The Letter to the Hebrews

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 8 - The Realisation of Sonship

Reading: Romans 8:16-23; 1 Cor. 15:50,53-54; Heb. 2:10; 3:8; 5:14; 12:11.

You will see that two things run together in those portions of the Word. One is coming to God's full end, conformity to the image of His Son, the adoption as sons, the manifestation of the sons. The other is the training by suffering; the way to that full end.

What was true of the Lord Jesus in this respect is true of those who are His. Here it is not the vicarious sufferings of the Lord Jesus, which are unique and by themselves and in which we have no share whatever, but there are those other sufferings of the Lord Jesus in which we do share. Here we are told that, "If so be that we suffer with Him...". He was made "perfect through sufferings", made complete. Here we need not introduce the idea, or allow the idea to introduce itself, of spiritual perfection. The word 'perfection' means simply the consummation, the completeness, reaching fullness where there is no part lacking, and where there is no break or gap or hold in what exists. It is completeness, fullness, finality, consummation, and that was brought about, in the case of the Lord Jesus, through suffering.

You see Him in His heavenly position: complete, full, absolute, perfect. When you see Him here on the earth in the likeness of man before His ascension, you do not see the perfected Christ; spiritually, morally, He is perfect, but you know quite well that He is limited, is restricted, that in that condition He is straitened, for that is the word which He used of Himself: "How am I straitened...". But all that limitation, imperfection, and partiality went when He ascended on high, and it was the baptism of His passion which resulted in that: "How am I straitened till it be accomplished". What? "I have a baptism to be baptized with...". That is the baptism of His cross, His passion.

To bring to conformity to that image of Christ we pass by the way of the enlarging value of suffering. We are limited now. Of course we are limited by corruption and death and a fallen humanity. By those things He was not limited, but He was limited truly as Man, without man's corruption. He took the straitness of man, but when the work of God is completed in us through suffering, we also shall be released from those limitations. "This corruptible shall put on incorruption", and "this mortal shall put on immortality". Then "death will be swallowed up in victory". Then will be "the redemption, to wit, the redemption of the body". Then will be the emancipation from the "subjection to vanity", which is limitation. It will be the creation, humanity, conformed to His image, and that blessed liberation from all the restriction of our present state.

When Paul, writing to Timothy, closed with these words: "Who only hath immortality...", he was touching something very wonderful. You have the Lord Jesus in view there, in His perfected, liberated humanity. You and I have not immortal humanity. We have a mortal being, and the Word tells us that this mortal shall put on immortality. Conformity to the image of His Son is conformity to a perfected humanity, an immortal humanity. It was against the continuation of fallen humanity that God took His precautionary step when He fenced up the Tree of Life in the garden, so that fallen man should not live forever. That immortal humanity was reserved to the Lord Jesus, and then for those who eat of the Tree of Life, and no fallen man as such can eat of the Tree of Life; you have to be born from above, and receive the Life which is the guarantee of immortality; not of the soul, but of the body.

Our special thought at this moment is that this is all brought about through discipline, chastening, or child-training. This is the object in the mind of the Lord in the sufferings of His children. The sufferings of the children of God are not of the absolute will of God. They are only of the relative will of God, that is, they are allowed to serve a purpose. When that purpose is served fully there is no more reason why those sufferings should go on. They are there to serve a purpose, and that purpose is spiritual increase in conformity to the image of His Son. It works backward. The sufferings are to get rid of that which is of the first Adam, in order to bring in the last Adam. That is how they work with us, or are intended to work with us.

There is always an evil lurking in the vicinity of a great good. Paul had come to a very high place in this matter when he said: "I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed to us-ward" (Rom. 8:18). Whether we feel it or not, and whether we feel that we can respond to it or not, the Word makes it very clear that it is glory that is in view through suffering in the mind of God and that the sufferings of His children, seen from His standpoint, are a great good. There is always an evil lurking near any great good, and that evil, that sinister thing, that dark, evil phantom, haunted the camp of Israel right through the forty years, so that, while God was seeking through the trial in the wilderness (a so much better word than the word 'temptation'), to bring them into the land to enlarge their capacity, to increase the divine virtues, the moral excellencies, and to make them a people by their conformity to the mind of God, capable, trustworthy, responsible, able to take position with God in dominion. That evil thing haunting the camp, turned what was intended by the Lord to be a great blessing into a thing which embittered them. There was a twist in their mind toward the dealings of God, and, instead of seeing the Lord's standpoint in the trial, they regarded it altogether from a human standpoint, and their hearts were hardened by the very trial which was intended to bring them to the very highest place that God could give them.

That is always an evil associated with suffering: hardening and embittering, instead of refining and lifting. It is a danger for us all, and here it is on record: "Harden not your hearts as in the day of trial in the wilderness..." (Heb. 3:8). It was that bitterness and hardening in the presence of suffering which robbed them of God's end. We need to pray against that effect of the difficult experiences through which the Lord allows us to pass, so that the evil thing shall not be stretched out in that way to rob us of what the Lord is after. It is a danger which is near our own hearts perhaps more often and more really than we would confess. It is so difficult, in the day when the trial seems to blot out the very sense and knowledge of God's presence, and when those evil forces are giving the twist to it in our minds, and saying that it is God against us, it is judgment, and so on, for us to believe: "Whom the Lord loves He chasteneth".

Let us face the fact as stated here, that the suffering through which the Lord allows us to pass as His children is to deal with that in our humanity which is opposed to that perfect humanity of the Lord Jesus. The spiritual life is not an abstract thing. It is not something in the air. It is men and women, human beings, nevertheless in their very humanity being changed into the likeness of perfected humanity; not the likeness of the Son of God in Deity, in Godhead, but in perfected humanity. He is bringing many sons to glory, but, in order to bring many sons to glory He Himself, who was the Author of that salvation, was made perfect through suffering. It was essential. He has reached that place in perfected humanity through sufferings; He is bringing us in exactly the same way to conformity to His Own image. It is a different kind of human nature that is being wrought in us. It is not the getting rid of human nature, but it is a different kind of human nature; so different as to leave not the remotest place for any of the old thing in God's thought. It is the nature of two entirely different races, and entirely different worlds, but it is still human nature.

He has not subjected the inhabited earth to come to angels. He has said: "Man", and man in the image of the Son of Man. The disciples never used that designation of the Lord Jesus. They never called Him the Son of Man, never took that phrase upon their lips until after His ascension, and Stephen was the first one: "I see the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God", the first time that anyone here of His own disciples had used the term about Him. That is very significant! "Son of Man" is not understood in the real meaning of that until He is seen there. They had to learn that He was the Son of God. That was their life lesson. "Whom do men say that I am?" "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God"! That was the lesson that they had to learn, and they were not allowed to use that term, "Son of Man" until He was glorified, and then they saw something new, that He whom they had come to know as Son of Man, as being glorified is still Son of God, but Son of Man. If they had used that term on earth, it would have meant something less than what it is intended to mean, but when they saw Him in heaven, that title meant something infinitely more than ever it could have meant on earth.

God has made us with all sorts of faculties: reason, will, affections, desires. The question sometimes arises: Does this death of the old man rule out reason, rule out affections, rule out desires, rule out will? No! It does nothing of the kind! It brings in another one. It rules out that which belongs to the old creation, and brings in another one. It may not be of the same kind as the other one, but it is still reason. It is another will. You are not just going to flop down and say: "Now, Lord, You do all the thinking, all the willing and desiring, and just pick me up and put me into that". God never made you an automaton! God intended you to be an intelligent, desiring, volitional being, but the difference in the two races, the two creations, is that the intelligence is the intelligence of Christ: "We have the mind of Christ", but it operates through us. The will is the will of the Lord, but it operates through us.

We have to lay hold of divine energies to will, and the man or the woman who does not do that will be a prey to all sorts of things. You may be at some time in a state of helplessness, impotence, unable to pull yourself together, crying to the Lord to deliver you, to come and help you; and you are waiting, waiting for the Lord to come and do something, and the Lord does not do it. But if you know anything about spiritual history you know quite well that the time has come when the Lord has given you just an indication, an intimation, a suggestion that you must stand up on your feet and refuse this condition any longer. The Lord calls upon you to stand on your feet, and say: "I will have this no longer, this shall not go on any longer, in the Name of the Lord!" and then you get deliverance. It is not something done with you, or apart from you; it is something done in you, with which you have to co-operate. It is not standing up in the strength of natural will, and saying: "I am going to fight this thing!" You have learned by this time that your natural will will not get you through, but at the same time, while you know that quite well, and the Lord allows all the strength of natural will to prove futile, to work out to a standstill, yet you know that your way of deliverance in such a situation as I have mentioned comes, and will come, by your standing on your feet in the Name of the Lord and laying hold of His energy to resist that, and bring that regime to an end. There is all the difference between waiting for the Lord to make you strong enough to do something, and laying hold of the strength of the Lord to do it. What is happening? It is the Lord Jesus, who has gone through in complete victory on all points, becoming your new humanity.

What is true in the matter of will, strength, is true in the matter of wisdom. The Lord will exhaust our natural wisdom until we are at our wit's end. Then the Lord is not going to do the thing for us, apart from us, He is seeking to make us intelligent workers together with Him, and if He has His way, He will introduce into us a new perception, a new understanding, a new judgement, and we learn something; we have got a law, we have got a principle, a knowledge of how the Lord does things, and that is stock-in-trade for all time. It is simply Christ made unto us wisdom. The ultimate issue of the manifestation will simply be that perfected humanity of Christ displayed in all His own, and through all His own.

The suffering deals with all that natural will and breaks it down, and with all natural reason and destroys it. But over against the negation of the first Adam there is the positive; the bringing in of something else from above, and that increase of Christ is our conformity to His image. It is Christ being fully formed in us. It is the realisation of sonship. The manifestation of the sons of God is the bringing out into full light of what has been taking place in the groaning and travailing of the creation subjected to vanity.

It is not my thought to say any more than that. It is mainly indicative, suggestive. Most of us have enough history to corroborate it. It may be an added emphasis for our enabling for coming days, to understand and appreciate the Lord's ways with us, but when we have said everything that we can, the end is Christ. We started there, and we end there: "That Christ may be magnified in us" (Phil. 1:20). But that requires co-operation: "Working together" with God. Yes, by His grace in the suffering, working together with Him. And as we, by the Holy Spirit, in the enablement of divine energies work together with God, He is working in us "to will and to do of His good pleasure" (Phil. 2:13).

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