by T. Austin-Sparks
Reading: Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 5:16-17; Eph. 4:24; 4:13; Col. 3:9-11.
Now what we have before us in the continuation of this great matter is the universality of that which is born of the Spirit, or the New Creation. In the previous message we were occupied with the essential heavenliness of this new creation, and one of the primary features of heavenliness is universality. If you look into the Word in its symbolic sense you will always find that heavens are intended to be, and are, used as symbols of universality. Just as the sea also represents universality and fulness, so the heavens are symbolic of that. And that fulness of which we were speaking has as one of its primary features, universality. And it is upon that universality that we shall dwell for a little.
But first of all let us take special note of this thing: the absolute necessity for an adequate background to everything that relates to the Lord's dealings with us in redemption, in regeneration, in sanctification, and in all those sovereign and providential activities of the Lord in our lives. In order for us to have a sufficient motive for endurance, consecration, and allowing the Lord to chasten and discipline, we must get the setting of things.
The Lord has been speaking some very strong and straight things to us. He has been bringing with very great force His word of the Cross to apply to the old man, the natural man, the flesh, and we have felt the tremendous impact of that word. It is calculated to slay us outright and to leave nothing unless we get the setting of it. And we must be reminded that the Lord's object is not to annihilate, to wipe us out, to limit us or to take away in order that there might be less and less until there is nothing. The Lord's whole object and motive in all the operations by His Cross is enlargement and emancipation. When the Lord desires and decides to come into the life of His people it is never with the object of curtailing their life, reducing it, bringing it within severe limitations; it is always to eliminate the limiting features and to destroy those things which keep them earthbound and confined in order that they may be emancipated into that very universality of His own Person and life and purpose. Unless we recognise that, we shall receive His word of slaying in such a way as to make the whole thing appear so hard, terrible and cruel and we shall regard the Lord's dealings with us in a wrong light as coming from a Hand that is against our interests, that is working to our impoverishment, that really wants us to be reduced to something less than we had hoped for or expected. It is so easy to receive that insinuation from the enemy that this Cross is intended to make your life less than it could be and to cut off and continually cut off until everything is reduced to a minimum and you are a poor little thing boxed up and you dare not breathe or extend or expand yourself at all; you dare not look for things large or great, living always in a coffin. That is not the Lord's thought.
The Lord does not want you to live with your head in a coffin. I went into a monastery on one occasion and the brother first of all took me down into the under part of the monastery and showed me a series of empty coffins. He said that when a brother comes into this monastery, he is first given his coffin and he is told that he is bound to this thing for life and that beyond this he has no life whatever; and his coffin is given him to show him he is here to the end. We are not going to live with coffins, but a good many folk think that the mystery of the Cross is intended to bring about that atmosphere of the coffin and to make them feel they are already embalmed! The Lord deliver us. The enemy would just like to interpret the mystery of the Cross in that way... it is always dying and nothing but dying, when all the time the Lord is out for emancipation. He is out for enlargement and all His activities with us, though sometimes severe and painful, and do look like cutting off, all those activities have in view universality if we have been planted with Him in the likeness of His resurrection; it says that just as emphatically as we have been planted in His death.
What is resurrection, but emancipation? The resurrection of the Lord Jesus was a complete and utter, absolute loosing from every kind of bondage and limitation; from the moment the Spirit raised Him from the dead, set Him free from the bands of death, there was no more hold over Him in the universe. Death had no more power over Him. Human sin had no more place in His sphere of things as something which was upon Him, voluntarily accepted, of course. Judgment was forever destroyed.
World limitations went and He became the absolutely universal Christ without limit or dimensions, and that is the meaning of the resurrection. That is the meaning of sonship because it is in resurrection that sonship is manifested, on the ground of resurrection that sonship becomes a manifest reality - "Declared to be the Son of God with power by the resurrection of the dead". It is in the power of resurrection that sonship is manifested: sonship, that which is born of the Spirit, that new creation in Christ as inherent universality. Conformed to the image of His Son... the new man created now after the image of Him that created him.
You see that this thing in the thought and purpose of God is an enlarging thing. Sonship is timeless. Notice how immediately you are brought by the Spirit through the revelation given to the apostle Paul, into relation to God's supreme thought about this world and about the church. You come into contact with that which is called "the eternal purpose", "that which was purposed concerning His Son before times eternal", and then you have these simple statements, "Whom He foreknew... them He foreordained". We were chosen in Him before the world was; here you have got into the timelessness of the new creation, of that which is born of the Spirit, of the sons in the Son. They are no longer children of time, and if we understood the dealings of God with us along this line which called for the development of infinite patience, we should see that the one thing that patience relates to is timelessness. I expect you have recognised that before now. God is not circumscribed by time limits, and that patience of Christ has to do with all the ages which God has at His disposal. The Lord would let us know that He has eternity at His disposal, and we need not be in a hurry. Our trouble is that we feel we have one life and we must be in a hurry. A few years taken out of the vast eternities are to have eternity in them.
God is working with eternity in view, not with spans of years, and beloved, God can crowd eternity into a few days. In the intense agony of suffering, in a few days, weeks or months, there has been crowded eternity, "Our light affliction which is but for a moment worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal." The things which are of time, a passing moment, have an eternal weight in it; that passing moment, of course, is a moment of agony sometimes, but there is eternity in it. We cry out, "What is it God means by this destroying or taking from us, this cutting off?" God has eternity in view. It is the universality of things in relation to the sons of God, and sonship is an eternal thing, a timeless thing. It dates back to eternity past, before ever this world was, and moves on to the eternity to be, when time shall be no more. That is sonship: that which is born of the Spirit. Timeless... and what is true in the matter of time is true in the matter of space. It may be difficult to grasp, but it is true: sonship is a spaceless thing, it is universal in its range.
If the Lord Jesus in His resurrection represents one thing more than another, it seems to me that He represents the nature of that which is spirit as differing from that which is flesh in the old sense. Spaceless... distances count for nothing. Human dimensions have no standing; He ranges heaven and earth in a moment, He touches bounds in an instant. The length and breadth and height and depth are all compassed in a Person in an instantaneous moment. And the Lord is seeking to get us out of our limitations into that realm where we function spiritually to touch the ends of the earth; where spiritually we come into the inheritance of the universality of our Lord Jesus as Sovereign Head of the church, and where everything from that moment is universal and not merely local. This is a tremendously important thing.
What is the Lord after in a little company of His people which may be comprised of many nationalities? That has been my enquiry all the time. What does this mean? Surely there is but one explanation: the Lord is seeking to bring about that oneness of vision and vocation where everything which is of earthly distinction is entirely lost and where there is a universal ministry constituted in all the nations without nationality; where every kind of earth bond is entirely eliminated. That is the nature of His instrument. It is the nature of the church.
You have put on the new man where there is neither Swiss, French, Armenian, German, American nor anything else, but where Christ is all and in all. The universality of Jesus Christ. There can be neither Jew nor Greek. Not "there is not", but, "there cannot be" circumcision nor uncircumcision on the earth, but where it is all of the heavens and therefore universal. Oh, the need for this emancipation in spirit!
The only way in which there can be any true realisation of the universality of the Lord Jesus is by a spiritual operation of God in our hearts. We could be at conferences as those various nationalities and various denominations and we could say while we are at a conference that we are not going to be different nations, we are going to sink all that for the time being and have common interests. When we leave this conference we could go back to our French, English, American and all the rest of it. We could do that and it would be a caricature, it would be an entirely false conception of the truth of the body of Christ. You need to have the thing done inside by the Holy Spirit, to be absolutely emancipated from all that is of this earth, to be brought into the heavenly universality of the Lord Jesus Christ where everything else ceases. Not to divide you merely from other people, but where it ceases to have a place in your own heart, where you do not regard yourself as belonging to that any longer, but where you realise you are out of every kind of earth system and earth order, and you are now with the Lord in the heavens and that the universe is the sphere of your spiritual operation, and that everything with which you have to do although it may be local, has a universal relationship.
That is how it was with local assemblies in the New Testament. They recognised that their ministry was not just within that parish, but wherever there was ministry in the Name of the Lord, that was their ministry; so that the apostle wherever he went had them with him co-operating definitely in spirit, recognising that the ministry was one and that there was a universal ministry though located in one spot.
The Thessalonians were instrumental in going right through all Asia. The Ephesians: a similar ministry, through them the Word went into Macedonia. It is wonderful to see how this universal principle operated in local assemblies which did not regard themselves as local companies, but as universal factors - in that they had interest in other nations. It was a spiritual thing, a thing into which they came from above. Nations ceased to be nations for them; the whole world was one, and Christ was a universal Christ, and wherever a child of God was, or a company of the Lord's children, there Christ as universal Lord was represented and implied.
Wherever there is a child of God, or two or three or more children of God, there Christ, not as local but as universal, is represented and implied. The universal Christ is there represented; it is not the local Christ, it is the universal Christ, the Lord Jesus who now is Lord of all - Lord of all and the head of every man. So that which is born of the Spirit, this new creation in Christ where old things are passed away, where there is no longer to be Greek, Barbarian, bondman, freeman, where all that has gone and this new man is brought in. That is sonship. And entering into that sonship is freedom from the whole system of satanic authority which governs the earth system and freedom from the law in the sense that now the nature of the Holy Spirit is in our hearts and we do not have to face up to something outward, some presentation of obligations and legal demands; the whole thing has become an inward power and you are emancipated from the imposition of a legality now, because you have the law written in your heart. It is Christ in you.
We have said before now that it is just as possible to be in legality in Christianity as it was possible to be in it in Judaism. Legality as Christianity is put upon you as a system and the natural Christian says you may do this and not do that etc., and your life becomes legalised and you are afraid to move for fear of what the brethren might say or think if you do this or that. We ought to be out of that. We should be free in the Lord. Sonship has freedom as its birthright. If the Son shall make you free you shall be free: free from Mosaic law, freedom from death, for now death is no longer in the hands of the devil; death is now in the hands of the Lord Jesus. He has taken charge of death; He lives and has the keys of death and of Hades, and keys are symbols of authority. He has the authority of death and of Hades and so while death still persists and is still operative here, the sovereign authority of the Lord Jesus over death is to make death work unto life for us. Flesh works death, but for the believer it works in this blessed way: when the believer touches flesh the Lord uses death to make that believer let it go. The believer knows when he has touched flesh and his first thought is to get out of this. The Lord drives them from death by using death. It is in His hands.
Now it is life triumphant over death, that is, making death serve the purpose of God. Death is working in this mortal body, but there is another power also working in this mortal body and that is the life whereby Jesus conquered death. Look at Paul: carrying a body full of weakness and infirmity, a real burden, but a man who was doing a colossal work, things that the energy of man could not do without a nervous breakdown. What is the explanation of this? Life triumphant over death, but death working is making the life more manifest and glorious. Death is the servant of the Lord Jesus Christ to make life manifest now. That is why the Lord has not brought the redemption of the body up to date with the redemption of the soul. Our souls have been redeemed, but we have not got the full inheritance of our redemption in the body. "Waiting for the redemption of the body" and in the meantime we have the life whereby death has been overcome, working in these mortal bodies and the Lord is giving His testimony now along that line. Of course, that is the wisdom of God. If you saw a lot of redeemed, resurrection and glorified bodies you would want to join that company! If you want to join those, this is the way: suffer. And by suffering you will know the glory. People do not want to take that on. So He uses this very method to keep out those who are not going on with the Lord. The believer is a mystery to the world and in that sense, there is something that cannot be accounted for on any human basis whatever; it is Divine, of God, transcendent. Sonship is freedom from death, freedom from the law, freedom from the authority of darkness. The Son making free.
I want you not to forget that it is a process. This new man is being renewed after the image of Him that created him. Foreordained to be conformed to the image of His Son; being renewed after the image of Him that created him. That is what is going on now. We are being renewed after the image.
Then it is a progressive emancipation. We are more and more shedding the things of this natural life, which govern and control and confine and strain and limit, and becoming more and more (or ought to be) emancipated people from all that is of the earth. This is just one of those things to which we have referred, which is almost impossible to explain to anyone, which it is difficult to get into, but if you get it, you know. It is a reality.
There is a very common idea about that along some line of disaffection, disagreement, or desire to be different from everyone else, we have come out of denominations and left churches as here on earth according to the present order and system of things. That is how the natural man regards such things. That is not true. Exactly what happened was this: before there was any thought whatever of leaving denominations and the organised system of Christianity, there was a revelation of the true nature of the church which is His Body. The Lord revealed through His Word that this is not the church according to His mind; that church is not the traditional church. The church is one body in the heavenlies under one Sovereign Head, the Lord Jesus - governed absolutely by the Holy Spirit and not by committees or anything else. This is a thing which is essentially spiritual in all its government, conception, and vocation and is not run by man. It does not belong to man; it belongs to the Lord Jesus and it is not for man to order, arrange or organize it. The Holy Spirit may do all that and men are to receive their orders from the Head by the Holy Spirit as servants of Jesus Christ, to do what He says.
Well, that is putting very imperfectly that which came with tremendous force; the result was that everything else fell away. You did not have to resign; it went, you found yourself no longer a part of it. Not that you were leaving, but you had already left. You were not in it. The danger for people today is that they get the idea mentally and they go and preach against churches and denominations and tell people to come out. Don't you do that, but ask the Lord to give you a revelation of the church which is His body and the heavenly nature of things, and when once that breaks in upon you, you will find yourself in a universal realm where everything is different. You are out. You see what I mean.
It is one thing to do this down on an earth level and another thing to come into it from above; but this is the great factor of the universality of the church which is His body because it is an expression of the universality of the Head, Jesus Christ. If you sit down and meditate upon and look thoughtfully and prayerfully into the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ as representing God's thought for His church and for every individual member of His church which is His Body, you will find that universality is in every fragment of that Person.
It would be a long study for us but it would be well worthwhile to study the universality in the life of the Lord Jesus. His birth was not a merely earthly, local thing. Look at the action of the Holy Spirit; born, not of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, or of bloods, but of the Holy Spirit. That is universality: lifting the thing right out of the earthly level of birth. The heavens came in, the angels clave their way through the heavens, and heaven comes into that birth. The nations are there. Men come from a far land - shepherds, creation, every form of creation round Him - sheep, oxen, shepherds, wise men, poor and rich, learned and illiterate, heaven and earth. There is universality in that birth. So is everyone that is born of the Spirit. That which is born of the Spirit is universal. As it is from heaven it touches the whole creation, embraces all space, time, ages and eternities; that is not us by natural birth, but that is us by spiritual birth. It is universal. The Holy Spirit is in that to begin with and heaven is in that to go on with, and then to the whole creation that has its mission. Its vocation is to the whole creation. It is spiritual.
His baptism was universal. As a representative act it gathered up the whole creation and carried it into death as a foreshadowing of Calvary gathered round great companies of people. Prophets were all summed up in John the Baptist; the whole of the Old Testament was summed up in him. It commenced a new state of things altogether. Heaven opened and again came in. Hell from beneath was touched, if that going down into death touches, by symbol, that under realm. This is no mere right which is performed, to be got through as an observance, it touches heaven, earth, hell because right at the back of it is universality. Get the universality of baptism and you have your motive for your testimony. If only we get the dimensions of this thing. People say, "We want to be baptised because it is a command", or "We want to follow His example..." or "It is the right thing to do because of His command". This is not adequate. See hell in this thing, hell hates a testimony of that kind and heaven is in it, and the Holy Spirit is in it, all ages are in it, and sonship is in that testimony to your resurrection union with the Lord Jesus in death and burial. It is a vast thing.
His anointing was universal. See the universality of the temptation of the Lord Jesus. See how it touches two creations. It touches the old order of things in Adam; where the fall takes place because Adam used his own will rather than preferring the will of God. Now, if the last Adam could be caught on that ground, a second creation would be ruined by the devil. So two creations were involved in that temptation. "All the kingdoms of the world will I give thee for a moment's recognition of my sovereignty". It is universal. The Lord Jesus had come for all the nations of the world, but He was not going to get them through the hands of the devil, by obedience to him, but take them on the ground of His own authority. He has them. The temptation was related to universal possession of the nations.
We have seen that Man being renewed after the image of Him that created Him, the image of His Son as to His humanity - can you fix the Lord Jesus in any one isolated department of humanity? He had the blend in His humanity of everything. Has it not been proved during nearly 2000 years? Take the Lord Jesus to India, Africa, China, anywhere you like in this world, and you will find that there is something in Him that finds a universal contact. He is not a stranger anywhere on this earth when spiritually brought in. He is not fixed in any one mould that makes Him the Saviour of the British or in any one nationality, but there is that in Him which makes Him universal in His incarnation. He blends everything in His Person.
Take temperaments, the artistic temperaments; you know exactly how he will behave in given circumstances. Another is of the phlegmatic temperament and you know exactly what to expect from that man. Give him something to do and you know the phlegmatic man will not jump at it, he will take it up slowly, but once you get him started he will go on and that man, if he takes eternity to do it, will go quietly on with it. Another will come along and you ask him to do something and he is into that as quick as you like, leaving it half done. You know what that temperament is. You have six or seven temperaments to deal with and everyone is governed by their own temperament. You cannot put the Lord Jesus into any one of these. He has the best of them all. Artistic, at its best. See Him touching the flowers and nature. Phlegmatic, you never hear of Him running, He goes quietly, sets His face like a flint, and yet He is never slow in the uptake, never slow to appreciate a situation. He is responsive, not dull, not superficial, but sees underneath; that is the best of another temperament. As to sex, He is a man, but you cannot put Him altogether there, there is that about Him which has a mother heart: "Oh Jerusalem, how often would I have gathered thee..." etc.. There is the tenderness of a woman. You get the merciless side coming out. Everything is at its good side in the Lord Jesus. What the Holy Spirit is trying to do with us is to bring about a conformity to the image of His Son where the best is brought out; the features of the Lord Jesus as very Man according to the mind of God. Those features are to be developed in us. Those which are contrary to that are being crucified, cut off.
It is not necessary for us to move in our temperamental circle, but to move in every circle and be helpful where we might gravitate deep, where we enter into fellowship with those who are simple... we do not wash our hands of them. There is a universality of ministry to all by the one Holy Spirit. Renewed after the image of Him that created him.
Of course there is a very great deal more to be said - transfiguration, resurrection, ascension, the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost and His Name - it is all universal. The Name which is above every name, at which every knee shall bow. That is universality; it is in the Lord Jesus. That Name is called upon us, we are brought into the Name of Jesus through the universality and the authority of that Name as raised in Him. That baptism of the Spirit, that advent of the Spirit at Pentecost is for us; a universal Spirit in the sense that the Holy Spirit is a cosmic Spirit. He relates to all realms, the whole creation; not only working in the believer, but operating upon the unbeliever and back of the things of this world since the Lord Jesus has taken the authority into His Hands. The sovereignty of the Spirit is there. See the great background of things.
If the Lord is Head and He is Head here, what about this flesh? The Cross is the necessity for this old man, the natural man, carnal man to be cut off, ruled out. Why does the Lord do this? Why is it necessary for the old man to go out? In order to achieve this. It is an emancipating process. It is enlargement the Lord is after; to get us out of the local into the universal; out of the present into that vastness of the Lord Jesus; it is to get rid of limitations and not create limitation, that He applies the Cross.
Our flesh has to be slayed in order that our spirit might be released. That is all. Yet one feels that it is so necessary when bringing home this great practical and experimental truth about the Cross and the old creation and the flesh, and self-life, and the great truth of the church which is the body of Christ. These things should not be looked at as merely things heard that are to be mechanically accepted and taken on as some terrible obligation, but we are to see there is a vast eternal background as a reason and motive for it all; that in God's view there is something more than you and I being crucified. It is not just to crucify us that the Lord is doing it. He has that eternal purpose in view all the time. He is working to a vast thing and to come into that we must be delivered from that which is less.
May the Lord by His Spirit bring us that which is in His own view in dealing with us as He does and every bit of cutting off here on the earth which looks like limitation is really the Lord's way of getting us out into that which is timeless and spaceless - that we may fulfil the heavenly vocation of the sons of God.