The Heavenly Calling, Conduct and Conflict of the Church

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 5 - The Nature of Spiritual Knowledge

In our previous meditation we were occupied with what is mentioned in Ephesians 1:15-23 - the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of knowledge by revelation, and I feel that the Lord wants us to just linger there for a little while before passing on.

"That... He would grant (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..." then follows what there is to be known. Here, we will first consider the nature of spiritual knowledge.

Shall we, in the first place, take account of this fact, that the apostle is here found in prayer for believers and those believers who we know from Acts 19 had received the Holy Spirit years before. He is not praying that the Lord would give them the Holy Spirit. That is an accomplished fact so far as they are concerned. But here, perhaps after years of Christian life and Christian experience and Christian testimony, he is praying and he says, "I cease not to give thanks, making mention of you...". He is drawn out, as we say, in prayer. This is a matter which is giving him considerable exercise in prayer for these believers that the Lord would give them, not another Holy Spirit, but in and by the Holy Spirit - wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of their heart being enlightened that they might know this great revelation concerning God's full thought as wrapped up in the church. That surely is a very challenging thing, that the apostle finds it necessary to give himself like this to this earnest and unceasing prayer that such - as we might term "advanced believers", Christians of years of standing, might come into a position where they are able to know.

That challenges us! And it says clearly that we may be Christians, we may be believers, we may have received the Spirit, we may have been going on in the Christian life for years, and yet we may not have come to the place where we have, in a spiritual way, apprehended God's real full thought concerning the church. It is a revelation which is of supreme importance if God's full end is to be reached. That is our first consideration, and we know that that is borne out in the history of multitudes of the Lord's people. They live, they have a knowledge of the Lord, they have the Spirit, they walk with the Lord, they serve the Lord, and multitudes and multitudes pass out, never having come to this for which the apostle is praying. Now, I am not going to attempt to unravel that, to solve the problem that seems to be bound up with it, but that fact stares us in the eyes wherever we look today, and we have to say, without being critical, that it is comparatively few who have really seen, as the apostle prays that they might see, this fuller intention of God concerning His church. If we understand the nature of spiritual knowledge, we shall very soon agree that that is so. We are not saying that all these people have never read Ephesians 1, but we are saying that there are multitudes who have never seen Ephesians 1 in the way in which the apostle prays they might see. Let us face that.

The second preliminary word is this. You and I have got to be very honest over this matter of spiritual knowledge, and we must not be afraid to be honest before God. We have got to have courage enough to be honest. You wonder what I mean and what I am going to say. It is this. We have, at this late day in Christendom's history and development, come into a great deal of tradition, a great deal of developed Bible truth, teaching, and doctrine. It may be, or it may not be, a good inheritance. There may be values about it, but there are infinite perils and very serious disadvantages. We know that as we look at the effect and power and fruitfulness of a direct transition from a heathen state to a true Holy Spirit Christian condition. You see at once in such cases a living apprehension and a starting on the road which is full of vigour and life and a surprisingly quick apprehension and growth and development, whereas in the realm of Christendom with all its long history, the convert has so much to overcome of Christianity and tradition before he can come really to a living place. And when I say you and I have got to have the courage to be honest, I mean this: that you and I have got to be prepared to come to the place where we write off as of no account every bit of Christian knowledge that is not living.

Living Knowledge

Now I ask you: what is the real value of what you know? That is the point, and that brings us, you see, right on to this ground: the nature of spiritual knowledge - and when I say 'spiritual', I mean Holy Spirit knowledge. The very first thing about Holy Spirit knowledge is that it is living knowledge, and when we say a thing is living knowledge, we mean that it is working knowledge. It is knowledge which counts for something, which really represents something in life, in living value to ourselves. It means something to us in a living way, and it is a great day when we come to emancipation from any kind of position which requires that we assent to certain things which are not living things.

Do you follow what I mean? It is a great thing to get outside of a system which is established and settled - to get right outside of it! Inside, certain things are believed, agreed to, accepted, established, and in there you are a part of that, and the thing is very largely objective, an order, and to stand clean outside of it all and be able to be in this position: 'Well, I may not know very much, but what I know I know, and I know in an inward way, and the nature of that knowledge is that that knowledge is my very life' - I say again, beloved, that you and I have got to have courage to take that position.

Where do you stand in this? Have you come to the place where you are prepared to quit? It does not matter what all the other Christians around you think. No matter what may happen, you are going to take the position where you say, 'I come to the point where now nothing is held by me that is not living'. That wants a lot of courage. If they say you are going back, it is very much better to go back if you are going back to Life. What are you going back on? What are you going back from? A false position! Rather than keep up with what is accepted in order to save yourself from being misunderstood, will you hold on to something that you know is not true as to yourself, it is not living, it does not work? Will you do that?

Now, I must safeguard that. You must be quite sure that that has not worked in your life, for all of us have our positions and our best knowledge tested at times. There are some things which today I know and they are my very life, but tomorrow or next week I may pass into a time of such trial and testing that I do not know where I am at all, even on those matters. These things have not broken down; I am undergoing a test, and I have to say to myself, "This phase through which I am passing - I have proved the truth of that in the past. I will prove that truth again!" Hold your ground, be careful. I am not saying that every moment, under all circumstances you have a hundred per cent assurance about your position, but that you have a history with God which has assured you on this and that matter, that that is a true thing, that has proved itself a true thing, and it will prove itself again though today you are having a bad time and that thing does not seem to be as living. I just put a little hedge round what I have said, lest anybody undergoing trial should forsake the right ground; but I am speaking now of the general position.

Spiritual knowledge is living knowledge and it is for want of that that so many never really grow by the truth. They have not got it by revelation, they have got it in some other way. So, running all risks, I do urge upon you that we have got to be very honest and courageous over our positions, for, sooner or later, we are going to be found out in our position. We are going to be found out as to whether our position is a real genuine and working position as to what we claim to know. Some of us have had many confidences given us in this matter.

I tell you the sort of thing I mean. On one occasion, a young man very strongly took me to task on a certain matter of doctrine which meant a spiritual position, and he stood me out long and strongly on his position. We happened to be in a week's conference in the same town. I was ministering, he was there, and he had challenged my position with his. Before the end of the week, that young man met me after a meeting and in a very roundabout way, not coming straight in at the front door but making two or three circuits round before putting his question, he said, 'Do you think so and so?' His question was a surrender of his whole position, but he was not letting me know that. I said to him, 'My brother, let us be perfectly frank. You have asked me a roundabout question. Is this your way of telling me that your position is not quite as sound as you would have had me believe the other day? Now, tell me frankly, are you perfectly settled in your own heart and in your own experience that your position does stand the test?' He had asked me a question about if we slip, if we trip up, or if we sin. He had stood me out strong and hard on the whole question of eradication of sin, that we cannot sin, the root of sin is taken out, and he came and asked me, 'If we do slip up...', and when we really got down to it, beloved, it came out. An original sin had got him and he was seeking to know what his position was. He had got a doctrinal position in his head and another position in his life. I am not now dealing with the matter of sanctification in any sense, but I want to get to this point.

What is the nature of our knowledge? Spiritual Holy Spirit knowledge works. It is living and we can put our feet on it with absolute assurance because we know. That is the kind of knowledge that Paul is seeking for the saints, not conviction in the head, not dogmatic attitudes about doctrine, but this heart knowledge where the heart is at rest - "the eyes of your heart being enlightened" - where you and I know that we are in no false position. Let us get away from what is public, from all others who have anything to do with us at all. Yes, and thank God for the day when we, as those who minister and have responsibility, are able to come to this position where we are no longer paid to preach, no longer part of a preaching system, but where we can say, 'We will give what the Lord works in us, and no more - what has come to us by direct dealings with God, but more, God's dealings with us; no more than what, by revelation of the Holy Spirit is living knowledge'. It is a matter of our own heart assurance. We can say in our own hearts, "We know, God has done it!"

You see, this kind of knowledge is all of a piece with the heavenly vocation. Presently in this letter (you cannot divide the letter up and take one section and isolate it), you are going to meet principalities and powers, and world-rulers of this darkness, and hosts of evil spirits. They know you through and through. Those demons with whom the sons of Sceva tried to deal, very quickly let it be known that they knew what they were dealing with. "Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye?" (Acts 19:15). They know us and they know every flaw in our armour. Presently, the apostle will say that in this conflict, in this warfare, the very first thing that you must have is your loins girt about with truth. Strength for this thing is the truth, and they know whether your loins are girt with truth or with doctrine or tradition. They know. And you and I will not stand in that battle unless what we possess of knowledge is Holy Spirit knowledge, truth in its essential sense, something wrought into us by the Holy Spirit. Then, if that is true, it is not worth anything to go into the battle on an assumption.

May I ask that question again? How did you get what you have got? What is the nature of your knowledge in Divine things? Can you answer this question, and say, "What I have, I have by revelation of the Holy Spirit in my own heart"? Have the courage to put aside all else, and, if it is only a little bit, start there. The Lord will honour your honesty, and you must recognise that all that is extra to that is worthless, that is, in the spiritual fight where the church really does count.

Loving Knowledge

This is a wonderful way of defining this knowledge - "the eyes of your heart being enlightened". It is, then, not only living knowledge, may I say it is loving knowledge. Do you know what mother-love is? Mother-love is very often one of the most astounding things. There may be a child and all the world may regard that child as about the most unlovely little thing that ever you could find, but woe betide all the world if it says so to the mother! Mother is not going to abandon that child because of what all the world says about it. Somehow or other, mother has other eyes and they are not the eyes of her head at all, they are the eyes of her heart. That is, there is some relationship between her heart and that child which does not exist between all the world beside; and that child and that mother, despite what all the world says and thinks, will give her life for that child any moment you like without a question or a hesitation, not as an act of heroism, but of love. You cannot understand it. Well, you are not the mother - that is all.

The eyes of your heart being enlightened. Take mother-love, true love, whether it is mother love or anyone else's, love is like that and heart knowledge is like that. No one else may see, appreciate, value, understand, but in the matter which the Lord has revealed to your heart, that to you is some treasure which has your very life bound up with it. That is Holy Spirit knowledge and you cannot go away from that. You cannot go away from that any more than you can go away from yourself.

You have to ask yourself a question - we have, under great stress and trial, been forced to ask ourselves the question from time to time - but what alternative do we have? Not, is there something else that we can put in its place, but is there anything at all for which to live if that goes? It is not unwillingness to change a position; it is certainly not pig-headedness. It is simply that this thing has become ourselves and, well, there is nothing for it! If it proves false, then the Lord take us out! It is far too big a thing to be able to pass over or let go like that. It is not something objective in the mental realm at all. It is something which is a part of us and we are a part of it - Holy Spirit knowledge. Have you got that kind of knowledge?

Is that the kind of knowledge you have got as to God's purpose for the church? You see, there is a wonderful link here, and that is why I keep repeating that you cannot carve this letter up and keep its parts separate.

"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...". There is a link between that and what comes out in Ephesans 5. "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself up for it... that He might present the church to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing... so ought husbands to love their wives".

"The eyes of your heart being enlightened that you may know..." - what? The apostle will tell us in a minute. It leads us to a further statement about the Holy Spirit.

"That ye may be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inward man... that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be strong to apprehend... the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the knowledge-surpassing love of Christ".

"The eyes of your heart being enlightened that you may know...". It is all of a piece. What is this heart opening of the Holy Spirit to know? It is the tremendous, the unspeakably great value of the church to Christ. See it and the church ceases to be an institution, an organisation, a system of things. See the unspeakable value of the church to Christ, the riches of His inheritance in her; the eyes of your heart being opened to see it, that you may be strong to apprehend that love, the breadth and length and height and depth, the knowledge-surpassing love, the love of Christ for the church. We all have to confess that we do not know it like that, but we understand now why the apostle is down on his knees so continually. If that kind of knowledge is necessary in order that God might reach His end in the church, then we must pray, and we must pray for the eyes of our hearts to be enlightened. We are not playing at churches. We are dealing with the most sacred thing that the Word of God reveals to us - the relationship between Christ and His church, His wife. That is the nature of spiritual knowledge.

That love in our hearts by the Holy Spirit will lead us to do in our measure what it led Christ to do for the church - He gave Himself for her. It will lead us, as it led the apostle Paul, in the way of the Master's love for the church, "I fill up that which remains of the sufferings of Christ for His body's sake, which is the church" (Col. 1:24). Have you got that kind of love for the church? You will not have that kind of love unless the eyes of your heart have been enlightened as to what the church is to Him and what place the church takes in those eternal thoughts of God. It is something to pray about. That is Holy Spirit knowledge.

Will you pray to the Lord to give you that knowledge, the knowledge which will result in your heart, my heart, being ever more and more captivated by His love for His church?

The Holy Spirit and the Heavenly Conflict of the Church

Now you are ready to pass with the Holy Spirit into the next part of the letter. We shall not go far, but I just indicate this to you. We pass into the next part, which is the Holy Spirit and the heavenly conduct of the church, and the apostle begins that part by saying, "I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthily of the calling wherewith ye were called, with all lowliness" - what is that? That you know nothing, that you are nothing, you have everything to learn - "and meekness" - what is that? We will put up with a lot without kicking back - "with longsuffering" - and you will carry that to all lengths, putting up with things from others - "giving diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit...".

We have come on the Holy Spirit again. "The unity of the Spirit". What will inspire me to do that? What will inspire that 'all diligence' in me? What will produce in me an earnest endeavour and application of myself to keep the unity of the Spirit? It will be that I have had the eyes of my heart enlightened as to the value of the church to my Lord. No one who has seen even a little of what the church is to Christ can lightly allow division, or be at variance with fellow-members, or can easily and carelessly criticise the members of Christ's Body, His church. He cherishes His church. The love of Christ in our hearts will make us do that - giving diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit.

I am simply indicating to you the connection. Holy Spirit knowledge is working knowledge, and it is working in this way. You tell me you believe in the oneness of the Body of Christ, the heavenly unity. You have accepted the truth of the Body. If that has come to you by revelation, there will be no schismatic element in your life, there will be an earnest application of your heart to see that fellowship in unbroken relationships are preserved as far as possible, as far as in you lies. You will lay yourself out for an expression of that love, not with the lovely only, but with others. The urge of the Holy Spirit will be always in that direction, and that is a test as well as a statement of fact. This knowledge is working knowledge, and the way in which it works is to draw together, not to scatter, or to put apart, or to take anything like a careless attitude as to the relationships of the Lord's people.

I think I have said enough now. It is certainly enough to go on with before the Lord. Many more things can be said and are true of Holy Spirit knowledge, but let us see that these are the two things which matter: that it is that kind of knowledge which secures the kind of conduct that is found between the Ephesians 4:1 and 6:9, and then it is that kind of knowledge which the enemy recognises between Ephesians 6:10 and the end. He knows; he has to say, 'These people know. They are in no false position. There is no question about them. We shall not do much with them. God has done too much in them'. The Lord bring us to that position!

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