by T. Austin-Sparks
I thank you, dear friends, for the warmth of your welcome back again. In what our brother Harrison said about the link resulting in his being here, I wasn't quite sure as to whether I was to be blamed, or to be praised! I'm afraid I must leave that uncertainty with you, but he seemed to feel that it wasn't such a bad thing. I trust that it's working out that way, I believe it is.
Now without any further loss of time in that way, let us get to the Word. And I ask you, first of all, to look at a fragment in one of the best-known chapters in the Bible, in the gospel by John, chapter three. And the fragment that I'm lifting out of this so well-known story, is at verse 8: "The wind bloweth where it listeth and thou hearest the voice thereof, but knowest not whence it cometh, nor whither it goeth. So is every one that is born of the Spirit."
I want to bracket alongside of that three other fragments from the book of the Acts chapter 2, verse 2: "And suddenly there came from heaven a sound as of a rushing of a mighty wind and it filled all the house where they were sitting." Chapter 11, verse 17: "If then, God gave unto them the like gift as He did also unto us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I, that I should withstand God?" In chapter 15, verse 10: "Now therefore, why tempt ye God that ye should put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers, nor we, were able to bear."
Back to our original fragment, John 3:8 "The wind bloweth where it listeth." Here the Lord is drawing a similarity between the wind and the Holy Spirit. He says, "the wind bloweth where it listeth, so is every one that is born of the Spirit". This similarity between wind and the Spirit is not peculiar to this passage, as you know. There are other places where the two are brought together. For instance, in Ezekiel in the valley of dry bones, "Come oh thou wind and breathe upon these bones..." and the Spirit entered into them.
Two Things: the Wind and the Spirit.
Everybody knows that on the day of Pentecost it was the day of the Holy Spirit coming as the sound of a mighty rushing wind. Now, the point that the Lord makes here is that of the absolute sovereignty vested in the Holy Spirit - His perfectly free and independent action. He says, "There are some things that you don't know - whence it cometh or whither it goeth, we know not". Some things you don't know, but as to the fact and the effect, there is no gainsaying that, there is no question about that. The wind... and we're not talking about a soft gentle breeze now, the wind is indisputable. Ability, or no ability to understand and explain, it makes no difference; it's the fact, that matters. Fundamentally it's the fact that matters, not whether you can explain the thing, or define this thing.
The greatest of all facts, dear friends, the greatest of all facts in relation to God and man, is the Holy Spirit. Everything, even Christ, even the work which He has done, all the meaning and value of His cross, and of His Person, of His incarnation, of His atonement, of His heavenly glory, and everything else, depends entirely upon the Holy Spirit, to become of any value to us. He said that, "It is expedient for you that I go away, if I go not away the Spirit will not come" clearly implying, "It is far more important that the Spirit should come, than that I should stay in the flesh".
Everything depends upon the Holy Spirit. There's no vital relationship with God apart from the Holy Spirit; no living Christian experience apart from the Holy Spirit; no knowledge or understanding of Divine things apart from the Holy Spirit; no fruitfulness in life or service apart from the Holy Spirit; no transformation into the likeness of Christ apart from the Holy Spirit.
Now I, of course, could stay for a week or more, speaking on the Holy Spirit, but that is not the message for this morning in general. The particular aspect of this matter for this present moment is that of the absolute sovereignty of the Spirit, the Holy Spirit's absolute demand to have His own way, to have His own way, which demand will be refused or resisted at the expense of your spiritual life. This is a life-or-death matter: the Spirit being sovereign, with all that that means. Well, that is clearly borne out by this very simile of the wind, the wind blowing.
When the wind really blows, and we hardly need to pause to say that there is nothing indefinite about the Holy Spirit, nothing uncertain about the Holy Spirit. If there is one thing that marks the Holy Spirit from the first reference to Him in Genesis 1:2, "the Spirit of God brooded upon the face of the sea" to the last reference at the end of the book of the Revelation, "The Spirit saith come". If there's one thing about the Holy Spirit from beginning to end, it is: He's always positive, always positive, always very definite. And if you know anything about the wind really blowing, you know that the wind takes charge. It takes charge.
Have you ever really been in a hurricane? Have you ever really been at sea in a raging storm? Have you ever been in the presence of a strongly blowing wind? You know how futile it is to try to resist. The wind takes charge. "So is every one that is born of God", according to the Divine thought: taken charge of, taken over, taken out of their own hands, out of their own power, out of their own reason - taken over. Everything into His hands. Now, that's the New Testament teaching about the Holy Spirit, that is the very basis of a true Christian life and because that is not recognised, acknowledged and accepted by so many who bear the name of Christian, for that very reason there is so much that is indefinite, uncertain, unsure, wavering, vacillating, double-minded, undependable about so many Christians. Do you notice how meticulously careful the apostles were about this matter?
Look at the book of the Acts. Well, Philip went down to Samaria and preached Christ to them. The Spirit started moving, there's no doubt about it, and many came to the Lord; many came to the Lord. The apostles which were at Jerusalem heard of this, what did they do? Did they say, "Well, this is good news, this is fine! We rejoice in this!" No, they probably didn't say that, but they went down and when they were come down they looked into this thing and what happened? They did not just accept it as it was, "Then, then lay their hands upon them that they might receive the Holy Spirit". And do you notice that procedure was followed carefully, meticulously all the way through?
With Paul, he came to Ephesus and found certain disciples. Sensing a certain lack or weakness, he was perplexed perhaps, throws about in his mind: "Now, what's this? They are disciples, they are Christians, they know their Old Testament..." Apollos, that man mighty in the Scriptures, that's a good Old Testament foundation. That's the only Bible, of course, that existed, but there's something here... they've got the name, the profession, the Scriptures, but there's something here lacking. "Oh! Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" he asked. Can you believe? Can you believe without receiving the Holy Spirit? I leave you to answer that question.
Here's a case in point: there was a flaw in their foundation, we'll not deal with that, but here it is. How careful they were, "We have not so much as heard that the Holy Spirit is". He'd got his finger on them in this part, hadn't he, he had right discernment. Well, then he got busy on this situation and they received the Holy Spirit. He laid his hands upon them and they received the Spirit. Here is the complement of faith, the complement of said faith, the completion: the Holy Spirit.
My point is, how careful were the apostles about this matter, not just taking things at their face value, but making very sure, very sure, for anything short of this would be disastrous. Sooner or later it would be disastrous. Making sure about this, that these people had really received the Holy Spirit. Why? Why? For this one reason only, that when the Holy Spirit really is present within, the sovereignty of that life from centre to circumference is taken over by the Spirit of God and that individual is no longer in possession of themselves, no longer in their own sovereignty, no longer on the ground of their own rights; the Spirit has taken over everything. The Wind takes over. And if there's one thing about the wind, when it really gets going it demands submission, absolute submission. So is every one that is born of God!
A life under the aegis of the Holy Spirit is a committed life; it cannot be otherwise. You're not under the aegis of the Holy Spirit if you are not committed; a state of controversy will be going on between you and the Spirit of God until that point is reached where complete and utter submission is given to Him.
Look at the Lord Jesus. The Spirit came upon Him as He moved out into His life vocation. There was a point at which it is written of Him, "Jesus, from that day, set His face as a flint to go up to Jerusalem..." See what that meant? All that was involved in that we know and He knew, but He set His face steadfastly as a flint, to go up to Jerusalem. He is committed, He is committed, He is under the Spirit's government.
You know, when you travel by air, you travel a long distance by air, there is always a point at which the pilot knows to be the point from which there's no turning back. They've gone too far to turn back, it would be far more fatal to turn back if anything goes wrong than to go on. From this point, it's the only thing to do, whatever happens, is to go on, we're committed. Jesus went all the way, from the day when the Spirit came upon Him, in His heart He'd gone all the way. There was no turning back, He set His face steadfastly. I repeat, a life under the Holy Spirit's government, is a committed life from which there ought to be no turning back.
Have you reached that point of committal? Have you really reached that point of committal? As we say, all the books burned behind, all the bridges with a past destroyed, blown up. Committed. The Wind! Take a look, the Spirit is in the position of mastery: subduing, controlling, a force which subdues every other force in us; every other force in us. We'll see that working out in a moment. So the first thing (and dear friends, I keep very strictly to the Scriptures in what I'm saying, you know this is so) the first thing about the Holy Spirit as the Wind from heaven and as seen on the day of Pentecost, is the great foundation of the dispensation which is the dispensation of the Holy Spirit, is that He just takes everything into His hands and demands that place of absolute sovereignty.
You're going to argue with the wind? You know, it's futile to argue with a hurricane. It's futile to try out conclusions with a mighty rushing wind, you'll either be disastrously broken, or gloriously broken! It's possible to be gloriously broken, but everything of Christ comes along that line of following the Spirit.
The next thing about the wind is that the wind chooses and takes its own course. You cannot tell the wind which way to go, or to come. You cannot dictate to the wind as to what its choice should be, this or that, the Wind just chooses its own course and takes its own course - so is everyone born of God, born of the Spirit. The Spirit demands the right to do this with us, dear friends, to choose His course with us, and to take His course with us. He demands the right to do it.
Now, Peter is a very splendid example of this whole thing, in a very real sense, Peter is the embodiment of all that I'm saying. It's not without significance, that it's Peter who is the foremost figure on the day of Pentecost, not without significance, I've said. What significance? Why, the very significance of Peter himself! Remember the last words that the Lord said to Peter in the old regime before the Ascension? "Simon, when thou wast young thou girdest thyself and wentest wheresoever thou wouldest, but when thou art old, another shall gird thee and carry thee whither thou wouldst not". Whither thou wouldest, whither thou wouldest not, naturally. Here you have Peter, present with his own natural temperament, this mercurial man... what a descriptive word that is, have you ever spilled some mercury on the ground and tried to pick it up again? And get it back again? Why, you've got to go after it in all directions! And when you think you've got it, you haven't! That's Peter, isn't it? Simon... very descriptive... the old Simon: his temperament, his natural makeup and constitution and disposition, diving off all the time. Frustrated in one way, he is off in another. "Thou wentest withersoever thou wouldest" so Paul has got Peter well summed up: "Whither thou wouldest - you dictated your own course. You chose your own way. You followed your own likes and dislikes and preferences. You were the sovereign of your own life and, as you thought, of your own destiny, but Another... Another shall gird thee, Another shall gird thee. That belongs to your spiritual immaturity all that, your spiritual maturity is going to be marked by this: Another shall gird thee and carry thee whither thou, the old Simon, wouldest not go. This Spirit that will gird you will work quite contrary to your own makeup, your temperament, your disposition, and make it impossible for you just to do as you like, or as you are disposed to do. Another shall gird thee...". The Wind chooses its own course and takes it. So is everyone born of God.
Peter on the day of Pentecost came under the mighty girding and now the battle between old Simon and new Peter begins. Next thing, as you know, Acts chapter 10, Peter is on the housetop praying. He's been fasting and praying and he becomes very hungry, and falls into a trance, and sees a vision. Remember the story of the sheet let down full of unclean creatures and a voice, "Arise Peter, kill and eat!" Old Simon rises up and says, "Not so Lord!" How we mix things up don't we, when we get into that realm of nature. "Lord..." that word won't do, that word won't do when it's our saying, "Not so". You cannot say, "Lord" and at the same time say, "not so". And three times this happened, and it, the vision, passes and Peter's called.
Well, you know the rest of the story, don't you? There arrived the three men from Caesarea, Cornelius the Centurion, knocking at the door. Read the story, I haven't time to just go over it again. Peter was girded, the Lord said, "Go with them, go with them!" the Spirit said, "Go with them!" The Spirit said, "Go with them!" There's a headache for Simon, he was girded and he went into the house of a Gentile, into the company of Gentiles - unclean beasts according to Jewish ritual; according, mark you, and you've heard me say this before, to the Scriptures of the Old Testament! He'd got the Scriptures on his side, as he thought. He is standing upon his interpretation of the Scriptures, they were supporting him, but the Spirit was doing something that seemed a contradiction to the very Scriptures and to his whole position!
I know the danger of what I'm saying, but you see the point. The Holy Spirit knows what He's doing and He demands absolute sovereignty in this matter. For it is not even our interpretation of the Scriptures that is final, it's the Holy Spirit's interpretation of the Scriptures. And very often, as we go on with the Lord, we come to the place, yes repeatedly in our lives, where we have to say, "I've got to make an adjustment over that. I believed, and very strongly, this and that about that, but I've got to adjust. The Lord has made a demand that I change my position over that".
I remember some years ago, a retired Army colonel, a friend of mine who'd written books, books, and books on a certain prophetical subject, published them; well-known and read everywhere. He said to me, said to me, "You know, I've got to recall the whole lot. The real light, light that the Lord has shown me, poured upon this matter, makes it necessary for me to change my whole position, my whole life position, over this matter." He was honest, it was honest, but there's no doubt about it, the Holy Spirit had taken over this matter of his mental play upon the Scriptures and interpretation. And there's all the difference between a mental interpretation and a spiritual revelation.
Well, here is Peter in the house of Cornelius and this wonderful story. What was Peter doing really, or the old Simon doing in this matter? Listen: he was making Christ much smaller than He really is. And if there's one thing that the Holy Spirit is against, he's against that. He's against that. Israel: the elect, the spiritual aristocracy... the Gentiles: the dogs, the unclean beasts. Israel! The Holy Spirit is saying to Peter very emphatically: "Jesus Christ is a much bigger Christ than ever you have seen Peter, yet, you have to adjust to that."
If there is one thing that the Holy Spirit is against it is exclusivism, make no mistake about it, when exclusivism makes Christ smaller than He is. That's the tragedy of Israel: chosen, yes! Elect, yes! Given the oracles, yes! All that, but what for? Why? For the sake of the nations, a testimony of God in the midst of the nations, that the nations might see and believe and turn to the Lord. That's, that's the horizon of God.
But Israel... oh, Jonah, Jonah is really an example of this. "Go to Nineveh, that great, that mighty city..." you know the story of Jonah. But Jonah represents the traditional position of Israel: exclusive, shut up within themselves, "We are the people and no other! We are the chosen! We are the elect. We have received the light. We have got the truth!" But why? Why? Not for ourselves, not to make us something in ourselves, not to draw around us a fence shutting out all others, but for the sake of all others, for the sake of all others; that's all.
And Israel lost their position, dear friends, for this whole dispensation on one, one issue. These two thousand years of Israel's tragic, so tragic history, is the issue of making God's Son less than He really is. Oh, what Christ is! What God meant Him to be to Israel and to the world! We see it in this very chapter, that the most familiar words in all the Bible are, "God so loved the world! Whosoever..." Nicodemus. "Nicodemus, you've got to be born from above, out of this exclusivism, out of this narrow traditionalism, out of this fixed and set position of yours, born right out into the greatness of God's all-comprehending purpose in His Son". How great Christ is! Oh, may we be saved from having a smaller Christ than God means us to have.
There's no danger in that, dear friends, the Holy Spirit can look after that, but my point is that the Holy Spirit in this tenth chapter of Acts is just saying this, "I'm not having any of your circumscribing of Christ on any ground whatsoever. You may quote me Leviticus chapter 11 if you like, but I'm not having it: what God hath cleansed, call not thou unclean". The Cross has dealt with all that ceremonial uncleanness and opened up the vast vistas of grace for all men.
The third occasion of Peter, you see, first his temperament, then his spiritual bigotry. In chapter 15 Paul refers to what happened. In the letter to the Galatians we heard what happened. Peter is called to account for this, by the elders at Jerusalem. He is, as we say, on the carpet, on the spot: having to answer for this, this unusual, this unheard of behaviour. Well, you know, we quote it. Peter sums it all up in this, "Who was I? Who was I to resist God?" That's what it amounts to, "Who was I to resist God?" But something else happened.
Peter is at Antioch. The Gentiles at Antioch have been saved, gathered in. The Spirit has done something with the Gentiles. And Peter's down there rejoicing! He's following up, he's following up in Caesarea, in the house of Cornelius, happily following up with the Gentiles in Antioch. He is even drinking; all right. "But certain [ones] came down from Jerusalem, James and certain others came down from Jerusalem, and when they were come down, Peter withdrew." Peter withdrew. Peter withdrew! There's a withdrawing. This is a dangerous offense to the Holy Spirit, a violating of what He's doing. And Paul recognised the significance of this, this; and he said, "I withstood him to the face for his dissimulation. I withstood him to the face."
Simon is having a bad time, isn't he, under this aegis of the Holy Spirit. He really is. What's happened now? Here's something that has come up of the old Simon: bondage to man. "What will the brethren say? What will the leaders say? What will the chief men say? I must, I must be careful because of what they will say, and perhaps what they'll do!" And that kind of thing is set over against the sovereignty of the Holy Spirit. Two things in collision. You cannot have this. I'm so glad that Peter must have got the better of this, he couldn't have written his two letters if he hadn't, and he couldn't have said later on about this man who withstood him to the face, and said, "Peter, you stand condemned. Before God you stand condemned, you're guilty of dissimulation." Later Peter wrote, "Our beloved brother Paul... in all his writings, in which there are some things difficult to understand...!" You see? But he's got over his hurdle.
The Holy Spirit was choosing the way and, taking it, is finding Peter coming into line. Coming into line. There were some, not a few, who did not come into line: "Demas hath forsaken me, returned to Thessalonica... I don't know about Barnabas, I don't know about Barnabas. Even Barnabas," says Paul, "Even Barnabas... even Barnabas." Unthinkable! "Dear, beloved Barnabas to whom I owe so much, we all owe so much, the church at Antioch owes so much, but even Barnabas was carried away." Barnabas falls out of the New Testament. I hope I don't exaggerate judgment and condemnation, but there are those who just get out of the way of the Wind when He's blowing toward this great full purpose of God. Dissimulate... withdraw. The Lord save us.
I don't know where to finish this. The Wind searches, may I finish on this and leave the other. The Wind searches and tests everything, especially foundations and structures, of what kind they are. I spent a great deal of my life in Scotland in my childhood and later. There's a common sight in Scotland, we had there many pine trees, pine forests, and pine trees growing along the roadside and it's a land in which the wind blows sometimes. And after any of our great wind storms you can go along and see these pine trees uprooted, themselves lying level with the earth and their roots up in the air. Before, people admired them, and said very nice things about them; what fine trees they were, what a magnificent sight! And the wind blew. And the wind blew, testing the depth of their roots, testing their power of endurance, testing stamina. And down went so many of these before time, erstwhile, admirable, praiseworthy trees. Down they went, crashing to earth. The wind bloweth... the Holy Spirit just does let you know, friends, that is what He is doing! The Holy Spirit is going to blow on us all!
Christian experience is just this: under the sovereignty of the Holy Spirit our foundations are going to be tested; make no mistake about it, they are going to be tested, and our structure, our building, our stamina, our endurance. The Wind's blowing today, my word, it's blowing over this earth. Look at all the testing! See all the tragic crashing to the ground. Do you know, dear friends, that Christianity as we now know it, is going to be blown to bits, absolutely to bits, and there's going to be nothing of it left. Christianity as we know it.
All these things must be dissolved: systems, this whole cosmic order, and this whole Christian system as we know it, is going. You say, "That's a terrible statement. On what authority?" Well, plenty.
I have lived through two world wars. What have we seen? That alone is a simple and very small example of what I'm saying. We have seen many and many a place with a great Christian tradition, something that has stood for something, simply crash to the ground - hardly one stone left upon another. Everywhere! Destruction. No preferences, no favouritisms. And God, where is God? Where's God? "Oh, if anything ought to have been preserved, that ought to have been preserved. God ought to have protected that...". No! The answer is no. Why? Because God is not interested in things.
God is only interested in one matter. The Holy Spirit is only concerned about one matter, dear friends, one matter only. And history bears this out. The Holy Spirit is only concerned with Christ; with Christ, with what is Christ, what is of Christ, with the measure of Christ. The Holy Spirit has only one in His vision and that's Christ. And He's always saying, "How much really of the eternal essence of Christ is here?" And so you can go to Asia Minor today and find no trace of the churches in Asia. You can go to Galatia, you can go to all these places of the New Testament and find nothing today as places.
Now, the first three chapters of the book of the Revelation just bear down upon that. Note, to the churches, to the seven churches in Asia, "What the Spirit saith, what the Spirit saith, what the Spirit saith..." seven times, "What the Spirit saith". The Wind is blowing, what for? Just to discover not, not whether this has got a tradition, not this and that and something else, not whether they've got a building and a place of meeting or a technique of worship, or kind of New Testament order, but whether they have that or not, how much of the risen, living, exalted Christ is here? And the Holy Spirit will go as far as to say, "Repent or I will remove thy lampstand out of this place because the Light's gone". What's the good of a lampstand if there's no light? We are ornaments the Holy Spirit is not interested in. Do you see the point? The Light is Christ, the measure of Christ, it is Christ, it is Christ!
What the Spirit saith is "Not this and that, I know thy works and thy labours and thy patience, all that's very good, but I have this against you...". But, but, but! What about Christ in you: in your assemblies, in your gatherings, in your corporate life, in your testimony in the world, what about Christ? The place can go, all, all of the house can go. Oh, forgive me, Westland Chapel will go! Eventually it will go, eventually. It's not here for eternity. And all the other places, however much they may have stood for the Lord, they're going up in the great final issue.
And dear friends, what matters is not the place, and not many things that you make a great deal of and think are very important, but this measure of the Spirit of Jesus Christ against dissimulation, withdrawing, division, bringing us all down onto the common ground, the one foundation, which is the unique and only foundation, "For other, other foundation can no man lay". What are you laying down as a foundation? "Which is Jesus Christ". The Holy Spirit is concerned about that and that only. And He demands I come back to the beginning, He demands the sovereignty. This kind of submission, subjection, committal of our temperament, and our tradition, and all things in us, and outside of us, committed to Him - to have His way utterly, and unreservedly, and undividedly.