The Church's Position and Power in the Heavenlies

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 11 - The Whole Armour of God (continued)

We have been on one theme, one great objective of the Lord for this time we believe: the securing of His company of overcomers to break through with Him at the end. And we have since been occupied with the pathway to the throne of the overcomer.

Now just one hurried step back to try and get you into the practical line on this matter before we take the next step. We have Ephesians before us and we have come to see that the position of the believer in Christ is in the heavenlies according to the mind of God: actually so far as the Lord Jesus is concerned, spiritually so as to the Lord's mind for us, but not always experimentally so, so far as we are concerned. And it is with a view to our realising our place in the heavenlies and fulfilling our spiritual ministry and vocation, and accomplishing our spiritual warfare there, that we are here at this time in these hours of contemplation.

We have been, in the earlier hours of these days in which it has not been possible for most of you to be present, we have been speaking very much about the necessary work of the cross in us in order that we might realise that position and effectually function there; the necessity for the cross to cut off from us and cut us off from every compromising element, everything that would compromise our position and make for failure and give the enemy the ground to render all our warfare ineffective, abortive, and even to make our teaching about the heavenlies a futile and empty thing. So that while we have the doctrine and speak about the position and try to exercise ourselves along these lines, there is nothing being accomplished. The thing is not working out because in all probability there is something that is compromising us with which the cross has not been allowed to deal, upon which the cross has not been brought to bear.

In order to reach the place of effectual warfare and work, especially through prayer, there must be that stripping off and setting aside by the cross of all the elements of our natural life, all the elements of what is ourselves by nature which we might seek to utilise in spiritual things, but which could never serve spiritual ends. It means the stripping off of all elements of this world-system as means and methods and such like, of trying to accomplish the work of God; the motives and ambitions which are worldly in their essence and in their nature. These all have to be set aside by the cross and we have to come to a place of absolute transparency spiritually where it is all the Lord and none of ourselves. Even that strength of our own will and determination, the strength of our own self-life as such by nature, has to be set aside or it will be broken, and in the breaking our testimony will break down. So often our very testimony, our claimed heavenly position goes to pieces with our being smashed; the two things go together. They are both broken together if we have tried to maintain or fulfill the testimony with soul strength or soul resource. The power of a natural determination and clenching of fists is no good here and has to go and it so often is the ground of our being confused and made ashamed so that all our claims are proved to be valueless because they existed in the wrong realm. We tried to maintain them, not in the spirit, but by some other means which was natural in its source, its principle, and its constitution.

Now beloved, if you and I are alive at the time of the rapture and have not gone already; if we are alive at that moment we shall be caught up, but as we are caught up we shall be changed. And that change will be in the nature of a stripping off, it will be almost like our passing through a sieve, and that sieve will strip off from us everything mortal, everything of the old creation that remains and only our renewed spirit will pass through that sieve, to be clothed upon with our new body; it will simply be stripped off. Now, I am saying that by way of illustration, for there is a spiritual translation which precedes that. There is this coming now to our heavenly position and the same thing takes place spiritually as will then take place literally. That is, we cannot pass through to the heavenly position without going through a very fine sieve in which everything that is of ourselves and of this world is stripped off. In so far as we do carry through anything of that, we really have not reached the heavenly position, although we think we have; it is merely mental and not spiritual. It is possible for us to live in a mental heavenlies which does not work out spiritually.

It is a blessed thing to think that not one scrap of this old body of mortality can get up there, we want the Lord to make the sieve as fine as He can! Now, in us, there is the application of that spiritually. Not one fragment of this natural life can get through to the throne. You may get through theoretically, but not spiritually. In so far as the cross is appropriated and in faith placed over against every bit of that natural life, we have an understanding with the Lord that He makes that effective in us. So far as that is true, we come to spiritual ascendency, the place of power, the real heavenlies in Christ where things work. That is why so often when we tackle spiritual situations and do not get through, the Lord turns us back to deal with some element which is not in essence of Himself, something of ourselves somewhere, something of the world in spirit somewhere. He turns us back to deal with that before ever we can get on successfully and triumphantly with this issue which is at stake. We do not get through one whit to the throne only in so far as we are living, walking, moving, warring and everything else, in the Spirit, not in the flesh, but in the Spirit.

Now we have dealt with that, not in exactly the same words or manner of setting it forth, but in principle we have been much on that line in the previous messages. In a previous chapter we were speaking about the equipment for the warfare in the heavenlies as in the 6th chapter of the letter to the Ephesians - the whole armour of God - and we briefly dealt with the first three parts of that armour: the girdle of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, and the shoes of readiness in the gospel of peace. We shall almost immediately proceed to say just a little about the remaining three parts of that armour. But before doing so, I want to say just a few more words about the position in which we are here seen to be.

You notice that what is said about our position is that a position has been taken, is come to. We are seen here as not trying to get to a position, not aiming at a position, but being in a position. The earlier parts of the letter have brought in the cross in order to make that possible. That has been dealt with in chapter two. We have, through death, burial, and resurrection with the Lord Jesus, had this position made both possible and actual if those truths have really been revealed and taken by faith. So that when we get to Ephesians 6, we are in the position, or we are supposed to be in it, and we are seen here as in the position.

Now, all these wiles of the devil which are mentioned here (for all the provision made in the armour of God is against the wiles of the devil) are not intended to keep us from our position, but to bring us down out of, to pull us down, to fling us down from our position. Why do we say this? Because of the tremendous importance which lies in our knowing more about the virtue of the position alone. There is a tremendous virtue that is power about just being in position. What I mean is this. There is far too much time taken up with trying to get on top of the enemy, and we use a great deal of our strength in trying to reach up and get on top and get over, and we think that we are really fulfilling this warfare and that the whole matter of victory is a matter of getting to our position. Nothing of the kind. The whole matter of victory is to be in position and stay there. Simply being in position is a tremendously virtuous, powerful thing. I want you to get that. You see, the very suggestion that the enemy is on top, the very idea of that, that the enemy is in the ascendency may have come from him and may just be our undoing, our weakness. Before you begin to meet the enemy in warfare you have got to be in your position, and the fact that you are in your position is your main stay.

Now, when you come into this business you find people spend fifty-five minutes out of every sixty asking to be brought into position, or seeking to get in position, or, as they say, "taking position". But when you come to the warfare in Ephesians, you are already in position. You are not admitting for one moment that the enemy is in position; if you are, you are at a disadvantage at once. Our business is not now to get on top of the enemy, but to prevent him from bringing us out of our position. That is what is here. Why is all this panoply of God defensive? And I use that word in spite of the sword of the Spirit. Yet, there may be an offensive element in the sword, it is, as here, mainly a defensive thing. Why is it all so defensive, protective? One of the main weapons of the Roman soldier, which Paul must have seen, is never mentioned: the spear, the long spear - never mentioned. He must have seen it, it was an essential part of the outfit of the Roman soldier, but he does not mention it. It was essentially a thing for going out into battle; that is, the aggressive thing. It is not here. This outfit is defensive, protective in its entirety.

Now, all the wiles of the devil are intended to bring us out of our position, and we shall see that as we deal with these other matters as we go along. What is the main emphasis in this part of the chapter dealing with warfare in the heavens? Stand. It may be withstand, but it is stand. It represents position. It is position you have come to and you stand and you withstand and when you have done all, you stand, you remain. You are there before you start, you are victor on the field, and you have to remain on the field by standing and withstanding. You are not fighting to get, you are fighting in and round that. All this circles around that fact. All these things of the armour have to do with standing and being in your position. And if for one moment we can be brought to a state of mind where we admit that the enemy holds that position of ascendency, things have all gone wrong. You see this is all led up to by the fact that raised the Lord Jesus from the dead and set Him at His own right hand far above all principality and power and dominion and every name that is named, not only in this age, but that which is to come.

He has made us to sit far above - that is not fighting to get there, that is where you are, that is your position. There is tremendous virtue in recognising your position and taking it and staying there. Oh yes, I know (and that is where the armour comes in) the enemy would make you believe otherwise, that he is in the ascendency. You come to see that armour is not given you in order to help you to get to a position of victory; it is given to help you to stand in a position and not to get there. Recognising that that is what is presented, you can go on with your armour.

The Shield of Faith

"Withal taking the shield of faith". Now, the translation is a little unfortunate and weak, and it would be far better if it was, "Now over all take the shield of faith" because the Greek word here for "shield" is not the Greek word which speaks of the little round shield you see so often in the hand of the Roman soldier, but the big shield. So here is the big shield, it is the shield which can cover the whole man, behind which he can crouch, behind which, as he holds it, almost his entire figure is hid. Over all take the shield of faith, that is the meaning here, the big shield of faith by which all the fiery darts of the evil one are met. Those fiery darts are aimed to make us yield our position, and those fiery darts are hurled against our being with the object of lodging in us something which is the opposite of faith. Seeing that it is the shield of faith then, that shield is intended to meet the opposite of faith, and the opposite of faith is doubt, fear, and uncertainty. It is a whole host of questions to bring you out of position. Get a doubt lodged in and you will find you are very soon out of fighting capacity and ability. A doubt, a little bit of unbelief, a fear lodged inside, isn't it a fiery dart?

Paul knew, evidently, something about warfare in those days, and he knew that very often enemies then dipped their darts in some liquid and then set them on fire so that they would burn the clothes of their opponent and set them on fire; darts flaming. And beloved, doesn't a little bit of doubt work like that? Doesn't a little bit of fear work like that? You get a bit of fear lodged in you and you find that a very successful wile of the devil. Oh, what a terrible thing fear is. How it does destroy the entire morale, bring you down, pursues you so that you cannot rise up, fight, stand - all your resistance is taken from you when once a bit of fear is lodged in your heart; a bit of uncertainty, a question, or half a dozen questions. And today there are many of the Lord's children put out of the fight because they have got a lot of questions about themselves, about the Lord, about all things that put them in uncertainty. Wherefore, take the big shield of faith, you need every part covering by that; you need it as much for the feet as for the head. If you are going to walk in uncertainty you are not going very far in strength. If you are going to have any uncertainty with doubts, you will be undone; you need the big shield of faith to get your whole man behind that.

The Helmet of Salvation

In our open session a question was asked about involuntary thought. When you do not definitely think, not thinking positively, thinking unto another direction, thoughts are thrust into your mind in spite of everything; you cannot help it. Those thoughts you do not want come rushing in and take hold. And we pointed out that for that, the helmet of salvation may be one of God's provisions.

But the point is, we noticed the Greek name of this thing called the "helmet" - round the head - put salvation around your head. We said with regard to the matter of, call it involuntary thought, imagination and all those things from which we need protection, I want to concentrate upon one especially of them now and only to mention it as we go on.

Here the helmet of salvation is intended to protect the head against blows, more than thrusts. The fiery darts are thrusts, but the head is the place on which you get hits, not thrusts. As a rule, in war a man with his spear, his sword, or his arrow does not aim at the head, but he aims at the head with his battle axe - you get blows, not thrusts, to knock you down, and so in another place the apostle speaks about "for a helmet, the hope of salvation". Here he says the helmet of salvation. Now, doubts and fears and such like things are darts, thrusts, which sting, burn, prick, wound; but despair, hopelessness, dejection, depression is a felling blow; something more than the burning, stinging doubt which works slowly and does not accomplish its deadly work at once, but a blow of despair brings you down like Elijah from Carmel to the Juniper tree. One blow of despair, hopelessness, lays you low very quickly and so the hope of salvation has to be put around your head as a counter to despair, to depression, and discouragement.

Discouragement doesn't take long to bring us down out of position. Why, you may be this moment right up in the highest heavens, and someone say something to you, perhaps about the message you have been giving, something unkind about the good work to which you have been giving yourself, and in a moment your spirit is down. And from the highest heights of exaltation you come to the lowest depths of discouragement by simply one blow of a word of criticism. It is the hope of salvation as a helmet. What is the hope of salvation? It can be expressed in many different words of Scripture. "I know whom I have believed" - not in whom - "I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day." Another verse is: "He who has begun a good work in you will perfect it unto the day of Christ". That is the hope of salvation. Gather up those things which express the hope of salvation. "I give unto them eternal life and they shall never perish and none shall pluck them out of My hand." That is the hope of salvation. Put that around your head when discouragement, despair, or depression assail you. Practical, isn't it?

The Sword of the Spirit

Well, now we pass on to the last word and "take the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God". This too is also intended to help us in maintaining our position; not in getting it. When the Lord Jesus met the tempter in the wilderness, the tempter hurled fiery darts and aimed blows and resorted to his many wiles, but the Lord did not try to get His position over the devil by using the Word of God; He maintained His position by using it. That is why I said the sword here is defensive, but it has a positive aspect. It is the return of something positive to the enemy's hurlings. You do not just stand merely in a defensive battle and take all that comes, but from your position you return something. It is not necessary that you go rushing out to meet the enemy, you return something and you return to him the Word of God. It is the, if you like, the offensive defence; you have got to have a positive side of things. It is not just standing and receiving all that he likes to put over, but it is positively meeting that with something else, and that is the Word of God.

The Lord Jesus in the wilderness might have adopted this attitude with Satan and when Satan said this thing or that, whatever the temptation might have been, He might have said, "Alright, you say that, say it if you like, I do not mind. You can go on saying things like that if you like..." but He did not. The enemy had not just got to be allowed to feel it was all with him on his side, the Lord returned something to him which broke down his attack. It was not that the Lord necessarily went out after him and just met and fought him, but He broke down his attack by what He returned: the Word of God. You see the point? That is not receiving all and giving nothing. We have got something and have something to give away and we must be ready with the thing that effectually answers the assault.

We mentioned Luther and his answer to the accusation of the enemy, he had something suitable for the occasion and he returned it. How positively necessary it is for the man of God to be thoroughly furnished with the Word of God. All Scripture is given by inspiration and is profitable for this, that the man of God "may be thoroughly furnished unto every good work". We must know the value of the Word of God, how to use it, and have it to hand, for it is a tremendously protective defensive, delivering thing. For those who are faithful with the Word of God and do not neglect it and only go to it in emergencies, but keep the Word of God by them and read it, feed upon it, how often when pressed by the foe the Lord does give them something that delivers. How blessed it is when you are so sorely pressed, you are having the blows of depression and discouragement rained upon your head, and the fiery darts all about you of fear and uncertainty aimed at you one after the other, and you turn, as is your habit, to the Word of God, and the Lord just puts His finger on, "He shall compass me about with songs of deliverance"! You come up and you have got your position established and you have got something to stand on and you put that over.

We want to have the Word of God not only in the book, but in our hearts so that the Holy Spirit can bring up in us the thing to return in the hour of travail. There is great value in having the Word of the Lord stored up in our hearts, not just in our heads. Sometimes we forget it all, but if it is in our hearts, the Lord can bring it up; we have forgotten it, but it is there. It has been there some time, gone beyond our consciousness for the time being, but because it is there, we have been faithful with the Word, the Holy Spirit brings up that and speaks it in our heart in a time of need and that delivers us, we put that over. Have you not had an experience more than once when something the Lord had said to you long since and you had long forgotten, in an hour of deep dire need you have lifted your heart to the Lord for something to renew you, save you, in that moment the Lord has brought up that from the past and that has been the means of your deliverance. The point is to have it there to be brought up. Be faithful with the Word, give the Lord something to work on, something to bring up. "Let the Word of God dwell in you richly in all wisdom and spiritual understanding."

Now, I think that is all I have to say at present. I hope it will prove really profitable. Just go back over this ground again quietly, from the cross and what has been said about the cross again, right through about the position and to the maintaining of position, how the position is maintained, because there is tremendous victory in just getting position. It is like some of those Old Testament instances, "Ye shall not need to fight in this battle, the Lord shall fight for you, ye shall hold your peace", but there was the necessity for taking position. When that was settled, the people had to take the position of praise, the people had to stand in their position before the Lord and the Lord did the rest.

You remember, "When the people began to sing and praise and to say, 'For His mercy endures for ever', the Lord sent ambushments". What does it say about the one who offers the sacrifice of praise? "He who offereth the sacrifice of praise glorifeth Me and prepareth the way whereby I can show him the salvation of God." "Opened a way..." that is the position. The virtue of position. It does not say "he that goes hammering about at the enemy glorifies Me and opens a way" etc.; in other words, it is he who takes his position and keeps it. But that is the difficulty, we are out of position many times a day for one reason or another. The Lord enable us to keep in position.

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