The Nature of that which Issues in the Resurrection of Christ
by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 5 - The Church as the Lord's Testimony and Full Expression

Reading: Matt. 16:16-18; Luke 24:26,27,44-48; Rev. 19:10.

In this closing chapter (gathering of a series of fourteen meetings) in which we have been occupied with the content of that statement: "I will build my church", we are going to be taken up for a little while with the church and the testimony of Christ. "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God... upon this rock I will build my church".

Luke 24 from which we have read, spreads out before us the testimony of Christ from the beginning of the Scriptures to His own death and resurrection, and that whole range of Scripture is the spirit of prophecy. It all led up to Him, and the testimony of Jesus is seen throughout to be the spirit of prophecy. The Lord Himself, to His disciples as they walked on that occasion, took them through Moses, the Psalms and the Prophets, and in all the Scriptures of that threefold department, spoke to them of things concerning Himself and showed them how the testimony of Jesus was the spirit of prophecy. That testimony (and this is our point) is gathered up by Him and passed on into them, and they are told that they are witnesses of the truth of that comprehensive testimony, that they have come into the fulfilment, the living knowledge of all that, and have become the repository of that testimony of Christ. They represent the church.

These apostles will later be spoken of as connected with the foundation: "built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets". (That is not the Old Testament prophets of course, but the New Testament prophets) "...Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone". And with Him, forming the church, they become the repository, or the vessel of that whole testimony of Scripture which is no longer merely history, but now the experience of it. And a witness is not one, in the New Testament sense, who simply speaks about things of which he has read or heard, but one who speaks about things in which he has participated, of which he has become a living sharer, participant, and that is the church. Not only at its beginning, but in the mind of the Lord for all time the church is that. It is the witness to the truth in a living, experimental way, of what is called the testimony of Christ, or the testimony of Jesus. The spirit of prophecy comes into the church testifying of Jesus.

We might just glance at the progress of that testimony in the Old Testament as the Lord Himself divided it - Moses, the Psalms, and the Prophets - not by any means to deal with the content of those three sections, but to take account simply of the fact that the testimony of Jesus was there in all. As we saw in chapter three in speaking somewhat along these lines from Hebrews chapter 11, the testimony was progressive through those ages and dispensations, taking the broader view than that of the letter to the Hebrews which has to do with persons. The broader view here has to do with the whole stretch of Scripture. You have Moses, representing the first section of the Scriptures, and in that first section of the Scriptures as gathered up into and under Moses, we have the testimony of Jesus figuratively presented. Everything is gathered up from the patriarchs into a corporate expression, a collective representation in the tabernacle coming in with Exodus 35 - the testimony of Jesus figuratively presented and Moses is, so to speak, the figurehead, and Moses is called a prophet. If you look at Acts chapter 7, in Stephen's mighty and marvellous discourse in chapter seven, when you get to verse 37 you find the climax to a section of his argument: "This is that Moses, which said unto the children of Israel, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me." That does not mean, as the margin makes clear, that Christ would be like Moses. The margin says: "As He raised me up". "He will raise up a prophet as He raised me up." In his representative character of that whole figurative system, Moses was a prophet pointing on, prophesying of that which was to come, and the spirit of prophecy in that whole system gathered up into Moses was pointing on to Christ. Of course we know very well how everything in Moses did speak of Christ. Every detail of that representation spoke of Christ and of the spiritual principles represented by those who had been the predecessors of Moses in the covenant line; they were now collected into a whole in Moses and the tabernacle. The blood of Abel is there, the walk with God of Enoch is there, the ground of a new covenant in resurrection in Noah is there, and all that Abraham stands for is there; all gathered up collectively, but it all points on prophetically to the Lord Jesus.

I have no doubt whatever but that it was along these lines that the Lord Jesus spoke to the men on the way to Emmaus. As He took up Moses He would probably say: "Now, here is Abel..." and explain Abel in the light of Himself. And then He would pass to Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac and to Jacob, and go along the whole elect line and show Himself there in principle and truth, and so make clear how the testimony of Jesus was the spirit of prophecy, all pointing to Himself. And then He would pass from the figurative side of things in Moses to the Psalms - and I have often wondered how the Lord Jesus dealt with the Psalms in bringing Himself into view. Doubtless He would take those Psalms with which we are familiar, as quite definite and clear foreshadowings of Himself; but it is a most profitable occupation to dwell upon the whole book of Psalms in the light of the Lord Jesus.

For our purpose it is necessary to try and gather it all up into one word, and when we ask as to the Psalms (and of course we especially mean the psalms of David now; there are other psalms in the book) when we take the book of the Psalms of David and view them as a whole and seek to get to the heart of things and what they represent, I think there is no truer way of concluding about their message than to say that what is there is God seeking and finding the Man after His own heart. And then you take the history of the Man after God's own heart, and what God intends for that Man; and you find in the book of the Psalms the Man after God's own heart. And for me the climax of the book of the Psalms is found in Psalm 91:14: "I will set him on high, because he has known My name." God was after a Man whom He could set on high. Now the second Psalm sees that anointed One set on high: "Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion." God was out for someone whom He could set on high. Then you take the history of the One whom God set on high, and you find that is the One who comes first of all down, continuously down, until He is utterly empty, until in the uttermost emptying He cries - and remember this is a Psalm - "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" That is the One who is going to be set on high. He has come down, He has been emptied, He has reached unto the deepest depths, and yet He trusts, even in the deepest depths, in the Name of the Lord and: "I will set him on high, because he has known My name." And you see in the Psalms the Man who is set on high, and in Psalm 8 you have all things put in subjection under His feet. When you come over to the New Testament you find the exposition in the letter to the Hebrews: "But now we see not yet all things subjected to Him. But we behold Him who has been made a little lower than the angels, even Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honour...". There is the Man after God's Own heart: exalted, set on high, having been down to the depths. I am not saying that is how the Lord Jesus expounded the book of Psalms to those disciples, but that is the message of the book for me. It is the Man after God's Own heart - what is the history of that Man and what is the nature of that Man. See the history of, and the nature of, the Man whom He will set on high and you have arrived at the Lord Jesus, and there is no other to fully fulfil that. David is a shadow of it, he is the best known among men; he is the one who, among men on earth, comes to be set on high, but David's Greater Son excels and occupies a place which David will never occupy.

Turn to your book of the Acts again and see the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy in this connection. Acts 2:30-31: "Being therefore a prophet (the spirit of prophecy in David pointing on to the cross) and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins He would set one upon His throne; he foreseeing this spoke of the resurrection of the Christ..." "Set on high" ... "that of the fruit of his loins He would set one upon his throne..." that is the last word that Solomon was not the one ultimately in view as the son of David to sit upon his throne. It was Christ. And He is the Man set on high. That is the climax of the book of Psalms, that "...foreseeing this spoke of the resurrection of the Christ". The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.

Pass to the third section of the Book, the prophets. I think it is unnecessary for us to take up the prophets to see the testimony of Jesus in them. Much will immediately leap to your minds as we take Isaiah, and move on from Isaiah with the Lord Jesus in view. In Isaiah He is found in His manger cradle and from the manger cradle the great unveiling of Emmanuel, God with us, comes in with Isaiah, and then on through the suffering Servant of Jehovah in Isaiah 53, the matchless prophecy concerning the Lord Jesus. And what is true in Isaiah is true in the other prophets. I think it is perfectly patent that the Lord Jesus is the vision and the theme of the prophets, and there the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.

Now we come to the Gospels, and here He is Himself in Person. There is a gap between the dispensations. The new dispensation did not come in with the birth of the Lord Jesus. History is divided into B.C. and A.D. but the new dispensation did not come in with the birth of the Lord Jesus. The new dispensation came in with the birth of the church. The birth of the Lord Jesus up to Pentecost is a gap, something which represents the terminus of the ages. That is, the old dispensation moves up to that and finds its fulfilment in Him, and the new dispensation moves out from that to carry that on, and His presence stands between the two. There was neither the old nor the new dispensation in the days of His flesh; He occupying that central place in the dispensations where everything that has been is now clearly gathered up and manifested in His Own Person, and it is all seen in fulfilment in Him personally, and then that everything that is yet to be will take its character from Him, and be the outworking and expression of what He was. And the Gospels bring Him personally into view and show the spirit of prophecy has been fulfilled in Christ personally.

But now we reach the point where we come in, and where the main matter of our present consideration arises. That comes in with the Acts and the Epistles: the church. The church taking up the testimony of Jesus, not now in its personal or its progressive forms, but in its complete state. Everything has been fulfilled. Everything has been completed. Moses, the Psalms and the Prophets have had a full realisation in Him when He is exalted, and the church takes up a completed testimony. And its business, its divine vocation is to maintain the fulness of the testimony of Jesus. It has not done that, but that is its business, and the Lord can never be satisfied with a church which has less than the whole testimony of His Son. And He is continuously active to secure a people in whom that complete testimony is manifested. The Lord is seeking to have a people in whom the whole testimony of His Son is expressed, not in relation to some aspect of truth, some fragment of revelation, some peculiar detached interpretation of Scripture, but in relation to the whole testimony of God's Son. And if there is any divine Sovereignty in our being together, I believe that that sovereignty has as its motive and object, to bring us as a part of the Lord's instrument and vessel, perhaps in the end times, to the fulness of the testimony of Jesus for His own satisfaction before the age closes. So that no small thing rests upon us. All that is in Moses, the Psalms, and the Prophets is gathered up into a living realisation and handed to us to inherit, experience, live by, minister in, in a living way; the power of resurrection. Beloved, this is no small thing. And that has a twofold meaning for us.

On the one hand it is the Lord's call to us to move into that testimony wholly and fully in life, in experience. On the other hand it means that the Lord would constitute us on that ground of life, a ministry in the testimony of Jesus to all others of His people. And that sums up everything of these messages. What is to be the issue? If the issue is not a fuller approximation to the testimony of God's Son in our lives, the whole thing has proved futile. And on the other hand, if through that movement into the testimony in greater fulness there is not a ministry more adequate and effectual out in this world by us, this word is in vain. Those are the things, the two sides of one thing which have constituted us these days, by which we have been held together, and for which the Lord has been speaking to us.

There is a sense, a New Testament sense, in which the testimony only begins with the church. I mean in the sense in which Paul used the word in his letter to the Colossians. He says: "And He is the head of the body, the church; who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things He might have the pre-eminence." You see, as the Head of the body, the church, He is the beginning, as the Firstborn from the dead. I think the meaning of that is this: that the church, being constituted with Christ as its Head, its Firstborn, begins the new thing; that is, begins the living expression of all that which has moved up to this point, and is waiting for its real living expression. In Moses you have a typical expression and not the real; a prophetic expression and not the actual. In the Psalms you have an illustrative expression, but not the actual. In the Prophets you have a foreview, but not the actual. But when Christ rises in the fulfilment of them all and the church comes into being, and He is its Head, then you have the living and actual beginning of that toward which the ages have been moving, and the church is the beginning of the real testimony in life. And we have come into that. What an age we live in, and what a dispensation, and what a responsibility rests upon us! We are to literally represent the actual thing: Christ in all His fulness in the power of His resurrection.

Now, the word, the term 'testimony' in the Scriptures invariably refers to that which God intends to show forth, to display. Wherever you may look for the testimony you will find that it relates to that which God intends to display. Take your letter to the Ephesians and you will see what I mean by display. Ephesians 2:4-8, "But God, being rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, quickened us together with Christ (by grace have ye been saved), and raised us up with Him, and made us to sit with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus: that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus". You see, here is the intention of the Lord, that for all eternity there should be a display of the exceeding riches of His grace and of His love toward us in Christ, in and through the church. In other words, the church becomes the eternally elected Instrument for the display of those exceeding riches of His grace and great love toward us in Christ Jesus. And that is the testimony of Jesus. It is something which is shown forth.

When we were speaking of the church as a 'Holy Nation', we saw that this holy nation was raised up in order to show forth the excellencies of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvellous light (1 Peter 2:9), and that word 'show forth' is the same word as we have in the Lord's Table: "For as often as you eat this bread, and drink this cup, you show the Lord's death till He comes"; we sometimes translate it: "you proclaim". You act a proclamation when you take the loaf and the cup. And here it is that you may show forth by an actual expression of His excellencies. Those excellencies are spoken of again by Peter in his second letter, where he speaks of the glories and fruits of Christ. It is the same word as excellencies, and it means the moral and spiritual splendours of the Lord Jesus; to show forth the moral and spiritual splendours of the Lord Jesus. And the holy nation is constituted for that. The church, which is the holy nation, is thus the means of showing forth Christ. The testimony is simply showing forth Christ in His excellencies, morally and spiritually. That is the testimony of Jesus which comes down to us. Go to Moses again and see the moral and spiritual excellencies of the Lord Jesus which are there present; minutely and in detail. Go to the Psalms and the Prophets and trace the excellencies of the Lord Jesus; and all that is taken up now literally in the church.

Why do we say all this? There is one thing always at the back of my mind in speaking in this way; it is to try and bring home to people what the church is, and that is not the church with which we are familiar. No! Oh, some people think the church is a Christian Society you join in one department or another. No! Think of it like this: the church is essentially, indispensably a vessel for the display of the spiritual and moral excellencies of the Lord Jesus as wrought into the very fibre of its members. It is not something spoken about, it is something experienced, something known. And God works in the church and all the members with one object: to produce the spiritual and moral excellencies of the Lord Jesus in them, that they may be shown forth. That is the church, and anything which claims to be the church, which is not moving on those lines, is not what God has raised up. God has never raised up any church apart from this object, with this intention, that His Son might be in its very nature, constitution, its spiritual life, shown forth in His excellencies.

The testimony of Jesus is not a creed, not a system of truth, not a doctrine, but a Life, a power, a something which has got to be brought to bear with God's Own mighty heaven upon the forces unseen: "To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in the heavenly places might be made known through the church the manifold wisdom of God". It is for the display of Jesus Christ in what He is NOW as ascended and exalted, for the display of Him thus in the life of the church, that the church is in existence at all; and that is the only church that the Lord knows. And so it is to bring that about in fulness that the Lord is at work. In other words, it is to have Christ wrought into the very nature and life of every part of His Body, the church - Christ wrought in by the Holy Spirit, and that is why the Lord deals with us as He does. That is why the Lord allows us to have the experiences which He does allow us to have. It is not just because He wants to test our love for Him, but because He wants us to become the very embodiment of the virtues of His Son, that His Son may be universally displayed in the ages to come through the church. And every trial, and every bit of suffering, every bit of adversity through which the members of Christ's Body are permitted to pass, is with one object in the Lord's mind: to develop and bring out in clear testimony the triumphant excellencies of His Son.

Now do you see that governs the evangel? The evangel for so many people has been cut in two, and the second half overlooked. The evangel for a great many people is this: "Go into all the world and preach the gospel...". That is only the half. And so, willy-nilly, go into all the world and preach the gospel. The other half is: "...baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you". The evangelist is a teacher, and unless he follows up his evangelism with his teaching, his work is only half done and may fall to the ground. And in order to teach them you have got to get them together. Paul is the ideal evangelist who breaks the new ground with the evangel and gathers them into local companies and thoroughly grounds and teaches them all things; constitutes them a local vessel of the testimony in which Christ in fulness is to be displayed. That is the evangel.

There is a much deeper aspect of evangelism than is recognised and that is why we have such a great deal of weakness: get souls to make decisions, and well, they must take their chance after that. What are you going to do with them? You cannot do anything, unless you follow your New Testament order, but hand them to the thing that is, and they are handed to something not manifesting the testimony of Jesus, a church which is not a church; only in name. They are lost, and become the ordinary nominal Christian of the day because the evangel has only been half accomplished. They have heard the word of the Gospel of salvation and have responded and they have not been taught all things and brought into that relationship which makes it possible for the whole testimony of Jesus to be expressed in their midst. This is to govern the evangel.

The testimony of Jesus, beloved, is not just: "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved" and leave it there. The testimony of Jesus is Moses, the Psalms, and the Prophets - the whole thing, brought into realisation. How far does our evangelism go? Just to get decisions, if you like: genuine conversions, and leave it there? The work is only half done and the commission has not been carried out. "Baptizing them... teaching them...". For us here we know what that means: bringing them into a recognition of their identification with the Lord Jesus and by reason of that, making way for the whole testimony of the Christ. You see, the result of the evangel must be this: that the first step leads to something else. And taught ones, if Paul is the model evangelist, were gathered together and held together to become a vessel of the whole testimony.

I know the practical difficulties which arise in saying these things, but nevertheless we are right up against this thing today; the tragedy of half-done work where the whole testimony of Jesus does not get a chance. Our burden is simply this: that the Lord wants His whole testimony, a full expression of Christ, in those who are His. It is not enough for any of us to be just saved. We have to come into the fulness of God's testimony in His Son or we shall never satisfy the heart of God. And it is for that reason that we find such a tremendous preponderance of the New Testament bearing upon converts. One does not mean that what we call evangelistic work ceased with the apostles, but it is impressive that the New Testament is almost entirely occupied with believers, with converts. Whatever we may rightly or wrongly deduce from that, I think we may conclude, and rightly and finally, that the Lord is never satisfied to have people just saved, and that to be just saved can never represent the whole testimony of Jesus. There must be a moving on. We should move on with God into His whole thought.

I might just remind you of those features peculiar to the testimony in Moses. In speaking of the holy nation, that which made Israel in the days of her spiritual strength a wonderful expression of the testimony of Jesus, was this: firstly, the absolute sovereign Headship of the Lord, that the Lord Himself was her King until the days of decline and the days of Samuel when the spiritual state was very low, when they said: "Now make us a king to judge us like all the nations", and they repudiated the Lord. As He said to Samuel: "For they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them." But when the Lord was their only and their absolute Sovereign Head, that was one of the features of their days of glory, the manifestation of a glory above all the glory of the nations. His word was that they should not be reckoned among the nations but something altogether above the nations. The absolute sovereign Headship of the Lord. Now, if that is in type and figure a prophecy, a foreshadowing, and the church comes into that testimony, then we can say quite deliberately that the church which He builds is the church which has Him as its only and its absolute sovereign Head. That is, the people for whom the Lord Jesus has been made Head over all things. And that is something that has many practical outworkings. It represents the whole function of the Holy Spirit. The function of the Holy Spirit is to bring everything under the sovereign Headship of the Lord Jesus, and make Him Master of all things in the church so that nothing whatever is carried on only under His direction. The Holy Spirit is the expression in the church of the Headship of the Lord Jesus. Look at the book of the Acts. You see how utterly they surrendered to the Holy Spirit on all details; and that was, in effect, surrendering to the Headship of the Lord Jesus. Paul calls it, "Holding fast the Head".

Then, not only was the Lord their only King, their Sovereign Head; the Lord was the life of Israel so that no matter what their natural conditions were - if in a wilderness where there was no life, no resources of life, no possibility of living upon the ordinary level, nowhere to look for natural sustenance, or they would look in vain, and yet for forty years in a wilderness the Lord was their life. And the Lord takes up that aspect of the testimony of Jesus in John six: "This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die" (v. 50) "For the bread of God is He which comes down from heaven, and gives life unto the world" (v. 33). And the testimony of Jesus is firstly, that of His absolute sovereign Headship and government; and secondly, that His people know Him as their very life. And to make that testimony sure, the Lord will lead those who are wholly consecrated, by ways and into experiences where they have no life but Him, and there the testimony comes out. He will take their life away, that upon which they rest, in order that He may become their life.

Again, in Israel He was their wisdom; and trace the wisdom of God in Israel, when they had no wisdom of their own, they knew not which way to turn, what to do, how to act, when all human wisdom failed, God was their wisdom. He became Wisdom unto them, and He became the God in Israel ever doing wonders, and ever keeping things in the realm of wonder. And do you see how the Lord takes pains to maintain the wonder element in the life of His people? He brought them into situations and crises where for them there was an end of everything, and then He did something, and the issue was, so far as they were concerned, "Isn't our God wonderful!" And He was seeking to maintain that testimony in Israel: the wonder of His Own way when there was no way; the wonder of His wisdom when human wisdom came to an end. "He is made unto us wisdom." And the church which He builds is that in which there is a wisdom which the princes of this world never knew. Yes, a wisdom which to the princes of this world is folly, and yet is a wisdom which outwits them all the time. I believe the Lord would have us as His people more in a realm where we are saying: "Isn't our God wonderful! It is wonderful!" Some of us are having to say that every day. We have to close the day with saying: "In comparison with what I thought the day would be, it is wonderful. How the Lord has brought us through, met every need!" You began the day - there was nothing, but there has been the marvellous supply of the Lord, no lack. It is wonderful. And how the Lord finds a way through deadlocks and impasses and through situations where we can see nothing; no way out at all. That is the testimony of Jesus, the excellencies of Him in the life of His people.

Is that the church with which we are familiar? The Lord make us more familiar with that church, build it around us, and us into it.

Finally, in those days the Lord was their strength. When they had no strength, the Lord was their strength. Compare them with the nations round about. Compare them with the Philistines or the Assyrians - nations with a great history of war, trained for war, and all the armaments and tactics - and here a people who had never been trained in war, never been given a chance to learn to war, an oppressed nation in Egypt, brought out, and not one of the nations round about them, nor all the nations combined capable of standing before them; not because of what they were, but because the Lord was their strength. That is the testimony of the Lord in the midst. That testimony in Moses is taken up and brought over in Christ into the church to be our strength: "Strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power". The Lord our strength... when we have no might. That is why He has deliberately chosen the weak things. Are you a weak thing? Many of you will say: "Yes". But do you go further and say: "Because I am a weak thing, then I am no good". Beloved, remember there is a divine election associated with your weakness. He has chosen the weak things in order to be their strength, and being their strength, to show Himself glorious. Christ is your strength. Christ is my strength, and as that is seen in vessels of fragile clay, it is known what the Lord can be, what He is made unto us; known among men, but known better among angels, and known well among demons. What Christ can be in something which in itself may be like a piece of tissue paper is amazing! He can do mighty things through weak things when He is our strength.

I am saying all this to point out what the testimony of Jesus is and what the church is for; to show that: "Not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many... are called" for the very reason that if they were wise and mighty the glory could easily go to them and it would not get to Him, but what we have called "The legion of Are-nots" He takes up and displays His wisdom and power through them.

The Lord encourage us and provoke us and show us anew what it is He is after, what it is He is building that is the church. He is building it on this principle, to bring out these realities, those excellencies. In order to do that He must keep us low, keep us where no glory can be taken to ourselves, keep us dependent upon Him, keep us so that He, and He alone, is our life, our wisdom, our strength, but as He does that, His excellencies are shown forth. That is the object of our being in His church. This is the testimony of Jesus. Everything has pointed through the ages to this in which you and I are called; all the Scriptures lead to this. We are in the end of the ages when the testimony of Jesus is to be completed.

Ask the Lord for two things: To make the testimony good in you; when you are weak, to make the testimony good in you as strength; when you are feeling of all the most foolish, to make the testimony of His wisdom real in you; when you are feeling dead to make the testimony good of His life in you, and in faith, reach out to appropriate because it is for you in the Holy Spirit. This is faith's taking of Christ for life, strength, wisdom; ask the Lord to do that in your experience. And ask the Lord, on the ground of that, to put you out into the realm of need, to constitute a ministry through your experience, to the need.

The need of real ministry in the testimony of Jesus is so great. The need is desperate, and for any one of the Lord's children to be failing to fulfil a ministry to the full measure of what is possible is an awful tragedy today. The Lord deliver us from being less than we should be and can be in ministry in a day of great spiritual need, because we are not definitely exercising faith to make Him all that He is willing to be.

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