by T. Austin-Sparks
Reading: Acts 2:37-47.
There is a little word following on from what we were saying earlier. We were seeking to say something about the difference of the position of a justified sinner from the position of Adam before he fell, and we found that that difference is a very great one and a very blessed one. It is in that connection that I have this further little word. Let me put it this way: that the sinner justified by grace does not occupy the ground which Adam occupied before the fall, but he does occupy the ground which the Lord Jesus occupies in resurrection.
When you have said that, and seen that, you have embraced everything that the Cross of the Lord Jesus means. It is a tremendous thing to say and a wonderful thing to see, that justified by grace we stand upon the same ground that the Lord Jesus stands upon in resurrection.
Now, that means that all the work which the Lord Jesus came to do in His Cross is an accomplished thing for us and is put under our feet as the basis of our lives, and standing upon that, the Holy Spirit comes in. I expect you notice the connection here in Acts 2. The reply to the enquiry as to what should be done was that they should repent and be baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus and they would receive the Holy Spirit. Now, Peter had already quoted the prophet Joel, and in citing Joel he had used those terms which are very inclusive and far-reaching: "I will pour out My Spirit upon all flesh...". Now, that is a very wide range, not as wide as perhaps you might conclude by an unthinking reading of the Word, and yet very wide. This did not mean, for instance, that the whole world of men and women would be baptized with the Spirit at Pentecost; it did not mean that and that did not happen. It did mean that all flesh as represented at Jerusalem at that time would become one flesh under the baptism of the Holy Spirit when believing, when obedient. I mean that there at Jerusalem you have a wonderful display of how inclusive the Body of Christ is. Parthians, Medes, Elamites and all the rest from all nations under heaven gathered at Jerusalem, and the Lord's thought was that the representatives of all flesh should come under one anointing to become one Body. That is, to put it the other way round, the Body of Christ would include representatives of all flesh by the one Spirit, but as a matter of fact, the first movement of the Holy Spirit in coming did not touch that wider range. It only touched twelve, or those who formed the immediate company of such as were directly related to the Lord Jesus. It may have been just the twelve, they in the first instance alone received the Holy Spirit, there may have been more with them of course, probably there were, but the larger representation at Jerusalem did not receive the Spirit immediately. But the promise was to them, to all flesh, but there was something to be done on their part. They had to repent, with all that that means, and they had to be baptized that they might receive the Holy Spirit. And then as they were obedient the promise expanded and embraced them.
Now, the point is quite clearly there that the Holy Spirit coming upon and filling the life is dependent upon a certain course of faith's obedience, and that is represented here by the repentance on the one hand, and being baptized on the other. That gives character to baptism; that defines what baptism is. We should never say that to be baptized in a pool or bath of water, or in a river, or even in the sea, necessarily or inevitably brings the Holy Spirit. There are multitudes of people who have gone through the form of baptism with no such result, but entering into the spiritual meaning of that thing, and going through that thing with its true spiritual meaning does involve and carry with it the Holy Spirit. There had been an adequate message given to make that perfectly clear to those at Jerusalem, and this thing was not preached just as a thing, as some form through which they were to go. It was preached and commanded as an expression and understanding of all that had been said, and that is the only sound basis for being baptized; but when you have got that sufficient basis, well the Holy Spirit is committed to that course. "Ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" provided you intelligently, understandingly go the way the Lord has revealed.
Now we have got to get through somehow on to the ground which the Lord Jesus occupies in resurrection before we can have the Holy Spirit. That is the place to which we must come. The Holy Spirit will never come this side of Jordan, the Holy Spirit will never come this side of resurrection ground. It is always, both in type and in truth in the Scriptures, made perfectly clear that the Holy Spirit does not come, only on the resurrection ground, so that we must get through to there. How can we get through to there? Of course the obvious thing is you can never get to resurrection until you have got through to death, for resurrection only applies to dead people and no one else. So that is the way. But that includes one or two rather important things and it includes that which is meant by "repent and be baptized". I suggest that those are two aspects of the Cross of the Lord Jesus.
The Cross of the Lord Jesus has two phases, or shall we say that the recreating work of God has two parts, and they are these. On the one hand, firstly, there is:
The Removing of Corruption
The healing of the breach between God and man, the death to sin, the atoning for guilt. Now, that all raises the sin question. That all has sin in view, and because sin has come in and become a positive menace to that original purpose of God which was, and is, to have everything for His own glory, and sin makes that purpose impossible. The Holy Spirit, if He is the Spirit whose business it is to take up that purpose of God and carry it out and fulfil it, then He must of necessity, antagonise sin. Let me say that again in a simpler form.
God had a purpose, as we were saying in chapter 2, which governed Him in all His creative activities. That purpose was that all things should be for His glory. The Holy Spirit has as His ministry the perfecting of the Divine purpose. Now sin has entered and sin is the thing which stands point-blank against the purpose of God, that is, that all things should be to His glory. Where sin is then, it is impossible for things to be to the glory of God. Therefore if God's purpose is to be realised and fulfilled, and the Holy Spirit has as His business its fulfilment, the Holy Spirit must of necessity antagonise sin; and that is why He is called the Holy Spirit. It gives force to His title.
We are not accustomed in the ordinary course of language and phraseology to use as a title the designation, "Holy God", neither do we speak commonly of, "Holy Jesus", but it is the commonest form of speech with us to say "Holy Spirit". We are so accustomed to that phrase that we have almost accepted it without a second thought as to why, strangely, the Holy Spirit should not be simply called the Spirit. Why so often the Holy Spirit? Simply because His whole mission and work is to fulfil the purpose of God, to perfect the purpose of God, that all things shall be for God's glory, and sin is the one obstacle and therefore, He must in His very Person and work stand in direct antagonism to sin. And therefore His title is the Holy Spirit.
Now, therefore, the Holy Spirit must bring sin into view in its nature, and bring man to recognise that He is against it, and man must be against it, and there must be an entire repudiation of it and more: there must be a death to sin.
So the first side of the Cross brings sin into view on its positive side, as something which is altogether opposed to God and His purpose, and shows how Christ died to sin once for all, and called upon man to repent, which means man must take the attitude of the Holy Spirit towards sin of utter antagonism and repudiation, and accept Christ's position and attitude towards sin which is one of death. That is one side of the work of the Cross: death to sin.
And when the Holy Spirit takes hold of these men, and Peter in particular, to give the message upon which the Holy Spirit will alight and set His seal, and by which He will come and commence His dispensational work and take up His ministry, the first thing He emphasises and stresses is an attitude towards sin, and that attitude is an utter one of death. And baptism is the testimony which puts that attitude into a concrete form, which gives an open expression to the attitude taken of death to sin which opposes God's purpose - not death to sins, but death to sin. And it is not something that you can take out of yourself and put into the water; you have got to go in with it, it is you. If the Lord had meant that sin is something that could be dealt with apart from ourselves, I am sure He would have instituted some other ordinance; He would have given us something objective to ourselves just as He gave the bread, the loaf, the cup in another connection; He would have given something and said: "This is a symbol of your sin which you put into the water", but He said "You have got to go in yourself", and that is the Lord's idea of sin. It is what the Holy Spirit calls: "...the whole body of sin", and sin is not something we can snatch out of ourselves. We are sin on the Adam side. That is the divide between Adam and Christ.
In Christ we are the righteousness of God. It is not just something objective, outside of ourselves; it is something which we inwardly become in Christ, and by Christ in us. Now then, the outward testimony in baptism by which we do not do something apart from ourselves, to which we go into in body, is a representation of our attitude towards sin, and our union with Christ in His death to sin. "For in that He died, He died unto sin once." And when it says "Repent", it means take the attitude towards sin of repudiating it. And when it says: "Be baptized", it means do that thing which implies that you accept in Christ your death to sin. That is one side.
There is the other side, the second thing is:
The Reversing of the Entire Order
And the changing of the entire state. We have seen that - with Adam before the fall and Christ in resurrection - the great difference. Adam has fallen. God does not reinstate Adam. It is not a question now of recovering Adam's rectitude, or as we have said, that may be upset again at any moment, and you have the fall all over again. You have got to dismiss that realm of Adam before the fall, and bring in another side, change the order and the state; and the other side is that of righteousness, an entirely different state from that of unfallen Adam, and that comes in with Christ in resurrection.
When Christ is raised from the dead the new order and new state is introduced. That is a righteousness which cannot fall, a righteousness which in itself cannot break down. It is not Adam's, either unfallen or fallen now; it is Christ's, and is ours in Christ, and never ours as apart from Christ; and it becomes ours by imputation and impartation when we vitally, by the Holy Spirit, become united with Christ in resurrection. So that to be baptized is not only taking an attitude and accepting a position as to death to the past, but it is a faith attitude of acceptance of an entirely new condition, new order, and new state in Christ on the ground of His resurrection. So that baptism becomes an outward declaration or means of confessing openly, that now we have come through in Christ onto resurrection ground, to hold an entirely new position in Him, and that all that is true of Christ on the ground of resurrection is for us. And that is exactly where the Holy Spirit comes in, to make good for us what is true in Him, "...and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit".
Firstly, the Holy Spirit cannot come upon the old ground. The Holy Spirit does not come upon a reconstituted old Adam; it is a direct contradiction to the Scriptures. The Holy Spirit comes upon a new creation, and old Adam is done with forever in the thought and sight of God, and must be repudiated by us. Now, do not excuse your old Adam. He is still about, I know, but our attitude to old Adam is not to excuse him, not in any way to argue for him, or to condone him, but to repudiate him, and when old Adam does get up, our attitude must be a very positive one. Many people say: "Well, you know, that is my weakness, that is my defect, that is my shortcoming, that is my human make-up, you must excuse that; we are all faulty in some way or other...". And so we excuse old Adam. Now our attitude towards old Adam must be one which is uncompromising, and if he does come up in any way, we do not try and take an easy passage; that is wrong, that must not be. It is the abiding attitude of repentance which is repudiation. The Holy Spirit demands that, and the Holy Spirit comes on that. But ours is not going to be all a negative thing. We are not going to be all the time jumping on ourselves or on one another, that is, on our old Adam and on the old Adam of other people, and all the time trying to squash and suppress him. There is another position which is our hope, our Life side. Christ is a positive, living reality. The power of His resurrection is good for us, and therefore, while repudiating old Adam, we do by faith appropriate the Lord Jesus, we livingly appropriate Him on the resurrection side for Life and for deliverance, and the Holy Spirit comes on that.
Let us not live on one side of the Cross only; let us live on both sides. Or let us live on one side and work from that side, as far as it is necessary to work back on the other side. We shall only know ascendency over old Adam as we live on the resurrection side of the Cross.
Now, I think you know this exhortation, which is not my exhortation; it is the simple rejoinder of the apostles to an enquiry: "What shall we do...?", and the rejoinder was couched in terms which employed two words, "repent" and "be baptized". What has that to do with it? Everything, because it is the opening of the way for the coming of the Holy Spirit, and that is the main thing.
The Holy Spirit comes along the way of, firstly, our repudiation of old Adam; repent. In other words, our acceptance of death, in Christ's death, to the old creation. And then the Holy Spirit comes along the way which is opened by our acceptance of an entirely new position in Christ, a righteousness of faith, which was never possessed by man fallen or unfallen: the righteousness of Christ. Christ is not just another Adam unfallen. Christ is One who infinitely transcends unfallen Adam even as Man. Now then, I trust we see what this testimony of baptism means and how important it is.
You may say: "Well a lot of people have the Spirit who have never seen all that and never done all that." I want to say to you quite solemnly that the Holy Spirit never departs from His basis, and if the Holy Spirit does at any time bless and manifest His presence without all that light being possessed, the Holy Spirit only does so with a view to lead into that light.
I want to call to your remembrance something that will hit that nail well on the head. You have an extraordinary and unique instance in the book of the Acts where the Holy Spirit came upon some people, and then Peter said: "Can any man forbid the water that these should not be baptized, who have received the Holy Spirit as well as we?" On one occasion some of us were talking about that and one of the brethren ventured to say that Peter made an awful blunder there, he wanted to come in with his mere rites and ordinances, and he wanted to have them at any price, and so although the Holy Spirit had come he must bring in his baptism! I do not know what your heart attitude is, but I do not believe that Peter made a mistake. If Peter was at that time speaking in the Holy Spirit in general, I do not believe he departed from it in doing that. Peter was governed by the principle that the Holy Spirit only acts at any time with a view to bringing people into the full light of His action. And Peter saw quite clearly that this involved that, and the thing must be put in order; that you cannot take for granted that the Holy Spirit will go on if you set aside something that the Holy Spirit requires. I think that particular incident is tremendously important in this very matter and if you like you can test it out.
I hope you will not test it out personally, but in the experience of others, I have known people who were undoubtedly the Lord's, blessed and used of the Lord, and knew something of the Holy Spirit, and then without anything from man at all, without being spoken to by man, the Holy Spirit led them to the matter of baptism, and they argued, discussed, asked everybody for their advice about the matter. Did they think it was necessary? Surely they belonged to the Lord, the Lord had used them. Was it necessary? It was like going back to the beginning again - the Holy Spirit had said it and they knew it. By conferring with flesh and blood they deferred, until at last quite definitely and positively it was ruled out, with disastrous results. The Holy Spirit led them no further, and from that time all that was past became something merely of the past and not living and up-to-date. They lived upon a past experience and things were not alive; there was no further going on with the Lord. I have seen that in a good number of cases, and I only say it because the Holy Spirit has a ground. His ground is what baptism is meant to declare, that which it testifies to. I believe the Holy Spirit, if He has His way, will ask for the declaration and not only the spiritual background. But there He must have the spiritual background. He will lead into that truth, and what is involved will become a matter of practical exercise; principles create a crisis.
For us, we want to understand what it is that is going on. Why these testimonies? Firstly, an open, practical form of declaration that an old regime, an old creation, an old history, even an unfallen creation in Adam is a past thing for ever, and a new creation which never was, and is now in Christ Jesus, and not an unfallen Adam, is brought in, and by faith we are in Him and in it. And to that twofold reality we give our testimony when we are baptized, and from that time the Holy Spirit goes on with His work of perfecting the purpose of God.
I am very much struck in noticing the Hebrew literal meaning of those words at the conclusion of the creation where it says: "And God finished all the work which He had created to make". I wonder If you have noticed the strange form of words there, and how awkward those words are? "And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had made" (A.V.) "And God finished all the work which He had created to make". The Hebrew explains that awkwardness and just means this, "And God finished all the work which He had created to make perfect." He had created a work to make it perfect. He reached an end of rest which was the beginning of another, and He was going to make perfect what He had created.
Now, that is just where we are in Christ. God has finished all the work which He created, but to make it perfect the Holy Spirit has come; to make perfect in us what God has finished in Christ. The new creation finished in Christ is going to be made perfect in the saints, and the Holy Spirit, as we were saying, has as His business the making perfect of what God originated. The Holy Spirit comes upon the finished work of Christ to work it out in us. The finished work of Christ is just what we have been saying, the two sides of the Cross. I think I need not say more at the moment.