The Heavenly Calling, Conduct and Conflict of the Church

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 4 - The Significance of the Holy Spirit

In our previous meditations, we have been very largely engaged with the calling of the church. The calling, the conduct and the conflict cannot be kept in watertight compartments. The calling leads to and demands conduct; and therein we find the conflict.

The calling - in a word: it is present and future union with the exalted Lord in His position of power and authority over the kingdom of Satan. To that position the church is called now; to occupy that position in fulness is the Divine destiny for the church.

Well now, with such a tremendous thing before us before which we might all go down and cry, "Who is sufficient for these things?" we must hasten to discover the Lord's provision, and so this letter, which brings our heavenly position, vocation, and warfare so much into view, also contains throughout from first to last, the Lord's provision for that position, vocation, and conflict, and the Lord's provision is nothing other nor less than Himself in the person of the Holy Spirit. And therefore the letter has quite an amount to say about the Holy Spirit. In a previous meditation, we were seeking to see the significance of the Lord Jesus Himself in relation to God's eternal intentions concerning the church. Now we pass to see the significance of the Holy Spirit in that same relationship. The difference is just this: Christ came to secure the ground upon which those Divine intentions could be realised. That really sums up what we said about the incarnation, the life, the death, the resurrection, the ascension and the exaltation of Christ. It all amounted to the securing of the ground upon which God could realise that which He had purposed from eternity. And Christ in heaven is God's ground upon which He proceeds to accomplish all His purposes in us. The Holy Spirit has come, not to secure the ground, but to be the energy of the realisation of what has now been made possible in Christ. Everything now in the Lord Jesus is possible, through His person and work. The Holy Spirit, so to speak, encamps upon that complete, Divine possibility and becomes the energy for its realisation. There are different ways, of course, of putting that same thing, but I think that will convey what is meant.

There are certain things which we have to recognise about the Holy Spirit - simple things, but they are basic.

The Holy Spirit the Executive Member of the Godhead

The first is this, that the Holy Spirit is the executive member or agency of the Godhead. From the first reference to the Holy Spirit right the way through the Word of God, we find that He is the member of the Godhead who is putting things into operation. He is executing the purposes of God. It is by the Spirit of God that the things of God are done. We know that, of course, and there is nothing very profound about it, but it is necessary for us to recognise that that is the first thing for our apprehension as to the Holy Spirit, that His coming is for execution, for carrying out, for transaction, for realisation. He is the activity and energy of God in the realm of Divine intention.

The Relationship of the Holy Spirit to this Dispensation

The second thing that we must recognise is that of His special relation to this dispensation, the special relationship of the Holy Spirit to this dispensation in which we now live, and it seems to me that this is mainly related to one great fact, that fact being the glorification of the Lord Jesus. That is stated very definitely, as you know, by John in his gospel. The Lord Jesus had been saying certain things about those who believe, that out of them should flow rivers of living water. John makes the comment - "This spoke He of the Spirit... for the Spirit was not yet (given), because Jesus was not yet glorified" (John 7:39). So that the Holy Spirit is bound up with Jesus having been glorified, and it was quite impossible for the advent of the Spirit to take place until Jesus was glorified, but there is no delay. When Jesus is glorified, that is the signal for the advent of the Spirit in this dispensation, and when we speak of the glorification of the Lord Jesus, we are only using another word for His exaltation, "Being at the right hand of God exalted... He has poured forth this" (Acts 2:33). The two things go together.

Now, the exaltation of the Lord Jesus, or the glorification of the Lord Jesus, is the commencement of His administration. The administration of the Lord Jesus commenced with His enthronement. The "all authority in heaven and on earth" given to Him by the Father began to be put into operation when He was enthroned at the right hand of the Majesty on high. It was concerning this that He Himself spoke in the words full of illumination recorded by John, "He that comes from above is above all: he that is of the earth is of the earth, and of the earth he speaks: He that comes from heaven is above all. What He has seen and heard, of that He bears witness... He that has received His witness has set His seal to this, that God is true. For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God: for He gives not the Spirit by measure. The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand" (John 3:31-35).

In that full statement, you have two things. First, the absolute superiority of the heavenly Lord. He that is from above is above all - His superiority to all, to everyone and everything, and His absolute authority - "the Father has given all things into His hand". That represents His administration. The Lord Jesus, of course, is looking on. The little clause about not giving the Spirit by measure refers to Him. The Spirit is not given to Him by measure. The Spirit is given to the Lord Jesus in fulness, without limit, and you put these two things together: all things in His hand in the position of absolute administrator and the Holy Spirit given to Him in that capacity without measure; now you move on to the dispensation of the Spirit. And that is the nature of the dispensation - Jesus in heaven, the heavenly One, with all things given into His hands in the position of universal administrator, and the Holy Spirit without measure given to Him to execute His administrative office. The relationship of the Holy Spirit to this dispensation is the administration of the exaltation of the Lord Jesus.

The Specific Object of the Holy Spirit in this Dispensation

But then that has a particular connection, and that is the third thing that we have got to recognise. And all these things make up one thing, and that is: the specific object of the Holy Spirit in this dispensation is God's eternal purpose concerning the church and the administration of the Lord Jesus relates to the church. The church is the sphere of His administration because it is to the church that He is given as Head over all. That is administration - inclusive Head of the church, and it is through the church that that administration is to be expressed out into this universe. The church is the elect instrument by which that universal administrative position of the Lord Jesus is to be made good in God's universe, and that in the power of the Holy Spirit.

So we find that the immediate advent of the Holy Spirit gave an unmistakable expression to that. In the first place, it was in the church the sovereign Lordship of Jesus became marvellously manifested, and then through the church that Lordship was seen in operation in all directions. You say, "Why did it not go on? Was it not intended to go on?" The answer to that question, I believe, is this - the church did not continue in its heavenly position. You have got to be in the heavenly position in order to know the heavenly values.

Well, that brings us back to Ephesians, which carries toward the end of the dispensation, and the Lord's object in this dispensation being to have His church in a position where He can express His mighty, universal, administrative office in the power of the Holy Spirit who would seek again to find those among the saints who, while perhaps the whole Body in the first instance, will not so respond, will respond to the heavenly calling anew and leave the earthlies, leave the lower, and come back and possess their appointed place in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus. It need not be by a great many signs and wonders all around, but it can be and should be by a mighty impact of the throne of the Lord Jesus upon the powers of darkness, which I think is even more important for this ultimate thing.

Now do you see the specific connection of the Holy Spirit with this dispensation? It has to do with the church in relation to God's eternal intentions, and to bring the church to the position where it can really wage triumphant warfare against principalities and powers, the world rulers of this darkness and the hosts of wicked spirits in the heavenlies.

The one characteristic term for the Holy Spirit in relation to the church in this dispensation, that is, in relation to the saints, is 'anointing'. That word or term carries its own significance and just means this - God committing Himself to His purpose. Wherever you look in the Word of God, be it Old Testament or New Testament, and see the word 'anointing', that is, anointing which is from God, which is of God, you will find that it represents God coming in in relation to Divine purpose, committing Himself to that, and it is by reason of that anointing that God's end is made possible and is realised. Apart from it, nothing can ever be according to God. In this dispensation, the church is the anointed vessel of the Divine purpose and intention, and the anointing by the Spirit simply means God has committed Himself to the church in relation to His intentions. Well now, that is enough for the moment on the significance of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit in the Letter to the Ephesians

We come nearer to this letter to the Ephesians to see the Holy Spirit here especially. You remember, of course, that the Ephesian church commenced with the Holy Spirit. In Acts 19, Paul came that way and met certain disciples of John and immediately put the question to them, "Did ye receive the Holy Spirit when ye believed?" They said, "We have not so much as heard that the Holy Spirit is". Well, the issue of Paul's dealing with them was that they received the Spirit and they were not a Christian church until then, but then they were. They commenced with the Spirit as a church, but here in Ephesians - the same place and the same church - in that which is before us in this letter to them you have something very much more than being constituted a local church by the Holy Spirit. You have the ultimate issue of the church, universal and local. That is what is in this letter. It is life in union with Him who is in the throne. But it is the same Spirit; the Spirit who constitutes in the first instance, the Spirit who is the basis of the church's existence, is the Spirit of the realisation of the church's purpose, and so in Ephesians, that is what is brought before us.

Perhaps the most helpful and profitable way to see things here is that of connecting the Holy Spirit with each phase of the letter as we have seen its divisions; that is to say, the Holy Spirit in connection with the heavenly calling, and then the heavenly conduct and then the heavenly conflict, remembering, of course, that all of them are one in object - that is, the throne oneness with the exalted Lord.

The Holy Spirit and the Heavenly Calling of the Church

So then, look at the Holy Spirit here in that first section - the Holy Spirit and the heavenly calling of the church. It will be impossible to stay for an exposition of each passage in this letter which refers to the Holy Spirit. Only the briefest word will be possible, but we trust it will be indicative and point on to something more.

In Ephesians 1 we have not, in the first place, the Spirit mentioned, but something implied: "...has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ" (Eph. 1:3).

"Every spiritual blessing" - implying a position and a state. It implies that we are spiritual, and if we look back at Romans and see where that matter is dealt with more fully, we know that Romans 6 sees the natural man, the carnal man, put out by the Cross of the Lord Jesus and Romans 8, which is its immediate sequel, sees us no longer in the flesh but in the Spirit, or, in other words: spiritual and not carnal. Ephesians takes us up at that very point. It assumes a great deal of spiritual history. It assumes, in the first place, that we are out of Egypt, and it assumes, in the second place, that we are out of the wilderness; we are out of the world and we are out of the flesh, and it takes us up in the land, in the heavenlies, and it says that we are now not in the flesh, but in the Spirit. We are spiritual and therefore all our blessings are spiritual blessings, and this is made good to us by the Holy Spirit who will lead us to know what our heavenly resources are and what our blessings are, and that corresponds, of course, to the type in the Old Testament of Joshua as the energy of the Holy Spirit leading into the land to exploit it, so that all that is there as the inheritance is to be taken up, possessed and turned to account.

It is not until Joshua, a type of the Spirit's energies, leads them on in the position where they are in the heavenlies that they discover what their spiritual blessings are. The Holy Spirit, then, is our greater Joshua, but it is assumed that when Joshua really does come to take up His work, He is doing it in a people who are over in the land. The Holy Spirit can never really get on with the work for which He has come, until we are in a certain position. If we are down here on the wilderness line, the flesh, the carnal life, the self line all the time, the Holy Spirit's operations with us are of a different character altogether. They are connected with getting us out of that position, but that is not the positive side, that is purely negative. But when once we apprehend our heavenly position in Christ, the Holy Spirit has a clear course for the positive side of things, to see the real calling wherewith we are called. So that this first fragment where the word 'spiritual' is used, not the great, inclusive noun - the Holy Spirit - but the adjective, then we recognise that it supposes, implies, that we are in a certain position and in a certain state called 'spiritual' as over against what is carnal. We are in the heavenlies in spiritual life.

The Holy Spirit of Promise

Well now, we come to the definite references to the Spirit and a little later in the first chapter we have this: "...sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, which is an earnest of our inheritance" (Eph. 1:13-14).

Well, the book of Joshua helps us a good deal in that. What is the Holy Spirit in relation to the church as set forth in those words? Why this to begin with?

When you and I really receive the Spirit on the ground of our union with the Lord Jesus, the very receiving on our part, or the giving of the Spirit to us on God's part, means that we are brought as under a seal in relation to God's inheritance. The Spirit Himself is the bond between us and the inheritance. Sealed! You know why you use a seal; you fix something with a seal, you settle something with a seal. To sever things there, you have got to break that seal, destroy its oneness, and the Holy Spirit is here said to be the seal which links us and links the church with the inheritance, and that seal of the Spirit God puts on us is an earnest.

The Holy Spirit is an earnest of the inheritance. You know the meaning of that word. An earnest means a token of the whole. You pay a deposit and, if you are a man of good faith, by paying that deposit you mean that all the rest will follow in due course, and the earnest is just that - all the rest will follow in due course, says God: "I give you the Spirit. In giving you the Spirit, I mean all the rest to follow". The church receives the Spirit as God's earnest of the inheritance. Have you got the Spirit? Then if God is - may I put it this way - of "good faith", you have got everything in God's intention. When He gives you all that is intended, you will never have any more than you have now in the earnest. You will only enjoy it under conditions where it is possible to enjoy it as we cannot enjoy it now, but we have got it.

There is a very great need for believers to really get settled on settled matters. There is far too much of that which is unsettled about our position, our faith, and it is that unsettlement which always robs of fighting power. Presently, the Holy Spirit will lead us into the battle, but be sure that you and I will never be any use in that battle, and the Holy Spirit will never really lead us into that kind of battle until we are settled about settled things. There is nothing more destructive of real spiritual effectiveness than to lack assurance, and you will find that it is against such assurance that all the wiles of the devil are directed. Let us get to a sure place at the outset in discerning the significance of the Holy Spirit - an earnest, a seal from God, of the inheritance. Listen to the very title of the Holy Spirit here - "The Holy Spirit of promise". "The land of promise," Canaan was called. How did they get the land of promise so that the promise was transformed from a promise into a possession? By Joshua, the energy of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of promise! How shall we come to possess all the promises? By the energy of the Spirit. He is come for that purpose.

The Spirit of Wisdom and Revelation

We come to Ephesians 1:15-23 in this same chapter, and we have to link with Ephesians 3:5.

"For this cause I also, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which is among you, and the love which ye show toward all the saints, cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers; that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him; having the eyes of your heart enlightened, that ye may know what is the hope of His calling, what the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what the exceeding greatness of His power to us-ward who believe, according to that working of the strength of His might which He wrought in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and made Him to sit at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule, and authority, and power, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: and He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fulness of Him that fills all in all... the mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known unto the sons of men, as it has now been revealed unto His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit."

Here then, in a word, the Holy Spirit is brought into view as the Spirit of knowledge by revelation for the church - knowledge by revelation. We know quite well that of these things mentioned here at the end of Ephesians 1 we can know nothing without a special ministration of the Holy Spirit. They remain mysteries, even in this dispensation, apart from the revealing work of the Holy Spirit. That, of course, ought to be a settled matter with us, but then the apostle is saying, in effect, that the Holy Spirit has come for that very purpose, that the church should know by revelation what its eternal vocation and destiny is, what its calling is, what God's thoughts were from eternity about it, and that the church should come into that knowledge by revelation of the Holy Spirit.

All that I shall stay to say here for the moment is a word of emphasis upon the absoluteness of the need for revelation by the Holy Spirit to know all that is here set forth in words about God's thoughts. It is not knowledge of the kind to know what is said in the Bible. We might have committed this to memory and be able to give it out in the actual words spontaneously at any moment, but that does not mean that we know God's thought by any means, and this knowledge of God's thoughts cannot be comprehended in fulness at any one time. The marvel of God's thoughts is this - that they are ever fuller and fuller, and their fulness is a mighty ocean in which we can explore continually, but we have got to be introduced into that realm with Divine capacity for knowing and understanding, and the Holy Spirit is the capacity of God in us and in the church for knowing God's thoughts.

It is possible for us to know what is in the Bible, in the New Testament, as set down, and then to go and act, as we think, accordingly, and be doing just the opposite of what God meant! That has been done many times. Something has been taken from the Bible and acted upon, and in the long run has turned out to be just perfectly contrary to what God meant. That is our apprehension of what is in the Book.

In the history of Christendom countless movements and systems of teaching, institutions and organizations, very few of which harmonize but are, in the main, conflicting and at variance, are all constructed upon the Word of God. Roman Catholics will quote the Word of God for their position. It may not be their entire position, but very largely; and what is true in their case is true about almost everything else in Christendom. The Word of God is behind their position, and how many of all those thousands of things are in harmony? They are all at variance, conflicting, at war. Multitudes of them would not be seen dead in the same street as the other, they abhor them so much. That is a grievous thing to say, even among Christians who ought to know better. But their position is supported by Scripture.

Is the Holy Spirit of two minds or a thousand conflicting minds? Does the one Spirit work out in that way to make those who take the Word of God as their foundation to be at variance with one another? We cannot accept that, and difficult as the problem may be, there is a solution, but there is only one solution. Before I come to that, let me again say that you and I need something more than that which is written, and we may go all astray on a natural apprehension of what is written. We may be in the most extreme deception with our minds putting our construction upon the Word of God. We may be wholly deceived as to our position. But it is all written here! It is not enough, we do not come to the knowledge of God by studying the Scriptures. I am not saying that the Spirit of God does not from time to time act sovereignly when there is a genuine honest heart seeking to know God and reading the Word. That is something in itself in the sovereignty of God.

We come to know the Scriptures first of all by the knowledge of God; we do not come to the knowledge of God by knowing the Scriptures. How do we know God? You test what I have said. I call your history to answer. For years some of us worked in the Bible, we made it our real business to know what was in it. We went through book by book and we analysed the books of the Bible and with the analysis we knew the content of every book in the Bible and, as the result of working with the Bible, we preached and we lectured, we gave it out - but we knew nothing about it! There were flaws, weaknesses, defeats, failures all the time; very little spiritual effectiveness in it all although it was interesting to people, of course. But what upheaval was it creating, what was it doing? Then God did something in us, the result of which was a knowledge of Himself by mighty personal dealings. We came in an altogether new way to know the living God. Then the Bible became a revelation and made differences. It led to issues, it raised crises.

From that day, it has not been a book, it has been a revelation and a constant fountain of revelation. It is alive now; it is a living book. Don't be discouraged if you have not got such an experience, but we have got to have a Holy Spirit knowledge of God before we have got God's mind in the Book. It is a Spirit of wisdom and revelation by which we know, not what is written here, but what God means by what is written here, and then, when we get God's meaning, that becomes the focal centre of oneness.

The only hope of oneness on the Scriptures and what the Scriptures teach is the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of revelation. How many of you know it in just a little way? Of course, you are going to know it more and more. If you have the least suggestion of this, you know what I mean. The Spirit of the Lord has made just something in the Word very precious to you because of a living relationship with the Lord Himself. What the Lord wants to do is to make that in your life growingly. It may be you are able to put your finger on one bit in the Word of God and you say, 'That is my life, that lives for me! That is God to me, that is the Lord to me - that bit of Scripture!' That is what I mean, and the Lord would increase that for you so that by the Spirit you know.

"That... He may give unto you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of your heart being enlightened that ye may know". The 'heart' there is the alternative word for the 'spirit', that inner man, that new creation in Christ. It is there that the Spirit of God does His real work, not in our souls, not in our minds, but in our spiritual organ of spiritual understanding, and spiritual understanding is the only true understanding of the things of God. Therefore we must be spiritual, we must be in the Spirit, we must have the Spirit to know.

In keeping with T. Austin-Sparks' wishes that what was freely received should be freely given and not sold for profit, and that his messages be reproduced word for word, we ask if you choose to share these messages with others, to please respect his wishes and offer them freely - free of any changes, free of any charge (except necessary distribution costs) and with this statement included.