“Today if Ye Hear His Voice”
Reading: Heb. 3.
“Today if ye shall hear His voice, harden not your hearts… Take heed, brethren, lest haply there shall be in any one of you an evil heart of unbelief, in falling away from the living God: but exhort one another day by day, so long as it is called Today; lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin: for we are become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our confidence firm unto the end” Heb. 3:7,12-14.
“Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it.” Heb. 4:1.
Everything in God’s purpose is bound up with our hearing His voice. I want to point out that the translation needs to be kept very accurate here. Unfortunately the Revised Version does not maintain its tradition of improvement at this point, and it should not be: “If ye shall hear His voice”, it should be: “If ye will hear His voice”. If you look at that very carefully you will immediately detect the difference. If we say: “If ye shall hear His voice” we put the onus on God, when really the onus is not upon God. The context makes it perfectly clear about having heard the Good News, and it is: “If ye will hear His voice”. God has spoken, the voice of God has sounded, and it is sounding today, and it is a matter of whether we will hear.
The force of that “will” is suggested by the earlier part of chapter 4. “Let us fear therefore, lest haply, a promise being left of entering into His rest, any one of you should be deemed to come short of it.” There is a tremendous emphasis upon our responsibility in relation to the voice of God. It is not that God will not speak, but that, God speaking, we shall not hear.
The word “consider” in the first verse of chapter 3 is a very strong word. Our simple English word there does not convey the force of the original language. The word really means “attentively consider”. It implies giving a fixed and prolonged attention to the matter. So you see that the atmosphere of this part of God’s Word is all that which suggests to our heart the necessity for attention.
In such an atmosphere there is this word: “If ye will hear His voice”. That means that we have to apply ourselves to hearing what the Lord is saying. It is a matter of application, of will, to hear His voice. Everything hangs upon that, as the whole context shows. All the promises of the land, all that which was presented to Israel as God’s great and glorious purpose to which they were called, were lost to that generation; and the implication is that they missed it all because they would not hear His voice.
That carries us to a very serious consideration. What was the voice to be heard? What was the voice saying? What was it that the voice was carrying with it? What was it that they would not hear? What was it they did not earnestly apply themselves to hear? If you look closely into the forty years’ history in the wilderness, you will see that everything called for application of heart, of mind, of will to understand. It called for close attention, because that which the Lord was doing with them had a meaning which was not too obvious, did not lie on the surface, could not be grasped instantly by any superficial glance. The dealings of God with them, the ways of God with them, contained a voice, a call, a message, a meaning, and it therefore required that they should earnestly attend to and apply the will, to say, in effect: “This means something more than we can see at a glance; we want to know what God means by this! There is a voice in this that is deeper than can be discerned by the outward ear; there is an inward ear required for this: there is something here to be seen which cannot be seen by the natural eye! The inner eye needs to be opened to see what God means by this!” And because they would not take that attitude and adjust themselves in that way, they missed everything. They simply took things as they saw them, and allowed them to become mere happenings, mere events, and judged by how those things affected their own personal interests and natural, earthly good. Chapter 3, verse 1 is the key to the whole thing. “Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling” – “Today, if ye will hear…”
A heavenly calling! That puts a new complexion upon everything. What is the heavenly calling? A calling from above to glory and honour. How does the letter begin: “For not unto angels did He subject the inhabited earth to come, whereof we speak. But one hath somewhere testified, saying, What is man, that thou makest mention of him?” “But we behold Jesus… crowned with glory and honour.” “Thou dost make mention of him… wherefore, holy brethren, partners in a heavenly calling…” a calling from heaven, of glory and honour in association with the Son of Man, in relation to the inhabited earth to come. It is dominion with Christ that is in view. And today God is dealing with us in relation to that, and there is a heavenly meaning in God’s dealings with us.
Now go through Israel’s history. Not long after they had come into the wilderness they found themselves short of water, and they murmured against Moses and against the Lord. In effect they said, “We have been brought out here to perish!” That is taking the earthly point of view. There are two ways of viewing that. They could look at it like this, and say, “At least we had water to drink in Egypt, but here we are with no water to drink, and if we were going to perish we might as well have perished in Egypt!” They could have taken another view, and said, “Well, the Lord marvellously delivered us from Egypt; marvellously brought us through the Red Sea when it stood up like walls on either side; marvellously overwhelmed our enemies before our eyes, and wiped them out. He can surely provide water in a wilderness!” It depends whether you look up or down, whether you murmur, or whether you triumph.
Later they found themselves without anything to eat. Here was another chance for them to take one of two attitudes. They could take the downward attitude and say, “Now we are going to perish in the wilderness; we are going to die of starvation out here. We have been brought into a trap, all resources have been kept from us, and now this is the end of everything!” They could take the upward look and say, “God, who provided water, will surely provide bread in the wilderness!” Deliverance would have come from heaven, if they had seen the heavenly aspect of things.
In the lack of water, and in the lack of bread, and in every circumstance, no matter what it was – and the circumstances were numerous: adversity, want, hardship, weariness – there was a heavenly resource, but it required a heavenly faith, a heavenly aspect, a heavenly look. God was speaking in it all. What was He saying? In the absence of water, in the absence of bread, in these various and numerous situations, where nature and the world could make no provision, God was speaking, and He was saying continually through the forty years: “I am your resource! I am your portion! I am your life! I am your strength! I am thy sufficiency! I have brought you out here, not to let you perish, not to make you the victim of circumstances, but to teach you that for you earthly things at best could never be satisfying. And finally, your life; but in Me you have that which will not only maintain you here from stage to stage, but will be your everlasting portion, and bring you at last into My whole fulness.” God was seeking to say, “Here is another circumstance in which you can make a new discovery of Me, but if you look at the circumstance itself, you will go down! If you listen to My voice in the circumstance you will make a discovery, and that discovery will become your deliverance, your life.”
In His mercy they did make discoveries, but they never allowed the discoveries which they made to be permanent lessons. When every fresh trial came they forgot the Lord, because they were so centred upon their own interests. They could not, they would not, escape from themselves. As a thing came up before them, they immediately regarded it in the light of their own present personal interest: “Here is a bit more trial! That is a new blow! That is one more trouble to add to all my troubles!” That is one way of viewing things. There is another view. They could have said, “This is another lesson the Lord is trying to teach! What is the measure of the Lord that this trial will lead into if taken hold rightly, if viewed rightly?”
That land to which they were going was a great type of Christ in heaven, over the other side on resurrection ground, and they were brought through these trials in order that they might learn how now to live a heavenly life on the earth, by heavenly resources, here in the wilderness. But so set were they upon their own comfort, their own enjoyment, their own pleasure and satisfaction, that they could not detach themselves to listen to the voice; and because things were always regarded in a personal light, from the standpoint of personal interest, when troubles came they hardened their hearts against the inner voice.
It was, “Today”! What a tremendously impressive word that is, viewed in this light. Today! What does that mean? That text has been almost always used for Gospel sermons, and we do not do wrong in making an appeal by it to the unsaved, because the truth applies that there is a “Today!” when God’s voice is sounding to the unsaved, and God does not offer a tomorrow. This word is: “Today if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts!” His voice heard in your heart will not give you a tomorrow. Let this day go, and you have no tomorrow for responding to His voice and doing what you have failed to do now in the presence of the voice with the heavenly calling. That is quite true.
But this text was never written for the unsaved, with all its value and application to them. It was written to the Lord’s own people, and it is tremendous when you hear such a word to the Lord’s people. That says to us that today God is speaking; in adversity, in trial, in suffering, in affliction, in all manner of difficulties into which He Himself has allowed us to come. He has brought us out into a place where all nature is cut off from us, where we are helpless in ourselves, and He allows us to come into the fires of trial and difficulty, and in them all He says, “My voice is the voice of a heavenly calling, the voice which is calling you up, ever higher, to know your heavenly resources, to know what there is for you in Christ even here, in order to prepare you for that dominion over the inhabited earth to come, for glory and honour with Him Who is now crowned with glory and honour.” We are become partners with Christ, if we hold fast.
“Today, if ye will…” What does that say to me and to you? It says, “Here is a trial, a difficulty; here is an adversity, a sorrow, a suffering. How am I going to view it? Am I going to say, Oh, more trouble! One thing after another! Or am I going to say, Yes, more trial – we feel it – and yet always there’s some new knowledge of the Lord, some new discovery, I must hear the voice in this! It is going to lead into some greater fulness, where we have never been before.” Harden not your heart. In other words, do not become bitter because of the trial, the difficulty, the suffering, but listen! The Lord is speaking, this is a great ‘Today’! I venture to say that when this ‘Today’ is past, and all that it was intended to mean to us, and we see its meaning, we shall be sorry that we did not adjust ourselves more wholeheartedly to what the Lord was saying to us here in the very difficulties into which He brought us. We shall say, “Oh, if only I had been more attentive and less self-occupied, I should have seen that in that particular experience the Lord was speaking to me, but it came and it went, and I regarded it as a bit of suffering and no more, and it led to nothing. It may be even that I became bitter, I rebelled and I hardened my heart because of the suffering.”
God forbid! “Today, if ye will hear… Wherefore, holy brethren, partners in a heavenly calling, today if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts.”
Edited and supplied by the Golden Candlestick Trust.
Tag Archives: austin sparks
Faith Unto Enlargement Through Adversity
by T. Austin-Sparks
Reading: Psalm 118.
The real title of this Psalm is the ‘Passover Hosanna Psalm’, and its theme is faith unto enlargement through adversity. Martin Luther called this Psalm his Psalm, and I think his life is a very good commentary upon it. We know why he made it his Psalm. He might well have been the originator of it, so true was his life to all that is here. It is just an explanation and a summing-up of all his experience. ‘This is my Psalm’, he said.
This Psalm was really born out of experience, and it is that that makes it live. There lies behind it very deep history, especially in two particular connections.
The Background Of The Psalm
In the first place, this Psalm, whose composer no one seems to know, was at least adapted to, if not composed for, the Passover after the dedication of the second Temple. You are probably acquainted with the history of the second Temple. You have to turn, of course, to the Book of Ezra, and alongside of it to the Book of Nehemiah, and then to the prophecies of Haggai and Zechariah; and when you have read those four books, you have the setting of Psalm 118. Read again verses 5 to 16 of the Psalm in the light of that, and you will see what light is thrown upon these verses. Or take a fragment – verse 10: “All nations compassed me about: in the name of the Lord I will cut them off. They compassed me about…” And turn to the Book of Ezra, chapter 4, verses 9 and 10. Here you have a whole host of nations all gathered against Ezra and the building of the second Temple. They compassed him about – all these nations compassed him about – they compassed him about like stinging bees. Thus this description of adversity, of opposition, gives this Psalm a very real, practical application: for the remnant which had escaped from captivity had returned to the land with the building and dedication of the Temple in view, and if this Psalm is a description of things as they were then, it is indeed the story of life out of death.
Life Out Of Death
We must remember that the ‘I’ and the ‘me’ repeated in this Psalm represent the personification of the remnant or of the nation. It is as though the nation were speaking as an individual; it is a collective ‘I’. The nation is here saying: “The Lord hath chastened me sore” – how true that was for the seventy years in captivity – “but He hath not given me over unto death” (v. 18); “I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord” (v. 17): so that the remnant speaking in these words does really embody this great truth of life out of death and life triumphant over death.
The Lord had promised His people, when they were in that far-off exile and captivity, that He would ‘open their graves’ and bring them out (Ezekiel 37:12-14), and here it is. They are out – out of that grave of captivity; and a grave it was. There is no singing in the grave. “The dead praise not the Lord” (Psalm 115:17) is a phrase of Scripture, and how true it was away there. “Upon the willows… we hanged up our harps… how shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” (Psalm 137:2-4). ‘The dead praise Thee not.’ But listen! “O give thanks unto the Lord; for He is good; for His lovingkindness endureth for ever” – four times repeated at the very beginning of the Psalm, and then added as the crown at the end. It is a new Psalm on resurrection ground. So the Psalm, to begin with, is one of life out of death.
Release From Bondage
And then quite clearly it is one of release from bondage. These people are so rejoicing in this aspect of their position by the lovingkindness of the Lord, that they are reminded of their earliest great deliverance, and you will see here in the Psalm a reference to the great deliverance from Egypt, and a quotation from the Book of Exodus. They bring the two together – deliverance from Egypt and deliverance from Babylon – and the deliverance from Egypt is always, in the Scripture, termed deliverance “out of the house of bondage”. The Psalm, then, is the Psalm of release from bondage.
Now, bringing that into the rebuilding of the second Temple, you can see how the remnant were straitened, were pressed, by the nations represented by these people who had been brought into Samaria. What a time Nehemiah had from these people in building the wall! He was pressed on every side. What a time Ezra had! How those prophets suffered! The work was held up for more than a decade by reason of this opposition and adversity all around. But the point is that the Temple was built and finished and dedicated, and this Psalm was sung at the Passover which followed the dedication. It says: ‘Let men do their worst, let them oppress from every side, let them oppose as they will. The thing is done: the Lord has done it in spite of everything, and we are out.’
From Limitation To Enlargement
So “the Lord answered me and set me in a large place” (v. 5). From death to life, from bondage to liberty, from limitation to enlargement – into a “large place” – and this represented a very great thing on the Lord’s part. Consider all that the Lord had to cope with – though of course it is putting it in a wrong way to say the Lord ever has to ‘cope with’ anything, for He is so supremely superior to every situation. Yet what was against His people was no small thing. To bring them out into this enlargement meant the overcoming of tremendous difficulties. “The Lord answered me and set me in a large place.” We are reminded of another word, so familiar to us: “Thou broughtest us into the net… Thou didst cause men to ride over our heads. We went through fire and through water; but Thou broughtest us out into a wealthy place” (Psalm 66:11-12). It is a Psalm of triumph over limitation, bringing into enlargement.
God’s Faithfulness Over His People’s Unfaithfulness
The version from which I have quoted uses the word ‘lovingkindness’. The version which is perhaps more familiar has the word ‘mercy’ – “His mercy endureth for ever”. I think there is a note about ‘lovingkindness’ – God’s lovingkindness’ – that touches the heart, when you think of the failure and the unfaithfulness of His own people. What a story it is all the way along, right through the lives of the major and the minor prophets. It would seem that if ever the mercy of God, the lovingkindness of God, could have been exhausted, it would have been so with these people, so terrible were their reactions to the mercy of God. How far they went against the Lord! But here in the end – and with Nehemiah we are in the last Book of the Old Testament in historical order, we are at the end of a dispensation – the great note is: “His lovingkindness endureth for ever”. When they used that language, these people knew what they were talking about. It was not just poetry or sentiment.
It is, therefore, a Psalm of tremendous consolation. We know our weakness, we know our unfaithfulness, we know how we have failed and do fail. The end of the story is – “His lovingkindness endureth for ever”. You see, this is the experience – and, out of the experience, the testimony – of a people who have proved the Lord to be faithful over against all that men could do against them. It is a Psalm worth having. No wonder Luther said, ‘That is my Psalm!’
Sung By The Lord Before Gethsemane
But there is something even more than that. The second thing about this Psalm is that it is believed to have been the Psalm sung by the Lord Himself and by His disciples on the Passover night. Before I knew this, I used to say, ‘I wish I knew what it was they sang when it says that after the supper, “when they had sung a hymn, they went out”‘ (Matt. 26:30). I have discovered that, on very good grounds, it is strongly believed that this was the Psalm that they sang. The Lord Jesus actually sang this Psalm! And His disciples sang it with Him – I wonder if they really knew what they were singing? Let us look at it.
There is no doubt that this Psalm is very largely, if not altogether, related to the Lord Jesus, because it is quoted in immediate connection with Him in several places in the New Testament. For instance: “Blessed be he that cometh in the name of the Lord: we have blessed you out of the house of the Lord” (v. 26). But the titles of the Psalm, the ‘Passover Hosanna Psalm’, is not based upon that incident of the Lord’s entry into Jerusalem, when they cut down palm branches and went before Him singing out of this Psalm: “Hosanna to the Son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord”, but upon other grounds. And then you know that on several occasions in the New Testament the words are quoted: “The stone which the builders rejected is become the head of the corner” (v. 22). The Lord Jesus used them concerning Himself (Matt. 21:42), and Peter used them concerning Christ (1 Pet. 2:7). So this is in a large sense what is called a ‘Messianic’ Psalm. It is related to the Lord Jesus.
The Triumph Of Faith
Now, if the Lord did sing this Psalm on that dark night of the Passover and betrayal, what a triumph of faith it was! “I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord” (v. 17). Going straightway to Gethsemane, the trial and the Cross – “I shall not die, but live”. In faith He has leapt the garden, He has leapt the trial, He has leapt the Cross, right over into the resurrection. “I shall not die, but live.” What a triumph of faith through adversity, through suffering! But oh, what a meaning this gives to Gethsemane. Look at the Passover. “This is My body, which is for you” (1 Cor. 11:24). “This is My blood… which is shed for many unto remission of sins” (Matt. 26:28). And they sang a hymn; and after the hymn, the next thing – Gethsemane. Look – “Bind the sacrifice with cords, even unto the horns of the altar” (v. 27). What was Gethsemane? They bound Him and led Him away from the garden, but His interpretation of that binding was of “a sacrifice… even unto the horns of the altar”; not tied to the horns of the altar, but bound with a view to being led toward the altar. That is the meaning here: ‘Bind and lead to the altar.’
This puts a new light upon Gethsemane, upon the bonds, the captivity, does it not? This is not man’s prevailing, this is not man overcoming, this is not man’s triumph. This is the Lamb of God allowing Himself to be led to the altar. For that is the next thing after the singing. He has sung: “Bind the sacrifice… even unto the horns of the altar”; and forthwith He goes. He goes to Gethsemane, then to the betrayal, then to the judgment hall, and then to the Cross. There is the Divine side of all that, but here you see faith taking hold of this human side, as men regard and interpret it, and turning it into the redemption of the world.
The Lord’s Enlargement Through The Cross
In verse 5 again – “Out of my distress I called upon the Lord: the Lord answered me and set me in a large place.” Are these words of the Lord Jesus? Yes: out of His distress He cried: “O My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass away from Me”. “And being in an agony He prayed more earnestly…” “Father, if this cannot pass away, except I drink it, Thy will be done” (Matt. 26:39, 42; Luke 22:44). “Out of my distress I cried…”; and, although it does not seem that the Lord answered and delivered, an Apostle says that Hewas heard (Heb. 5:7). And how was He heard? Have we the proof that He was heard and answered? “The Lord answered me and set me in a large place.” A large place? Yes, a very large place He is in. How enlarged was our Lord through His Cross! “How am I straitened”, He said–“how am I straitened till it be accomplished!” (Luke 12:50). This was enlargement through suffering: His passion meant enlargement, release from limitation. But it is the voice of faith. As He goes to the Cross, faith goes beyond the Cross and claims the answer of life, not death; enlargement, not limitation. We could dwell quite a long time upon the enlargement that has come to the Lord Jesus through suffering by faith, and this we hope to do in later messages.
Life, Liberty And Enlargement For Us In Christ
But what a testimony this is to the mercy of God. This is the point. I said a little earlier that this ‘I’ of the Psalm is an inclusive and collective ‘I’. In the first place, it is the nation speaking in this personal way, using this personal pronoun “I”. Now it is taken up in relation to the Lord Jesus – “I shall not die”. But, you see, it is not just personal. We know that the Lord Jesus had no need to go to the Cross for Himself. It has often been pointed out that those words used much later by an Apostle – “Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and hath sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2) – should be translated: “Who, instead of the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despised shame, and sat down…”, and it takes you to the mount of transfiguration.
The mount of transfiguration was the seal to the perfection of His moral character. There is no transfiguration or glorification apart from moral perfection, and so God gave Him the great witness that He was perfect, that He saw no fault in Him, that He had passed the scrutiny of the eyes of Divine holiness, and there was not a flaw or a blemish in Him: He was perfect. Therefore He had a right to go from the mount of transfiguration right through to the glory for aye. The glory was His: it was declared His, it was shown to be His, it was His. But instead of the joy that was set in front of Him, He turned round and came down and endured the Cross, and if you will look at the context of these words in Hebrews, you will find that it was all because of ourselves – that He was not going to glory without us. Bringing many sons to glory necessitated His coming down, foregoing for the time being His right, His immediate right, to the glory, and enduring the Cross. You remember how, in that same letter to the Hebrews, it is put into the mouth of the Lord Himself: “I and the children whom God hath given Me” (Heb. 2:13). “He is not ashamed to call them brethren” (2:11).
So this glorious Psalm, with its wonderful background in the life of the Lord Jesus and by the Cross of the Lord Jesus, gathers us in. We are in this collective ‘I’. We come into the good of this. “I shall not die, but live.” “The Lord answered me and set me in a large place.” It is true, is it not? It is true. We have that life triumphant over death. He has given that life to us; it is ours. It is not only ours in that general way – “the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23) – but it is a testimony for all our life, something for now. It is a life which has come out of His death, and has overcome death in Him. It is for us. Do not let us lose the force of that by familiarity. It is to be a testimony every day. What we have in Christ is to be experienced and manifested every day, and it can be.
But then – and upon this we shall dwell very much more fully – what enlargement we have in Christ from our limitation! How infinitely great is the place into which we have been brought, how immeasurable are the resources, how vast are the ranges, how potent are the forces into which we have come in Christ through His death!
I close by reminding you of this – that while it is all concluded in Him, that where He is concerned there is nothing more to be done in this matter: it is full and it is final, and He has entered into His rest, has sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in the heavens; nothing through which we go can add to that, nothing which we experience can take from it; nevertheless, in a sense – not vicariously, not atoningly, not in the sense of His great redemptive work – but in a sense of fellowship with Him while He is still rejected in this world, and of humiliation in fellowship with Him, the principle still remains: that is, that life and enlargement come through adversity and faith’s triumph therein. It is the law of life. Faith’s triumph in adversity issues in life and enlargement.
We shall see more fully how true that is. The Bible is just full of it. Given a real test of faith, much adversity and opposition, everything hemming in, circling round – ‘all nations compassed me about, they compassed me about, they compassed me about’ – you see, it is reiterated, it is very real – nevertheless, nevertheless, that only constitutes the challenge to faith. Faith looks upon that as its opportunity, and when faith comes out in its declaration over against all that, and says, “I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord”, that is the highway to a new experience of life and a new range of fullness – to enlargement by way of faith’s challenge and faith’s victory.
God’s New Israel
by T. Austin-Sparks
“And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be thou perfect. And I will make my covenant between me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly. And Abram fell on his face: and God talked with him, saying, As for me, behold, my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be the father of a multitude of nations. Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for the father of a multitude of nations have I made thee. And I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee. And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee and to thy seed after thee. And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land of thy sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God. And God said unto Abraham, And as for thee, thou shalt keep my covenant, thou, and thy seed after thee throughout their generation. This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; every male among you shall be circumcised” (Genesis 17:1-10).
“For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God” (Romans 2:28,29).
“In whom ye were also circumcised with a circumcision not made with hands, in the putting off of the body of the flesh, in the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with him in baptism, wherein ye were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead” (Colossians 2:11,12).
“For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that one died for all, therefore all died; and he died for all, that they which live should no longer live unto themselves, but unto him who for their sakes died and rose again” (2 Corinthians 5:14,15).
“For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God, and glory in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh” (Philippians 3:3).
The Covenant of Separation and DistinctivenessWe ought to add Scriptures to those, for there are many more which are of the same nature, but these are sufficient to bring us to the point of our consideration, which is the foundation law of God’s Israel, the law of God’s covenant, and that covenant is symbolized in circumcision. The sign of the covenant with Abraham was circumcision. In the Old Testament it was literal and material. In the New Testament it is spiritual, but the meaning is the same. It is a spiritual law of God’s Israel and that law is separation and distinctiveness. It lays down the law that God’s Israel is a separate people; separate from all other people, and different from all other people – clearly distinguished from all other people. Did you notice, as we read those Scriptures, that God said to Abraham that He would make many nations out of his seed? Now God is taking out of the nations a people for His Name, something in the nations, but separate from the nations, and that law of separation and difference is the foundation of God’s Israel.
We can see God keeping to that law in the Old Testament. It is written that “the God of glory appeared unto… Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Haran, and said unto him, Get thee out!” (Acts 7:2). Later, Moses was in Egypt, and God just sovereignly took him out before He did anything else. Moses had to be out of Egypt first, and that was a very thorough thing, as you would think if you were out in a wilderness for forty years! Then the Lord sent Moses back into Egypt to get the people out, and the Word is: “Out of Egypt did I call my son” (Matthew 2:15). God could not proceed with His purpose until He had got His people out, for there is a place where God will fulfil His purpose, and He will not fulfil it anywhere else. I would like you to put a lot of lines under that statement, for I think it is the key to everything. Let me say it again: there is a place where God will fulfil His purpose, and He will do it nowhere else. God means business. He is a God of purpose, and He is very serious about His purpose, which is a purpose of blessing. To Abram He said: “I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee… and in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 12:2,3). God’s purpose is a purpose of blessing; blessing to the instrument that He will use and to the people to whom He uses that instrument. “I will bless thee… and thou shalt be a blessing”. That is the purpose of God, and I say it with a strong voice, because I know that some will say: ‘If we are going this way it is going to be a very difficult way. We are going to have to give up everything!’ Well, wait a little while – we have not finished yet!
We make this statement: God’s purpose is to bless and to make a blessing, but it demands a position. The blessing and the vocation depend upon where we are. Of course, in the Old Testament it was literal. Abraham was in Ur of the Chaldees, and God said: ‘You must get out of this city. I am not going to do anything here! I must have you somewhere else.’ In the New Testament it is spiritual. Where do you live? In Bern, in Zurich, in New York, in London, in Paris, or in some other city? God is not saying to you: ‘Get out of Paris!’ or any of these cities, but He is saying, just as forcefully: ‘Get out!’ You may be living in your body in a city, but you may not find your life there. You may have been born there, physically, but now, as a true Israelite, you were never born there. You were born from above.
God’s covenant is bound up with this spiritual position, and we must really take serious notice of this. God has made a covenant with His Israel, but that covenant demands that they are out of somewhere and in somewhere else, and for us that means a different spiritual position. God’s covenant is a covenant of blessing, of life, of service – that is, Divine vocation – but all that blessing, that life and that vocation are bound up with this matter of spiritual position. Spiritually we are out and we are different. That first Israel is not now in blessing, nor in life, nor is it in the Divine vocation. It is where the Lord Jesus said it would be if it rejected Him – in outer darkness, where there would be weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth, and for these many centuries the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem has fulfilled that prophecy! Why is that? There is one little fragment of Scripture which is tremendous but it has a terrible statement in it: “The covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt;which my covenant they brake” (Jeremiah 31:32). Israel broke the covenant of separation and distinctiveness.
A Circumcised HeartNow we come to this matter of circumcision. I can only touch it very lightly, for it is a very delicate matter.
We have seen that in the Old Testament circumcision is a type, or symbol, for in the New Testament it is stated that circumcision of the heart – not in the flesh, but in the spirit – and it just means this: a heart that is wholly devoted to the Lord. By that symbol the seed of Abraham became God’s exclusive people for the time being, and everything that we have in the Old Testament about God’s wish for this people shows us how jealous He was over those people. God called Himself their husband (Jeremiah 31:32), and there was never a more jealous husband than He! Let Israel have anything to do with any other husband and you will hear the thunder, and the weeping, of the Prophets, God was so jealous for Israel.
Now see what Paul says about the covenant seed of Abraham. He heads this whole thing up into Christ: “Now to Abraham were the promises spoken, and to his seed. He saith not, And to seeds as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ” (Galatians 3:16). “He is not a Jew which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew (or an Israelite), which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit.” So Jesus Christ is the seed of Abraham, and Paul speaks of the circumcision of Christ.
Let me ask you a question: Has there ever lived on this earth a person more utterlycommitted to God than the Lord Jesus? He was indeed separated unto God, and different from all others. No one has ever borne the marks of spiritual circumcision more than the Lord Jesus. He was the Man of the undivided heart.
Let us go back into the Old Testament to that great Messianic chapter, Isaiah 53: “He shall see his seed… He shall see of the travail of his soul.” Well, we know more than the Prophet Isaiah knew about that! We have been with Him in Gethsemane in the time of the travail of His soul, and we are with Him, on the other side of the travail. How many are the seed of Christ since then! Dear friends, if ever you are tempted to think that Christians are few, and that we are only a very small people in the millions of this world – open the windows! Look into the book of the Revelation: “A great multitude, which no man could number… ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands.” The number cannot be expressed in human language – and they have been gathered since the travail of the Lord Jesus. He is indeed seeing His seed! Gethsemane has been the most fruitful garden in all history – and you and I are of His seed! We are born out of His travail and are in the covenant made with the new Israel.
But do remember that the meaning and the value of the covenant depend upon our devotion to the Lord! This is a thing which is so evident: the greatest fruitfulness has always come from the lives most devoted to the Lord, the people of the undivided heart. This covenant has two sides. As we have already said, the New Testament takes many warnings from the history of Israel, and we may fail of all that that covenant means if our hearts are divided and we try to live life in two worlds. Let us look at a little incident in the life of Abraham.
It is in chapter 15, when God came to make His covenant with Abraham and his seed, and something happened which many people have not been able to understand. The Lord commanded Abraham to bring certain things for a sacrifice either to a large altar, or to two altars, for the Lord told him to divide the sacrifices in two and to put one half on one side and the other half on the other side. Now notice that these are two sides of the covenant. On the one side is Abraham and his seed and on the other side is God. God is about to enter into a covenant with Abraham and his seed, but the covenant has two sides. Now notice what happens! The vultures came down to try and steal the sacrifices. How greatly significant this is! All the powers of darkness are against this covenant, and all those evil fowls of the air are out to rob God and His people of this covenant. It says that Abraham beat them off. His rod was busy that day, and the vultures said: ‘It is no good. We had better give up and get away from here.’ Then Abraham went to sleep and “an horror of great darkness fell upon him”. My point, and, I believe, the point of the Scripture is this: there is always a terrible battle with hell to secure a life utterly committed to God. No one who is going to be utterly for Him is easily won.
It may be that battle is going on in this very room. If the devil can prevent you from being utterly for God he is going to make a great big fight for it. Is that battle going on? The battle of the very covenant, the covenant in heart circumcision, a heart wholly for the Lord, a heart that is right out for God. If Satan can prevent that he will put up a good fight. What is your attitude to this? Are you careless about it? God alone knows how much is involved in it. Oh, take the rod of God and lay about these evil forces! Stand for the covenant! And when you have made that stand the evil forces will withdraw, the darkness will go.
There is a change of atmosphere in this story. At first the atmosphere is full of conflict and fear, for it is “an horror of great darkness”. There is a battle in the very atmosphere over this matter, but when Abraham has fought the battle for the covenant the whole atmosphere changes and becomes one of victory. If we put the history of many consecrated believers into this story, there would be many testimonies like this: ‘My, there was a tremendous battle over this matter! I was full of fears, but I took a stand, and with God’s help I came to a decision. I stepped over on to God’s side of the covenant and said: “Lord, I am Yours! I am with You!” then peace came, the peace of His victory. I went to bed that night feeling as though I had come out of a great battle, but it was into great peace.’
That is all in this little story in Genesis 15. It may be your story! This is something of what it means to have a heart that is circumcised, for the circumcised heart is a heart set free from all self-interest. Was that true of Abraham? After many years what had seemed impossible came to pass and God gave him a son; and that son was God’s miracle. You would expect Abraham to say: ‘God gave me that son and I am going to hold on to him. I will never let him go, because God gave him to me.’ There was a little boy once, and a baby came into the home. One day the mother said to the little boy: ‘We are going to take Baby to the meeting and give him to the Lord.’ The little boy’s face fell, and he said: ‘Mummy, you can lend him to the Lord, but we must have him back again.’ You know, that is the kind of consecration that a lot of Christians make; they have some personal interest in their consecration. But about that God-given gift to Abraham God said: ‘Take him and offer him!’ Friends, learn this lesson! Do not think that because God has given you something by a miracle you can take it for yourself. I will not try to say what it might be. It might be your very ministry, for there is always a peril of taking our ministry and using it for ourselves. But Abraham was truly circumcised in heart, and the same was true of Hannah. How long she waited for that child Samuel, and how much she suffered! How earnestly she prayed! And then, at last, God gave her the child. What did she say? ‘Thank you, Lord. I will never let this child go now!’? No, she said: ‘For this child I prayed and the Lord has given me my request. Therefore I have given him to the Lord for as long as he lives.’ She, too, was circumcised in heart.
From some of his Psalms we know that the one great ambition of David’s life was to build the temple, and he worked and sacrificed for that temple. He said: “I will not come into the tabernacle of my house, nor go up into my bed; I will not give sleep to mine eyes, or slumber to mine eyelids until I find out a place for the Lord, a tabernacle for the Mighty One of Jacob.” (Psalm 132:3-5). He was collecting private money, as well as materials for the temple, for he said: “I have a treasure of mine own of gold and silver” (1 Chronicles 29:3). Then he received the pattern of the temple from the Lord, and said: ‘The time has come, and my life’s ambition is about to be realized. The one thing for which I have lived is now going to be mine – but what is that? Someone is at the door. Come in! Oh, it is a Prophet. Yes, my friend, what have you come to say?’ ‘I have come to tell you from the Lord, David, that you shall not build the house. Thy son shall build it.’ What did David do? What would you do? Well, what did David do? He said: ‘It does not matter about my disappointment! The thing is that the Lord must have what He wants. My interests are nothing beside His interests.’ So he gave everything to Solomon. Perhaps he had seen something more: “And I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever” (Psalm 23:6), and that is better than any earthly house!
We never lose anything when the Lord has everything, and that is what it means to have a circumcised heart. May that be true of everyone!
by T. Austin-Sparks
“When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.”
Gracious promise! But given to the redeemed: those who have accomplished the “exodus”; who are “out.”
The witness to a Redeeming God always brings tribulation. The Blood while it saves and speaks to us the continually better things is also uttering its loud challenge of God’s wrath and judgment against principalities and powers, which in turn stir up in hellish rage and opposition the carnal mind of this world.
The moment God’s “Now” has been fulfilled in your heart, and through the Cross of Jesus, the Christ of God, you have passed out of death into life, you are a living factor for God in an actively hostile world. Do not think for a single instant that you will escape the malignity of this Egypt. The prince of this world held you in bondage as long as he could, and now that through the Blood you are out of that captivity, he pursues you yet with all the forces at his command to prevent you reaching that Mount Zion.
What then? It is still the Blood of the Lamb that shall be his destruction and your salvation! The deep is cleft for you because of the Blood; you shall pass through rage and tempest inviolate.
There is nearly always manifest immediately after some escape from the snare of evil the sudden and well-nigh overwhelming rage and activity of the enemy: the waters, the rivers, the fire, and the flame. New births enrage Herods and Pharaohs. The sword of the destroyer is immediately athirst. You may expect “liveliness” when through the Blood you have made some further step in the pilgrimage of your faith. At such moments the newly released spirit that had commenced its song of deliverance is threatened with the reactions of dismay at the fury of the oppressor, and the song is suddenly hushed in the face of the apparent turning of the battle against one. Steady! Listen to the Voice of Thy Beloved. “Fear not, for I have redeemed thee. I have called thee by thy name; thou art Mine.” The Blood of the Eternal Covenant would again speak its blessed message to our hearts. We are to go forward unflinchingly through the deep, through the floods; and through the fire and the flame. This is the way of His Cross.
It needs this faith in the faithfulness of our God if we are to go through. To commence to run is good. That first leap of faith is joyous. But there is the long race, the patient continuance, the meeting of lions in the path, the fiery trials.
The apostle gloried in these. The activities of adversaries were to him the evidence of strategic positions to be won. The rage of the enemy an indication that sword thrusts were taking effect. And so the word to many a warrior who stands in a field of dire conflict and fierce oppression is “Stand fast! Stand fast!” “Fear not… redeemed… The Blood… Thou art MINE.”
Strike hard with the “spoken word” of the Testimony, and stand firmly upon the ground you have taken.
Yours in His courage,
Faith Unto Enlargement Through Adversity
by T. Austin-Sparks
Reading: Genesis 15:1-6; 17:1-8; Romans 4:16-25; Hebrews 11:8.
In these passages, we find five things. One, enlargement; two, establishment; three, life; four, faith; five, consummation. All this is to be brought into fulness at the end of the dispensation. The Word of God gives us to understand that at the end God will have a state of Divine fulness corresponding to the word ‘enlargement’: at the end, God will have things established, fixed: at the end, God will have things wholly characterized by life: and all this will be through tried and proved faith. You will recall how this end is brought into view in the symbolism of the city – the holy city, new Jerusalem, seen as coming down from God out of heaven in the last chapters of the Bible. Here is Divine fulness: everything brought to a state of finality, establishment, and all characterized by life – illustrated by the tree of life, the river of water of life, and other symbols. But leading up to this, all the way along, is the matter of tried and proved faith.
As we look at the Christian world in our time, we realize that these are the great things which are supremely necessary. There is need for spiritual, Divine, enlargement – things are so small spiritually; for spiritual establishment – things are so weak and uncertain, so variable and inconsistent, without assurance, without certainty; for Divine life – how great is the need for more life, heavenly life, a greater fulness of life amongst the Lord’s people! But, while we recognize these things to be the crying needs, we should probably all be prepared to admit that the only way to these things is for the Lord’s people to be really tested, really tried. We do not like the idea, but we realize that everything needs to be put to the test, to be proved, in order to be established. And we are in fact already very conscious of a new movement of God amongst His people really to test their faith, to try their faith, to bring faith to maturity.
Now this would seem to have been God’s pathway for His people all down the ages: by tried, tested, proved and established faith to bring to enlargement, establishment and life more abundant. These are laws of the ways of God, principles of His dealings with His people. Let us, then, in the first place, take a comprehensive view of this matter, before coming to the practical applications. The Bible has many angles. If you take it, and look at it from one standpoint, you may think that that is all that the Bible is about. You seem to be able to gather up the whole of the Bible into that one thing. It might be sin, judgment, death – it is an aspect, an angle. Or it might be righteousness and life – it is another angle. Give the Bible another turn, and the same thing seems to be true again. It has many such angles, and every one of them seems to be comprehensive. If the Bible is like that, you can see the whole of it by just turning it a little from one angle to another.
Faith The Key To Life And Enlargement
Now, you will see how true this is in the very clear instance that we have before us – the matter of enlargement by life through faith. It would be very easy to gather all the Bible into that, and to say that is what the whole Bible is about. Of course, it is not, but it is one very comprehensive angle. You will at once see how that theme runs right through. But suppose we change the metaphor, and say that there is a whole bunch of keys to the Bible – quite a large bunch of keys – every one of which seems to be a master key to open the whole of the Bible; and on this large bunch of keys there seem to be three that are linked together, so to speak, on their own separate ring. Those three keys are – faith, life, enlargement.
Faith opens the first door. That door leads to the next, which is life, and through life to the next, which is enlargement. Those three things always go together through the Word of God. Of course, this is clearly seen by the opposite. Unbelief is always shown in the Scripture to result in limitation. Where there is unbelief, you just do not get any further – you stop short and stop dead: there is no enlargement, and therefore there is no life, no greater, fuller life, beyond. You cannot separate these things; they always hang together – faith, life, enlargement.
All the great crises in the history of God’s people, as recorded in the Scriptures, had these three features. Beginning right at the beginning, with Adam, in the first chapters of Genesis, it is perfectly plain there that the whole question of establishment, of enlargement and of life hung upon faith, and that when he refused, or ceased, to believe God, that was a dead stop, a full stop. There was no more. At that point death entered in. The possibility of fellowship with God, and of all that God can mean in the life, hung entirely upon his faith – or upon his refusal to believe. If only he had believed God, the way would have been wide open to enlargement, establishment and life, continuous and unceasing.
Moving on in the Book of Genesis to chapters 15 and 17, some passages from which we have placed at the head of this meditation, we come to Abraham. The Lord comes in with Abraham on this line of enlargement, of establishment and of life. Those are the three great things that sum up Abraham’s life with God. And everything hung upon faith. All that God said about this multiplying, this tremendous increase and enlargement; about the finality of things – establishing him in the covenant for ever; and about this wonderful principle of life – so apparent in the case of Abraham, when death would argue that there was no prospect at all in himself or in Sarah or any situation, yet life is in view in spite of it all – all those things just hung upon faith. He believed God. If he had not, there would have been nothing.
In the Book of Exodus, we find the great crisis in the national life of Israel – the deliverance from Egypt. Chapter 12 of Exodus just rests upon this: ‘The whole question here is that of your release with a view to your enlargement; it is a question of your being established and brought to finality, to fullness; and it is a question of your life.’ The central thought of that chapter is perhaps life, is it not? The slaying of Egypt’s firstborn, on the one side, and the deliverance of Israel into life through death, on the other. But it all hung upon this matter of faith – faith in action: whether they would take the lamb, whether they would sprinkle the blood, whether they would gird their loins and take their staff in their hand. Everything depended upon an attitude and spirit of believing God.
Passing through Numbers into the Book of Joshua, we find that here it is the land that is in view–the land of promise, with all that it meant to them historically and all that it means typically and spiritually. What a matter of enlargement that was! From the wilderness, with all its emptiness and ‘pent-upness’, into the largeness, fullness and liberty of being established in the land. There was never, in God’s mind, any thought or purpose of permanence in the wilderness at all. That was only a phase of things to be got through quickly as the spiritual condition of His people would allow. His thought for them was – into the land and established for ever. The promise to Abraham was that the land was covenanted for ever: finality. And then through Jordan, running there between Numbers and Joshua, between the wilderness and the land, and overflowing all its banks, speaking of death to be overcome in its fulness, in its depths; and into the land: here is life triumphant over death. But again, everything hung upon their faith. Would they move in faith? One generation could not do that, and perished in the wilderness. It was left to the next generation to enter the land. These three things rested upon faith.
Passing over the terrible four hundred years covered by the Book of Judges – the most terrible book in the Bible, I think – into the Books of Samuel, we find a transition toward a new state of enlargement. This phase will end with David and Solomon, with the enlargement of the kingdom beyond anything that had ever been before, with establishment and life. Again, it is all on the basis of faith. It was faith in Samuel’s mother, for instance, that brought in Samuel. But we cannot stay with all the detail. At last, as we know, faith was lost, and unbelief prevailed. Once again we see a return to limitation, to bondage, to uncertainty, to spiritual death. It all hangs upon faith.
As we take up the New Testament, we find that the issue is still that of enlargement, of establishment, and of fulness of life, and the question now is – Believe it! – a question of faith. These are the things, for instance, governing the first chapters of the Book of the Revelation, where the churches are dealt with. It is a matter here of spiritual enlargement or spiritual limitation: either of being established, or of having the lampstand moved out of its place, with nothing established, nothing final. It is a matter of life, through the Living One Who became dead and is alive for evermore. The challenge is on whether it is to be life or death, and it is focused in the one question of faith. Finally, as we reach the last chapters of the Revelation, we find these things brought to fulness, in the great City as a symbolic representation of the Church. How great it is, how full, how enlarged, how solid! It is established. How living it is, too! Abundant life is its most central feature. And it is the very embodiment of tried, tested and proved faith.
Here, then, is the whole Bible gathered into this, and our Christian lives are based upon the Bible, the whole Bible. What does that mean? It means this, that our lives are concerned with spiritual fulness, as we shall see as we go on; with our being established to eternity, and not carried away with time; and with the great matter of Divine life brought into complete triumph over the last enemy, death. And the thing that governs and comprehends the Christian life in these three aspects is the whole matter of faith: tried faith, proved faith, established faith, perfected faith.
God’s Reaction Against Emptiness
Let us now look for a few minutes at these words, these terms, that we have been employing. We will take for the present just this matter of enlargement. We can use the alternative word ‘fullness’ – and we shall do so, quite extensively – but I have here a special thought in my mind in preferring this word ‘enlargement’. This whole matter of enlargement, whether the Lord is going to enlarge us, whether we are going to be enlarged, is a very living question and issue, for enlargement is a governing thought of God. All the way through the Bible, as we have seen, God’s thought is enlargement. God is always thinking in terms of enlargement, of increase, of final fullness. God never finds any pleasure at all in emptiness and in smallness. God dislikes emptiness, and always reacts against it.
As we open our Bibles at the first page of Genesis, what is almost the first thing that we read? After: “In the beginning God…”, and then a few words more, we read: “And the earth was without form and void” – that is ‘waste and empty‘ – “and the Spirit of God…” The earth was empty, and the Spirit of God – did what? – reacted against the state of emptiness. It was as though God said, ‘This is not My mind at all; this is altogether contrary to My thought. I am against this, and I am going to do something about it.’ God would have everything in Divine fullness – that is, in abundance. That is His thought for the earth, and for His people. And so the Spirit of God, brooding over this void, this emptiness, begins to work, and every stage and phase of the Divine activity is to fill. He fills the earth with the vast range of the vegetable kingdom – seeds in abundance and life within the seeds capable of endless production and reproduction. He fills the earth with the immense variety of the animal kingdom. He fills the sea, and says: “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures” (Gen. 1:20). And then, creating man, He says: “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth” (v. 28). ‘I am against this emptiness, this void’. And on He moves on that principle, governed by that thought. Reaching Abraham, He says: “I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heavens, and as the sand which is upon the sea-shore” (Gen. 22:17). Comprehend that, if you can! That is Divine thought. Beyond all comprehension, God thinks in terms of enlargement.
How much can be gathered up in the Bible on this matter! The Lord Jesus, for instance, came to express the thoughts of God in practical terms, and, amongst many other things, He spoke of a great feast which was made. The guests were bidden, but they did not come – they made excuses. And so the man who gave the feast said to his servant: “Go out into the highways and hedges, and constrain them to come in, that my house may be filled” (Luke 14:15-24). Here we see Christ bringing God’s thoughts into this world – ‘That my house may be filled.’ But perhaps in the New Testament the day of Pentecost is the greatest example and expression of this Divine thought. When the Spirit came, a mighty, rushing wind “filled all the house where they were sitting” (Acts 2:2). And then it is applied to each believer: “Be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18).
The Danger Of Passivity
It is thus clear that enlargement is a governing thought with God. But the Lord Jesus has not only pointed out that this is what God would have, but He has said on the other hand that it is exceedingly dangerous to be empty. He spoke of a certain ‘house’, which was a man, possessed of a demon, an unclean spirit; and He visualized the casting out of the unclean spirit: but, although the house is ‘swept and garnished’, it is left empty; and, because no other occupant takes possession, the unclean spirit comes back to his old home, taking seven other more evil than himself, and fills the empty house (Matt. 12:43-45). It is a dangerous thing to be empty, to leave a void. If God does not fill, the Devil will. Beware of negative conditions, of not being positive and not being definite. Beware of vacuums in your heart, in your mind, in your life. David was one day on the house-top in a state of ‘vacuum’, at a time when kings go out to war (2 Sam. 11:1-2) – and he was a king, and a warring king. But instead of being occupied in a positive way, he was in a passive state, and we know the disaster that overtook him, from which he never recovered all his life. It is a dangerous thing to be empty. The Devil will see to the filling up of any space that he can occupy. The Lord wants to fill to the exclusion of all else.
The Fulness Of God
The ultimate word in this matter in the Bible is: “that ye may be filled unto all the fulness of God” (Eph. 3:19). Think of that! This is said to believers together in their corporate, related life – to the Church, which is “the fulness of Him that filleth all in all” (Eph. 1:23). Think of it: the fulness of God! – that is, God coming in such a way that there is no room for anything else. It was like that at the dedication of Solomon’s temple, in the Old Testament. When the priests moved out of the sanctuary, the glory of the Lord moved in and filled the house, and the priests could no longer stand to minister (1 Kings 8:10-11; 2 Chron. 5:11-14). When the Lord fills, there is no room for anything or anyone else. That is the fulness of God.
Emptiness The Result Of Judgement
Returning to that word ‘void’ or ’empty’ that we find at the beginning of the Book of Genesis, it seems to me that this represents the result of a judgment. That, of course, has already been surmised on other grounds. But the following considerations are perhaps confirmatory. When the Lord sent His people Israel into Babylonian captivity for seventy years, the land became waste. The land fell into a state that could well be described in the terms used to describe the state of the earth at the beginning – void, waste and empty. Now, the Babylonian captivity of Israel was a judgment upon their unbelief and their idolatry, and the waste state into which the land fell was surely a part of that judgment; and it would therefore seem that “in the beginning”, also, the desolation was the result of a judgment upon a former creation.
But what is the point of this? The issue must have been this – as it has always been–that God was not allowed to fill all things. God’s place was either shared with other things, or God was driven out. The end of this present world, as is shown to us in the New Testament, is going to be like that. There will be a point at which God will be finally rejected by this world, and will have no place. We are moving fast toward that time. What will be the result? It will be the burning up of this world – judgment, destruction – and a longer or shorter period of desolation before there is a new heaven and a new earth, and all things are created anew. Judgment is always upon this one thing – as to whether God is all and in all, or not. Therefore enlargement – the fullness which is God’s thought – rests upon this matter of God having full place; and that is the basis of all testing of faith. God presses this point closer and closer as we go on: whether we will believe God sufficiently to let Him have His place in an impossible situation.
The Fullness Of God As Light
Now, what do we mean by the fulness of God? It is nothing less than the nature of God filling all things. “God is light”, the Scripture says (1 John 1:5): then where God is there is no darkness, there is no room for darkness; and when God comes in in fulness there is “no darkness at all.” It is all “light in the Lord” (Eph. 5:8). And the Lord is moving on this line with you and with me. He is seeking to get us completely out of our darkness into His light; to bring us into the light as He is in the light. And how great a factor is faith in this matter of coming into the light of the Lord, coming to know the Lord, coming into understanding, or whatever expression you may use for light. It is seeing, it is knowing, it is understanding.
But you and I never come into one additional ray of real light – I do not mean information, I mean spiritual light – except along the line of tests of faith, faith really tested. A sister in the Lord, who felt that she was far too short-tempered, too quickly provoked, said to a dear servant of God, ‘Oh, I do need more patience – do pray for me that I may have more patience!’ The servant of God said, ‘All right, let us get down and pray now’, and so they knelt down and he prayed, ‘Lord, do please send more tribulation into this dear sister’s life.’ And she stopped him and said, ‘No, I did not say I wanted tribulation – I want patience.’ ‘Ah, but’, he replied, ‘the Word says: “tribulation worketh patience”!’ (Rom. 5:3).
Yes: we want more of the Lord, but we are not always so ready to go the way that He would take us in order to have more of Himself. But it is that way – the way of tribulation; and what is tribulation if it is not the testing of faith? We are put into situations where only faith in God will enable us to live and to go on. Yet it is possible – it is so possible. Early last year, during my visit to California, a brother there proposed that we should go to see some dear friends, living about sixty miles away, who had begged that we should visit them. These dear children of God were living in perhaps one of the most worldly, unpropitious, impossible situations imaginable – the week-end resort of all the Hollywood stars. I cannot describe the utter abandonment to the flesh. Our two friends were living in a large trailer, or caravan, right at the centre of a great trailer park, surrounded by all these worldly people in their luxurious trailer homes, in an atmosphere of the utmost sensuality, fleshliness, indulgence. We went in, and had a most blessed afternoon with them on the things of the Lord – a most precious time, with a real touch of heaven – and when we had spent the whole afternoon with them, a brother said: ‘Perhaps you will not believe it, but there are sixteen out-and-out Christians in this trailer park. I am going to fetch some of them’. He went across to another trailer, and brought back two dear children of God, elderly, saintly people; and, without any going round matters at all or talking on generalities, we were right on the things of the Lord instantly, and we could have gone on all night. The brother told us, ‘We all meet here in this trailer, sixteen of us, and have most blessed times of fellowship.’
Why am I telling you about this? In the most unlikely place on earth – yes, the most impossible place for anything of a spiritual character, for anything really of the Lord – there, right in that terrible place, are saints walking in white raiment, in living fellowship with the Lord. Do not say, ‘Oh, the place I have to live and work in is impossible for any spiritual life or spiritual growth – everything is against me.’ Remember that the Lord can enlarge you anywhere if He calls you to be there. Never use the argument of the impossible. Just think of Abraham and the impossible. He came into enlargement, but not because everything was propitious, not because everything made it so easy and was so helpful. No, there can be light in the darkest place if the Lord is there. When I first heard of that situation, I had expressed the wish that those dear friends could have been got out of it, but when I left them I changed my view entirely. I do not know that they would really be the better for getting out of this. This is the thing that is enlarging them spiritually: it is throwing them on the Lord, it is making them prove the Lord. There is nothing here for them but the Lord; everything else is against Him.
The fulness of God is in terms of light, even in darkness; of love – for God is love – in a realm of hatred; of life in a realm of death; and of holiness in a realm of unholiness. “That ye may be filled unto all the fulness of God.”
There is much more about this matter of enlargement. It was the governing thing in the sovereign gifts of the ascended Lord. “When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men… and He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets;… and some, pastors and teachers” – for what? – “for the perfecting of the saints, unto the work of ministering, unto the building up of the body of Christ: till we all attain unto the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a fullgrown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Eph. 4:8, 11-13). Every Divine gift in ministry has fulness as its object and its governing motive.
Let me close with this for the moment, that the test as to whether a thing is of God is always spiritual measure. It is not the measure of our doctrinal knowledge, nor even the measure of our Bible knowledge as such. It is not the accuracy or correctness of our technique in form and procedure. It is the measure of God. We can have all those other things, without there being really any measure of God. That is what counts.
In Adam or In Christ
by T. Austin-Sparks
These passages bring before us several quite precise things. They bring to us a series of couplets, or two things.
Firstly, they present two men, Adam and Christ, and set them forth as two racial men, that is, two men who are the heads and the inclusive representatives of two different races, and they make it perfectly clear that it is impossible to be in both of those men at the same time, or belong to both of those races. If you are alive in Adam, you are dead to Christ. If you are alive in Christ, you are dead to Adam. These two, therefore, set forth no smaller, no lesser fact than that of life and death, and those two things are set far apart, for it is a very different thing indeed to be alive in the divine sense from being dead in the divine sense.
Two men – and the Word of God says that we are in the one or the other. By nature we cannot help ourselves, we have no choice. We are born in, and of, Adam. He is our natural head, the progenitor of our natural race and order. We are in him by nature and we cannot help ourselves. And yet God has made provision for us to get out of Adam, that we should no longer be in Adam but that we should be in Christ. He says, “In Adam all die” or “all are dead”. Death reigns over the whole Adam race. In Christ all are alive, for Christ is alive, and lives in the full divine sense. But the question arises, how can we get out of Adam into Christ? And that is the point upon which we are going to focus our whole meditation presently when we have just gone over the other truths that arise in these Scriptures.
There are two men, to begin with, and they are utterly apart. They have no fellowship, no relatedness, no communion, nothing in common. Adam and Christ are two distinct types and belong to two distinctly different worlds and realms, and, out of Christ, we are in Adam. In Adam we are out of Christ. In Christ we are no longer in Adam. That is what this Scripture makes perfectly clear and it is as well that we are perfectly clear ourselves about it. There is a very great deal going on nowadays which seems to try to bridge that gap, somehow to get across it, to make it less different and distinct than it is. You find people going to work to try and get others into Christ by going out on their ground, taking up their ground and trying to meet them on their own ground, and that is a very common phrase – ‘to meet people on their own ground’ – but it is a fatal mistake when you are seeking to bring people onto Christ’s ground. We often hear of things being done and methods being adopted to try and win over to Christ by going over to the people concerned or the people in view. For instance, take the student class. To win the students, you must go on students’ ground and take up an intellectual position and deal with them along an intellectual line. That is taking natural ground, and it never really results in a real definite position in Christ. And in many other ways, this kind of thing is done.
Now, the Lord Jesus knew quite well, if anyone knew at all, that this sort of thing cannot work. There came to Him one who is a good type – Nicodemus. Nicodemus was firstly a religious man naturally, then no doubt an educated man, and then a man of social position and influence, a man who had many things on his own side of nature which in themselves gave him a standing and made him something. He came to the Lord Jesus and started to talk on his own line, in his own way. “We know that thou art a teacher come from God.” ‘Stop, Nicodemus, you cannot go any further. If you have come to get help from Me, I cannot help you until you come onto My ground. You are in one realm, I am in another. You belong to one man; I am another Man altogether. I cannot come out along your line. Nicodemus, if you are going to have anything at all from Me, you must be born anew, you must be born from above. You must come onto My ground, off your own ground. I cannot meet you there.’ He stopped the whole thing at once, and put the issue – ‘We are two different men. You belong to one race, I belong to another. You belong to one world, I belong to another. There are many good things about you as to your world, but in My world they do not count.’ You have got to get out of one into the other and recognize that nothing of that which is in Adam is of avail when it comes to salvation. No, there is a big gap between and nothing can bridge that gap. You have got to come off that ground onto the other before there can be a start made in really understanding the things of Christ.
Two men representing two so utterly and completely different realms and natures as to make communion between them completely impossible. Well, two men, that is what is set forth, and we must be very frank about this. Let us recognize it and always present it to men and never try to come out on their ground and take up their position, hoping to win them to ours or to Christ’s. It will not work. We have got to stand on Christ’s ground and say, “You must be born again before you can make a start, before there can be the first glimmer of light or life so far as heaven is concerned”. So that the two men, as these words make clear, represent two births: “that which is born of the flesh“, as the Lord Jesus puts it to Nicodemus, “is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” – two distinctly different births. The birth of Adam is birth after the flesh. The birth of Christ is that which is born of the Spirit. “You must be born anew.”
Then by the different births there will surely be the two heredities – that which the New Testament calls ‘the old man’ and that which is called ‘the new man’. We know quite well that we have got our old man heredity; we have got the Adam heredity. We are not only in Adam by birth, but Adam is in us by birth. When the people of Israel were in Egypt, they were in Egypt, and then God got them out of Egypt, but for forty years it was quite clear that Egypt was not out of them. That was the trouble; for forty years in the wilderness the Egypt in them was being dealt with. Their hearts were always linked with Egypt. The one thing which became so manifestly necessary was that Egypt in the heart had got to be supplanted by the Land of Promise, and those people who did not have the land in their heart perished in the wilderness because Egypt was still in their heart, but the new race, the new generation, in whose heart the land was, went in and possessed. We are in Adam, but Adam is in us too. We have got heredity from Adam and we know it quite well, but then there is this other side.
When we are in Christ, when we are born again of the Spirit, then we have got the new heredity. We inherit what is in Christ. Peter speaks of our becoming “partakers of the divine nature“. There is implanted in us at new birth the heredity of the Lord Jesus Christ. We inherit something by birth from Him, and it is in that which is in Christ as in us that is the hope of everything. As Paul puts it – “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27). Now not only in Christ, but Christ in us by new birth, so that it is not only that we have come into the realm of Christianity, a sphere called ‘Christ’, but there have come into us the mighty energies of Christ’s own life and Christ’s own disposition and nature to grow. Just as what is born in the bone comes out sooner or later in nature, and all our natural lives are but the gradual unfolding of what is in us by nature, and the older we get, the more conscious we are of how like certain people who went before us we are, how many more traces of our forebears we are able to discover, so it is in Christ. As we go on, if we really do go on in Christ, what we have inherited from Him grows and becomes more and more manifest.
Then – two courses. There is the course of Adam and the course of Christ. The course of Adam is called, or termed, here – ‘the earthy’. Since Adam sinned and fell, his course has been entirely earthy. Everything down here – all his interests, all his vision, all his energies, down here and of this earth, earthy. Paul speaks of that, as you notice in the passage in 1 Cor. 15. “The first man is of the earth, earthy… As we have borne theimage of the earthy“. I like the way it is put. The Holy Spirit knows what He is doing when He uses words. He could easily have used there ‘earthly’, but here it is ‘earthy’. You may think there is very little difference. If you say ‘earthly’, that means that you belong to a certain realm and your association is with that realm. But if you say ‘earthy’ it means you are of the very nature of that realm, and there is quite a difference. You may be in the world so far as your physical being is concerned, but it is not at all necessary for you to be one with the world in your nature and disposition. The Lord Jesus said, ‘They are in the world, but they are not of the world’, and ‘earthy’ means that we are not only earthbound, but we partake of something that is called ‘earth’, a nature, and our course is that – an earthy course – and there is no open heaven for us.
But then there is the course of Christ, and you know how always in connection with Christ, it is the word ‘heavenly’. “Ye are from beneath; I am from above” (John 8:23). “Icame down from heaven…” (John 6:38). The heavenly Man, the last Adam, is the Lord from heaven, and the course in Christ means that our course is a heavenly course, our interests are heavenly, our resources are heavenly, our goal is heavenly, our labours are heavenly. Ours is heavenly life in nature, substance and strength. “If then ye were raised together with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is… your life is hid with Christ in God” (Col. 3:1,3). The course of Christ is a heavenly course.
Do not forget that the one object of the great enemy, Satan, is to bring about a link between the children of God and that which is earthy. He has tried and succeeded with the Church almost as a whole for centuries, making it something earthy, something down here, belonging here, whereas in its beginnings it was entirely and only heavenly – very simple. Its meeting-places were very simple, not taken account of by the world; all its ways were very simple indeed. There was nothing here in this earth and world to gain it favour, reputation or recognition, but its life was heavenly. The only thing it had down here was a testimony, and that was a testimony to a heavenly, reigning Christ. Satan has triumphed tremendously in making the Church something earthy, and he is always trying to do that with you and me to get a link between us and what is here and rob us of our essentially heavenly life. If he cannot do it one way, he will seek to do it in another. Unconsciously, imperceptibly, the thing works until our hearts have been drawn away from the heavenly Lord and got an interest in what is here.
Then finally, two destinies. In Adam – judgment unto condemnation. That is the destiny for the Adam race, for the Adam life – condemnation, judgment, death, eternal death. The other destiny, in Christ, a glorious destiny, eternal life, eternal honour and glory.
You see how very briefly I am speaking of these things, but here is the great divide in every respect.
Now, how out of one into the other? How out of Adam into Christ? How from the old birth to the new birth? How from the old man heredity into the new man heredity? How away from that old earthy course to the new heavenly course? How from the destiny of judgment and death to the destiny of life and glory? How? Well, these Scriptures make it perfectly clear. How out of Adam? You never struggle out of Adam into Christ. You can never, by any will-power, get out of Adam into Christ. If your will is stronger than the will of Satan, then you might manage it, but all who have attempted it have found that it does not happen. Satan is far too clever and far too powerful, and he does not let his own go easily. How then?
There is only one way. God has found a way and God has appointed a way. How can I get out of Adam? Well, die – that is all. If I die, well, that is the end of that. Out of Adam, only by death. Into Christ – how? By resurrection. So we are represented as having died in Christ. How can we die? We cannot commit suicide, we cannot kill ourselves, we cannot bring an end to this miserable Adam relationship of life by any means of our own. God has provided a way, and He has made His Son our representative, to die a mighty, inclusive death as our death. He has died as us in the eyes of God, and the death of Christ is a mighty thing. It is made an effective thing by the Holy Spirit. So then, what we have to do is to see, firstly, Christ as our representative dying in our place as us. Then, by faith, to accept Him and His death as our own and regard ourselves as having died in Christ, and then, by the same faith in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, see that He is raised for us and as us for our justification, and we in faith take Him as the risen Lord, as our new life, to be in us the new life. We died in Him, we are raised in Him, and we count on the Holy Spirit to make that good.
Then the Lord says, ‘Here is a way in which I designed that you should testify to all seen and unseen intelligences to the position which you have taken. Here is water, here is a grave. Step down into it, and in doing so, declare on earth and before heaven and before hell, that in Christ’s death you have died, and that is the end of Adam and all that belongs to Adam. In Christ you live again, but no longer to Adam’. “Henceforth unto Him” and all that He represents. That is your way of making a declaration, and the Lord sets His seal to that testimony. This does not do the thing but it does provide a way of our testifying thereto and God has ordained it.
That is all very elementary, but it is very important that we should be very clear on things that are clear, and that we should put things in their place and see that here are distinctly different realms and relationships set apart by God, out of all fellowship with one another, and we are in the one or we are in the other, and we can never be in both at the same time. We are in Adam or we are in Christ. If we are in Adam, we are not in Christ. If we are in Christ, we are not in Adam; Christ is our life. I hope that you have made that distinction and taken up divine ground.
Edited and supplied by the Golden Candlestick Trust.