That Which Was From The Beginning
by T. Austin-Sparks
Chapter 5 - Christ, God's Full Thought for Man
Reading: 2 Chronicles chapters 29-32.
Reading: 1 John 1.
We have looked at the Lord Jesus Himself apart, but it is that which comes in with Him that is to concern us at this time the Person plus all that which came in with the Person.
Just for a moment or two by way of laying a foundation in the Word, it might be helpful to note some of the differences between the Gospel of John and the Epistles of John. There are three main differences.
In the Gospel, the Son is presented to us as from the divine side. He is the Son of God there. In the Epistles, the Son is presented to us from mans side. The summing up of the Gospel, in chapter 20, verses 30 and 31, is: Therefore many other signs did Jesus... which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. When we come to the Epistle we have the Son set forth in His mediatorial capacity as Man, and that is developed throughout the Epistle.
The second difference has to do with eternal life. In the Gospel eternal life is set forth as a gift, as given by God in Jesus Christ. We know how much is said in the Gospel about the gift of eternal life. The Epistle speaks of our having received or been given eternal life; it is dealt with in another way. Here in the Epistle it is the experience of eternal life, and the experience which comes out of our having received the gift. Throughout the letter it is the progress and apprehension of eternal life already received. It is important to recognise that difference. You can compare those two passages. John 20:31: But these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name. 1 John 5:13: These things have I written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God: so that you may know that you have eternal life, [and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God (KJV)]. There is the difference. The gift is given with the Person, the Son of God; then it is experiencing what you have, through faith. There is a difference in relation to eternal life between the Gospel and the letter.
The third main difference is that of the position of Jesus in both. In the Gospel it is the glory of the Person of the Son of God come down in humiliation and suffering in order to be glorified. You see the sweep. There is the Son of God from eternity. He comes down in humiliation and suffering, but then He is glorified. In the Epistle He occupies a different position, or stands in a different capacity. Here He is set forth as Man with the Father. These are the two sides of His Person. In the Gospel: the Son of God in glory before humiliation, then in humiliation and suffering unto glory. He is being glorified as the Son of God through suffering, humiliation. In the letter: He is still Gods Son, but here He is Man in union with the Father.
These are the three main differences. There are other and minor differences, or differences of lesser magnitude than these, but they give us a foundation for what we have to note as the meaning of the Lord in this letter.
This is Gods new beginning. Gods new beginning is with His Son as Man in union with Himself. Everything begins there. Things do not begin with the Son of God as the Son of God; that is, so far as we are concerned now. They did begin there before the fall, but now this beginning of 1 John 1:1 is with the Son as Man with the Father. As Man there is all that which comes in for man in that Man, as expressive of Gods intention for man. It is a matter of the whole purpose of God as to what man should be in relation to Him in life. That sums up the letter, or that sums up the message of God which comes through this letter.
Let us repeat that. The whole purpose of God is as to what man should be in relation to Him as life. That is set forth in the Man with the Father. That purpose has now come to light, and has been established in that Man with the Father.
Do you catch some of the range of this matter? Let us take pains to be sure that these are not words and high-flown ideas. What is set before us is the whole purpose of God as to what man should be in relation to Him in life. That is set forth in the Man with the Father. That purpose has now come to light through inspired scriptures, and that purpose has not only come to light, not only been revealed, but has been gathered up in a Man Who is at Gods right hand in fellowship with Him as Man, while remaining the divine Son. That is Gods present testimony with which John is concerned here. What is it that John is concerned about? It becomes Johns concern in a secondary way, but it is Gods concern and Gods concern for the age, and Gods concern which has a special emphasis at the last hour. What is it? It is Gods whole purpose as to man in relation to Himself in life, and that is gathered up in a Man Who is set forth in this letter in the position of Headship (although the word is not used, abiding in Him is often mentioned, and that is only one way in which the New Testament sets forth the headship of Christ).
How do the members of our body function and fulfil their object? By abiding in the head. Cut off your head, and your members cease to function. Injure the head, get anything in between the members and the head, and fruitful functioning ceases. Abiding in Christ means, or implies, the headship of Christ over everything so that the Holy Spirit is concerned with Christ as Gods full thought for man: expressing Himself in and through His own, and that is the testimony of Jesus. John was concerned with the concern of the Holy Spirit. What they saw of which John speaks here, What we have seen with our eyes, what we looked at was a Man in all the intimacy of a Son with the Father. For a long time they did not grasp the inner secret, they did not apprehend the deepest reality. They saw a Man for a long time. The deeper reality came slowly, and finally came fully. After years, looking back upon their first thoughts and their first apprehension, and then upon the growing recognition and finally upon the full revelation of Him, the thing which became the captivating wonder was that here was a Man, yet in all the mystery of perfect fellowship with God in terms of a Son with the Father. That is what they saw. That which comes in with Christ is Gods purpose as to man, set forth and manifested in a Man Who was Gods Son.
This Epistle brings out the fact of our place in that and our oneness with that. You have such words as in chapter 2 verse 6: The one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked. Oh, that is asking too much! That is far too high! Surely that is putting something upon us that is impossible! If that really is the requirement, then there must be a relationship similar to His relationship as Man to make it possible. It requires the same relationship that He had as Man, otherwise it is impossible. Try and do that without a similar relationship, and you will soon recognise the impossibility of it.
Take another passage in chapter 4 verse 17: Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgement; because as He is, so are we in this world (KJV). That makes the matter conclusive that this is the testimony of Jesus, that as He is, so are we in this world. That is what is brought out in the whole letter so that the matter that is before us is that the testimony of God concerning His Son, Jesus Christ, is to be borne by means of those in fellowship with Him on the same basis as the Sons life with the Father.
The Basis of Christs Life with the Father
What was the basis of Christs life with the Father, not as God, but as Man? There is one word running throughout which introduces it, and which very largely comprehends it: the word life. Or, of you like the fuller designation, eternal life. Look at it again in the following passages: 1 John 1:1; 2:25; 3:14; 5:11,16,20.
We must remember that in this letter and that with which we are occupied, it is the matter of testimony or manifestation which is in view. It is not that we have eternal life. There is a very important place for talking to the Lords people about eternal life, and here it is not the receiving or the possessing of Gods gift, it is the testimony of life or the manifestation of it. It is its expression, or, as we have said earlier, the experience of it and the outworking of that life.
Many make a great mistake here, the mistake of thinking that possession of eternal life is the beginning and the end of everything. It may be the beginning, but it is not the end of everything. So many are satisfied with that. That may be all right so far as salvation is concerned, but the Lords people have got to be occupied with the matter of the life which they have received, and that is what they are here for: the expression of that life. It is not only possession, it is expression. The life has to be manifested and not only received and this, the letter of John shows us, is to be in several directions.
Expressed to God
Firstly, that life has to be expressed along the lines of fellowship with God. It is the basis of fellowship with God, but that fellowship has got to be expressed. The demonstration of our having received eternal life is our walking in the light, and that is said here to be the ground of fellowship. God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we walk in the light as He is in the light we have fellowship one with another; our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ. That fellowship is the outworking expression of the life which we have received.
What is the value of walking in the light? It is the bringing out of sonship. Sonship is something in advance of childhood, of birth, of relatedness. Sonship is that which is development into intelligence and responsibility, and this letter has to do with responsibility in the testimony of God: the manifestation of the life, and that comes by that intelligent growth which is the outworking of sonship.
Here you will perceive an importance. Look at the Lords people as a whole, though not in a judging spirit. You cannot help being impressed with the lack of spiritual intelligence, spiritual understanding, spiritual responsibility. You are impressed with the immaturity and the infancy, and we may take it as settled that the testimony of God concerning His Son can never be maintained as it has to be maintained according to this revelation as victory over the world and victory over the devil, by spiritual infants. It can only be by growing up, by maturity, by the increase of spiritual intelligence. It is by spiritual maturity that the testimony is to be maintained as the expression of Gods thought in that Man.
There is a difference between union with God and fellowship with God. You have union with God by new birth. You have fellowship with God by walking with Him. If we walk in the light we go on, we progress, and this walking brings out sonship. So that this life expresses itself, firstly, Godward in this way.
Expressed to Family
Secondly, it demonstrates itself, or expresses itself, manward, or with one another as believers. The letter is full of that: fellowship with one another, mutual love for one another. The family features are very much in evidence. A mark of immaturity is the absence of this fellowship, this love, this communion. Take Corinth again. Paul said, I cannot speak to you as spiritual, but as carnal. That is not the testimony to Gods thought as expressed in Christ. That is not the outworking of the one life which is in every child of God. That one life not only possessed, but in expression works for fellowship.
In the most elementary form that is true. Before ever you come into other realms, the one thing that obtains between all the children of God is a secret oneness. You have only to meet a child of God anywhere in the world for the first time, of any nation, and before you have spoken you have become conscious of a kinship. How do we know it? We come into contact with one in whom the life is and who is a true child of God, and without any introduction we become aware that there is something there akin. As soon as we get out on to other levels, into other realms of theology, and doctrine, and human considerations, we begin to spoil the thing. But stay on the pure and simple basis of life, allow life to triumph over theology, to be more than the earthly forms of things, and you will find that fellowship is maintained in spite of everything. It is when other things become more than the life that the fellowship is injured (unless, of course, there is positive error and wrong walking in the flesh, and so on), but when the life is supreme and is maintained then you find the fellowship maintained. That is the testimony that Christ is one. Is Christ divided? says Paul. If Christ is one, and if Gods thought in Christ is oneness, then we must find out the secret of triumphant oneness. What is it? It is this life in ever growing fulness, triumphing over other things. Get a check to the spirit of life, and you find you get at variance and cross purposes. Get that check removed, and the fellowship is restored.
Expressed to the World
The third direction in which the life is manifested is in the estrangement of the world. How much is said in this letter about the world! You have only to read such passages as these to see that (1 John 2:15; 3:1,13; 4:5). The testimony of Jesus is found by that estrangement of the world. The Holy Spirit seems to see that it is necessary to say this even to believers at the end time. Do not marvel, He says. Do not be surprised, do not think it a strange thing, do not think that things have gone wrong, this is just the outworking of life: estrangement.
Then finally, the antagonism of the devil. This is where we will place the emphasis at this time: 1 John 2:13; 3:12; 5:18. The antagonism of the devil is because of the life. We cannot too often be reminded of this fact, that the hatred and the malice of the devil against the Lords people has its focal point in the eternal life which they have received. All the efforts by the countless methods and means employed are intended to quench the expression of that life; not with the hope of extinguishing the life, not that he can destroy the eternal life. Let us not be mistaken about that. It is not with the hope of extinguishing or wiping out the eternal life, but it is to repress or quench the expression of that life, because the expression of that life is the expression of the mightiest force in this universe. And in the end, in the final issue, it is all a question of life and death, death and life. It is not a question of the people of God and the powers of Satan. That is included. It is a question of death and life, life and death. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. The final triumph of the Lord is the triumph of His life over death.
Every means that the devil employs and he will employ every conceivable means is directed against the expression of this life. Spirits of death, forces of death, sometimes naked forces of death descending upon life, upon soul, upon mind. When we have no sensations, no feelings and we are not able to think our way through... the mind is a blank, and everything in the soul realm has come under a dark cloud, then the suggestion is that this is the end of everything. It is almost like a terrific gas attack of the enemy, followed up by the suggestion that the day is done, the game is up, the battle is over, we are out, we are beaten, the enemy is triumphant, and our life is quenched. Sometimes it is by the naked spiritual forces of death descending.
Sometimes the attack is upon the body, upon the physical life, so that the whole physical being is overthrown and put into a state of helplessness, a seeming quenching of the very vitality of the body. Sometimes it comes by outward things, even as Cain hated his brother and slew him because he was of that evil one. It is the murderer. It is all to quench the expression of that life. The attack from without was to actually kill the body, to destroy the vessel of testimony, of life, and get it out of the way. The attack upon the soul, the mind, the heart, the will, and the attack upon the spirit is all to quench the expression of the life: the testimony of God concerning His Son.
This is what came in at the beginning with Christ. This is Gods thought for man, as embodied in Christ. This is what God has made possible by putting into us the same life as His in His Son, and bringing us on to the same basis of fellowship with Him as His Son had, so that the testimony of His Son should be manifested by us. And it is the testimony of this life which is in His Son. The devil is against that, and death is his main weapon and that being true, this life is his main objective.
It would be quite impossible to cover the ground of the manifold means employed by the enemy, but some of them are, at least, hinted at in this letter. Why is fellowship given such a place in this letter? Fellowship, mark you, is not the ultimate thing. Life is the ultimate thing, and fellowship comes out of it and works in relation to it. But fellowship has a tremendous force in this letter. Why? Let us approach the question from another angle, in another way. Have you never come under the terrific drive of the devil to run right away from everything, to get away from the Lords people, to get away from the place of testimony? If you have obeyed that impulse what has been the result? Have you attained your object? If you are honest you will say, No. What has happened is that you found yourself out in the wilderness, and the devil has scored, and the one thing now is to get back into touch with Gods people, to get back into fellowship. We are not saying that sometimes it is not the Lords will for us to be quiet and alone. We are talking about this drive that the devil puts on us to get away. It comes like waves. Sometimes we have yielded, and have tried it, and the Lord knows what suffering has resulted, and that we have learned that the place of life is in fellowship if it is possible.
The Place of Recovery
The place of recovery is in fellowship, and the devil is trying always to break in upon that fellowship because it will give him his supreme opportunity of smiting at the expression of life. One of the great factors in the maintaining of the expression of this life is spiritual fellowship. We are not saying that it is necessary and essential that there should always be geographical proximity to a company of the Lords people. It is not always possible. If it is possible, we have to look after it and cherish it, but spiritual fellowship with the Lords people ought to be our quest if possible. It is a matter of life and death. It is the Lords order. The Body of Christ is not primarily something here on this earth, it is a spiritual, heavenly thing, but it is something to be taken account of. It is not a mythical thing, an imaginary thing, a thing concerning which we can say, "Well, of course, we are all one in Christ!" That is true, and we stand on that ground, but it is not enough. There has got to be some entering into the values of that definitely and deliberately, and it is a mighty working reality in the Holy Ghost. There is a spiritual fellowship with the Lords people which the Holy Ghost uses. Very often, without our knowing, beyond our consciousness, we are saved from the enemy by energising fellowship in our direction, and we do not know it.
The Holy Spirit is the custodian of the oneness of the Body of Christ, and if one member suffers, all the members suffer. You do not know how that is, you cannot perceive it, but the Holy Ghost knows. In the realm of spiritual relationships it is a Holy Spirit truth.
Remember that the injury of spiritual fellowship is the devils stroke, to injure the expression of the life of the risen Lord and therefore the testimony of God concerning His Son. Remember the tremendous place of spiritual fellowship in relation to life and its expression.
When you have been having a terrible time and the devil has simply been pressing out of measure, and then it has been possible for you to get in with the Lords people in a time of fellowship, what emancipation there is in that! What renewal, and how the life rises again. Whereas you thought the end had come, you thought that the life was quenched, you find the life is there just as full as ever, when you can get the time of fellowship.
Herein is our responsibility, not only as those who need the values of fellowship, but in our responsibility to see that we are giving the values of fellowship. The Lords people are scattered. They are under attack. The devil is driving to quench the testimony where they are. Let us remember that we have a responsibility to them where they are. We are committed to the whole Body of Christ to stand for its life, not that part of the Body which agrees with us in teaching, not that part of the Body which may go under a certain designation which we accept, but we stand for the life of the people of God everywhere. That is our responsibility. Fellowship is a mighty thing against the working of death.
There is another thing we must remember: that we must not substitute truth for life. Here again many have failed, and the enemy has scored. While we must have the truth, we must have light, and we must be in possession of all the revelation that God can give, we must ever remember that true light is not something to be taken hold of as in itself and circled round, to be occupied with as teaching, as doctrine, as truth. If we do, the enemy will get an advantage. Doctrine is not the testimony of Jesus. Teaching is not the testimony of Jesus. It may be a vehicle, an instrument, a ground, and it is essential, but it must be life; truth and revelation, plus life. Multitudes of the Lords people have got a lot of light, and are as dead as anything can be, and the testimony is not there, though they talk about it. The testimony is that extra thing to doctrine which is life.
If the enemy can get us occupied with truth and with doctrine, there is a peril, there is the fascination of it; and the very fascination draws you out, and you get hold of your Bible and you are always after the unique, the original, the remote, and you think that because you are getting something that everybody else does not know, you are in the testimony. That is not it. All that can be got by perhaps an unusually quick brain to see what other people do not see. If the enemy can get us occupied with that line of fanciful interpretation as such, he can score along that line. It is a question of the impact of that upon death. That is the test. What is it registering as a power of life triumphant over death? The smallest bit of truth or light in the power of eternal life can work havoc, while a mass of doctrine without life will achieve nothing. With all the increase of light there must be a corresponding life, and it must be effective; it must tell, it must register. And when people come into the presence of it, they must not just say, "Well, these people have a wonderful lot of truth!" Their final verdict must be whether they recognise that there is more truth there than they have seen or known before, or not. You meet life there, there is something there that is not in the words, not in the teaching; something just intangible, something which is life and you feel different. You are conscious of being renewed, of coming into an atmosphere of where the Lord is. That is the testimony of Jesus.
Now the next thing that is basic to fellowship with God has to be recognised and dealt with. We are not going on now, but we have seen enough to recognise that Gods thought is this. Go back to the Person of the Lord Jesus. He came in, and was not all this true of Him? What about His fellowship with God? What about His walking with God? There is no doubt about that. What about His fellowship with His own? It is one of the most amazing things. They were a difficult handful. You and I would have washed our hands of them very quickly, and yet, with all their blindness, their dullness, their foolishness, and with all their blunderings (everything was so contrary to His mind and heart), yet, with all that, having loved His own, He loved them to the uttermost.
We are all too quick to wash our hands of people. We see this, that, and something else, and we have no room for them, we have no time for them. Oh, that the thought of God might be true in us, that as He is, so we may be. What about the world with Him? Was there estrangement? There is no doubt about it. What about the devil? Was there antagonism? We have to say of all of these matters, it was true of Him. Now we come to John, and he says, as He is, so are we. We are called on to the same basis with the same law of life governing our relationship, and with the same results and the same outworkings. May the Lord open our understanding.