The Letter to the Hebrews

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 5 - An Undivided Heart

"But solid food is for fullgrown men, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern good and evil" (Heb. 5:14).

"For the word of God is living, and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and quick to discern the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and laid open before the eyes of him with whom we have to do" (Heb. 4:12-13).

The matter of Sonship comes in with the Lord Jesus: "Hath at the end of these times spoken to us in a Son...". Going back to the gospel by John, and remembering how much that is the gospel of the Son, there is one very comprehensive thing said in that connection: "The law was given by Moses; grace and truth came by Jesus Christ" (John 1:17). So that grace and truth came in with Sonship. They are the two great features of sonship.

Grace is salvation as opposed to condemnation and judgement; truth is enlightenment, with its essential result. What is enlightenment in its essential result? It is separation. Truth always leads to separation: "You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:32). If you follow through the gospel of John, you will see that being applied and wrought out. The Lord Jesus as the Truth leads out and raises the whole issue of separation; not only separation from the world as such, but separation from what is merely earthly and natural as to religion. Truth leads spiritually to what the Ephesians letter calls: "the heavenlies in Christ". That is the essence of separation. When in John 9 the man born blind had sight given to him by the Lord Jesus, as a practical object lesson of what the Lord Jesus had just earlier said, that He was the Light of the world, the issue of that man's enlightenment was that separation came between him and the traditional religious system into which he was born. It spontaneously had that effect. Enlightenment will always lead out from what is of man, even religiously, to what is of God.

That is the heart of Hebrews 4:12: "The word of God is living, and active...", it is doing something. It is in action. It is operating. In what way does it operate? It pierces "...even to the dividing of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow", and is quick to discern. That word there is "the logos, the rhema" of John. You notice how the paragraph ends: "All things are naked and laid open before the eyes of Him with whom we have to do". Who? The "Logos"! All the gospel of John is packed into that fragment. They had to do with Him. It was not He having to do with them. Right through the gospel of John they had to do with Him, even the rulers, even Pilate. And when they had to do with Him, all things were laid open and bare. There was a piercing of that Word, that 'logos', to divide between soul and spirit, a discerning of the thoughts and intents of the heart. How living and active was that Word, as we see Him at work in the gospel of John. Go through again with that thought. They bring the woman in sin: "Moses said... what sayest thou?" How did He deal with the situation? With a sword thrust, into the centre of their being, to discern the thoughts and intents of the heart. In that chapter you have the inside of those Jewish leaders simply exposed. That sort of thing happened again and again.

Enlightenment by the truth must inevitably have as its outworking separation from a thing which is not the truth, and must go on separating all the time, because it is not only a matter of the nature of things, it is the measure of things. There may be truth up to a point, and then so much mixed with it. And this matter is going to be pressed, and pressed, and pressed until none of that mixture is left, and that is a progressive thing. Enlightenment has that effect, that you progressively see what is not the truth, and you are, by that enlightenment, challenged to leave it. "Who have their senses exercised to discern between good and evil" (Heb. 5:14). That is sonship, spiritual growth, maturity, along the lines of spiritual intelligence, spiritual understanding. That is a priestly function.

You will remember that the priest of the Old Testament is always constituted upon the principle of maturity. A Levite could not enter upon his priestly, his Levitical ministry until he was thirty years of age. All the men of war could start at twenty, but here you are dealing with things which demand a spiritual intelligence, a spiritual insight, for priestly ministry is to discern between good and evil. In the light of the sweeping successes of things which are so undoubtedly mixed as to good and evil today, is there not clear evidence that by far the greater majority of Christian people have no spiritual intelligence, no insight? The need is for that spiritual growth, that development of sonship, which brings to a place of priestly ability to discern between good and evil. Anybody can discern between what is grossly immoral and what is clean and straight; that is not the kind of good and evil that is referred to, it is that hidden, secret contradiction.

Hebrews 4:12: "...quick to discern the thoughts and intents of the heart".

Hebrews 3:10: "...they do always err in their heart...".

Hebrews 3:12: "An evil heart of unbelief...".

Hebrews 3:13: "Exhort one another day by day, so long as it is called today; lest anyone of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin".

You see the thought! It is something right inside, a heart matter, a hidden matter. That inner state of the heart eventually manifested itself, with the result that that generation never entered into God's inheritance, into God's full purpose. They were kept out because of a state of heart. Now the apostle goes on in Hebrews 4:2, "For indeed we have had good tidings preached unto us, even as also they; but the word of hearing did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in them that heard it". It is an inward matter again, you see. Take up this latter statement in relation to that heart state: "The word of God is living, and active... and quick to discern the thoughts and intents of the heart" (Heb. 4:12), remembering that "the Word" there is essentially related to the Lord Jesus, not merely as a spoken utterance, but as a Living Expression of God, that you see that that is Sonship.

Sonship means that the heart is opened up, and division is made. There comes about a recognition, an understanding of what belongs to this, and what belongs to that: what is soul and what is spirit. There comes about a recognition and apprehension, intelligently, of the nature of things within. That phrase "laid open before the eyes of Him with whom we have to do" (Heb. 4:13), is a business phrase. It, in the Greek, brings into view a business affair of having an account with somebody. That says that with Him, the Living Word, we have got business dealings. We have an account with Him, and the business works out in this way, that as He comes forth in His pure, unsullied, crystal clear truth, we see what contradicts that, what stands in contrast to that, and seeing that is a mark of spiritual intelligence which indicates growth, sonship, maturity. But there is this fact, that it means that our spirits, as energised and wrought within by the Spirit of sonship, are becoming intelligent and competent instruments for the training and instruction of the Lord Himself.

Carry that thought forward to Hebrews 12, and you remember that there the Lord is spoken of as the Father of our spirits (verse 9). The point of all the divine attention, so far as God's children are concerned, is their spirit. Their spirit is the vessel, the vehicle, the faculty of all spiritual things in relation to Himself; and spiritual understanding, spiritual discernment, is a matter of the growth of our spirits by the energy of the Spirit of His Son within.

As to God's initial call, and any subsequent call which comes from God to us, that call is the thing which has to be heard in the spirit of the individual. The flesh can never hear the call of God. The two stand in the different positions represented by Saul of Tarsus and those who travelled with him on the Damascus road. Later, explaining what happened, he said that they which travelled with him heard the sound, but they did not hear the words. They were aware of a noise, but he of a voice. They were conscious that something was happening, but he knew what was happening. Here is one man in the midst of several. So far as the sound is concerned, they are all in the same realm, but only one man of the number understands. Why is that? Because that man's spirit has become the object of divine attention, and has been at that moment touched to understanding, to intelligence. The others were left untouched so far as that matter was concerned. It is an illustration of this thing, that to be in living relationship with God means that the individual must have heard God in their own spirit, and that must be a continuous thing, that is, that must relate to every fresh movement of God in the life. That is the means and method by which God gets His end. To walk in the Spirit does not mean, as a lot of people want it to mean and are trying to make it mean, that the Holy Ghost comes upon you as a great force from without, and you mechanically go in some way, you simply surrender your whole being over, without intelligence. Walking in the Spirit is your spirit alive to the Spirit of God, and so carrying you from within, and not your being carried from without.

The issue which arises immediately is that of separation. Immediately your spirit is made alive to God's will, initially or progressively, the issue of separation arises. Something has got to be forsaken. There are always the reactions of nature, and nature has to be forsaken. Spiritual instincts transcend natural instincts, and very often contradict them. That is, to walk in the Spirit with God very often means that you have got to deny your own instinctive reason, your own instinctive desire. We have before illustrated this from the Old Testament by the milk kine that the Philistines put into their cart when they sent the Ark back to Beth-Shemesh. You remember that they called together their magicians and their diviners, because of the awful plagues which had come upon them for touching the Ark, and these diviners were consulted about this thing. They came to a fairly shrewd conclusion. They said this whole thing could be put to the test: "If this Ark rightly belongs to a certain place, and the God of Israel is concerned with this matter, and really is interested, and if all that we have suffered does represent the Israelites' God being in this matter, and this Ark ought not to be here: then it will go in spite of everything. Now get some milk kine, and take their calves away, and lock their calves up in the stable. Put the kine with the cart, turn their heads away from their calves, and if this milk kine takes a direction straight away from their calves, that will be something absolutely unnatural. The whole bent of their nature will bring them round to their calves". So they put the thing to the test, and the milk kine went on, and on, away, lowing as they went, until they came to Beth-Shemesh. There was some power stronger than nature at work. The natural instincts were subjected to something divine, something spiritual.

You see the law. Spiritual instincts set nature aside. You would reason it out this way, you would judge that way, you would say such and such is the course to take; but if you are walking with God, very often in your heart you find something which denies you the course of your own reason, something which says, "Yes, you are very wise, you have got a good deal of 'common sense', as men call it, but that is one realm, and this is another. You have to leave that behind, forsake nature, to go with God." That represents spiritual growth.

When Christian people are always following the course of nature, reason, common sense, and so on, they do not grow very much, they remain children. This is holding no brief for foolhardiness or presumption. There is a great deal of difference between spiritual discernment and presumption. Faith does not set aside any practical matters, those precautions which do not come into conflict with a required will of God. A miner going down into the mine may take this attitude: "I trust in the Lord; there is no need for me to put the globe on my lamp; I will light my lamp and leave the glass out". That man will be blown to smithereens should he go down below, in spite of his faith. You see, there is a difference between presumption and spiritual guidance. There is such a thing as knowing the leading of the Spirit, which altogether requires the forsaking of nature. "Who have their senses exercised", is the point. That is Sonship. We must remember that the life of nature can never be carried into the promised land, that is, into the heavenlies in Christ. Jordan lies between, and the life of nature ends with Jordan, and then a life in the Spirit begins. The heavenlies lie beyond Jordan, and Jordan represents: "I have been crucified with Christ, it is no longer I".

That means, then, that a special kind of equipment is essential for a life in the heavenlies, and if you take simply the life and equipment of nature into the heavenlies, you are getting into a realm of contradictions, and you will be glad to get out of it again.

Take Abraham. He is called to walk with God by faith. He takes that position, but he has to learn in a practical way what that means. God does not believe in us floating about on theoretical clouds of doctrine. God always makes the truth a very real thing. And although Abraham had stepped out with God into a life of faith, he had to learn in a practical way what that life meant when it implied that he had taken that course. And so he came to the land, and he discovered two things which were completely contrary to what he expected. He found the Canaanites in the land, and he found a state of famine. The state of things tested immediately the position which he had taken, and he found he was not able to stand up to the test which was applied to his new position, and so he forsook the land and went down to Egypt.

Eventually he had to come back, through suffering, through discipline, through failure, and through shame, to that position, and recognise that it was a spiritual position that he was in, and not a natural position. Nature argued all in one direction, and nature argued that things were not as God had said and promised; but faith stood upon the ground that they were, whatever the appearance to the contrary; "This is not a make-believe, but in God this land is mine. At present here I do not own a foothold of it, but in God it is all mine". And he possessed through faith. "In God this land is going to be peopled by God's people; at present I and the one or two of my family are all that is in it, but in God this thing is already accomplished, and the Canaanite will go". He had to take that position in spirit before ever God made it actual, and he had, therefore, to deny nature, forsake nature, and stand in the position to which all natural conditions stood in direct opposition and contradiction. A special equipment was necessary for that. It was that perception and vision, which comes by faith, which comes by seeing the Lord, by having heard the Lord's own call in the heart.

It comes out so clearly very soon after that, that this was the way. Abraham had come to the truth, and that separates, always. That worked out very soon afterward in this way. Lot had never heard that call in his heart. Lot had never come inwardly to that spiritual position. He simply followed Abraham. Do you notice that there came a point when, by reason of the menace that Lot was to Abraham when Lot was finally separated from Abraham, just at that point God stepped in and said: "Lift up now thine eyes toward heaven...". What does that bring into view? The spiritual seed, the heavenly people. "Thy seed shall be as the stars..." - heavenly seed! When does the heavenly seed come in? When the earthly goes out! When nature is left behind, then you inherit what is heavenly. That only happens on the basis that you know the Lord in your own heart, and you cannot carry with you those who do not. The Lord sees to it that you do not get into the heavenly realm until you have come to the place where you no longer try to take the natural through with you.

Mark you, Lot is spoken of as a righteous man. A lot of people stumble at that. There are such things as naturally upright men. The fact that Lot was naturally upright, that Lot had an integrity, does not make Lot a spiritual man. And you know quite well that that is one of our difficulties. Good people, who love the Lord, who serve the Lord, at any rate who do not deny the Lord; why should not we all keep together in perfect fellow­ship, and go on together? While any kind of separation that comes about must certainly not be on a mechanical basis, thought out and applied in a static or legal way, yet it works out in this way, that when the Lord begins to reveal to any life something more of the fullness of Christ, that life has to go on, and you find that those people who are still where you were - very good people, upright people, who are not denying the Lord, but are not able to go on with you - have to be left behind. And if you try to remain on the same level, if you refuse to go on lest this might mean breaking fellowship, you lose what the Lord was calling you to. It represents great exercise of heart, but it is quite clear in the Word of God. It is a matter of going on with the Lord, and you cannot take with you anything that is not spiritual; it drops off.

You must be careful, of course, that you never take the attitude that you have advanced with the Lord and they have not, and, therefore, you are somewhere where they are not, and a wrong kind of break comes about, but I am speaking now of what is purely spiritual.

Lot was an upright man, but he had never had revelation. Abraham had revelation, and the issue of that revelation was that, sooner or later, Lot simply dropped behind, and Abraham dare not go back on the ground of: "Well, Lot is a good man; Lot believes in God; I refuse to part with Lot". You see the great issues that were involved! As a spiritual matter this is very real. You refuse in heart to be divided from any child of God, but if you are going to allow that to mean that you are not going to follow the Lord further than anyone else, you see what loss there is. And if to follow the Lord means that they have not seen or come to perceive, and therefore, they cannot go on with you, you have to go on spiritually with the Lord alone.

It is because Abraham goes on with the Lord that he is able to rescue Lot in Lot's hour of deepest need, and you will never be able to help other people, unless you have gone right on with the Lord at the cost of having been misunderstood, and by paying the price of loneliness.

Going on with God means that sooner or later you will be the only one able to help certain people. Those are the people whom you had to leave behind, the people who were not walking with God, who were walking with you. They never understood your action, they never agreed with you, but you had to be obedient to the Lord. Sooner or later those people get into a situation where you are the only one who can help. The Lord sees to that.

So you see truth separates, because it is an inward thing: the great difference between the natural and the spiritual man, and the tremendous difference between the spiritual man, and the naturally upright man. Note this as being the background of the tremendous urge in the letter to the Hebrews to go on. The background is just that of what was in the hearts of those people in the wilderness, and what it cost them to be of a divided heart, with mixed motives. The Lord seeks to reveal the mixed motives, and then you notice it says: "Let us therefore give diligence" (Heb. 4:11). That "give diligence" has this tremendous background, and it says to us: Let us not have a divided heart; let us not have mixed motives; let us be wholly, utterly for God. No unbelief, no refusing, but a complete yieldedness to the Lord.

May we have grace to go on.

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