The Exceeding Greatness of His Power
by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 1 - Manifestations of God's Power

We are much stretched out to Him as we approach these times, to know what He would say at this particular time regarding His will and His mind for His people. In that enquiry which has been going on in our hearts, I have found that a certain strong emphasis had been growing in me up to this time, covering a considerable amount of ground. Then at a certain point, with all this arising, the question arose: is there any one fragment of Scripture which could express all this, which embodies it as a whole? And immediately on making the enquiry, the answer came back quite distinctly in a very familiar fragment in Ephesians 1:19: "the exceeding greatness of His power". That is, as you know, only part of a much longer statement or section of this wonderful prayer of the apostle, truly inspired of God, concerning the church. "The exceeding greatness of His power".

Everyone who has read these last letters of the apostle Paul knows that by them there is given to us a full, comprehensive, consummate, transcendent revelation of God's mind. In a very real way they answer the question as to what the Bible is all about. You take up the Bible, begin with its first words and the first acts of God, and move on right through and you ask: 'What is it all about, what does it all mean, what is behind it all?' The answer, in a very real way, is found in these last letters of the apostle Paul. That is why I say that they are comprehensive and consummate as to the mind of God.

You are also aware that these letters are crowded and crammed with superlatives. It is here that the apostle, a master of language, finds it difficult to find words by which to express what he has had revealed to him. He exhausts language. Human words are beggared to give expression to the things which he has seen, and here is just one of those superlative utterances: "the exceeding greatness of His power". That word, 'exceeding', carries with it a double idea, or two ideas, both of degree and of comparison. This power is great. It is very great. It is above all power in its degree. That is the meaning. But in that, it is exceeding, there is that which it exceeds. It is a word of comparison and that comparison relates to two realms, that is, it exceeds all its own previous and other expressions, and it exceeds a very great power that is set against it. This power of God itself has before been expressed at certain times and in various ways very definitely.

Three Great Manifestations of God's Power

The former manifestations of God's power peculiarly and particularly were shown firstly in creation. What power there was in creation, that by a word from Him things should be! We do not dwell upon it, but the creation is an expression of very great power. Then God's power is manifested in the deliverance or emancipation of the Jewish nation from Egypt. We shall dwell upon that, but we mention it here in passing - the very great power that God put forth and manifested in getting that nation out of Egypt. And then thirdly, in the securing, delivering and returning of a remnant from the captivity. What power had to operate in order that that should be accomplished! Here were three great demonstrations or manifestations of God's great power. It was power in itself, in degree.

Power in Relation to Opposing Forces

But then it was power in relation to opposing forces. In creation, chaos and darkness and all the conditions which obtained and indicated right at the beginning of the Bible; what a lot had to be overcome. It is no small thing to bring order out of chaos, chaos like that. To make such a change as took place, there was a lot to be overcome, a lot to be dealt with.

And this great power of God was not only the degree of His power, it was the comparison of His power with all the power that was set against it. In Egypt not only was God's power as such displayed, but look at that which it had to overcome. We shall see that presently. And going on to Babylon, there was something very mighty in existence opposing God and His power which had to be simply brought to nought, made as though it were not, in order to get even a remnant out. Yes, something very great to be overcome.

You see, these were not merely temporal conditions or systems. The chaos, the darkness, the state of things as we have them at the beginning of the Bible was not just something that obtained and existed in itself. Those conditions were the expression of a great spiritual background. There was something behind that. It was not just something in itself. There was something behind it and that something had to be overcome. That is perhaps the more obvious when you come to Egypt and the overthrowing of that power. There was something behind not only a temporal state and system, but a mighty spiritual force behind it all. And as for Babylon, again it was not just one of the world empires as a temporal thing that had to be dealt with. We know quite well that in that great conflict in Babylon, spiritual and heavenly intelligences were engaged. It was behind the scenes that the real overthrowing took place, in the realm of principalities.

Therefore this exceeding great power of God is not just His naked strength. It is seen in its excellence over against other powers. It is comparative.

The Greatest Manifestation of God's Power

But the fourth thing to which the apostle refers in this verse which we have cited, is greater than all the former expressions of that power. The word 'exceeding' here just means that. Here we come to something more than any former expression of Divine power. It exceeds here. There is something more here than in bringing the creation into being out of its former condition. If that required power, and if there were things to be overcome to bring that about, here is something more than that. Add to that all that took place in Egypt, and if that required an expression and manifestation of Divine power, and there were great forces to be overcome there, this is something more than that. This exceeds that. And if the overthrow of Babylon for the deliverance of that remnant required an expression of the power of God, this is something more, not only than each one of those three, but more than the whole three put together. This is the exceeding greatness of His power.

I do not know how much that impresses you, but it lays a very good foundation for what God has to say to His people today. I said that Paul found it difficult to express it. He exhausted all the languages and words at his command. Well might I wrestle and be saved from the charge of exaggeration. Oh, you cannot exaggerate the power of God required for the thing that the apostle here is talking about. Here it is beyond anything that has ever been before - "the exceeding greatness of His power". So that the fourth manifestation of His power is greater than every other one, and greater than all the others put together.

The Objects Related to the Expression of God's Power

Well, what are the objects related to this expression of His power? In the first instance, a world was the object, a world for God, for God's glory, God's pleasure, God's satisfaction, a world expression of the glory of God, a world to be a kingdom for His Son. That was related to the first expression of His power.

The second, because that world had become a prison instead of a glorious garden, a people are found to be locked up in it, a people for God, and the second expression of His power relates to an earthly people or nation being delivered from the world.

The third intensifies the second. It is the recovery of that remnant from Babylon, but a new principle is introduced and emphasised. It is the heavenliness of a people for God, that there should be here a people who are a heavenly people. And you know quite well that in Babylon the great governing phrase is 'the rule of the heavens', 'the heavens do rule.' What for? To secure a people who are the embodiment of that heavenly rule by their very existence, by their being back in Jerusalem they are a vessel of testimony that the heavens do rule in the kingdoms of men, a heavenly people.

But these all point on to something more that is here in the mind and the occupation of the apostle, to the fourth and supreme exercise of God's power; not something temporal and earthly, but something eternal, heavenly and ultimate, so that in this letter to the Ephesians leading up to the fragment which is engaging our attention, we have this:
"He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blemish before Him in love: having foreordained us unto adoption as sons through Jesus Christ unto Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved: in whom we have our redemption through His blood (you can make an allusion to the illustration or type of Israel's emancipation from Egypt, redeemed through blood, but this is of something more than Israel, more than an earthly people), the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He made to abound towards us in all wisdom and prudence, making known unto us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Him unto a dispensation of the fulness of the times, to sum up all things in Christ" (Eph. 1:4-10).

That goes beyond anything temporal. The fourth and supreme manifestation of God's power relates to that eternal elect, the securing of that elect, the emancipating of that elect, the getting of that elect to the place and to the condition foreordained.

God's Exceeding Power in the Extrication of the Church

So that the thing that emerges from all this is that the extrication of the church, far from being an easy and simple thing, is a superlative matter with God. The extrication of the church is no easy matter. An extricated elect is the embodiment of nothing less than the exceeding greatness of His power in the way in which we have spoken of it. It is something more than creation. It is a new creation which in its nature and fulness far transcends the material creation. The church extricated is the embodiment of this far greater power of God than has ever been exercised before. You would not think that, would you, from modern methods and the way men proceed? You would think it a very simple thing to obtain this end. You have only got to get a certain kind of heated atmosphere, work up emotion and such things, and it is all done. It is not! Oh no, it is not. We are all off the line, we are all wrong, we are most grievously mistaken if we are not interpreting this Scripture aright, but what seems to me to be so clear and unmistakable as we have it in Ephesians 1, is this. There is an object called the church, the securing and placing of which calls for an expression of the power of God which is transcendent. Am I wrong? Is that not true? Then what about all sorts of other things which are so easygoing in connection with redemption and salvation? We could mention so much that makes it all so easy; it seems to take out of it anything like this "exceeding greatness of His power". It shall be helped to understand this, I am quite sure, if and when we proceed to those other examples which are, while true in themselves, yet pointers and figures of this so much greater: the getting of Israel out of Egypt, the getting of the remnant out of Babylon. If we understand aright all that that meant, we are on the way, but only on the way to understand that this matter of God's securing His church to its position and right condition is no child's play, no simple, easy sort of thing.

But let us pause for a moment before we go to the illustration. Look at the nature of this extrication, as the apostle is thinking and speaking of it, this fourth expression of Divine power. Here, as you see, the apostle speaks of a resurrection translation. "According to that working of the strength of His might which He wrought in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and made Him to sit at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule, and authority, and power, and dominion, and every name that is named" (Eph. 1:19-21) a resurrection translation. And the apostle says that we are the elect, the church. I do not mean our local "fellowship", as people call it, but the church. The apostle is saying that this resurrection ascension or translation is not something literal, where the church is concerned at present, but something spiritual. He is not saying, 'This is going to be.' If he had said that, pointing on to some future event, then, of course, our minds would at once think of a literal happening when the church literally will be caught up, taken out of the world, and placed there far above all rule with Christ. But the apostle is not saying that at all. He is saying, 'This has taken place, He has seated us together', and therefore it cannot be literal, because we are not there literally; we are here. It must be something spiritual, and in order to be spiritual, it must be something inward, something that has already taken place inside, and that is the essence and entire meaning of this present new dispensation - everything is inward.

With the first creation it was outward; with the deliverance of Israel from Egypt it was outward. With the securing of the remnant from Babylon, it was outward, but that is not the nature of this present dispensation. It was then temporal; it is now spiritual. It was then outward, it is now inward, and this is the difference, you see, and the distinction between the manifestations of God's power. It takes far more Divine power to make this an inward thing than it does to have any kind of outward, external and temporal miracles. To this the Lord Himself pointed when He said, "And greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto the Father" (John 14:12) "I have done things in the temporal world, wine and bread and cripples and blind, but that is only in the temporal realm". There are things which are their counterpart which are transcendently greater. They are the inward and the spiritual, and it is to that very thing that the apostle is referring here in his prayer when he says "that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him; having the eyes of your heart enlightened" (Eph. 1:17), and that is something far greater than the eyes of your body.

This is the difference, this is the distinction: to have a people in whom, inside of whom, this thing has taken place, this extrication, this emancipation, this getting out from a condition, from a situation, from a prison, from a kingdom, from a power and a great power, to get a people inwardly out of that is the greatest thing known in the Bible in relation to the power of God - the making inwardly of a mighty and unmistakable difference where a people is concerned. The whole battle of the ages, drawing out all the resources of wisdom, cunning and power from the prince of this world has been focussed upon this one thing - to destroy the distinctiveness between what is of God and what is not, to destroy the distinctiveness between a people of God and those who are not of God. You know that the Old Testament is just full of that: the concentrated force and wit of the evil powers was to destroy the distinctiveness of Israel. Somehow or other, for some reason or other, whether it is natural or by Divine creation, that people were marked as different in their physical features.

I remember hearing a very outstanding Jewish brother who was the creator and founder of the great Palestine exhibitions, a Polish Jew, saying in my presence that although the Jews had settled in almost every nation and country of the world, and seemed to have become absorbed for generations in those different nations, he said, 'I personally could tell you a Jew in any country or nation of this world immediately I saw him, without asking.' He said, 'There is something there that, to the one who knows, is unmistakable'. Now, I thought that was going a very long way. It is quite apparent in some cases, but he was fair-haired, ruddy-complexioned and, but for certain, what you might call, minor signs, you would never have believed that he was a child of Abraham, but there it is. Now, be that as it may, there is something constitutionally and physically about that race that is distinct and unmistakable, and you cannot get away from it. It does not matter how long they live in another nation, so long as they do not intermarry and intermingle blood, there is something that remains quite distinct without their trying to preserve it.

That is only an illustration of what I am getting at. It was that something which God had done to mark them off in every way as a people. As Balaam said, they "shall not be reckoned among the nations" (Numbers 23:9). God marked them off with a distinctiveness and a difference which was unmistakable, and still is. It was that that the prince of this world was always trying to break down in the old dispensation. It was that about which the prophets cried, just that thing that lost distinctiveness. But if that was an outward, temporal, physical thing in that dispensation, it is only a pointer. It is pointing on to something that remains in principle and more the abiding thing where God's mind is concerned, to have a people who are different, not outwardly now, but inwardly, a people who are distinct from all others in an inward way. There is something about them that you cannot mistake. They are known in heaven, they are known in hell, and they are known among men.

This great inward difference is a demand for power of no ordinary kind. You know it. You do not need me to raise my voice and shout that at you; you are up against it every day and every moment. Wherever you are, you are aware of it that this thing of your being, by Divine operation within, a difference from all who are not in Christ, is the point of all the conflict and all the trouble, is it not? Yes, it is. You see, the supreme work of God's power in this dispensation is to produce a distinctiveness of life and order.

The church is that. Oh, how we have missed the point about the church! What is the church? Well, the very first thing about the church, God's elect, is this, that it is the embodiment of the superlative power of God in terms of a difference of life and nature, a difference in the inward being, a distinctiveness of character. That is the church, and if that is not true at its beginnings and progressively, anything that bears the name of the church is a misnomer; that is not true; that is not the church. But, oh, what this involves! To what depths God has to take us in order to make us know that any change in us is a matter of His superlative power. How He has to exhaust all our resources of strength to make a difference in ourselves. How He has to bring us to an end of every kind of resource to change our nature, in order to make the slightest difference to us at all. But by that way He does it and shows that His power is greater than ours, greater than any other power known to us to do this thing. I repeat, the work of God's power is inward to produce a distinctiveness of life, an order of life different from every other order.

I hesitate to go on to take up these great historic examples at this point, these historic examples, which embody the same principles, for whether it be in the first creation or in the exodus or in the return from the captivity, the historic things embody the same abiding principles.

The Exodus of Israel from Egypt as an Example

Look for a moment at this case of Israel in Egypt and the exodus. It is very interesting, significant, and instructive to note why all this in Egypt became necessary. You know what happened. The days of Jacob, the famine, the selling of Joseph down into Egypt, all that Joseph did there, and then the coming of Jacob and his sons into Egypt and because of the wisdom and resourcefulness of Joseph, the land of Goshen being given to them. Here they settled and they multiplied until they became a great nation, and then it is just recorded as though it were a mere incident in history - "Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who knew not Joseph" (Ex. 1:8). And the whole scene changes, and from being a comfortable, prosperously settled people in Egypt, they immediately become a mob of slaves, oppressed, cruelly treated; Israel in Egypt under this particular Pharaoh. Was it not of the Lord that they ever went into the land? Was it all wrong after all? No, but so it was. Indeed, it looks very much as though there was something of the Lord in it. Joseph, the reconciliation of the family, the blessing seems to have the marks of the Lord in it. Yes, then why this change in the situation if the same Lord is on the throne, who does not change His mind or His attitude? And yet this great change in their fortunes, in their conditions and situation, and then the necessity for this tremendous exercise of Divine power to get them out of that place to which it seems the Lord had brought them. What does it all mean?

Well, I think it is very simple. You see, the covenant that God made with Abraham and his seed was not concerning Egypt, it was concerning the land of promise, not Egypt, but the heavenly land. Now they had moved from this land, and what had happened? They had forgotten the covenant, they had let go all idea of the covenant, and had settled down there to become a part of this world. This world was made for man and made for us, and we were made for it, but something had happened in this world which demands that while we are in it and have our feet upon it as our rightful inheritance, we are not of it. And because they had become in it and of it, there arose the necessity of this work of God's mighty power to get them out in relation to a heavenly country. We are there figuratively in this very dispensation, in the dispensation of the Lord's wonderful prayer of John 17:15: "I pray not that Thou shouldest take them from the world, but that Thou shouldest keep them from the evil one." "They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world" (John 17:16). They are in it, not of it. You see that come out again in a moment in another connection.

But there is something that has happened in an inward way that is wrong, relating them to a spiritual kingdom of this world, and that gives rise to the necessity for all this mighty work of extrication. This world is not all, even at its best when God created it and put man in it, He did not intend that to be the end. It was supposed to be connected with heaven; the coming and going of God, related to a higher kingdom. When God has things as He intends to have them at last, this world will be a very beautiful world and a very good place to be in, as good as the land of Goshen, but if you and I are here then, or have anything to do with it, this world will not be all. We shall be a heavenly people; we shall be related to another realm, our life will be derived from another source. But here, you see, they had forsaken the covenant, forgotten, let go the covenant with Abraham and settled down here, and what a business it is to get them out! And the business of getting them out calls for the power of God at work in more than one direction.

It calls for the power of God at work in themselves, and you can see that the process of this emancipation was a process of making them more and more, and ever more, wanting to get out. Sometimes, you know, the Lord makes us so miserable that we shall be glad to get out, get away, because of the suffering. How many of you are longing for glory and heaven because of the sufferings here? You would not long for heaven if you did not have the sufferings. It is the story of Israel in Egypt; they never would have entertained the idea of the heavenly country if this other one had not been made intolerable. Something has to be done in us to prepare us for glory, to bring us to God's end. Thus all the suffering, but God is greater than all the suffering. That is what comes out at the end, is it not? Oh, how great the suffering! Sometimes it looked as though they would be destroyed by the suffering or affliction and be wiped out. But God is greater than that. He got them out in spite of it all.

As to Pharaoh and the Egyptians, what a lot of instruction there is bound up with God's works there. I must not stay to follow that through. But are you getting a glimmer? All this has a fuller, higher counterpart where the church is concerned, calling for the exceeding, the above, the more power than all that to get a truly heavenly people.

I am going to close with a word which I shall have to repeat later as we continue. God was working on the principle of utterness. If you are going to have a kind of easygoing half-and-half Christian life just to get certain benefits and advantages for yourself by being saved, it may not be difficult. But if you are on the way of utterness, you are going to find that this is not quite so easy. It is going to call for God's exceeding great power. The church that is on the principle of utterness is a church which knows the fires and the warfare. There was a point where Pharaoh seemed to be wavering and yielding, and he said: 'You can go, but leave your children and your cattle', but Moses said: 'No, not a hoof, the last fragment, the last hoof and the last one of our cattle, not one bit left.' God is moving on that line, and that requires something more than the kind of Christianity with which we are familiar, to get a people utter according to God's thought.

We can leave it there for the time being, but may God bring to us at this time, this very day, some new sense of the greatness of the thing that He is after, the greatness of His purpose, and the greatness of the power that He is prepared to exercise to realise it. And here it is - "the exceeding greatness of His power to us-ward who..." are such fine people, who have so much to commend them, who are such good people and the Lord can look upon us rightly with favour? Not at all: "to us-ward who believe". That is all. All the other may be our unworthiness, unfitness - and yet it is to us-ward who believe.


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