The Church's Position and Power in the Heavenlies

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 4 - Open Question & Answer Session 1

Initials of those giving answers (where known) refer to:
S.A. - Samuel Alexander
T.A.-S. - Theodore Austin-Sparks
P.W.F. - P. W. Faunch
G.P. - George Paterson

Reading: Colossians 2:1-6.

S.A. As we have often said, walking is taking one step at a time. And here the apostle seems to indicate that every step in the upward march of the overcomer to the throne, as well as the simple believer in the elementary things of life, is on the same principle, "As ye have received Christ Jesus the Lord so walk ye in Him."

There are two things that characterise the first step. One, an act of simple appropriating faith. Secondly, an absolute surrender to the Lordship of Christ. Those two marks characterise the first step, the step at which we came into a knowledge of Christ; faith and absolute obedience, faith and surrender. Every step is to be like that as we go on; we appropriate that which is presented to us as truth. By faith we receive it and we surrender to it. We yield ourselves utterly to it, to that which is presented to us, so that there is a definite transaction with the Lord over every fresh unveiling of the truth. And one feels that the reason so many of the Lord's people who are quite regular in their attendance at the gatherings, do not go on with Him, is there is not that definite transaction with the Lord following the presentation of truth. The truth is heard and enjoyed, but not definitely made their own by faith and there is not that utter yielding of the whole being to the truth thus presented. "As ye have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in Him." Weymouth's translation is: "As therefore you have received the Christ, even Jesus Christ our Lord, live and act in vital union with Him having the roots of your being firmly planted in Him and continually building yourself up in Him." Now, the point is faith; that at each successive stage of Christian experience there should be that act of appropriating faith.

Q. In prevailing prayer you pray for one under the power of the enemy, a believer, a saved soul, yet the power of the enemy comes upon that one at times. Taking the victory by faith in Christ, having a consciousness in your own heart that you have won through in prayer, that the Lord has answered, and yet not seeing the emancipation or the ground taken made manifest in the experience of the one prayed for, what is the attitude to be? It would seem as if the enemy's power is even stronger.

A. In a similar situation the word the Lord gave recently was Ephesians 6 where we have the spiritual conflict dealt with, "Having overcome all, stand". If you are conscious of having been given prayer in the Holy Spirit so that you have prevailed with the Lord and taken a position of spiritual ascendancy and there is no manifestation of the thing here, then it is a question of "standing in the evil day as victor on the field", and trust the Lord for the manifestation of that.

Q. Have I to continue in prayer for that one?

A. You hold the ground taken in continual prayer until the evidence of victory comes forth. You are conscious of having won the victory in the spiritual realm, you have brought the impact of Christ's victory upon the situation, the power of His Name and victory; yet no manifestation?

Q. In one case the conflict seemed worse.

A. P.W.F. Take the case of Elijah on Mount Carmel. The Lord was manifested as Lord and then there was the coming up into demonstration of that victory, but that did not rule out the persistence in prayer on the part of the prophet. That prayer was for a specific objective out from that as to which the Lord manifested His sovereignty. The coming down of the Lord in fire was the evidence of His sovereignty over Baal, but did not in itself touch the question of the truth. Elijah entered upon a separate activity and prayed through until he was assured in his heart; he actually prayed on until he saw the first sign, that God's recognition, God coming in was in the descent of the fire - God's attestation that followed up a persisting in prayer. Elijah has the faith that rain is coming. He says to Ahab, "Get thee up; a sound of abundance of rain." He makes the declaration and then goes on to Mount Carmel until the rain comes. You have the assurance that the Lord answers, but he got to work on that and prayed. See in that where you should continue to pray for that thing concerning which you once had the assurance that the Lord had answered. The alternative to that is to say the Lord has answered, and you sit back and then the thing doesn't happen. You are not fulfilling the condition, "Having done all, stand". For instance, a week of prayer for a certain Mission, a lot of prayer beforehand and we had come to a place of assurance that the Lord had answered. One or two evenings of prayer and assurance, and another evening the folk came together, a different company, and they were knocking at the door on things dealt with during the week and being impetuous. I said, "The Lord has heard that; we will start praising the Lord" and the effect was to quench prayer in that meeting, because they had not come to that place. Now that was presumption. What happened? Well, when the mission started, day after day went on and nothing happened and not until the last night was there the sign of a break. Now, if you come to the place of faith and assurance, hold on and do not quench prayer.

T.A.-S. It is a matter of completing the whole thing. I think we all realise that very often something has been lost even after a position has been taken and assurance given, by our not holding on until the actual thing is in possession. In the case of Elijah, he said to his servant, "Go back" seven times. Seven is the number of spiritual completeness and this thing had got to be seen right through to spiritual completeness. Now, the sovereign act of God is one thing, but our coming into that to see it right through in co-operation with God, is another thing. We have to see a thing right through; we must not let go until it is through. We must stand on our ground with the Lord. James says, "He prayed again and the heavens gave rain". It is a very important thing, that keeping right on with the Lord, holding the ground and seeing it right through. I think the point brother Paterson raised is the point between sovereignty and grace. We are getting off now the particular question asked, but he has touched that point and it should not be overlooked or set aside. What the Lord did in sovereignty on Mt. Carmel was the establishing of His Name. He might have left it there and the people been left face to face with that fact that God is God - the grace side must come in and they must have rain, the Lord must come in and give rain. Sovereignty and grace are not the same thing. One is a direct act of God in His own vindication which would leave us stark; that is imposed on us, but it does not do us much spiritual good in a way, but when the Lord follows that up by an act of grace and does us good, that is the Lord's extra bit. That is grace to an unworthy people. There are two sides to this matter, sovereignty and grace, in Elijah's case. They have to be recognised, and the issue after all was not just the issue of establishing the Divine sovereignty; it was also the grace of God to His people. The Lord wins a double battle when He adds to His sovereign act an act of grace. He wins not only the head, but also the heart.

S.A. God acted in response to and co-operation with the attitude Elijah took on each side. Elijah had to go through the thing.

T.A.-S. In the case of Elijah - and we would have said something this morning closely bound up with our present matter of consideration because it is all the matter of throne position - Elijah has secured in secret with God in his life of prayer a throne position. And then he suddenly breaks out and appears to the nation with the declaration: "As the Lord liveth before whom I stand there shall not be rain on the earth but according to my word." It is a most daring declaration. "Before whom I stand". "I stand before the Lord and my word governs the situation because I stand before the Lord." There is throne position. And it is as in the throne that Elijah sees that whole matter through.

P.W.F. It has been striking me too that Elijah was a man of like passions as we are. After that experience of falling into that inert, passive state (again that we were thinking of in a previous meditation) he simply crumpled up. Some of us know something of that. It comes to the physical, and then over the spiritual.

Q. What is the way of victory when one who is really in the will of God feels that the physical is getting on top of her and crowding out the spiritual?

A. T.A.-S. There we touch something important for us all. Most of us know something about that, but our experience is that the Lord never deals first of all with the effect, but always deals with the cause, and the cause is always spiritual. The cause here is not physical. We do not recognise that and we would not admit that; and we find that the Lord, when He comes to deal with a situation like that, calls upon our spirit to act first. He always calls upon our spirit to act and rise up and take hold of Him, and we have found again and again that the physical yields to the spiritual. The body yields to the spirit. The Lord does not deal with the body first of all in this New Testament, Holy Spirit time. He does not pick us up spiritually by first of all picking us up physically. If He were to do that, the whole system of things would be upset. He has first of all to make His appeal, His challenge to us spiritually. As our spirit takes hold of God and exercises itself in the Lord, if the Lord wants us physically up, that is the way that He does it. That is a fairly common experience among the Lord's people and an important thing for them to see, because so many who are getting into a bad way spiritually think their physical recovery, their physical improvement is necessary before there can be any spiritual improvement. That is the wrong end of the thing altogether.

T.A.-S. Now, while it is difficult to see that this thing is not basically physical, we see it is that, but if we really knew it, we should find it was because either our spirit had become bruised, damaged, hurt, pressed down, something had struck a blow at our spirit and we had become spiritually troubled, spiritually injured and the spirit was not strong, not rising up, was being pressed down by something that had happened and then the physical had fallen. It is like that which upsets the nervous constitution, that wears and pulls down the physical, but it is something deeper in our case. Not that we have taken it on, we are, as we are well aware of right spiritually, we refuse that; but if a blow has been struck at our spirit and it has been injured, then the weakening of our spirit and the pressing under of our spirit results in other things physically. It gets on top of us and so when the Lord seeks to recover us He begins by making His appeal to our spirit first of all to throw off and exercise itself in Him and lay hold of His strength and be strong in the strength of His might. And then whatever the Lord wants done, physically we are able to do it. I have had some experience and I do know I have never been able to do things physically by simply getting physically fit to come out in the Lord's service, by getting better naturally. But it has always been a quickening of spirit first. And while the physical may have been very tardy in coming into line, it was a movement of Life in the spirit. It is a very important thing for the Lord's servants.

T.A.-S. Speaking of missionaries, it should be recognised that the physical is not the basic thing. That does not mean that spiritual strength will always produce physical fitness, but for really spiritual usefulness to the Lord in His service the thing always begins in the spirit. If Romans 8:10-11 means anything at all, it is just that the quickening of the mortal body is from the inside and not from the outside, "by His Spirit who dwelleth in you".

T.A.-S. The Holy Spirit does not dwell in this physical body directly, not in these veins, in this nervous system, in this flesh, in these bones, but He is in the renewed spirit, the inner man, and He quickens the mortal body from His dwelling place: His habitation in the renewed spirit, so that the quickening of the mortal body is from the Spirit (Rom. 8:11). So often we wait to feel better before we undertake anything for the Lord, and we may wait a long time. The Lord says, if we have the witness that the Lord requires this, the Lord waits for us in spirit to take hold of His Life. It is a matter of laying hold of His Life first of all and the other follows in the Holy Spirit. One makes that provision because there are many things we would like to do for the Lord and we do not get Life for it, but in the will of God the enablement begins in the spirit and not in the body.

S.A. There is in Christ a sufficiency of life and resource for everybody. And faith's appropriation, simply standing, whatever the physical may be, standing to receive that which is in Christ for us so that the physical condition, weak or strong, is no criterion at all, it is a spiritual fact. You act on the basis of the Lord's call and you find Life comes in.

Q. (Perhaps rather a remark, or testimony, than a direct question): When in fellowship with two or three in a room, you feel very ill, but you are not dwelling on it, the fellowship of the Holy Spirit from one to another brings physical life. This is a ministry of life one to another.

(Another testimony): One, feeling very unwell, came to a meeting where there was prayer for anyone suffering. When returning home the joy of the Lord came into her spirit and she was lifted and from that time the Lord had undertaken.

(Further remark): The proof of it is that in a time of physical exhaustion, by waiting on the Lord we renew our strength.

A. S.A. The point we want to grasp as the Lord's servants is this. We are brought into another realm, not left to live here in the physical realm with the physical dominating, whether it be strength or weakness. But the test and the criterion is in another realm. The enemy does attack the bodies of the Lord's servants, and make service in the Lord's will impossible for them, and if we accept that, we shall be pressed out. But if we recognise this root principle, that there is a sufficiency of resource in Christ for every demand that comes to us in the Holy Spirit, and stand there in a definite faith appropriation and go on in weakness, we give the Lord the opportunity He needs of demonstrating this in experience. Life comes in. It is not only a question of spiritual strengthening; it is Life that tingles through the whole physical frame. Sometimes it is an experience where you feel the sense of quickening in your mortal body, but it is in response to a spiritual stand and act of obedience.

T.A.-S. Sometimes we are renewed through the prayers of other members of the Body too. That is what they are for! We have got to realise that there are laws in the Lord's mind which lie behind every exhortation and instruction that He gives. He does not say why He tells us to do certain things, but He knows why and we discover the law as we do the thing. And the Lord says, "Forsake not the assembling of yourselves together" etc. He does not tell you why, He tells you to do it as the Day approaches and the spiritual pressure increases. You come together as the Lord's children, you get lifted up and you have a ministration of Life, and you feel better than if you had spent the evening by the fire. You discover the law of Life in spiritual fellowship, in touch with other members. There is a law bound up with every command and you discover this as you obey.

Q. Where is the real link between soul and spirit? It is difficult to know how not to act in the soul. For instance, how does it happen that sometimes in starting in the spirit one falls back again into the soul life and things become weak?

A. If you act, it may be in the right direction, but in the soul and not in the spirit and the trouble is one, because of hurry and precipitance, that is a sign for you that because your act is not a deliberate one, because you are acting hurriedly, it is not of God. One is just seeking to suggest one indication that might be a proof that you are not acting in the will of God, that proof would be that you were acting in haste, therefore the thing could not be according to the mind of the Lord.

One great safeguard in coming to the soul realm is the definite yielding to death of all personal desires in the matter, the application of the cross of Christ to all that is personal; yielding up to the Lord so that you are free to receive the Lord's mind in spirit. It is very deep, because the soul is very subtle. It raises the whole question of Divine guidance which is a problem with the Lord's people. But one of our great difficulties is there I am sure, in not definitely yielding up to the Lord every bit of personal wish and thought in connection with it and getting a clear registration of the Lord's mind in spirit.

T.A.-S. I am not quite sure of the question. Do I understand that it is a matter of first of all having a witness, an assurance that the thing is of the Lord, but at some subsequent point dropping out of the spirit onto a lower level and things becoming confused? Or is the question that you have an assurance that the thing is of the Lord and then you go forward and find that it is not in the living realm, what there is even on a lower level? Is the point at which the drop comes some way on after having known Life, liberty in the Spirit in that work, or is it between the acceptance of it and the taking up of the work?

Q. It is after having had the assurance of peace and Life, having gone on, and yet not in the work.

T.A.-S. If you had gone into that thing by the Lord's clear leading and had blessing and Life for a period, and then dropped out, that sets up one situation. If it is a question of first of all getting witness and Life about a thing and feeling quite at rest and peace, and then when you start out into it you find you are not in a spiritual realm, that is another situation altogether. That brings in other matters and one of the matters is that of corporate fellowship for taking that step.

T.A.-S. We must not act in relation to any call of God as though we were independent individuals. If we were to get a witness that He is calling us to a place of work it does not mean that we can step out on that as though we were freelances. We ought to go and have prayer and get them to come in, and have that confirmed, and that they should walk round it in the Name of the Lord. That is one great factor, otherwise we can get out as independent individuals and we shall find that we shall have to come back and seek co-operation to get on with that thing.

T.A.-S. Another factor is the time factor - a very important one - whether the Lord wants that today or next week. You can take a thing out of the time and get into awful confusion although that thing is of God. It may be that the Lord wants us to go to some place near or far, at home or abroad. He wants us to go, we have the witness that this is the place to which He wants us to go and He wants us to serve Him, but if we go today when the Lord wants us to go tomorrow, we have taken it into our own hands and we have no Life. If we do it this week when the Lord wants it a month hence, we find we are not getting on, we have come out of the Lord's time. It is a very important thing in doing the will of God not to get out of the Lord's timings. And these are factors that govern the difference between the two things which we have set forth; in getting a witness as to the Lord's will and going on immediately in Life, or the different situation altogether, having gone on in Life and at some subsequent period falling out.

T.A.-S. The corporate factor is an important one, because now the ministry is one ministry, it is a Body ministry and not an individual ministry. And all ministry is corporate ministry and not that of the individual, if we go on. Even if the Lord may say in us, as with Paul and Barnabas, that He wanted them out in a certain ministry to go on missionary journeys, He may give that witness. And undoubtedly Paul had that witness personally long before they laid hands on him, that the Lord was going to send him far away unto the nations, but he tarried at Antioch until the Lord said, "Separate Me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them." Then what was individual became corporate and they could go on, but if Paul had ventured out in his own line of things, things would have fallen out and Paul would have said, "What is the matter?" And the Lord would have sent him back to where he had to recognise the great principle of the truth with which he was to be entrusted, with the principle of the one Body. The Lord would not allow the violation of a truth; that is why He sent him to Damascus to get his instructions. The Lord would not violate the truth He was going to entrust to Paul, and held him into the principle of corporateness in everything. That is an important thing for us to recognise.

T.A.-S. Of course, anyone who has not gone on into the Ephesian position, church position, remains in the elementary things of Christian work and service never comes up against those challenges and seem to get on very well and have success. But there is always a limit and their work is very earthbound; it is not touching the unseen and not among principalities and powers. When we come into the church realm the Lord holds us to it and if we violate the Body law we shall get into confusion sooner or later. So that, while having the Lord's witness in our own hearts as to the Lord's will, and having joy about it, we must come together with those who are spiritual and say, "The Lord has laid this on my heart, but this is not an isolated thing, this relates to the whole Body of Christ and I must have fellowship. It must come into the House and I want you to go round this thing with me that it shall be kept a thing for the Lord." You see the principle, and unless that is done, a thing which the Lord has laid on our hearts may become confused, and is a strange experience that something quite living as the Lord's will comes to them. And the thing gets into a realm where it loses its Life. Were we wrong in our guidance? No, but wrong in the way we took our guidance instead of recognising the Lord's principles of Life and ministry.

T.A.-S. The initial form of the question I do not think has been covered altogether. There is a lot more to be said as to how at fine points we can discriminate between soul and spirit, but that is another matter where you must have a case to work on.

Q. Do not you think you can challenge God to make circumstances fit in as well as corporate fellowship with others? Say, "If You want me in that place, You have got to open the way, take away barriers." Or do we wait too long for circumstances? It is this waiting that is the crux altogether. How long do we have to wait? What do we have to wait for as an indication of God's will?

A. T.A.-S. You must, before the Lord, very definitely test your tests. You put something out for the Lord, you may be putting something that the Lord will not accept as a ground of justification, and find out whether that is a definitely accepted thing, accepted ground, or whether you might have to withdraw that and put out something else. The first witness is of Life and peace and then a great deal depends upon the individual case as to what follows, what the difficulty might be, the obstacle, what the circumstances are, as to how far you can test the Lord and challenge the Lord on coming into line with your witness. Sometimes even when you have the witness, you are delayed, and rightly, by the Lord; though you have the thing in Life, the Lord keeps you back. It is for us to seek the Lord as to whether there is any reason in ourselves why we are delayed. And the recognition of the matter and bringing circumstances into line depends upon the individual case. You cannot issue a formula.

S.A. When you are in the Lord's will, and in the Lord's time, circumstances have a wonderful way of shaping themselves.

T.A.-S. You make discoveries that the Lord had things in His own mind to bring about in order that when His moment came, He might have a full opportunity. He is working while He holds us back, even from Divinely given consciousness. He is working in other realms so that when His time comes we shall find He has accomplished a good deal more which secures a greater advantage than if we had gone when we thought. There have been long delays in certain lives, but some of them will tell you that they are glad that these delays took place. But the Lord was doing other things in the unseen, and when the time came, He had a great deal more on hand for the success of the enterprise than would have been if it had all come about before. The Lord was working in other realms. We may take it as a settled thing that the Lord's delays have more than one explanation. It is to develop faith in us, to bring us to a spiritual state, but the Lord has many strings to His bow. He has a lot of ideas, so that when His time comes, He has a whole handful of things that He has been working and bringing about. And when we move out, it has been for us a beneficial delay and we find He has done this or that, and if we had gone before, it would not have been. We can seek the Lord for the adjustment of what are humanly impossible situations to His leading of us.

G.P. That is, not to accept the circumstances willy-nilly and wait for them to change.

P.W.F. Another factor struck me. There was wonderful unanimity in the company who waited upon the Lord at Antioch. There was a fellowship there. Not just that Paul and Barnabas had Christian friends here and there to whom they took the matter, but the question of a matter of close fellowship in which a real oneness of heart and witness of spirit was given. It was not that certain friends said, "Yes" and certain other friends said, "No".

S.A. They were elders of the church who were ministering to the Lord in a definite way.

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