by T. Austin-Sparks
Reading: Exodus 17.
"Now unto Him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, unto Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus unto all generations for ever and ever" (Eph. 3:20-21).
Gathering up the message of the Lord which has now been spread over some ten meditations, I feel that now we should be occupied for a little while with what we may call 'Life on the Superlative', and the passage just read is full of superlatives. "Exceeding abundantly above! Exceeding abundantly above all...".
The Lord has been trying to show us that His thought for His people now is a Life as in the heavenlies. This letter to the Ephesians, the fringe of which alone we have only touched, has that phrase running right through it from the commencement: "Has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ". "In the heavenlies", and that means the superlative Life, Life on the highest level, and that is the Lord's will for us all now.
We are all hoping to know something about heaven later on, the Lord wants us to know something about it now. But while there may be the element of joy, the element of blessedness, much in that realm that immediately comes to mind when we think of heavenly Life, I do not think that that is the sum of such a Life for us now, but this letter makes it perfectly clear that the heavenly Life is a very businesslike Life in every direction, it is a Life full of serious business.
I do not know what your idea of heaven is, but, for my part, I do not like the idea of a heaven where you do nothing. Heaven to me is worthwhile work, not an everlasting doing nothing. That does not appeal to me at all! We were made for something and we were made for tremendous business, and we are very limited here, very handicapped as on this earth, and even the best and greatest that we might do here on the earth is very poor and transient, but it was not for this that we were made. The Word of God says that this present creation, which includes us, has been deliberately subjected to vanity. It means that it has been rendered incapable of realising the object of its existence, it may not do that now. A ban rests upon it. It is under a curse and it may not get through to its end, and it will only be delivered from that bondage of corruption, that limitation, that vanity, when God's original purpose and intention is realised; as the apostle says, it is waiting for the manifestation of the sons of God.
Well then, our real business is in another realm, and if we knew it, heaven for us really means doing the work which is outside of time, corruption, and death, outside of what is here. It is being fruitful, effectual, and accomplishing things which have little, if anything, to do with this passing creation, and that for me means heavenly Life, and that is Life in the superlative.
While we spend a certain amount of time here, and have to be occupied in the nature of things here, that is a mere fraction, a mere atom of our real Life and of our real work. There is something which far transcends that, which is true of us now in our Life and in our fruitfulness, but it is in the unseen. But to be able to discern and to apprehend and to know in a living way in our hearts that that is so, it is as living to us and as real to us now as anything here about us seen and handled - that gives Life meaning, and very great meaning. I wonder how many of you can say that the things unseen are more real to you than the things seen? The things eternal are really the greater things in your Life, the greater realities?
Well, it is concerning that that this letter to the Ephesians is brought to us as God's message, to make us aware of the fact that this Life here on this earth, this span and all that belongs to it, is a mere nothing compared with God's thoughts about us, which are shown us at the opening of this letter, "He chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world." God had us in His mind before this world had an existence. "He foreordained us unto adoption as sons through Jesus Christ unto Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will" - something again which happened before the world was. Not only did He choose us, but He settled in eternity past what we were to be in eternity to come. In time, He has called us according to that purpose which embraces the eternities, and that has been shown to be the range and significance of the life of the child of God. Then the rest of the letter shows us the vocation unto which we are called. Now, as parts of that church, that Body of Christ, now fulfilled in strange, mystic, difficult to understand, but if the Word of God means anything at all, tremendously important things - "that now unto the principalities and powers in the heavenlies might be made known through the church the manifold wisdom of God" - a part of our vocation now. I cannot explain that. But here is Life on a scale which is so much greater in its significance than this little thing here. But that is only a bit. In the ages to come the exceeding riches of His grace are to be shown forth, and much more.
Well now, Life in the heavenlies means that we take on eternal significance as to our very being and as to our very vocation and that we are now, as we have put it before, under tuition and training for a great purpose which is to go through the ages of the ages. If these things were realities with us, if they were not just great ideas, thoughts, concepts, words and truths in the sense of things stated, if this was a reality, if the Lord were to come to you personally tonight, alone in your room when you are by yourself, and said to you, 'My child, I have an immense piece of work for you, no less a piece of work than to be My agent of administering all My authority and moral glory in heaven and on earth throughout all the ages of the ages to come' - how would you feel? If the Lord said that to you personally and individually alone and you knew it was the Lord saying that to you, how would you feel? And on the authority of the Word of God, I can say to you that He has said that to you, not as apart from others, not as an isolated one, but as a part of a Body called from eternity for that very purpose. It is that to which the apostle refers here - "I therefore... beseech you to walk worthily of the calling wherewith ye were called". The calling wherewith ye are called; and if it really became a personally apprehended and appreciated thing, it would be Life on the superlative. And there are two ways as set forth in this letter in which it would be Life on the superlative.
In Ephesians 4:1-6:9 the heavenly conduct of the people of God, where many details of Life here on this earth are mentioned, Life in the home and domestic relationships in the family Life, in the business, in the social circle, in contact with the world, and Life in relation to ourselves personally in secret behaviour - in what we are within ourselves, in our habits and our conduct and our demeanour and our mentality and all that belongs to us - all that is there in that section, is to be touched by this great consciousness. And if it is in all these details touched by this great, great calling, then every detail of Life will be adjusted to that calling and lifted up on to a very high level. It will not permit our living right down there in the mud and the mire and the murk of a selfish, fleshly, worldly life, with quarrelsomeness in our family relationships, unfairness in our business relationships, unholiness in our social relationships, and unworthiness of Christ in our own personal secret lives. All that goes out. You begin to see how even such a thing as being angry has got to be put up on to another level than a merely personal level of being offended. "Be ye angry and sin not" is one of the things there. Yes, be angry, it is not wrong to be angry, but do not be angry because your own personal interests have been interfered with. Be angry on principle, and then as you see the sun going down, you will be able to say, 'It is all over', but you cannot do that if you have got personal pride that has been angry. If it has hurt you personally, it is very difficult not to let the sun go down upon it. It means - have control over your anger because it is righteous anger on principle, because the Lord's interests are involved and not your own. I only pick that out; I am not going over all the minutiae of this section.
What I am saying is this: really get the sense, the consciousness, of the greatness of that for which we are here to be prepared, and you see it rules out all that is unworthy in every department of life. It subjects everything of self-glory, of course, and it raises the question about every matter - is this going to bring me into defeat and put the enemy in a place of vantage? Well, that is not what I am called to; I am called rather to put the enemy at a disadvantage, to be myself, in Christ, in the spiritual place of vantage. You should test everything in the light of the calling.
Then Life on that superlative level means not only that everything in our conduct, our walk here, is adjusted accordingly. It means that, but it means that we are brought into a position where what the enemy is doing is checked, is brought under the authority of Christ, for that is the last section - the heavenly warfare of the saints, our wrestling with principalities and powers. There is a realm in which the church has to be effective in countering the enemy's work, in arresting the enemy's activities, in standing for the saints and their deliverance from the work of the enemy, in taking from the enemy the ground that he has got and turning it to account for the Lord. This is a great business, a great calling and vocation; this Life in the superlative brings us into a very high position. We are called to that now.
Israel an Illustration of Heavenly Things
Now, in order to get very close to that and to try and reduce it to something quite simple for those who may not be familiar with ideas that may seem to them too heavenly, I will use Israel again. Israel ever stands as a great illustration to us of these heavenly things.
In order to come to the Life on the superlative level which is God's thought, God's will for His people now, there are two or three things which are essential, and they are a matter of our apprehension of Christ. Let me put that in another way. Christ has to be apprehended in different ways in relation to different levels of spiritual Life. Everything is in Christ, and it is only a matter of knowing Christ, apprehending Christ in different degrees of His fulness in order to bring us to God's ultimate position which is still Christ.
In Israel's history, we see a threefold apprehension of Christ represented, by which they came eventually into the land which is the type of the heavenlies, of heavenly fulness in Christ.
1. Israel in Egypt
An Apprehension of Christ in the Power of His Death
In the first place, there was their apprehension of Christ in relation to their position and condition in Egypt. There in Egypt they were in a perfectly hopeless position and condition. It would have been futile and disastrous for them to have attempted to fight their own way out of Egypt, to fight for any victory at all over Egypt - utterly in vain. They were there without strength, without resource; helpless prisoners. The apprehension of Christ for such a position is of a peculiar kind; that is, it has its own specific meaning, and you will notice that the one thing which is kept in view always in relation to an Egypt deliverance is death. You know that the final issue of the Egypt situation was the question of death. Death was to spread itself over the land on that night, but death was in the hands of God. God had hold of death that night. Death was under His government. Death was going to work in two directions, but it was going to have one effect. Death was going to work judgment and destruction against those who were against God and His purpose, but death was going to work deliverance for those who were standing by faith with God, and God used death to destroy death for those who believed. He destroyed that death which was the result of sin, which was because of sin and which was judgment. He destroyed judgment and death, and therefore He destroyed the cause - sin, and the bondage of sin - by death itself. It was a death for the destruction of death. Death is the great word in Egypt.
Now, bring the Lord Jesus in there and see that deliverance from sin and death, bondage to this world and its principles and from that hopeless and helpless state of the sinner, is all on the ground of the death of the Lord Jesus. He died, but His death was a tremendous thing. It was such a powerful, potent thing, that it broke the power and grip of death over everyone who believed in Him. It is the apprehension of Christ in death which is the first step on the road toward God's fulness. You see, something has got to be done for us that destroys the power that holds us in bondage. It is perfectly useless and in vain for any sinner held in the bondage of sin to try and fight, as futile as it would have been for Israel to try and fight their way out of Egypt, so it is for any sinner to try and fight his or her way out of nature's state in sin. You cannot fight while you are like that. You have got to apprehend Christ's victory by His death for you. We come into Life by apprehending the death of Christ.
2. Israel in the Wilderness
An Apprehension of Christ in the Power of His Resurrection
But then, when that has happened and they are out of Egypt and now the Lord's people in very truth, they are not free of all their troubles, limitations, and defeats. They are still very much limited in spiritual Life. As we have seen, it is a very up and down kind of Christian life; it is not going on serenely and triumphantly every day, but there are constant setbacks, and this means that they must have a fresh apprehension of Christ. Christ must be apprehended for something more than deliverance from what is represented by Egypt and the wilderness, and what is that? It is bondage to the life of nature, not only to sin as sin and Satan as Satan and the world as the world, but myself - what I am in myself.
The New Testament says, 'in the flesh', 'the natural life'. You see how they were swayed by the life of nature in the wilderness. Nature was dictating the terms of the time. It was ever and always a matter of what they liked and what they did not like, what they wanted and what they did not want, what they would have, what they preferred, and so the life of nature was governing and dictating all the time and keeping them down on that low level where there is no final assurance, certainty, real grip or onward going. A fresh apprehension of Christ is needed in that realm, and how do they need to apprehend Christ now? Well, they need to apprehend Him, not as in the power of His death, but in the power of His resurrection; for the death, you see, was victory for us over the power of darkness; resurrection is the power of the Spirit over the power of nature, and what comes up in the wilderness is quite clearly this - life in the flesh or Life in the Spirit? Which is it to be? Life in the Spirit is the result of an apprehension of Christ in resurrection, Christ risen; power over nature by the Holy Spirit. There will be battles in that realm; "For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh" (Gal. 5:17). But it need not go on eternally to our defeat. If we walk in the Spirit, we shall not fulfil the lusts of the flesh or the desires of the flesh. His resurrection always means from His side that we are introduced into the Life of the Spirit.
You take it in the type. You see the Holy Spirit in Israel's case, in the cloud, the pillar, took things up with the Red Sea. It was at the Red Sea that the pillar of cloud and fire came into evidence. Well, that is taking charge as a Life in the Spirit.
Or take the illustration in the life of the Lord Jesus Himself. It is when He comes up out of the Jordan on resurrection ground that the heavens are open and the Spirit comes upon Him and then He is led of the Spirit into the wilderness and returns in the power of the Spirit. The Spirit has come to take charge at the resurrection, there on Jordan's side. Well, that is all typical of our spiritual experience. An apprehension of Christ risen means Life in the Spirit and not in the flesh; that we should know Him in the power of His resurrection means victory in the realm of the natural life. But that is not all. God has a still higher level, a still fuller thought, for even though we may walk in the Spirit as overcoming the life of nature, there is another positive aspect of things for the child of God.
3. Israel in the Land
An Apprehension of Christ in the Power or His Ascension and Exaltation
We move on to a further apprehension of Christ, and that is set forth in type in Israel's passing through the Jordan on to the other side, in the land; and that is the apprehension of Christ ascended and exalted. What is the result of that? It is not just that we are saved men and women out of Egypt, delivered from sin, rejoicing in personal salvation. It is not only that we have found the secret of victory over self, that we know something about living in the Spirit and not in the flesh. That is all very good, but now it means that we have come into the secret of authority over the powers of darkness. That is God's point for us. It is now the energy of the Holy Spirit in the realm of administering the authority of Christ over Satan. That is the meaning of Joshua surrendering to the Captain of the Lord's host, the Captain of the Lord's host taking charge. Who is he? Well, he represents the coming in of the throne to bring the people of God into oneness with that throne, that they may administer as from that throne in the realm where principalities and powers hold sway, and that was intended to be the order of their life in the land. The Lord made that perfectly clear at the outset in the first attack at Jericho.
Now, as we know, Jericho was an inclusive representation of all that lay before. There were seven nations in the land, and the Lord made it a seven day business and a seven times round business, and seven times in one day. It is seven; it is the whole thing in completeness, and on what basis? Not on the fight with Amalek basis, and now certainly not on the basis of the Egypt conflict of the Lord with the power of sin. Now it is the Lord's people having come into a position, and into a mighty position, so that what they do is to compass the city round in faith and the thing has to go down. It has to go down because of a faith position and a faith co-operation with God because they are in a position to do it. It is the impact of the throne of the exalted Lord upon a situation when the people of God go round it in faith, because they themselves are not struggling now in Egypt for deliverance, nor in the wilderness for personal victory, but now they have apprehended Christ as sovereign Lord, as exalted in the throne, and that is Life on the superlative and that is for now. That is Ephesians 6. That is for now for the people of God, and what the Lord wants for us.
The Principle of Warfare in the Land
We have read Exodus 17, the latter part of which speaks of that conflict with Amalek or the coming out of Amalek, and this is a very interesting and a very significant incident. Remember it is a battle in the wilderness, and it is a battle which relates to wilderness conditions or the wilderness situation in the first instance. But it is the extra factor about that which is so tremendously helpful. This battle with Amalek was a foreshadowing of what God meant, what God intended in the land, and it says to me (this is the helpful thing about it) that God means that we should deal even with the life of nature on the same basis as we deal with the principalities and powers, because they are one.
When you recognise that Amalek is a type of the evil powers working through the flesh (because it is down in the wilderness), the evil powers working through the flesh, working through the life of nature, then you see by the rest of the story that God intends us to overcome in the realm of the natural life, the fleshly life, on the same basis as we deal with the powers of evil; that is, directly. And until you have got that secret, you do not know what victory is.
The enemy plays havoc with you through your natural life, and you are all the time saying, 'It is I. It is myself; it is my nature, it is my disposition, it is how I am made.' And how many people we have heard excusing themselves on the ground of what they are! How many people we have heard excusing injudicious and lawless conduct by saying, 'You know, I am an impulsive Peter...' - hiding behind Peter, putting Peter up as the screen! 'Peter was a great apostle, Peter was much loved of the Lord. The Lord sent a special message to Peter after His resurrection. But you know, Peter was a very impulsive man, and I am like Peter...' - forgetting that that is Peter before the Holy Spirit got hold of him. You cannot hide behind Peter nor behind any other apostle like that. If we are going to come down on to that level and begin to defend our weaknesses and imperfections on the ground of nature, the enemy is just going to play on that ground beautifully. There is such a thing as recognising that this may be true about you, but the enemy is not going to have hold of that! There is an extra factor. 'While that may be true of me, the enemy likes to use it. I am going to take it out of his hands!' That is the story of Amalek. Look at the points in it and you see how true that is. It was a foreshadowing of what the warfare in the land was going to be, and it is carried out on exactly the same principle.
Moses goes up into the mount, having in his hand the rod of God. Moses represents the exalted Christ with the rod of all authority in heaven and in earth in His hand. He is up there and He has all authority in His hands, but do you recognise that those hands need to be supported? So Aaron and Hur go up, and they sit on either side and support the hands of Moses. You say, 'Oh, does the ascended, exalted Lord need support?' Yes, He does. Who are Aaron and Hur? They are representative of Israel; they are the people in representation. What are they doing? They believe, to begin with; they believe that if those hands are supported, Israel will prevail. They are affording co-operating faith with the exalted Lord. It is co-operating faith. The Lord Jesus is on the throne, He is exalted to the right hand of the Majesty on high, but that means nothing for you and me unless there is co-operating faith, and it is in that sense that we uphold His hands. He looks to us to do it, to come alongside and exercise faith in Him as the One who has the authority, and through faith to bring that authority down upon the situation. It is the church working together with the exalted Lord.
Well, that points on to the land. Joshua, of course, is down there with the people. He is a type of the energy of the Holy Spirit warring through the church, and all this is of a piece: Christ exalted with all authority; the Holy Spirit down here in the church to make good all that Christ is up there, but in between the church co-operating in faith, so that the Spirit and the throne are made one in effect through the church's co-operating faith. You see the principle of warfare in the land, and you have got to get there for victory over the enemy in the realm of nature as well as in the heavenlies, showing that the Lord's thought about victory over the enemy is one thought, and it means you have got to have a full Christ and be apprehended in His fulness for a full Life - death, resurrection, ascension and exaltation - and when faith has apprehended Him in fulness, then you know what Life on the superlative is; that is, in effectiveness, in value, in meaning, in significance - Life in the heavenlies.
Now ask the Lord to make clear to you what is not clear and to bring you right into the good of it all.