord's pleasure which will give the testimony so much power. This is to the Lord's pleasure, and it becomes a heart matter with us.

Oh, that the Lord would just put more of this spirit into us, into me, where things are more fully and continuously looked at in the light of the Lord's pleasure, and everything is done out of a heart which responds to the pleasure of the Lord. The doing of the will of God by the Lord Jesus was a thing which cost Him intense anguish, it meant terrific conflict, a wrestling and resisting unto blood, and yet He says: "I delight to do thy will, O my God." Two things going together all the time, a consciousness of the cost, the suffering, pain, anguish, and yet because it is unto the Lord's satisfaction, something very much is in the nature of joy in suffering. And if there is that apprehension of the Lord's delight it takes a good deal of the sting out of the suffering.

These people were going to be called upon to produce all sorts of precious things. That is, this was going to lead to their bringing of that which meant their foregoing, their sacrificing that which perhaps to them naturally would be precious. But anything in the nature of yielding, sacrificing, giving and letting go was deprived of regret or pain or pang by the very fact that they were responding in heart to the Lord's pleasure. It was unto the Lord's pleasure. Now without adding words to this, let us ask the Lord to give us a greater delight in His testimony, a greater joy in bearing the testimony, though it be at great cost. We must pray for more joy even in the midst of suffering, for that is the testimony. Well, it was the heart response to the Lord's pleasure.

Love Produces the Materials

Then the third thing. When the heart was moved they found all that was necessary and required. I can imagine that when all the requirements had been outlined by Moses, the gold and the silver and the brass, the precious stones, the various materials, if these people had had no heart-response to the Lord and His pleasure, they might well have doubt as to whether they had got any of these things, and you would have heard them saying: "I do not know whether I have got any of those things at all"; "I am not sure that I can answer to those requirements"; "I do not think that I can do anything in this matter." They would perhaps not have known what they had got, and if they had got it they would have forgotten all about it, or it would have been somewhere where they could not find it! You see what I am getting at? But because the heart was in this thing they had all that was necessary. All the material was produced from the affections. It is wonderful, beloved, what we can discover that we have in the Lord Jesus when our hearts are aglow for Him and for the Father's satisfaction. I mean those people who really have a heart devotion to, and delight in the Lord, are always discovering treasures which they are bringing out all the time for the satisfaction of the Lord. And people whose hearts are cold never bring out any of those treasures; they do not know that they have got them.

To the Corinthians the Apostle said: "In everything ye were enriched in him," but it takes love to discover that, what those riches are; love for the Lord. You will not, in the time of worship, have to scour through your Bible to find some passage of Scripture that will suit the occasion to be your contribution. If your heart is aglow to the Lord you will have something spontaneous to offer in the hour of worship, and if your heart is aglow to the Lord you will discover that you are richer in spiritual possessions than you thought you were and you will always have something to give.

The Features of Christ

You see everything here of these various and numerous things mentioned were related to the Lord Jesus in type, for there can be nothing to the satisfaction of God apart from the Lord Jesus. They all were different phases and aspects of Christ; gold, silver, brass and fine linen, all these things were types of some aspects of Christ in His person and work, and people discover those things because of their heart-relationship to the Lord's pleasure; and our heart-relationship to the Lord will be our means of discovering what we have of Christ and in Christ, and we will be constantly making those discoveries. You find the person who is just full of love for the Lord, whose heart is burning and throbbing with love for the Lord, they have always got to tell you something about the preciousness of the Lord, they are always seeing the glory of their Lord from a different angle and giving you a different facet. People whose hearts are not so aglow with the Lord have not much to say about Him and cannot give very much. You see the principle, it was all produced, it all came, and we are told they brought more than was required and they had to stop the bringing! We have not reached that stage yet. The Lord make that symbolism a speedy realisation. But you see the possibilities of delighting in the Lord. Oh, how it makes the testimony grow. This is the testimony. Before there can be any outward expression there must be an inward relationship. All outward ministry must be the result of an inward state with the Lord. And it is a great thing, beloved, a great thing to have our ministry as the spontaneous expression of our personal delight in the Lord. That carries weight, that is the testimony.

Now the fact is that every child of God has got all in Christ that they can have. It is true of all children of God as it was true of the Corinthians that "in everything... enriched in him" but it wants love to discover it; heart devotion to the Lord to find out that it is so. So let us ask the Lord to increase with our joy, our love for Himself.

The fourth thing. The assembly and the testimony are constituted by the heart product of Christ. That is, all this that now comes into being and is set up on the earth is just the accumulation, the bringing together of the individual heart exercises in the appreciation of the Lord Jesus, and that defines what God's assembly is. What is the assembly? It is not just a congregation, it is not just the coming together of people for services, meetings, conferences, public worship and so on. The assembly is the bringing together on the part of a company of the Lord's people, of the features of the Lord Jesus so that as the Father looks down He sees His Son befeatured by that company. This one has brought the gold, and that one the silver, and another the brass, another the fine linen, and another the blue, another the scarlet, another the purple, and each one has brought their own apprehension and appreciation of the Lord Jesus, and these things being put together constitute the assembly, and the Father looks down and sees the Son; that is the testimony of Jesus in the earth. That is Christ tabernacling amongst us. That is the tent of meeting, and what the Lord is looking for is Christ as represented by the assemblies of His people. That is the nature of the assembly. And the Lord is working to that.

As we follow on the Lord leads out in exercise, spiritual and secret exercise unto that end, and the things that the Lord is causing us to be exercised about in our private, personal, secret life and history is that we might discover the virtues and the values of His Son, and having made those discoveries, when we come together with other children of God we speak together and sing together about the glories of Christ as things which have come up in our own life experimentally and livingly, and we become a collective and corporate representation of those glories which are living realities to us. And all the exercise, which the Lord brings about in our lives individually and secretly, is in order that we may make discoveries about Christ.

So they go back to their tents; see the scouring of those tents for these things, see the exercise. And then they all come together and as the result of their exercise apart, in secret, they have brought some feature of Christ and all those features put together represent Christ as a whole. They all have some part of Him which, being added to the other parts makes a whole Christ, and that is the assembly.

The Mutual Love and Cooperation of the Saints

Fifthly, they all co-operate in varied contributions and exercises, that is, they all worked to make their part a part of someone else's. They worked in relation to the rest. Not all could bring gold, not all could bring silver, not all could bring brass, but these things all had to be related to the other, and so the spirit of co-operation was there. And mark you, even a Bezaleel, who was especially anointed and filled with the Holy Spirit unto all this, could not have made what was necessary for the tent of meeting if there had not been that personal, individual, secret activity on the part of each one. If the women, for instance, had not done the spinning and the weaving all the filling of the Holy Spirit of Bezaleel would have been in vain. The Holy Spirit Himself depends upon each one co-operating toward the end.

And speaking of the women who did the spinning and the weaving, one might just say that spinning and weaving means bringing things together and binding them together. It is so easy to tear things apart, to put things asunder and have shreds. We can do it by our talk, our flippant or careless talk, by letting our tongues run away with us, by gossip, by criticism, that perennial "but": "She is an awfully good soul - but..."; "He is a fine fellow - but..."; "Yes, he is going on with the Lord - but...." We are all guilty of that. Now the women did the spinning and weaving. I am not specially laying these charges at the door of the women, but you see I am only saying it by way of illustration. It is bringing together, it is constructive work in relation to everything else in this testimony. And how strange it is that so many of us who are in the same testimony, paying the same price, going through the same sufferings, find it so easy to criticise one another, and weaken the testimony by strains in our relationships. It is strange, isn't it? But it is true. It must be positively constructive in co-operation with all the others, toward one end. The Holy Spirit Himself cannot do this work and perfect this testimony only as each one takes personal and individual responsibility and works toward the common end of God, the manifestation and glorifying of the Lord Jesus.

The Lord just lay that on our hearts and may we be better instruments of the testimony for His glory.

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