by T. Austin-Sparks
Reading: 2 Cor. 3:2-18; 4:1,3-6.
These passages carry on the thoughts found in Romans 12, connected with the changes and transitions from the outward to the inward. There comes clearly into view here the fact that in Moses the revelation and ministration was outward, and in Christ the revelation and ministration is inward.
The difference is seen between the passing and the permanent. Twice over in these verses we find a reference to that which was passing. Then we come to that which remains. What is of Christ abides. What was of Moses passes.
Then the difference and the effect is noted. In the case of the revelation and ministration through and by Moses, there was no transformation in the lives of God's people. Even at the time of the revelation and the ministration in glory, their hearts were hardened. It had no heart effect upon them. That is clearly stated. Now here with that which comes in and through Christ it is a matter of heart effect: "God hath shined into our hearts", and the effect is that we are changed, transformed. The word in Romans 12 comes up here again. There it is by the renewing of our mind. Here it is by the inward revelation of the Lord Jesus, which is the same thing in effect. It is the transformation from within.
Life and Ministry
That has to do with the life, and then, following that, the ministry. The first effect of the revelation is the changing of the life itself. The second effect is, out of that, a ministry in power. The question of service arises once more: "...seeing we have this ministry".
The ministry, according to the New Testament, is the result of an inward revelation and transformation, and not the result of an objective or outward presentation.
The Letter and the Spirit
There is another contrast mentioned here in this part of the Word. It is the difference between the letter and the Spirit. You notice with these weighings of one thing over against the other, a list of things which come under one word: "not"; not this, not that, not that, not something else. But then you have another list. Here it is not the letter, but the Spirit, for the letter kills, but the Spirit makes alive. "The letter" corresponds to that which is written on tables of stone, as something objectively presented. It is a commandment imposed from without: "Thou shalt", or, "thou shalt not" - that which takes its place is Christ, the Word of God; Christ, the Revelation, but not now presented to us as a standard to which we must conform, but now as in our hearts in the power of the Holy Spirit. That is life; that is the Spirit as against the letter. One is death; the other is life. One is bondage; the other liberty.
Let us look at 2 Corinthians 3:16: "But whensoever it shall turn to the Lord, the veil is taken away."
That veil, in its existence, sums up the whole of that life and service which is in bondage, or death. That veil, in its removal, represents the whole life and service in liberty, power, and life. The apostle says in a great many more words: "Now the existence of that veil speaks of limitation, bondage and death". That veil is the very symbol of limitation. The taking away of that veil is the taking away of all such limitation in life and in ministry. The veil represents a state in the first place, a natural state in man. It was not that God chose the veil, or imposed the veil. It was not God's will to limit the glory in that way. The glory was spontaneous; the glory was there. But for the people's condition there would have been no veil and the glory would have remained. But it was because of a state in the people that the veil had to be taken and used. They were not able to look upon the glory. They were not able to abide in the glory. Their own condition in nature rendered it impossible for them to remain in the unveiled glory. If the veil is taken away then that means that something has happened, a new capacity has been brought in, a new ability. Something has happened inside. Christ has been revealed in the heart.
When by the ministration of the Holy Spirit you and I see Christ and the meaning of Christ, when we see what He is in the content of His very being as a Man Who for men has met all the demands of the infinite glory, which glory is the expression of the infinite holiness, and faith has taken that Man as the answer to all those demands; the veil is removed, limitation has gone, bondage has gone, exclusion has gone. "Whensoever it shall turn to the Lord, the veil is taken away." That relates to Moses turning away from the people and the condition that was in man, the condition as he found it in the people. When he was facing that, the veil had to be put on. But when he turns away from the human condition to the Lord, and goes in where the Lord is, he takes the veil away. There is no need for a veil when you come into the presence of the Lord. What is the presence of the Lord in the most holy place? It is all in virtue of what Christ is. You have the mercy seat, and you have the ark. In there it is Christ, and because of what Christ is in the presence of God, the glory is full, without a veil. And when it shall turn there, to the Lord, in virtue of what Christ is, the veil is taken away. Even Moses could only go into the presence of God on the ground of the precious blood and everything else which spoke of Christ.
While we are in the realm of what man is by nature, we are under the limitation of a veil. Even though we may be towards ourselves, if we are looking in our own direction as Moses looked in the direction of the people, and taking ourselves into account as to what we are by nature, we come under a veil and the glory is at once arrested. Every kind of limitation falls upon us, and all that we are and do is in a realm of bondage. Face yourself in what you are by nature, and a veil is imposed at once. It is always so.
There are a lot of the Lord's people who are labouring under the veil, simply because they are looking at themselves and what they are by nature, but when they turn away from themselves unto the Lord, on the ground of what Christ is, the veil disappears. The limitation goes, the bondage goes, and the glory becomes full.
The Veil Speaks of a Natural State
The taking of the veil away is speaking of Christ having dealt with that natural state, having entered into it and put it away, and now it is not what I am, but what He is, and the veil has gone. That is where we begin. But that is the basis of living victoriously. That is also the basis of ministry and service.
If you want the secret of Paul's great ministry, here it is. It was His great apprehension of Christ. No man had a lower opinion of himself than Paul did, but his low opinion of himself, his abhorring of himself, was never allowed to bring that veil back. For him it only meant a larger appreciation of Christ. He did not dwell upon what he was, saying always: "Well, I am so-and-so, and I am therefore not fit for this service, and I dare not do it". No! Recognising himself, he also saw what Christ was, and the veil could not come in. He was a man without a veil, because of his turning to the Lord away from himself, both in life and in service.
Man cannot see God's glory if he is under the bondage of what he is in himself, in his natural state. Do you want to see the glory? Then turn your eyes away from yourself and keep them fastened upon Him and what He is for you.
We shall not even see the glory of God in a human face until our heart has been dealt with. We never shall see the glory of God anywhere until the heart matter has been touched, and God has shined into our hearts. No wonder the Jews could not see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, that Jesus of Nazareth was to them no different from any other man, and that they could regard Him, speak about Him, deal with Him on the basis of any man. They saw nothing more than an ordinary Jew amongst them. They did not see the glory. There was a veil between, because of what they were, because of the state of their heart. There is need for this work of God in our hearts, this inwardness of the Divine operation to bring us into the place of the fulness of the glory and liberty of Christ. It is stressed in every part of the Word that the key to the whole situation is the inner man quickened, renewed, illumined. No matter how great, extensive, comprehensive may be our religious history, in so far as that is a thing which is different from an inward work and revelation in our hearts, there will be limitation, bondage and an absence of glory. It can be settled forever that the real measure of glory and liberty and power is just in proportion to the revelation of Christ in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, not one bit more. There can be a kind of glorying in something which is seen with the mind, which is less than this glory revealed in the heart, and when the test comes, it is found that, after all, our glorying has been in an ideal, a conception, but not in a heart revelation of Christ. For everything this heart revelation is indispensable if it is to stand the test and carry us right through, but once we get it we have got the root of the matter in us, and we shall go right through.
When this heart condition is dealt with, when things have become inward by the opening of the heart to the Lord, then these other things must follow. The first of which is:
The Glory of God in the Face of Jesus Christ
That appears to be a very prosaic, a very ordinary statement. Is there not some element of challenge about a statement like that? Although for a good many years I have known the Lord in quite a real way, and have been learning something of the Lord, yet at the present time, after all these years, I feel that I am only just beginning to see the Lord. The revelation of the Lord Jesus in the heart is something which makes you feel that all that has gone before, however much of revelation it may have been, is nothing in comparison with that which we are seeing now. And although today you may be glorying in something which seems to eclipse all else and make it as though it were not, perhaps in a week hence you will feel that what you knew a week ago is nothing. Today we are seeing something of the meaning of the Man in the glory which makes us feel that we have never known anything about Christ. We shall see something more in a week or two in our hearts which will make us feel that even today's revelation is as nothing. With it there is power; that is, the possession of strength, of power, of authority, becoming conscious that you have something back of you on which to work. It puts you in a very strong position.
That is the challenge of a very prosaic statement: "God hath shined in our hearts".
Is the shining going on? It is the test of everything for life and for ministry. That is all the difference between having the A and the Z of Christian revelation summed up in a system and presented objectively, to which you are working. That blessed reality, so wonderful that no one enjoys and understands it until they get it, and when they get it no one else in all the world knows anything about it! It may be that you have been preaching it to them for years, but when they have got it they will tell you that you have never known anything about it. That is the power of an inward revelation. It is something that liberates, that means life and glory. Life and service on that basis is fulness; the veil is taken away. Oh, to have the veil fully removed! Well, the very first thing is that we see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, and then we come into liberty.
The veil is taken away, the Lord is the Spirit, and "where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty." What is this liberty? It is not in the letter but in the Spirit. "Now the Lord is the Spirit." The letter causes bondage. The truth may be presented, and you see it, wholly or in part, and then the terms, the very letters, the very form of the truth becomes an awful bondage to you, and you worry yourself to death because this thing is presented to you, and it has become imposed upon you, but you are not living in it. It is the bondage to the letter. That is how the Jews lived for hundreds of years. "The letter killeth". But turning to the Lord the veil is taken away, there is liberty; liberation from the killing power of the letter into the quickening power of the Spirit. Liberty from the bondage of the law, the bondage of the letter, and liberty, therefore, from that barrier to real dwelling and abiding in the glory.
Those people in their state could never enter into the most holy place with the Lord. Moses could not enter into the presence of the Lord with a veil over his face. It was not only that it was unnecessary for him to do it, it was not allowed that he should do so, because it represented a contradiction. It would speak of a denial, it would mean taking human limitation into the presence of God. That cannot be. When the Lord Jesus enters into the Divine glory and remains, all that which represents the limitation of man's natural state has been put away, all barriers have been destroyed, the veil has been rent asunder, all that speaks of man being excluded has now been dealt with completely and finally. And until that has been finally dealt with, there is no going in, but when it has been dealt with, there is a going in. So that Moses would have been excluded from the Divine presence with a veil over his face, because it was a symbol of a state which had not been dealt with inwardly. When he takes the veil away it is in virtue of the work of the cross, and he goes in.
So that when Christ is revealed in our hearts and we apprehend Christ by the Holy Spirit as what He is on our behalf to the Father in full satisfaction, and what He is from the Father to us in meeting every need, then all the limitation of exclusion is removed, and we have access without fear. We can abide in the presence of the eternal glory without fear. It is a great thing to come with boldness to the throne of grace, with perfect confidence, absolute assurance that you are not going to meet your death in the presence of God. Bondage and limitation are removed in the taking away of the veil.
The Absolute Lordship of Christ by the Spirit
All this is based upon the absolute Lordship of Christ. Where the Spirit is Lord, there is liberty. Here is Christ in the power of the Spirit reigning pre-eminent in the inward man. That is the secret of it all. It is the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Christ establishing His Lordship in our hearts; that is life, liberty and fulness. Oh, the great difference resultant from an inward knowledge of the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Christ! The difference is between glory, liberty, love, power; and bondage, law, letter, fear. Perfect love casts out fear.
The Inwardness of Everything Related to Christ
The need in life and ministry is the inwardness of everything related to the Lord Jesus. The Lord is trying to bring to our hearts the realisation of this great need. How the Lord does need men and women of this inwardness! In every way it is essential, and in every way it makes possible the fulfilment of all the Divine will in our lives. In the matter of helping others, in counsel, in comfort, in direction, there is all the difference between having to rush away to your library to find out what to say to them, or to run off to someone else and ask them for advice as to how to help so-and-so, and knowing the Lord in your own heart and being able to help out of your own knowledge of the Lord. And in every other way it is the Lord's desire to have men and women with whom the whole thing is an inward reality, so that they are not always full of questions, and they can never be helpful to others because they have so many questions of their own. They never really do move out into complete liberty of life and ministry, because they are limited and in bondage by their own uncertainty, their own doubt; they are not clear themselves.
Why should that be? I suppose there may never be a time when we are absolutely free from needing to know some more, that is, free from some questions. But it is one thing to be ourselves before the Lord continually in an enquiring state, and it is quite another thing to be before men full of uncertainties and doubts and questions. The Lord's desire is that we should have it in ourselves to be able to meet needs, to know Him in a growing way in ourselves. It is a great thing to be in that position so that the Lord can put you down in any place in this world, without any external helps of any kind, and count upon you there, because you know Him. That is responsibility. It is so different from being in the place where immediately something arises, off you go to someone else to see what they think about it, what you ought to do, or what their interpretation is. We are but touching a mere fragment of it, but by way of illuminating the whole.
It is quite possible - so possible that it has become actual in a far more general and almost universal reality - that Christianity today has taken the place which Judaism occupied. Judaism was a system entirely composed of external and objective things relative to God, and Christianity has become that in an almost universal way today. It is the unusual, almost the rare thing today, to find among Christians those who really do know the Lord independently of a religious system. It is unusual to find Christians, wherever they are in the world, who know the Lord sufficiently well, and have a walk with Him in the power of His Spirit sufficiently full, to constitute them the Lord's representatives anywhere.
The Lord must have that, and He is after that, and that is what He is saying to us, and would have us exercised along that line, to seek very much that we be in the place where it is not the outwardness of the truth, but the inwardness of the revelation of Christ the Lord, the Spirit.