| The Church & The Body of Christ|
Coming Down From God Out of Heaven
by T. Austin-Sparks
THOUGHTS ON THE NEW JERUSALEM
Reading: Revelation 21 & 22
The next great event in God's calendar is the return in glory of His Son Jesus Christ. It is the consummation of that coming and the final revelation of the glory of Christ which is shown to us in the form of this heavenly city, "coming down from God out of heaven ". This bridal city represents the sum of God's working through the ages. Its many symbols display the features of His Son as they have been wrought into the people whom He has taken out of the nations for His name, a marvellous union of Christ and His Church which has a timeless task of ministering life to the universe. The nations are to walk in its light, and they are to find the maintenance of their health from the leaves of its tree; kings are to bring their treasure into this city, and God's glory will provide its radiance.
John twice affirms that the city was shown to him by God - "He showed me...". Perhaps as we humbly read and meditate God will show us something of its significance and importance, and by means of its symbols give us a clearer idea of the unseen and eternal things which we are to keep in view so that "our light affliction " may work for us "more and more exceedingly an eternal weight of glory" (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).
The Authorised Version makes a break between the first two verses of Revelation 22 which is misleading. The Revised Version indicates that the river is in the midst of the street of this holy city. The single street is central; a river runs down the middle of the street, and the tree of life grows on either side of the river. Nothing is in the plural, not even this tree, though it is found on both sides of the river. Up to this point things have been in the plural. Life has many ways of expressing itself, as the many trees of Ezekiel's river show (Ezekiel 47:4). At the end, however, everything is gathered up into an absolute unity: one city, one street, one river and one tree. It is a symbolic reminder that at the last all will be summed up into a perfect oneness, the oneness of Christ.
Such unity can only be realised in the fellowship of the Spirit, but this is surely not only for the future but for today. The city is being spiritually formed now, and the work is going on now in preparation for the great consummation which it reveals; if the Church is to be God's metropolis with an eternal vocation at the centre of the universe, then here and now it must learn oneness with and in Christ. One street! This oneness, right down at the very core of the Church, is basic to its present witness as well as to its eternal vocation. The one street has one river, which means that from the inner realm of fellowship with Christ there is an outflow of life. The city is, of course, the ultimate goal to which the Holy Spirit is moving, but the same law holds good for all time. Our vocation on this earth here and now is not primarily to engage in a number of good works, but to provide a way by which the life of Christ may flow out to others. How can this happen finally if it is not beginning now? How can we enthuse about ultimate unity if we are not giving diligence here and now to keep the unity of the Spirit?
This being the case it hardly needs to be pointed out that the enemy's strategic movement against the purpose of God in the Church is to keep that Church divided, basically divided. He does not mind mere professions of unity, nor is he unduly troubled by external illusions of unity; but what he is set against is the deep-down inwrought oneness which will release God's great river of life to flow out to a needy world. "I will show thee the bride, the Lamb's wife", were the words of introduction which led John to see the great heavenly and holy Jerusalem in its glorious unity. Undivided love for Christ, as the love of the bride for her husband, is the only sure counter to Satan's wiles, and the only basis for real oneness.
The Golden Reed
The city was measured with a golden reed, everything in it being seen to conform to God's measurements. The whole idea is divine, and it can only be measured by divine standards, for it is to express divine purpose. Our calling in Christ makes many demands upon us, but if we can only view them in the light of things eternal, it will be much easier to face them. Not that it is ever easy for our human nature to be dealt with in accordance with this golden rod of divine standards but we can more readily bear the cost if we keep God's end in view. An outstanding characteristic of the city is its absolute clearness. This is true of its way of life, for the water of its river is as clear as crystal. It is true of its substance, which is of pure gold made like unto clear glass. It is true of its light, which is described as being "like a jasper stone, clear as crystal". This stone is also said to be "most precious", which suggests that such a condition of transparency is very precious to the Lord.
It also implies that we, His people, will find it a costly quality, one which can only be experienced as we accept discipline under the hand of God, and are given a spiritual education which makes us refined and Christlike. This clearness is not merely negative, a sort of stainless condition, but it is unshadowed and unclouded light. God is light: Christ is the light of the world, and the ministry of the Church is both to receive and to transmit His light. The city is radiant with the glory of God. What is the opposite of glory? It is darkness, cloudiness, murkiness; it is all that realm which is not clear, but mixed and shadowy. If you have had to deal with a person whom you cannot trust because of hidden elements which if not actually deceitful somehow lack clear transparency, you will have found it an unpleasant experience, the very opposite of glory. When the glory of God fills everywhere, then there are no such questions or shadows, but perfect, open confidence. "In Him is no darkness at all ..." (1 John 1:5). This glory is ours, by grace, and must govern all our ways.
All the portals of the city are of pearl. Pearls are a parable of the preciousness which results from suffering, since they are formed as a result of the agony of the host creatures. These pearls are the only gates. There is no other way into this city than by suffering love, for the elect people who are to reign with Christ are those who have first shared something of His sufferings. It is no use our opting for a casual or easy way into fellowship of this kind, for the love of Christ, purified from all mixture and precious to God demands a committal to Him for His supreme purpose to be fulfilled even though the cost may be fiery trial or deep travail. Let us not be deterred by the cost though, but keep our eyes on the outcome - "having the glory of God". This is our destiny.
A further characteristic of this embodiment of God's thought is the fact that the city has a wall "great and high". Much is said about this wall, with repeated mention of its foundations, its dimensions and its strength. It seems to depict the city's distinctiveness. It is true that walls are often used for purposes of defence, but as such a need could never arise with the heavenly city, we conclude that the wall represents a demarcation of what God wishes to be distinguished in a special way. Do you not agree that there is much weakness in Christianity today just by reason of a lack in distinctiveness of testimony and life? Not that God will allow us to think in terms of spiritual conceit or imagined superiority, but it is important that we should not lose that sense of definite purpose and set-apartness which should always govern the life of His redeemed people.
The wall is beautiful; it is high; and it is strong. It marks off in clear delineation that which has special meaning and value to God.
"Coming down from God out of heaven, adorned...". If this city is to be the embodiment of eternal values, if it is not a thing but a people, then something must have been happening to shape and prepare them so that such a condition could be possible. You will notice that the wall of the city is adorned, and also that the adornment of the city itself is spoken of as being suitable for a bride. The wall is no ugly demarcation but its very foundations are adorned with all manner of precious stones. The costly gems are simply symbols of the many-sided preciousness of Christ. "For you therefore that believe is the preciousness", (1 Peter 2:7), the very preciousness of Christ Himself.
And the bride is also adorned. Her adornment is something more than external splendour which can be put on and taken off; her beauty consists of those inward qualities which delight the heart of her heavenly Bridegroom. "The king's daughter is all glorious within: her clothing is of wrought gold.", (Psalm 45:13). We are apt to pay such attention to externalities, even in spiritual things, but God's objective is a people whose inner life is beautiful with the pure gold of Christ's loveliness, for Christ is coming "to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe", (2 Thessalonians 1:10).
If these adornments come down from heaven, how did they first get there? They are the outcome of our walk with God here on earth. We live our lives down here, and although we frequently get discouraged, we do enter into new experiences of God's grace and learn more of His Son. The Word teaches us that something is happening all the time in relation to our life down here which is equivalent to treasure which is going ahead of us and waiting for us to follow. As we proceed on our way with the Lord there are heavenly values accumulating for the future. Did not the Lord Jesus tell us to lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:20)? So while there is a temporal life, there are also values being stored up in heaven, features of Christ which will adorn His city. Our spiritual growth, our spiritual characteristics are, as it were, going ahead of us. They are eternal: they are not of time. And all this preparation is going on, so we are told, "While we look... at the things which are not seen... but eternal".
"Adorned as a bride for her husband". What the Lord is doing in us now as daily we learn new lessons of grace and humility, will be manifested in that day, and although this may bring gratification to us and joy to others, it is primarily meant for the pleasure of Christ. The Church's spiritual adornment is to be the reward to our Bridegroom-Redeemer for all His patient, suffering love.
The city descends from heaven, that is, it has been conformed to heaven. It has not been turned out of heaven because it is not suitable, but comes down to bring heaven's values into the rest of God's universe. We must measure everything down here by values which are heavenly and eternal. This brings us back again to the golden reed of God's standards, the reed which measures everything in the light of God's purpose of showing the greatness of His Son to a wondering universe by means of the Church which is in living, loving communion with Him. This is the end of all things. This is where the Bible closes. And this is our vocation in Christ.
| 2005/5/4 4:17||Profile|
| Re: The Church & The Body of Christ|
Training in the House of God
by T. Austin-Sparks
"When Abram heard that his brother was taken captive, he led forth his trained men, born in his house, three hundred and eighteen, and pursued as far as Dan.", Genesis 14:14
"His trained men, born in his house." This raises some interesting questions. It must refer to a big encampment, for they were not living in an actual house but in tents. The reference is really to a household, and it is in this connection that the word is used in the New Testament with regard to God's house. We have been born into a household (Hebrews 3:6), and this household is meant, above all other things, to be a place of spiritual training and education.
Whatever else Abram's men were trained in, they were certainly trained for war. We also have to learn that the House of God is the place of training for spiritual conflict. The household of God is the relationship and fellowship of believers: it is not a place, but the relationship in the Holy Spirit into which we are born again. It is the sphere of our training, so that we do not live our lives in the realm of mere theories, but are subject to the disciplining work of the Holy Spirit.
There are many blessings in the House of God, many amenities which are for our good, our comfort and our protection. We thank God for these but must never forget that this also is the place for our spiritual education. Spiritual training is not academic. It consists of learning the lessons of life together in fellowship with other believers, and because of this we may at times feel that we would like to run away and escape from such testing.
"Trained men, born in his house." What is the meaning of love if it is not a corporate thing? What is the meaning of patience, if it has not to do with other people? What is the meaning of so many things in the Christian life if they are not found in the context of related life? It is in this community life that we are tested. It is there that we find our real discipline and training.
"He led forth his trained men." Notice why he had to do this. Lot, the compromiser, was in desperate need. There is so often the difficult person, constantly getting himself and his friends into trouble, the awkward man, the selfish man who has put his own interests first and suited his own pleasure without seeking the will of God. At this time Lot had been captured, with all his family and possessions, and carried off by enemies. Abram might have rubbed his hands and said, "Good riddance to bad rubbish! Thank God he has gone!". But he did not do so. It was for this "weak brother", this failing brother, this difficult brother who hardly seemed to deserve help, that Abram led forth his trained men, and he did not return until he could bring back this needy "brother". It is a lesson for us and an indication of what it means to become a member of the Father's household.
It hardly becomes any of us to judge or condemn Lot, for in fact we are all very awkward people. We all are the cause of trouble for the Lord. How wonderful to remember that "Having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them to the uttermost.", (John 13:1). That is a household matter; learning to love like that in God's House. Have you never felt that everything would be better if only some difficult brother or sister could be taken far away? This action of Abram's reminds us that the household in which we are being trained demands willingness to fight for the weaker fellow believer.
Not that Abram would allow himself to be involved in Lot's compromise. No, he would fight for his failing brother, seeking to win and save him, but he would have nothing to do with Sodom and its king. The king was grateful to him for seeming to support his cause, but Abram would have none of it. He refused Sodom's gifts and their flattery. He kept himself unspotted from the world, but he devoted his trained household to giving aid to the man of compromise. He himself was in God's House and had had to learn lessons of obedience and sanctification. Somehow we never think of Abraham as a fighting man, and yet the life of faith is one in which we have to learn to fight the good fight.
After Abram had left Ur and entered into the land of promise, he might well have presumed that he had arrived and that since he was now in his God-appointed place he could expect an experience of tranquility. We, too, are apt to expect that once we have obeyed the Lord and stepped out in faith we ought to enjoy a smooth experience of serene contentment. Are we not in the place of God's purpose, of His will and His covenant? We have to learn, as Abram did, that the opposite of this is true. To be committed to the totality of God's will as a member of His household is to find that one difficulty overcome only means a greater one yet to be faced. The realm of the greatest spiritual values is the realm of the most difficult education, the sphere of the fiercest and most persistent conflict.
It seems that whatever else these three hundred odd men were being trained for, they were called to enter a war and pursue a foe. This is one of the great lessons that we who have been born into the House of God have to learn, the lesson of spiritual warfare. We need to be trained in this matter for there are enemies - spiritual enemies - who will contest the will of God and harrass God's people. It is not enough just to have experiences, however deep these may be. It is not enough only to have history. We have to learn the meaning of our experiences, to be able to extract the Lord's intentions from our history. We have to learn in the House of God, which is the school of holiness.
According to Paul, one of the great purposes of the Scriptures is that we may know "How men ought to behave themselves in the house of God, which is the church of the living God.", (1 Timothy 3:15). Abraham was able to train others because he himself had to learn severe lessons. While he was in Chaldea it was different, but now he had moved on with God and what belonged in his new life was altogether different from what belonged to Chaldea. In Chaldea he could perhaps do things which he could not now do in the land. If we are to be trained to face and conquer the spiritual enemies of God's purposes, then we need that Bible truths should be wrought into our own personal experience so that we become embodiments of those truths. No teaching will ever be true teaching if it is not worked out in experience. And it is in the House of God, the related life together of believers, that such experience is obtained.
The temptation is to try to get away from such spiritual discipline, to break away from fellowship, to ignore the implications and great values of being born into God's house and trained there. Rather than succumb to such temptations by dividing up and separating, we should recognise that for our training in heavenly things we need to maintain the unity of the Spirit. The moment will arise, as it did in Abram's household, when there is a great challenge from God's enemies which will call us forth to make a stand, to prove the power of God to give us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ, and so much will depend upon our having submitted to the discipline of being trained by the Holy Spirit and prepared for the spiritual conflict by the tests which will come to us in our fellowship life.
The very fact that we are considering God's great servant, Abraham, stresses the need for obedient and persevering faith. There must have been many times for him when it seemed that, far from enjoying the fulfilment of that hope which was based upon the strength of the Lord's word, everything was becoming less likely and more impossible. But he kept on believing. No doubt this was the kind of training which the rest of the household shared with him. And in the case we have been considering, there was a total victory and complete recovery of what seemed to have been lost. They "pursued as far as Dan". They did more than that. They returned in great triumph and demonstrated for us the New Testament assurance that "Faith is the victory that overcomes the world".
We are "in a great house" (2 Timothy 2:20-21). Let us so respond to the Spirit's training and sanctifying work that we may be vessels unto honour, sanctified, meet for the master's use, prepared unto every good work.
| 2005/5/4 4:21||Profile|
| Re: The Church & The Body of Christ|
The Positive Ground of the Church
by T. Austin-Sparks
There is one thing that is giving me a good deal of anxiety and apprehension. In this time when a twofold movement is taking place on a wide scale: that is, on the one hand the great movement towards union (not unity), as in the World Council of Churches, on the policy of the combine and monopoly, with all the necessary compromises and sacrifice of distinctiveness of message; and on the other hand the unrest, dissatisfaction, and loosening of ties with the established system of churches and institutions, resulting in many leaving their old associations and either meeting in groups or drifting without anchorage in their disappointment - my disturbing fear is that there will be a movement, or some movements, towards the formation of another undenominational or interdenominational denomination, this coming about also by policy, expediency or seeming necessity. Such a movement would only be another tragedy and incipient sectarian calamity, which history would show had not been of God but of man, although with the best of motives. May the Lord save us from this so serious mistake! It would be a starting at the wrong end; a trying to form something instead of an organic growth from a living illumination, a revolutionary encounter with an unveiling of the true nature of the Church. For this latter God would have to lay an apprehending hand on a man or body of men, and by a devastating showing of the true, universal, and spiritual significance of Christ, as effectively emancipating them from all the historic accretions of Christianity as the Apostle Paul was emancipated from historic Judaism. The growth of this organism would be as other emancipated men sprang from the essential root, and not just adhered or sponsored. The power of such an organism would be the all-conquering life of resurrection: "the power that worketh in us." There is nothing artificial, imitation or manufactured about this, and it requires no propaganda. The Holy Spirit is the great Propagandist of what is of heaven.
The above is written out of a very deep concern; a longing and a fear. It should be remembered that when God made His "new thing", His "new cruse" as the foundation of this dispensation of the Spirit and the Church, He did so with a nucleus of men who had been broken by the Cross and reunited by the Resurrection. These two things were wrought deeply into their very constitution and were the ground upon which the Holy Spirit built in every place. This is the only positive ground for the Church and churches. Anything other will be negative. They were men who had seen! It may be that if the Lord is to have such a spiritual impact as was then made on the world, it will be necessary to sift down to that basis the conglomeration of the man-made and start - or go on - with the small but intrinsic seed plot.
This may be like a "voice crying in the wilderness", but perhaps some wind of God would carry it as a guide or warning where it is needed... as things are, it is becoming more and more evident that God must "do a new thing" if His full end is to be reached. May He raise up His Prophets to "show the House to the house of Israel", that they may be ashamed, and may some Josiah, personal or corporate, arise to lead to such a taste of the real thing as to result in the leaving of all that is false. We can only resort to prayer!
| 2005/5/4 4:24||Profile|