"By My Spirit"
by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 4 - The Divine Vessel

Reading: Zech. 1:16; 4:9; Hag. 2:4; John 2:13-22; Eph. 3:21.

In our meditations so far we have been occupied with the first of the great issues which arise from the Scriptures, namely, the Divine testimony which is the glory of God.

Now we go on to think of the vessel of that testimony, the vessel of the glory of God. It is variously designated. Sometimes it is the house, the temple, the church, the Body, the city, and the difference in designation does not alter the identity. It is the same object, but the difference of title is to emphasize some specific aspect of function. We need not stay with that at the moment. We mention it so that no one will get any mentality that discriminates between the identity of this vessel - it is the same, whatever its designation. It is the house of God. It is the temple of God, it is the church, a habitation of God through the Spirit, it is the Body of Christ.

The Object of the Vessel of the Testimony

We shall begin by thinking for a little while about the object of this vessel of the testimony of the glory of God. Of course, ultimately, it is for the glory of God. It is for His testimony. But within that there are other things. The thing which I want to establish and stress at this moment is that this vessel of God's testimony has as its object to make immediate and actual the presence of God and fellowship with Him. I underline the word 'immediate' and the word 'actual'. God is present everywhere, God can be met anywhere, in the most remote, out of the way desolation, you can meet God, God can meet you. He is immanent in every place, but that is not enough for Him or for us. The Scriptures throughout indicate quite clearly that God has a more immediate thought than just His universal presence. They speak of God dwelling with men, tabernacling with men, making His habitation among men. The great final thing of the Scriptures is "The tabernacle of God is with men, and He shall dwell with them... and be their God" (Rev. 21:3). That is something more immediate and actual than the all-pervading God, and so this vessel has as its object the presenting of God in some more immediate and actual way for purposes of fellowship with man.

Fellowship with God in Christ

The quickest way to get to an understanding of that is to recognize at once that supremely and ultimately the house of God is not a thing at all, but a Person. All the things which have been called 'the house of God' are mere symbols, all pointing toward the Person and that Person is the Person of His Son, the Lord Jesus. The house of God is a Person, and not a thing. Christ, that very Name, the Christos, means the Anointed One, and it is in the Anointed and because of the anointing, that God is found and fellowship with God is possible and actual. God is here, Emmanuel, God with us; God was in Christ.

So we come once more to that very comprehensive, but at the same time very exclusive, little phrase - "in Christ". Everything of God is in Christ for immediate, practical purposes. Now, while men might and do meet God right out in the universe, so to speak, - a lonely man in some far-off desolation may call upon God and God may sovereignly and mercifully respond to His call and he may come to some kind of touch with God and initial knowledge of God and have some mercy from God, that man cannot live on that. But the same Spirit of God Who has met him in that very general way, if he will give himself to God and seek to live his life under God's hand, will be led most definitely to the Lord Jesus. And he will be led on to understand, to know what the Lord Jesus is and will come to find, and will have to find, that all things are in Christ and that while God has very mercifully met him in that general way, God is jealous for and loyal to His Son and will lead the man to Christ. Everything that is of God is in Christ. That is elementary, but we cannot understand the meaning of the house of God until we recognize that the house of God is pre-eminently a living Person, not a system of teaching.

That includes some very precious and very vital things. Contemplate Him for a moment. It is in Him and in Him alone that God is really met, that God is really seen and known. "No man cometh unto the Father but by Me" (John 14:6). What a tremendous statement that is in Hebrews 12 from verse 21: "Ye are come unto mount Zion... the heavenly Jerusalem... the church of the firstborn, to innumerable hosts of angels... to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling... and to God." Ye are come. I say that is a tremendous statement if we really rejoiced in its force. It surely says most clearly that everything that God has provided and intended for fellowship with Himself is now no longer a matter of things in an earthly system, but a matter of Christ, for that is the force of the whole letter to the Hebrews. The whole letter is Christ the Son over God's house, and when you have come to Christ and are in Christ, you have come, you are come, to everything that God has provided and intended for fellowship with Himself. The argument of that letter is, why have any longer things that are only meant to point to Someone when you have the Someone Himself? That is what the writer of that letter is trying to say. Why have temples of an outward form when you have that to which they all pointed? Why have sacrifices when you have the Sacrifice to which they all pointed? Why the blood of sprinklings continually when you have the Blood? Christ has gathered it all up in Himself and He is all this and in Him you have all that and no longer need what is only a type.

It is an immense statement with a tremendous challenge and Christendom has missed that point altogether and goes on with its form and outward system. Christ is the house of God and in Christ you are in the house of God, for God is there.

But, as we know, while that is personally true of the Lord Jesus, it is resolved also into a corporate reality, a corporate house or a corporate body, because of Christ's presence in every part. Whether it be a spiritual house of living stones, the very livingness of the stones is the presence of Christ, the Living One; but it is one Life, not fragments, broken-off fragments of Life, not a life cut up into a thousand stones, but one Life making all the stones one corporate whole, one house. Or the Body - it is one because Christ is in every part, in every member, and it is His presence which makes this Body one, so one that there is almost a confusion when you come to try and define in human language. How can Christ be the Head and the Body at the same time, for He is. Someone was challenging the other day on the question of the Godhead of Christ and saying, "How can He be Father and Son at the same time?" Well, the statement in Scripture is that He is, that is all. "His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father..." (Isa. 9:6). The Father of Eternity is His Name. "Unto us a Son is given" Who is "Everlasting Father". This is where language breaks down and human ideas go to pieces. You cannot follow that - Father and Son at the same time. He is Head and members. It is one Christ.

So in Christ there is identification with Him and we in Christ become a habitation of God through the Spirit, the house of God, as He is. "As He is, so are we in this world" (1 John 4:17). There is only one Anointing; there are no two anointings or more than two. The anointing upon Christ is the same anointing as we receive. The word is that we are anointed with Him or in Him. There have never been thousands of anointings, there has only been one, and it is the one anointing which makes one sanctuary.

The Body of Christ Constituted by the Anointing

My special emphasis is that it is the anointing which makes the house of God, which makes the church, which makes the Body of Christ. It is not true (and will you take this to heart, probably you have not consciously or deliberately been caught in this mistake, but it is somehow or other a thing which does get into the mentality of people), that if you have and hold the truth of the church, the truth of the Body of Christ, you are somehow more the Body of Christ than other people who do not hold that truth; and that is not a fact. The fact is there, whether you have the truth or not. The truth will be of value, the truth will make the fact, perhaps, more operative and should do, but the fact lies behind the truth, and those who have never seen the truth of the Body of Christ or the house of God and are in Christ, are as much a part of that house or are as much that house, as those who have all the light about it. That ought to save us from those schisms which come along the line of light, for light can divide if we are not very careful. Unconsciously, because we have seen something, we divide ourselves off from those who have not seen. They have not seen what we have seen! There is something in that very attitude and that very suggestion which is an insinuation of division. The house is one because Christ is one.

"Is Christ divided?" (1 Cor. 1:13). That was a challenge made to the Corinthians and a little later you will remember the apostle said to those Corinthians, "Ye are a temple, a sanctuary of God, of the Holy Spirit" (3:16). "If any man destroy the temple of God, him shall God destroy." I know in another place it says, "Your bodies are temples of the Holy Ghost" (1 Cor. 6:19). That is the individual, but at this particular point the apostle is not speaking about the individual. He is saying to that whole local company, "Ye are, collectively, a temple of God and if any man destroy the temple of God, him shall God destroy".

How is the temple of God destroyed? "Is Christ divided?" What does that follow? "Each one of you says, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas" and so on. Destroying the temple of God is dividing the Christ by making parties amongst the Lord's people and that means judgment from God. Why? Because it is sin (I am not saying it is the sin) against the Holy Ghost. It is a work contrary to the Spirit of Christ Who constitutes the house one by His anointing, Who makes the oneness of Christ by His presence. It is quite impossible really to be under the immediate and complete government of the Holy Spirit and have spiritual schism. That is a tremendous statement in the light of things as they are, but it is a fact. It is sin and it must bring judgment and death and that is why "judgment must begin at the house of God" (1 Peter 4:17).

Now, these are very vital and solemn matters for us. They must touch us very deeply in life every day. Let us understand, in the first place, that it is not the truth about things that makes the thing. The thing is there. The truth is of great importance for the facts to be led out and lived out. Christ is one. He is the temple and if we are in Him that temple makes us a part of itself, it becomes a corporate matter.

The Practical Implications of the Body of Christ

I would like to stay with many of the details which must, of course, issue from such a consideration. I would ask you to open your hearts to the solemn and tremendous fact that is there. The Lord Jesus Christ has so identified Himself in the Holy Ghost with His own and them with Himself that what is true of Him is true of them, what is done to them is done to Him, and we cannot have a relationship with the Lord which ignores our relationship with His own, which fails in our relationship with His own. It is a false position entirely for anyone to claim to love the Lord Jesus and to be devoted to the Lord Jesus and for such a one to be careless, indifferent or even worse than that in their concern and interest and attitude toward others who are Christ's. It is a false position. In the long run, in the end, that is going to find us out and it is just there that we are going to receive the deeds done in the body when we stand before the Lord (2 Cor. 5:10). Ah, we perhaps may have those sins go to judgment beforehand and may be already suffering spiritual limitation, limitation of the Spirit's operations in us, the Spirit's blessing, because of that very thing. This is not because our attitude toward the Lord is a wrong one, not because there is any lack of love or devotion in our hearts directly to the Lord, but because we have failed to see that we cannot isolate the Lord from His own, and the Lord has made it final, utter. "Inasmuch as ye did it not unto one of these least, ye did it not unto me." "Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of these my brethren, even these least, ye did it unto me" (Matt. 25:45,40).

That is only one of those Gospel forecasts of the nature of the Body of Christ. I say there are many other such practical issues from such a contemplation, and we must take them home to our hearts and not get into false positions which mean limitation.

It is so possible for us to get a kind of abstract, ethereal apprehension of Divine truths and then to feel that it is a kind of anticlimax to come down and talk about the person at our side every day, that it is in another realm. It is nothing of the kind. It is a false position to get up into some heavenly realm of spiritual things which misses the practical matters of everyday life. The Word of God will put us right on that. Listen! "O death, where is thy victory? O grave, where is thy sting? Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." You know where that comes, that matchless chapter on resurrection and resurrection order (1 Cor. 15). "There are celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial..." Oh, it is a wonderful revelation of things we have never known of, never thought, seen or conceived, of the order of glorified humanity in resurrection, the mighty victory over death through our Lord Jesus Christ. "Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." "Now concerning the collection...". What a pity they cut up the chapters at that point. Is that an anticlimax? "Now concerning the collection for the saints". That is no anticlimax; that is how God keeps things together on a practical basis. Don't you get kite-flying and forget you have solid ground under your feet and there are practical matters that relate to the Body of Christ. "Now concerning the collection for the saints". Glorious resurrection and glorious celestial body, the order of the heavenlies; yes, but the poor saints around you every day also need looking after.

I could multiply that from the Scriptures again and again. The letter to the Ephesians is just one glorious example of that. The first chapters are wonderful chapters of revelation of things eternal and heavenly such as have never come to man before, and without the mechanical break of chapters, you move right in - Husbands, wives; children, parents; a lot of practical matters, no anticlimax in that.

Now this house of God is a glorious thing for the glory of God, but the glory of God in the house of God shines in many little practical ways. The Lord give us grace to receive it!


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