The Place and the Work of the Holy Spirit

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 1 - The Holy Spirit's Place and Work

"Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink. He that believeth on Me, as the scripture hath said, out of his inner man shall flow rivers of living water. But this spake He of the Spirit, which they that believed on Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet (given); because Jesus was not yet glorified" (John 7:37-39).

We take it that a message is something which has been at work strongly and deeply in the heart of a messenger; something about which the messenger himself has been quite definitely exercised, and something which, more than being an activity of the mind in connection with truth, is a conviction of the heart, the result of a real movement of the heart resulting in the coming of such a messenger, either for the first time or again, to some very definite position before the Lord. If it is that which constitutes a message and a messenger, then we have no doubt that we are in the way of a message. We simply mean this: that we bring to you something which has been very strongly and in a renewed way (for it is not the first time) going on in our heart and concerning which there has been, as it were, a bringing back on the part of the Lord to an emphasis, a strength of position, and, we believe, with definiteness of meaning on His part. It is concerning the place and work of the Holy Spirit.

We trust that what is said, though in substance it may not be fresh, may have a newness about it in its application by the Lord Himself to our hearts. There will not be many of the Lord's people who will not be concerned with such a passage as the above; that is, concerned with the flowing out from their innermost being of rivers of living water. That is only one aspect of the many-sided meaning, value and activity of the Holy Spirit in our lives, but we have come especially to that because of the immediate association with it in the chapter: "This spake He of the Spirit... the Spirit was not yet, because Jesus was not yet glorified." You will immediately recognise that the advent of the Holy Spirit is essentially related to the glorifying of the Lord Jesus. It is related to the fact that the Lord Jesus is glorified, that is, that He is now at the right hand of the Majesty on High, crowned with glory and honour. All the work of the Holy Spirit is bound up with that fact. The work of the Holy Spirit is the bringing forth of the meaning and content of that fact, to reveal, show and work out in part all the values and the virtues of the Lord Jesus being glorified. It is very important, when we are contemplating the work of the Holy Spirit, that we should know exactly where to begin, and that is our main note in this meditation.

The Starting Place of the Holy Spirit's Activity or Ministry

What is true of the Holy Spirit Himself in that matter has to become true, very really and definitely, in our consciousness. Sooner or later we shall be brought to the place where we are fully alive to the basis upon which the Holy Spirit takes up His work, so that it should be to our help if that is brought before us definitely and clearly. The starting place of the Holy Spirit's work and ministry in the life of anyone, or any company, is the place of recognition of the fact of the utter impossibility of anything without Him.

It sometimes requires time, and often very drastic activities, history or experience, but we may take it as a settled thing that the Holy Spirit begins at zero, demands zero, and stands back until zero is struck. But zero is to be struck in our consciousness; we have to be made aware of its fact.

We are called with a great calling. We are called into the fellowship of God's Son; called to a great life, into living relationship to God Himself. We are called to a high life, a life which is God's own Life in its nature, in its virtues: a holy life, a glorious life, a mighty life, a rich life.

We are called also into a great service, the fellowship of the gospel. It is the greatest work into which man has ever been called - workers together with God; God's fellow-workers. All of us are called into an eternal, heavenly and universal vocation. And yet the fact remains that neither you, nor I, nor any man, can breathe the first breath of that Life, or take the first step in that vocation without the Holy Spirit; and every subsequent breath and every subsequent step is in utter and entire dependence upon the Holy Spirit and impossible apart from Him. He is the vitality of that life and that service, and He is the quality of it. He is the very energy of it, and He is the nature of it.

There is a great utterance of the Lord Jesus which is very far-reaching, and has a very profound meaning: "That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." Now, there you have two creations, and one of those creations is said to be the direct and immediate result of the Holy Spirit. But, mark you, the distinctive feature of that creation is not that it is just produced by the objective fiat or order of the Holy Spirit, as though the Spirit said: "Let it be!" It is not as though the Spirit commanded a creation to come into being, and it came in; as though there went forth a word and a power, and as the result some order of things was constituted. That is only half. The essential thing is this, that the Holy Spirit gives the character to the thing which He brings forth. He gives it its nature and its quality. It is Spirit! It is not merely something produced by Divine power, but something with a certain quality, a certain nature. It is Spirit; that is, right at its innermost reality it is spiritual. That makes possible its relationship to God, who is a Spirit; and because of that, everything else follows.

Take the matter of goodness, holiness. There is no goodness outside of God. That sweeps the board of all the counterfeits, all the false philosophies, the humanitarianisms, and the substitutes of the devil. Even the Lord Jesus Himself will interrogate a man who says to Him: "Good Master". He will say: "Why do you call Me good? There is none good but one, that is, God." There is, of course, a deeper meaning of that interrogation. It carries with it this further interrogation: 'Do you recognise who I am?' But still the principle holds good: "There is none good but one, that is, God." Goodness is inseparably bound up with God.

Nothing that does not come from God can get back to God; therefore, the Holy Spirit must be the quality of that which is going to get back to God. That is the profoundest element in the new birth, being born of the Spirit, that the Holy Spirit gives a Divine quality to that which comes to Him, making it possible for that to come to God; and apart from that kind of birth nothing will ever get to God. From the very first act of the Holy Spirit in new birth, in introducing that Divine quality, that Divine element, right on, all goodness is mediated by the Holy Spirit and is never found anywhere else. You and I cannot produce it, constitute it, provide it or contribute one fragment of it. Every bit of it comes by the Holy Spirit. The increase of holiness, of goodness, of Divine nature, is by way of the Holy Spirit all the time.

When that is taken in its inclusive meaning, it is seen that the life of a child of God is an impossible thing without the Holy Spirit. We cannot live the Christian life apart from Him. But that also means this: that to live the life of the child of God fully, we must be filled with the Spirit. We shall live as children of God in the measure in which the Holy Spirit has possession of our lives, and no more. If the Spirit fills, we shall be living the life of a child of God on a very full scale. If the Spirit is not filling, then our lives as children of God will be at low ebb, or proportionately without the Holy Spirit.

What is true in the matter of the life is true in the matter of the service. No matter how much knowledge there may be, enthusiasm, vigour, interest, activity, the measure of the abiding, eternal, universal fruitfulness is essentially the measure of the Holy Spirit doing the work. It is not for us to judge, but it is for us to recognise facts. It is for us to recognise the laws that God has already laid down. Nothing which is not done by the Holy Spirit is done of God.

That is a challenging statement, and it may raise many problems, and provoke many questions. Nevertheless that fact is sure, and even to disciples who had seen all that the Lord Jesus had to show them in the days of His flesh, and heard all that He had to say to them in those days, and had recognised His cross, and had seen Him after His resurrection, the Word is still: "Tarry ye... until ...". And then from zero: the first breath, the first activity by the Holy Spirit, right on through everything afterwards there must be the activity of the Holy Spirit. When that ceases to be the order of the day, and men assume responsibility for the work of God, you find a different state of things coming in. That is responsible for a very painful history, of which we are all too well aware as having gone on through the centuries.

It is fruitless to contemplate such questions as what would have happened if things had continued as they were at the beginning, and if only we could have had another generation on the basis of the ministry of the apostle Paul. It was said some years ago that if things had continued on the basis of the worldwide activity of the Moravian brethren in their first years, the whole world would have been evangelised in less than a generation. Here today, two thousand years afterwards, the whole world is nothing like evangelised. Why? Well, things did not continue as they were at the beginning, and that is the answer. But it is a very forceful answer. It is a mighty way of enforcing this fact, that, pile up your activities, pour in your energies, and let them be other than the activities of the Holy Spirit, and you spread things over an indefinite time, and never reach your end.

That is taking a wide view, but what belongs to the wide view comes down to the individual. None of us can live or serve to any Divine purpose except by the Holy Spirit.

That means, then, that we shall have to come to that consciousness - in a very real way - of the Holy Spirit's basis of beginning and going on. We shall be compelled sooner or later to take that position, either by force of outward circumstances (and who shall say that that is not moving again today in a very real way, in the realisation of ineffectiveness and inability to cope with the situation), or by reason of our own inward state, our utter weakness, the breakdown in the realm of our own efforts, where we come in every part of our being to recognise that that is something beyond us, we cannot touch it.

Oh! The utter folly of trying to inflate human energy and activity in the enterprise of the gospel, and thrusting out into this universal conflict human stuff upon the basis of: Go and do the best you can for Christ! That spells ruin sooner or later. Oh, that every one who went out into the work of the gospel had first of all been brought to this place of tarrying until they were endued with power from on high, and that under the deep consciousness that the whole thing was beyond them otherwise.

The Lord Jesus kept men near to Him for three years and more, and during that time we have a very clear manifestation of the fact that they were unfit for this work. How they did break down on the right hand and on the left! And how their deepest and strongest confidence in themselves was proved to be the leaning upon a broken reed! One who would with loudest voice, and with truest motive and meaning as far as he knew himself, declare that he would go even to death with his Lord, would be found within a very few hours denying his Lord in order to save his own skin. How little we know ourselves until we are put to the test! The Lord knew quite well that there were big tests ahead for these men. He knew what was in man, and He sought to let them know it, so that they came to the place where they knew so deeply that there was no shadow of a doubt about it, that it was impossible to them. God only must do it, and if God did not do it, then it could never be done.

That is not some advanced point in spiritual life and service. That is the commencing point of the work of the Holy Spirit. It may be that we go a long way before we come to that place, but, mark you, the Holy Spirit has not advanced that way, but has been waiting for the hour when He can say: "Now we will commence! You commenced perhaps years ago, but we will commence now!" That is the effect of it. If you have had an experience at all of an enlargement of the Holy Spirit in your life, you know that when that comes you say: "Why, nothing has happened until now! We may have been very busy, active, energetic, but really we are only just beginning." That enlargement of the Holy Spirit in our lives is now beginning, and when that comes, it comes to us as though nothing ever was before that time.

Oh, that this should really come to us by the illumination of the Holy Spirit Himself! Oh, that you and I should really see that everything, everything - the great comprehensive everything - to the most minute detail in relation to God, depends upon the Holy Spirit.

"Apart from Me ye can do nothing." That is only another way of saying that "Everything, from the first gesture in this realm of Divine things, depends entirely upon Me"; so much so that the very first thing you find about the Holy Spirit in the unveiling of His work is the absolute sovereignty of God in relation to our knowing anything about the Spirit and the Spirit's work.

That needs explaining. What is the first simile used in relation to the Holy Spirit and the child of God? It is 'wind'. "The wind blows..." - at your beck and call, by your command or forbidding? No! It does not say anything like that. "The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit." There is a sovereignty about the wind. It takes things right out of your hands.

Nothing can stand up against the wind. Nothing can control the wind. So is every one born of the Spirit. What was the sound of the rushing, mighty wind on the day of Pentecost? No one has said: "Wind, blow today!" It is not in the power of any mortal to control the movement or the time of the movement of the wind by the Spirit of God; it is absolutely sovereign. There is a sovereignty about this matter of new birth that man cannot bring about. No one can be born again by their own decision, by their own choice. No one can appoint the time when they shall be born again; in spite of all the procrastinators who say: "Not today! Tomorrow! Later on!" When the Spirit moves it is for us to put up our sails, or we may be eternally becalmed if we do not take advantage of that Divine movement. This matter, right at its inception, is altogether outside of man's control, man's power. The sovereignty of the Holy Spirit is its own basic proof that everything is with Him and nothing is with us. What is with us is subsequent. The Spirit moves, the Spirit presents Christ, the Spirit convicts, the Spirit gives the message. What is subsequent to that is our attitude towards it.

We mention all this just to emphasise the fact that the beginnings are with the Spirit, as are the continuations and the consummations. It is all with Him in life and in service.

It relieves us of a great deal of responsibility when we are rightly adjusted. When the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost acted according to His sovereignty, He took the commission right out of the hands of the disciples, and put the disciples into the hands of the commission. Do you see the force of that? "Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel". That is the commission. When the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost sovereignly acted they did not have to call a committee and say: "Now we must consider the commission and arrange how it shall be done; and we will send so-and-so in this direction, and those in that direction, and others still in a third direction". It happened! They went! They did not wait for conditions, counsels or commissioning. The Holy Spirit took the thing into His hands. He possessed Himself of the commission, and He possessed Himself of the men. The men and the commission became one, altogether apart from any human arrangement. That is very effective, and very blessed! Oh, to come back to recognise that no matter whether we sit down for days and weeks on end to purpose, intend, and arrange the work of the Lord, we shall never get anywhere unless the Holy Spirit comes and takes charge. And when the Holy Spirit takes charge, things happen. The glorious sovereignty of the Spirit! Everything is with Him.

The Main Objective of the Holy Spirit

There is a remarkable sequence of things in the Gospel by John in this connection. In chapter 1 the object of the Holy Spirit is brought into view. John the Baptist said concerning the Lord Jesus: "I knew Him not...". That is a remarkable statement. There were many men walking about, and John was not able to discern who of all the men about was the Lord Jesus. "But He that sent me... said unto me, Upon whomsoever thou shalt see the Spirit descending... the same is He...". How utterly that Deity was veiled, that John the Baptist knew Him not. He is the Son of God.

Now note: the Holy Spirit is there related definitely and distinctly with sonship. And while it is true that the Sonship of the Lord Jesus is a unique Sonship, the truth holds good for all others in Christ who are sons of God, that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of sonship, and the object of the Holy Spirit's advent is sonship. Chapter 1 of John's Gospel is always the foundation chapter of the whole Gospel.

Chapter 3 is the commencement of the practical process. Born of the Spirit; there the feature is sovereignty. The wind! The Spirit!

Vessels for the Spirit's Residence

You pass to chapter 4, and you have the Holy Spirit again, but a new development. The woman of Samaria, her vessel let down into the well, becoming full of water. This is used as an illustration, an illustration which falls far short of that which it illustrates. "The water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up unto eternal life." What is the new development? The sovereignty of the Spirit? Yes, but now the vessels of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit becoming definitely resident within distinct vessels. For what purpose? To fulfil exactly the same purpose as that woman's water. Why did she come all this way to draw water? Because she could not live without it! That was all! Cut off the water supply, and you cut off the life. It will not be long before the people are all dead.

Now, you see, to become the very essential, indispensible Life of the believer, the Holy Spirit becomes resident within the vessel. There is no Life without. Everything depends upon Him. From the first breath to the last, all is bound up with the Holy Spirit.

We are seeking to give the Lord something to work upon, as we say all these things, that the Lord will bring it all home to us and show the place which the Holy Spirit occupies.

We will stay here for a parenthesis; somewhat technical, and perhaps theological, but important. It is a false move, and a very dangerous one, to separate between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. If we begin to make the Holy Spirit something, or Someone, holding an importance which is apart from the Father and the Son, to say nothing of superior thereto, we are in the way of the greatest peril. To make the Holy Spirit the figurehead, and not to keep in view the equal importance of Father and Son, is to become unbalanced in a way that will open the door to the most terrible deceptions and consequences. The Holy Spirit is working in relation to the Father, through the Son, and the Holy Spirit will never work on His own in relation to Himself. So that the Lord Jesus has to be kept in an equal place with the Holy Spirit, and the Father in an equal place with the Son. It is important to say that. You may not see the force of it just now, but it may break upon you at some other time. But let us be careful that when we are saying so much about the Holy Spirit we do not begin mentally to draw a circle round the Holy Spirit and concentrate on the Spirit. That is the thing which has led to some of the great modern deceptions and ruin in the faith of many.

Making that as a parenthesis, let us notice this further thing.

The Fulness of the Spirit Constituting a Witness

When you pass from chapter 4 of John's Gospel into chapter 7, you pass into a still more... shall we say, advanced, or more fully developed activity of the Holy Spirit. This is what is found in chapter 7: "Out of his inner being shall flow rivers of living water". You are now born again, a child of God, you are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and He has become your Life utterly. What must be the result of that? That you have a testimony. Thereby you become constituted a witness.

Chapter 7 takes you to what is transpiring in the temple, the pouring out of the great vessels of water from the pool, celebrating the great last day of the feast. The Lord Jesus takes it all up and brings it over to Himself. What is the temple for? It is the place of the testimony of the Lord, the ministry of God from which there should go forth to the ends of the earth that testimony, which is the testimony of Life. Ezekiel's vision showed the waters issuing from under the altar, from the sanctuary; coming down out from the court, away to empty themselves into the distant ocean, a river deepening and widening all the way. And on this side and on that side were very many trees, and all those trees were bearing their fruit continually and their leaves never faded. All this was the expression of this Life; for we are the testimony to this Life, which comes out of the sanctuary. The Lord Jesus says: "That is you, in My thought! Out from you (your bodies a temple of the Holy Spirit) shall flow rivers of living water; a testimony of Life shall come through." That which issues from you, being the Spirit of the Lord, shall have all the way along that which speaks of the power of that Life, the freshness of that Life, the glory of that Life. That is, wherever the river comes there shall be an expression of Life. That is to be the effect of our being here as indwelt, permeated, and filled with the Spirit.

Not only may we be conscious of it (and this is where we have to walk carefully and watchfully), but so many people want that baptism of the Holy Spirit which will deliver them altogether from a life of faith - for that is the effect of it in their lives. If only they can get that, it will all be senses, and no longer faith; they will know, they will feel! But there is no word in the Scriptures which indicates that being filled with the Holy Spirit will deliver us from a life of faith. Very often it has proved that the most effective work done by the Holy Spirit through a life has been altogether hidden from the one who was used. They never had any consciousness of it being done, but it was done. Years afterwards they have received a letter, or they have met somebody who said: "Do you know, on such-and-such an occasion the Lord spoke to me through you, and from that day to this I have been changed!" And you remember: "Oh, that was the time I had that bad patch, when I thought nothing at all was accomplished." Yes, He often hides His work. And the activity of the Holy Spirit does not mean that we shall not have to go on in faith. It is not always when we feel we are having a great time that the Holy Spirit is having a great time. The flowing out of the rivers is not always a thing that means that we can just splash about in it and have a good time. Sometimes it may be through agony and travail that Life comes to others, death working in us.

Blessed be God, what does it matter (if the thing is done) if we struggle, and other souls are being born, quickened, renewed through our travail. The Lord says: "Out of his inner being shall flow..." That is our privilege, our blessed calling. That is a part of sonship. Birth, indwelling, ministry are all of the one Spirit, and all depend upon Him.

May the result of our meditation be that we come to a place where we do recognise that as for ourselves, everything is impossible and hopeless. That brings us to the last word for the moment.

The Cross Closely Related to the Holy Spirit

That is why we commenced this meditation with the passage in John 7:39: "...this spake He of the Spirit, which they that believed on Him were to receive: for the Spirit was not yet (given); because Jesus was not yet glorified." How would He be glorified? Through the Cross, that is all. Come back to chapter 1, the basic chapter for the whole Gospel, and see the two things related. John looked upon Jesus and said: "Behold, the Lamb of God, which takes away the sin of the world, the same is He that baptizes with the Holy Spirit!" A Lamb, the Holy Spirit. What do you have there? The Cross and the Spirit. You will always find those two things go together. Christ has redeemed us from the curse, having been made a curse for us, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit. The Cross and the Spirit! First of all it is zero; and then the Holy Spirit begins. It is the end; and then He takes up things anew. It must be that way. Every new depth of death is a new fulness of the Spirit. These are old truths; there is nothing new in what we are saying. But, oh, how important!

Doubtless we have assented to all this; but do we agree not to the doctrine, but to the position? It is that or nothing. That is the Lord's Word. Life or testimony, Life or ministry, only by the Spirit. All is possible by the Spirit. Everything is possible in life, in ministry: "Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts". The Lord speak His Word into our hearts!

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