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

Chapter 2 - Resurrected and Living

"Now on the first day of the week." - John 20:1.
"When therefore it was evening, on that day, the first day of the week." - John 20:19.
"And after eight days again..." - John 20:26.

It is the spiritual meaning of that statement, "The first day of the week" which we have in mind. It is not just the day as a part of time, as a part of our calendar, it is what is there signified by and included in this statement. We have pointed out before, that with this first verse of the 20th chapter there has almost imperceptibly crept in the changing of the dispensation. We read it and we are not struck by the tremendous thing that has happened. "Now on the first day of the week." We have not been impressed with the fact that this statement cuts clean in between the whole of the Jewish dispensation and the Christian dispensation. Here the eighth day has become the first day, the day of the Lord's resurrection.

Eight, as we know, is the resurrection number, the number of a new beginning, and on the day of His resurrection the dispensation has been founded, the Church has been born, and the Sabbath day is no longer the Sabbath in its etymological sense, the seventh. The fact is that in the old dispensation six days were worked upon and the seventh day was rested upon. In the new dispensation the first day is rested upon and six days are worked upon. Everything begins, not ends, on the first day, and the meaning is this spiritually, that in the death of the Lord Jesus God has finished all His work of new creation, and in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus He rests in a completed work and then begins operations out of what is already perfected. He builds His Church, He brings His Church to birth upon the ground of a perfect work, and the Church has not to work toward perfection but to work out of perfection; not to work toward victory, but out of victory; not to work toward accomplishment, but out of accomplishment.

The Church is founded upon God's complete triumph and utter achievement. Resurrection is this feature of the assembly. God's rest, God's satisfaction, God's good pleasure; He can survey all and say, "It is very good," and now in effect He says, "We can work all that out in perfect assurance that it will be reproduced in the Church because it has already been consummated in the Head." When you get there spiritually you have come to understand the tremendous power and confidence and assurance which characterised the first days. Why was it that they were people who were beyond defeat? Why was it, that, let hell and earth combine to do their worst, it was a forlorn hope? Why was it that being persecuted from one city to another, being beaten, imprisoned, they could pray and sing in dungeons? Because the victory was already theirs on the ground of their resurrection union with the Lord Jesus. They were not hoping for victory, they were resting in victory; they had the assurance of it and so they could go on, and although faith was tested as to the position which they had taken up in Christ's victory, tested in circumstances and conditions, and they might have been tempted from time to time to question their position and ask if after all it was true, yet holding on, and in spirit maintaining their attitude that it was victory, invariably it worked out as victory, and the dungeon saw the very jailer converted, and his household. What had happened in general in the birth of the assembly, so to speak, universally, in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, was reproduced in localities far and wide.

Wherever they went they were met with a challenge to their position, their standing in His victory, their grounding upon His resurrection. Hell rose up to cast a doubt and to try and make them believe it was otherwise, but standing their ground, the local assemblies were born in relation to the universal assembly, on the ground that Calvary and the resurrection was complete triumph. So you see what was at the beginning in the universal sense, was reproduced everywhere upon the same principle, and that is the principle for the whole age, specially for the end-time.

The Church Carries Forward What has been Done

The Church, the assembly, the company of the Lord's own, is established, constituted by Him for the object of being a vessel of His testimony, and the testimony in that vessel is the power of His resurrection. The new cruse of which we have often spoken here, the new cruse which was called for by the prophet in the day when death was raging - you will recall the incident - was brought to him and he said, "put salt therein," and the new cruse with salt in it was emptied into the place of death and death was swallowed up in victory, in life, and they could go on. The cruse is the cruse of the assembly, and the salt is the power of His resurrection, and that is the testimony. We encounter death, active, mighty, terrible, awful, death, and the Lord does not protect us from it.

I am speaking now of death in its larger sense spiritually, which, of course, works in many ways; in atmospheres, in mind, in heart, in will, in soul, in body, in a multitude of ways death works; death in a place where we are called to testify. Oh death, this spiritual thing, we encounter it and hell rages and the issue is, shall death triumph or shall Christ triumph? and then the assembly is on trial. The two or three have their opportunity and are being tested out, and are being allowed to be tested out by the Lord as to the power of His resurrection. Faith is tried. The situation seems desperate and well nigh hopeless; yes, but you have taken up a position, the very fact that you are joined to the Lord says that you stand on the ground of His resurrection. He is a living Christ, not a dead Christ, that is your testimony, that is your portion; your standing is being tested, your testimony is being tried out. Faith is being well tried by a situation, condition of things, and the issue will depend upon whether in spite of what appears, and what seems, and what feels, you still believe that God raised Him from the dead and in so doing broke forever the power of death. As faith holds through the ordeal it emerges in His triumph. That is the testimony for the end-time, that is the issue of today.

Some of you will be able to understand what I am saying, others may not. The vessel of the assembly is established, constituted for the purpose of the testimony to the power of His resurrection, and that is to be the testimony at the end-time.

What the "Ministry" Is

The Apostle Paul, we have often said, was himself a personal representation of the truth with which he was entrusted. The special revelation given to him was the revelation of the Church of the Body of Christ, and he had - as all prophets have - to be personally constituted according to the message that he had to deliver, to be a personal sign in life and experience of that which they were teaching. I have said all prophets were, and I might say all prophets are. My dear brother, don't you talk about "going into the ministry." That is a mechanical way of talking. Let me say to you that the ministry has got to get into you first, not you into the ministry. That is, the thing has got to be wrought in you. You have got to be a personal representation of the truth which God entrusts to you, and that is costly, there is a price to be paid. Ah, but that is effectual. That is the ministry. You cannot separate the minister from his ministry if he is according to God. Well, the Apostle Paul was so constituted, and so he represents from start to finish the whole dispensation which is peculiarly marked as the dispensation of the Church, the Body of Christ; and it is very significant to notice that as the Apostle moved toward the end of his life, one issue which was continuously raised in an intensifying form was the issue of the power of His resurrection.

At the beginning he wrought mighty works outwardly in the power of the resurrection. Toward the end he had himself, personally to be a representation of that power in every part of his being, and no external miracles were allowed to interfere with that spiritual principle of the dispensation. That is, he could not work a miracle for his own healing, and he could not get, by a repetition of appeals to His Lord, deliverance from his infirmity. He had, by sufficient grace, to live a resurrection life in a dying body, in infirmity, and one of the last cries of the Apostle, which is a dispensational cry, if you will, is, "That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection." That will be of necessity the last cry of the assembly. That is becoming, shall I say, wrung from the heart of every spiritual man and woman today, being wrung from us as we go on with God. There is nothing for it but the sheer power of His resurrection inwardly and outwardly, that is the only thing.

Oh, yes, but that being so we are in line with the Lord. But you notice it is an end-time thing as it was at the beginning. In the beginning the principle was established on the first day, it was the resurrection day. The Church, the assembly was found with the Lord in the midst; in the end the assembly is "our gathering (or assembling) unto Him" when the Lord descends from heaven with an assembling shout, then to know Him in the power of His resurrection, and that an out-resurrection in the ultimate expression, not a general resurrection, but a peculiar resurrection. Well, you see the assembly is constituted by the very resurrection life of the Lord Jesus. John's Gospel seems to me to be peculiarly the Gospel of the Church. In the similitudes of the cherubim it corresponds to the eagle, always speaking of heavenliness and mystery. Ephesians is that, it is the eagle aspect of things, the heavenliness of the Church and the mystery of the Church; and John just fits into that as Matthew fits into the lion, Mark fits into the ox and Luke fits into the man. John fits into the eagle, and if that is the Church aspect of things in a special sense, then it is not without significance that John has so much to say about resurrection. Go through John again with the thought of resurrection in mind and see how often you come upon it. You come to chapter six for instance, and in chapter six you know what the Lord is saying about Himself. He has come down from heaven and has come down from heaven as bread, "which cometh down from heaven and giveth life...."

Life in the Place of Death

The great illustration of the spiritual truth is His feeding of a multitude in a wilderness. A multitude has left the world, the multitude has left the formal religious system behind, is found with Him in the wilderness, in a wilderness where no bread is, according to nature; where the world can make no provision, and they will perish unless bread is found for them; and He becomes their Bread in the wilderness, their very life as out there separated from the world. And then He explains the literal event in the light of His own person as the "bread which came down from heaven" to be the life of His own, called out from the world, separated from everything merely formal in religion, joined in vital union with Himself. He becomes the life of that. In that sixth chapter of John, four times repeated He says, "I will raise it (him) up at the last day." This is resurrection in relation to the life which He has implanted; Himself, as the Life, "I am the life," "I am the bread of life," "I will raise up at the last day." He is the Life of His own and because He is that, He is the Resurrection of His own, and resurrection is implicit in His indwelling as the Bread of Life.

When you come to the last chapter of John which was an appendix (John closed with the 20th chapter undoubtedly, and then added something) you have the instance of the fishing. Peter said, "I go a fishing," and they went fishing and caught nothing. In the morning, one of His resurrection appearances, the Lord stood on the shore, gave a word of command resulting in a miraculous draft of fishes, and true to the Holy Spirit's genius the number of the fishes is given to the very last one; one hundred and fifty and three, and I seem to see a connection between "I will raise it up at the last day" and "one hundred and fifty and three." The precision and the exactness linked with the repetition, "This is the Father's will that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing": "All that the Father giveth me shall come to me": "I will raise it up at the last day." He will be the Resurrection to the last one of His elect. The assembly will be complete in the power of His resurrection to a unit. It is to be right to its very last member, whatever is meant by one hundred and fifty and three; the power of His resurrection will work out to precision, nothing lost; the completeness of the triumph of Christ in resurrection.

The Church is constituted in the power of His resurrection. You come to John 11 and you have resurrection there brought in specially related to the person of the Lord Jesus, "I am the resurrection." Mary, Martha, yes, they believed in resurrection. They believed as most of the Jews believed, in a general Resurrection. What the Lord sought, strove to do, was to bring resurrection in relation to His own person and say, "Resurrection is not some distant event upon the horizon, resurrection is Myself, and where I am and when I am there, that is resurrection." He is in the midst. Do we believe it? He is here today; nay, we can go further, many of us, I trust all of us, and say He is within. Can we? If so, resurrection for us has in Him already taken place. He is the resurrection and we are brought into relationship with Himself upon the basis of a life which has triumphed over death. He is that Life triumphant over death, already resident within us, and resident within the assembly. Yes, this is true. These are statements of fact; but oh, here again, it is a question of faith.

Faith Laying Hold of God's Facts

We said with regard to the truth that He is in the midst, there has to be an attitude and an action of faith. Yes, an attitude and action of faith. It will often be that we have no sense of His being in the midst, either in us or in the midst of us. We may have oft-times an entirely opposite sense but He changeth not, "For I am the Lord, I change not," "Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever," "...another Comforter, that He may abide with you for the age (Gr.)." "Oh, but today I feel anything but that the Lord is within, everything today says the Lord has gone, has departed." You will have those experiences, they are dark tunnels where every bit of the spiritual will be frozen, every bit of consciousness of the Lord will be dead, faith will be tested, but have we not been through enough of such experiences already to make us at least begin to believe that when we get a little further on we shall emerge from this tunnel and know that He has been there all the time, and He will just perhaps gently chide us and say, "I was there all the time, I do not come and go," and faith has to take up that position. So it has to be in the matter of the fact that in the power of His resurrection, He is in the midst, and as faith takes that position, that attitude, and stands, the fact breaks out, the fact becomes manifested and we emerge into the joy of it.

Now Acts 1 says that by the space of forty days He appeared unto them. Here, again, is one simple little fragment of symbolic language. We know that forty throughout the Scriptures always speaks of testing and proving. Moses in the mount for forty days tests Israel down below and proves them, but unfortunately they break down. Israel in the wilderness forty years, tested, proved, breaking down. The Lord Jesus in the wilderness forty days and forty nights tested, proved, triumphant! Resurrection - forty days - what for? Testing and proving. Appearing; yes, something to go on. Disappearing; nothing to go on; or, He may be here any minute. Appearing; disappearing; proving, testing. Proving, testing throughout the complete period until it was established through testing and proving that He was alive. Perhaps no more wonderful forty days in history! Oh, that we could live there where those disciples must have been, through the forty days, "You never know one minute from another when He will be here, when you may see Him." He does not seem to be here now! What is to be our attitude? We may never see Him again? He has gone for ever? Oh, no! Not that attitude; at any moment we may know that He is here! And we live, not on the negative, that, having disappeared we may never see Him again, but on the contrary, that having so constantly appeared He may be here at any minute. Faith can always take the negative side and become doubt, but faith has to live on the positive side. Testing, proving, until established in the fact that He is alive there is no doubt about it, " many infallible proofs" He has proved this, and I think that that explains John's twenty-first chapter. He has disappeared, chapter twenty, disappeared! It looks as though the story is closed with that, He has disappeared. But He re-appears as upon the shore when they are upon the sea, and it seems to say, "Yes, though He has disappeared He is on yonder shore watching all the operations; He is not out of touch." And the appendix was worthwhile if it was for that alone.

You see the point is they were constituted upon this. Their very being was based upon that, the fact, the reality, not as a doctrine, not as something that was merely reported. He is a living, personal reality in vital association with their experiences, and He established them upon that; and that is the assembly. What is true of the assembly has to be true of every member of the assembly. Oh, beloved, that we might take the faith attitude on the positive side toward the abiding presence of the Lord, according to His Word, in resurrection. The Lord is here, and yes, but more, He is here in all the virtue and potentiality of His resurrection, and the Holy Spirit would bear witness to that, for He is here to seal the testimony of Jesus in the hearts of those who believe; for, says the Apostle, "the exceeding greatness of His power which He wrought in Christ" is "to usward who believe." "Thomas, because thou hast seen me thou hast believed; blessed are they that have not seen and yet have believed." He is risen, and the fact of His resurrection as a power within the life and within the assembly is the testimony for which the assembly has been constituted, and we have no justification in existing as the Church if that testimony is not in us. There is no justification for assembling together unless the issue is life, an expression of life.

Every time we assemble together there should be such a faith attitude toward the Lord as present, and a taking hold of Him as present in the power of resurrection, that this assembly should once again feel that power at work. We ought to go away from our assembling together revitalised, re-energised, renewed, feeling marvellously refreshed and not worn out, tired to death; and it depends very very largely upon our attitude toward the Lord. Oh, if we come together to judge the messenger, to criticise the message, to take account of things present outwardly and to have a meeting for conscience sake, or bound up with religious legalism or anything like that, we will be glad when it is all over. But if our hearts are directed toward the Lord and we are laying hold of the Lord as present in the power of resurrection, we can go away as giants refreshed as with new wine. It depends upon the faith attitude. I do not say everything depends upon this. I can conceive of circumstances when, with all the exercise of the Lord's children, there might be a disorder which arrests the Holy Spirit, but a great deal depends upon that for which we come, and the faith we exercise when we do come. Try it and see how it works. Get the Lord into view and exercise faith in relation to Him.

First-Fruits of Resurrection

In connection with this resurrection you have this third thing, this third principle. "Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended unto my Father: but go to my brethren and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God." Literally, "take not hold on Me for I am not yet ascended unto my Father." "Ascended"; this is not the ascension, of course, of which Acts 1 speaks, "a cloud received Him out of their sight." This is something that came in between His resurrection and His ultimate ascension as there mentioned, and it carries with it one of the richest meanings for the assembly. It carries many meanings. "I have not yet ascended"; "I ascend." Evidently between His appearing to Mary, and His coming into the assembly He had ascended. What for? Well, He was the first-fruits. He was the first-fruits of a harvest to be fully reaped in resurrection, in the power of His resurrection. The harvest was in view, spiritually; Pentecost, the time of harvest, was forty-seven days hence, but before the harvest you always have the first ripe grain, the first-fruits. The Jewish farmer, six weeks before the harvest went into his field and plucked the ears that were already ripe and took them into the temple, and they were presented aloft, heaved before the Lord, with this two-fold meaning, "Lord, inasmuch as you have given me these first-fruits, in faith I receive the whole harvest: and Lord, inasmuch as I give You the first-fruits I recognise that all the harvest is Yours." "Christ the first-fruits," says Paul; and here was the presentation of Himself in the presence of the Father as the first-fruits in which the whole harvest is bound up, in which the whole harvest is secured in faith's complete triumph in which all the harvest is for God, everything is secured and everything is included in Christ the first-fruits.

What has happened? Let us have a look at Romans 8:29 again, "For whom He foreknew, He also foreordained to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren". What has happened? He has gone right back in that act of presenting Himself to the Father, right back to the foreordination of God; in the foreknowledge of God every member of Christ was known, foreknown and foreordained, foreknown in the attitude which they would take toward the call which would come to them eventually. He has foreordained them, not to salvation, but to be conformed to the image of His Son, and having foreknown and foreordained to that end, the Lord Jesus, in going to the Father in His resurrection-ascension went right back, into the before times eternal and secured every one of the foreordained, secured every one of them in the power of His resurrection, the whole church in His own person, and presented them representatively, as the Firstborn among many brethren, before God; and then He came down and constituted His assembly and started to work conformity to that which had been before the Father, as that which the Father had determined from all eternity. First-fruits, "...the Firstborn among many brethren." It is a tremendous thing, this ascension, this going as the first-fruits into the Father's presence. It says that all the harvest will surely come and be there. It is not only something in the Father's intention before the world was, but something secured now, literally in the Son, in the power of His resurrection.

That which rose up in the face of the eternal intention and said: "It shall never be," sin, death, the devil, said: "That inclusion of that elect race in the person of Jesus Christ shall never be," Christ has come and met that challenge in His cross and broken it, and in His representative Person as the first-fruits has taken that whole company into the presence of God and secured them there. That is no small thing. He says, "God intended - ". The Devil said "No." "I have answered the 'No' of Satan and secured My Church." The Church is constituted on that basis. In effect the Risen Lord said: "Oh, do not make an earthly thing of Me, I am no longer related to this earth, I am related to heaven now, My family is related to heaven." "And as Head of the Church, the Church is a heavenly Body; do not try to tie Me to earth, do not make something of Me here." "No, I and My members are heavenly in life, in relationship, in interests, in everything." That is the Church, that is the nature, and basis of the Church, and Christ is the centre as the resurrection, as the first-fruits, in the presence of God.

The Lord interpret His Word to us and bring us into the spiritual value of it, just show us the fuller meaning and make us to see our heavenly calling in Christ Jesus.

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