What is the Church?
by T. Austin-Sparks

What is the Church? It is Christ in living union with His own, that wheresoever two or three are gathered together in His name there He is in the midst. That is the Church. You do not build special buildings and call them "the Church." You do not have special organisations, religious institutions, which you call "the Church." Believers in living union with the risen Lord constitute the Church. This is the reality, not the figure. That is to say, His flesh, human limitation, is done away. Now in union with Christ risen all human limitations are transcended. This is one of the wonders of Christ risen as a living reality. We are brought into a realm of capacities which are more than human capacities, where, because of Christ in us, we can do what we never could do naturally. Our relationships are new relationships; they are with heaven. Our resources are new resources: they are in heaven. That is why the Apostle wrote to the Corinthians and said that God hath chosen the weak things, the foolish things. The things which are despised, and the things which are not, that He by them might bring to naught the wise, the mighty, the things which are. Why did God appoint it so? Because it is not by might, nor by power, but by His Spirit; and to show that there are powers, energies, abilities for His own which transcend all the greatest powers and abilities of this world.

That is the history of God's people, and that is where so many people go wrong. Men of the world look upon Christians and for the most part do not think much of them. They measure them by the standards of the world, and say: Well, they are rather a poor lot; their calibre, is not much! But men of the world are unable to measure spiritual and heavenly forces. They are unable to see what is happening when a few of these poor, weak, foolish, despised things get together and pray. They cannot see through these and observe that when these few weak believers are together before God, governed by the Holy Spirit, things are being moved to the bounds of the universe, the whole hierarchy of Satan is being stirred to its depths, and the powers of heaven are being brought into operation. That is God's way, and the world never can measure that. Nor can that be done by human wisdom, strength, ability at its greatest. God has chosen weak things for that. Why? Simply because weak things in their dependence are the best instruments, the best means of giving God a chance of showing that such works are not of any human sufficiency at all, but all of Himself.

Please take no comfort from the fact that God has chosen weak things and foolish things and say: Well, I am that, and therefore it is all right! The point is, Are you in God's hand bringing to naught the mighty, the wise? It is not a case of a resting back on our weakness, and our foolishness, and our nothingness, and saying: That applies to me; that is all right; that is all that matters! That is not all that matters. The thing which matters is that I, being a weak, foolish nobody, may know resurrection union with Christ in all His mighty power, and in that union with Him mighty spiritual things should be done through me. That is the positive side.

Heaven and earth are united in Christ risen. Yes, He is in heaven, and yet He says: "I am with you all the days." Or again, we have the statement, "I go to the Father," and at the same time the promise: "I will take up my abode in you." Stephen, in the hour of his death, saw the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God, and yet that Son of Man by His Spirit was in Stephen, for Stephen is declared to have been a man full of the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost is the Spirit of Christ. So Christ Who is in heaven is also within, and heaven is also within, and heaven and earth are one in the risen Christ. Christ was seen in heaven by Saul of Tarsus on the way to Damascus, and yet He says to Saul: "Why persecutest thou me?" When Saul was persecuting believers the Lord Jesus clearly intimated that while He was up there He was also here, and that when Saul touched believers he touched Him. Heaven and earth are one in the risen Lord.

Typically this is represented by Jacob's ladder. Jacob lighted upon a certain place, and took of the stones of that place and lay down, making them his pillow. "And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth and the top of it reached to heaven: and, behold, the angels of God ascending and descending on it: and, behold, the Lord stood above it..." Heaven and earth had become united in that ladder. Carry that right over, and mark the spiritual interpretation given in the Lord's words to Nathaniel: "Afterward thou shalt see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man." What is the meaning of this? It is plainly that Christ is the ladder. Christ has joined heaven and earth in His risen Person. The heavens are opened because of the work of His Cross. The limitation has gone, the barrier has been removed, and in Christ we are joined again with heaven.

That means that with an opened heaven the Holy Spirit of anointing is given. In Him we come to share in Christ's anointing. The heavens were opened, and the Spirit descended and lighted upon Him. That is the type. After His death, burial, and resurrection the heavens were opened to Him, and the Spirit was given to Him without measure. Then from that time believers were baptized into Christ, and, being baptized into Christ, they came under the anointing of Christ. Be careful that you do not strain after a personal anointing. Remember your anointing is always in Christ, under Christ as the Head upon Whom the anointing rests. Many perils are bound up with a seeking for a personal anointing as such. However, that is just by the way. Baptized into Christ, in union with the risen Lord, the Spirit of the anointing rests upon us, because it rests upon Him. We are baptized in one Spirit into one Body.

Thereafter everything is from God. Everything is directly of God; no types now, no intermediaries, but everything directly of God. That means that the opened heaven gives us immediate access to God, and that God is not now far off, away from us there in heaven apart. Heaven and earth are united in Christ, and God is here by His Spirit in our hearts, with all the resources that He has. We may know the Lord in a personal and inward way. We may draw upon the Lord's resources in a personal and inward way. All that the Lord has is available to us inwardly. That is the meaning of an opened heaven. All that followed in the life of Christ here on this earth, of secret resource, was simply indicative of this meaning of His baptism, that is, of an opened heaven.

We shall see more of those resources as we go on, but the opened heaven is a wonderful thing, a tremendous thing. Heaven is no longer closed when we are united with Christ on the ground of His atoning work, by which the veil has been removed and we are brought right through into God's very presence. We avail ourselves of, and give heed to, the exhortation of the Apostle: "Let us draw near in full assurance of faith." We have access through His Blood. This is the new and living way which He has opened for us through the veil, that is to say, His flesh. Ours now may be an opened heaven, and all that the opened heaven means.

The Lord teach us what it means, and bring us into the good of it.

Extract from "The Risen Lord and the Things Which Cannot be Shaken - Chapter 4". First published in "A Witness and A Testimony" magazine, Jul-Aug 1936, Vol. 14-4.



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