Reading: Revelation 5:1-14; 7:9-17.
The Negative Aspect
We are concerned with the matter of spiritual life, spiritual growth, spiritual progress. We are deeply distressed because of the smallness, the limitation, the weakness of so many children of God after so long a time. We are troubled because converts do not move on and believers do not grow, and so few come to the place where they are able to take responsibility and you have no need to be keeping a "weather eye" on them all the time. Why do we have to write off so much of our life, as being very full and yet so empty? The Lord has shown us why and the solution to the problem is found in the Cross.
If spiritual growth is arrested or retarded, you can usually trace in the case concerned some strength of natural life. It does not always appear as strength, mark you. Its appearance is sometimes as of weakness. It is not always the aggressive one who is marked by strength. Sometimes our strength is in our passivity, in our unwillingness to take risks. We call that, of course, being very humble, being meek, docile. Oh, but sometimes that is the thing the Lord has to hammer at. That is the passive side. On the other side, there is the more active and aggressive kind. But usually you can find somewhere a strength of some sort which is the strength of nature, which is not yielding or letting go to the Lord. The Lord has to deal with us according to what we are. In those people who are all too ready to be aggressive and take responsibility and do things, the Lord has to deal with them along one line, in taking away all that in which their soul glories. On the other side, He has to challenge to do, challenge to accept responsibility. He deals with us according to how He finds us. But the key to the matter is whether we, in what we are by nature whatever that may be, will really yield to the Cross; for the Cross is many-sided, and as many-sided as there are temperaments amongst men.
The Cross is applied according to every man's make-up. What would be the Cross to me would never be the Cross to you, and the Cross may mean something different for every one of us. But it is universal. That is the point - central and universal. It touches us all perhaps in a different way, and it raises questions and issues for each one of us peculiarly. That is our challenge of the Cross, and then it is a matter whether we, in what we are, will come and allow the Cross to deal with us. It is no use our saying, "What shall this man do?" The Lord will at once answer, "What is that to thee? Follow thou Me". There is a personal, individual, shall I say, private application of the Cross to every one of us, and our spiritual growth depends entirely upon the Cross doing its work in us, and our response to it personally.
There are a good many other matters which we could not cover if we tried to. For instance, we do not know God's purpose for each life. God's purpose touches each one in a different way. There is that sovereign choice of God which has a place for each one of us, a peculiar work for each of us to do. While it is related, a part of the whole, nevertheless it is a facet of that great jewel, the City of God, and God has to have us dealt with and responsive to Him in a particular way, in which someone else has no place, and we, in the Cross, have particular dealings with the Lord because of something which is peculiar to us in the Divine purpose.
So, you see, it is very necessary that we should recognize that this cannot be taken as a kind of a general thing. It has to become peculiar to each one of us. Oh, beloved, do believe that this is not just teaching, or doctrine. It is of very great importance. But I would beg you not to accept it merely because I am saying it and emphasizing it, nor even because I tell you that so far as some of us are concerned, it is a proved thing. I would ask you for one thing only, namely, not to close your heart to it, not to say, That is a teaching! but just to ask the Lord, "Is this right?", taking an attitude simply and honestly before the Lord, even should you feel it is not true, and so leaving room for the possibility that the prejudice may, after all, spring from yourself, from something in your constitution or in your upbringing. Will you go to the Lord with this and say, "Lord I do not see, it is difficult for me to believe it; but, if it is true, then, Lord, I am open to the truth, and I want You to take me definitely in hand on the ground of the truth". There is not one of us, I am sure, who wants to stand in the presence of the Lord later on, and for the Lord to say, "My child, I would have led you into something very much fuller if only you had given Me the chance". Will you take a very honest and open-hearted attitude toward the Lord in the matter?
That is the negative side. Of course, the things included in that are legion. But it does mean this on all matters, that you and I have no prejudices, no pre-conceptions, that we have not reached a position on any point where we have come to finality. It means that we may yet have to change our entire position on some matters. Things about which we are most certainty convinced may have to go yet. We must recognize God's sovereign dealings with us. There are some of us who at one time in our lives believed with all our being that a certain thing was God's will, and God's directive will at that, and we have come at length by the deepest experience, and experience which has issued in the greatest values, to have to say, "That was only God's permissive will, and God never meant it as anything like His end." It was only a step towards something else, and the thing involved was to us tremendous. We would have staked our lives upon it. But we have had to change our entire attitude to that, and put it in a secondary place in the will of God, and see that God was dealing with us where He found us, and leading us step by step, and each step called for adjustment and a change. Oh, the purpose of God was the same all the way through, but His methods with us had to vary, and He has very graciously, in His sovereignty, used these imperfect stages and steps to teach us much. I think we should say today that our position now is so much the stronger because it represents such a change. Oh, beloved, we have to keep that Cross where it preserves an open way which makes it yet possible for new things to happen, without our so clinging to our position that God cannot do revolutionary things in us still. The Cross is fundamental to all that God wants to do, and when the Lord is going to do a new thing, the Cross is going to deal with some fresh obstruction. Well now, that is on the negative side.
The positive side of this arises when you see the object of the Cross in God's mind. Why the Cross, you ask. Well, negatively the Cross is to get this incapacitated man out of the way; for, while he is so injured and incapacitated, he is yet a very active and very energetic and very positive factor. If only he were so crippled that he could do nothing, it would be an easy matter. But it is not so. He is the most active, energetic cripple, bothering everything and everybody. But he has to be got out of the way for God's positive object.
(b) The Positive Aspect
What is God's positive side of the Cross? It is that the Cross shall make room for a man who is capable, who has all the capacities, capabilities and faculties for Divine things: and it is just at that point that the whole meaning and value of the Holy Spirit comes in. It is not possible for us to know the Holy Spirit until the Cross has become a reality. You never, in type or in antitype, reach the anointing until you have come to the slaying. Thus Paul says this strong word to the Galatians: Christ was made a curse for us. "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: that upon the Gentiles might come the blessing of Abraham in Christ Jesus; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith" (Gal. 3:13-14). Made a curse for us that we might receive the promise of the Spirit. That is borne out in the New Testament in every instance of receiving the Spirit.
The Cross and the Spirit
Take one instance, Acts 19:1-5. Paul, having passed through certain regions, came to Ephesus, and found there certain disciples and said unto them, "Did ye receive the Holy Spirit when ye believed?" evidently perplexed because of an anomaly, because of something which was abnormal or sub-normal, something freakish. Here were people who were calling themselves Christians and disciples of the Lord Jesus, and he did not discern there the marks of their having received the Spirit. This, thought he, is strange, this is extraordinary, because if they are Christians in the real, genuine, true sense, they cannot be without the Holy Spirit, they must have received the Holy Spirit. But here is a little group of people gathering together as Christians, and yet the tokens of their having received the Spirit are not there: and perplexed, he said, "Did ye receive the Holy Spirit when ye believed?" You know their reply, "We did not so much as hear whether the Holy Spirit was given." Then in what Paul next says he goes right to the heart of things. "Into what then were ye baptized?" What has that to do with it? They might have answered: what is the relationship between receiving the Spirit and being baptized? If baptism is a testimony to our death and burial and resurrection in Christ, then that is the foundation of receiving the Spirit and Paul had put his finger upon the whole situation. In reply to his question, they had said they had been baptized into John's baptism. Ah! so that is it. Well, he explained to them the difference between John's baptism and being baptized into Christ and then they were baptized into the Name of the Lord Jesus, and when Paul had laid his hands upon them they received the Holy Spirit. The two things go together always - the Cross and the Spirit.
The Cross in its negative side is to get rid of that old cursed creation which can never receive the Spirit. Remember that! Anything which lies under a curse can never receive the Spirit of God, and you have to get it out of the way. What will you do with a cursed thing? You will put it to death and bury it. That which has no curse then comes into view and the Spirit comes upon that.
The Nature of the New Creation - The Joining of the Holy Spirit with the New-born Spirit of Man
The positive side of the Cross is the coming in of the Holy Spirit to what is born again, the newborn spirit of a believer, and the joining of the Spirit of God with the spirit of man sets forth a new type of being such as never has been in the creation before. Oh, yes, in the Old Testament there were comings upon and workings within by the Holy Spirit, but the joining of the Spirit of God with the spirit of man had never taken place before. That is what Adam missed and the race in Adam lost and could never recover because of the curse. There is a new creation in Christ Jesus and the new creation is the joining of the Holy Spirit with the born anew spirit of man.
Now you have the Holy Spirit in and upon the spirit of man as the Spirit of life, and that Spirit of life means that in the inward man we are alive unto God. We know what it means to be alive unto things, to be alive unto God. It is something very active: alive in consciousness, alive in every way unto God. It is something quite new, is this aliveness unto God. Oh, it is a blessed thing! I know this is very elementary; but it is a very blessed thing to be alive unto God, to know that you are alive unto God. You see, this is altogether different from a traditional relationship with God, a doctrinal relationship with God, the relationship of a system to God. This is our personal, inward, blessed possession, to be alive unto God. Well, I think it is unnecessary for me to labour that. I hope you know really what it is to be alive unto God within, through the Spirit of life.
The Holy Spirit Brings New Faculties
But that life, that Spirit of life, means that there has been brought by the Holy Spirit into our spirit a new spiritual capacity, new spiritual faculties; that whereas in our natural state we could not, because we were incapacitated, now we can know the things of the Spirit of God. We can receive the things of the Spirit of God: we can move, intelligently and understandingly, in a realm which was closed; and the difference is very great indeed. But it is a very - I was going to say - subtle difference. Let me illustrate. There was a time when we did great things with our Bibles. We read Romans, and no one in all the world could have known Romans 6, so far as the chapter and wording was concerned, better than we did. And we read Ephesians and knew it; and we could preach on Romans 6 and on Ephesians, and give the most splendid interpretation and the most wonderful Bible analysis on the blackboard. We could say that the Church is not an organization but an organism. We could use all that phraseology. Yet with regard to Romans 6, when we were baptized we had truly testified to the fact that we were being buried with Christ, and the day came, beloved, when in very truth we met our Passover, our feast of unleavened bread, our smiting by the Cross of this natural life. We came, under the hand of God, to a very real experience and crisis of the Cross, and went through this, not just as sinners, but as Christians and preachers, ministers and workers, organizers. Something happened, a desperate and terrible thing happened. It was death indeed. But that was followed by a new knowing of the Lord, a new working of the Spirit, a release of the Spirit, a coming out into a life under the anointing, under an open heaven, and not only we, but everybody else, recognized that Romans 6 was something other than just teaching when we now spoke of it. What that "other" was it would be difficult to define. Ephesians too was different. Again, what the difference was, it would be very difficult to say. It was certainly not in the language, certainly not in the letter, certainly not in the doctrine; but there was meaning, there was power, something had happened. Before we could still preach Romans 6 and contradict it, and in the same way we could preach Ephesians and speak of the heavenly Church being an organism, and yet be in an earthly thing, limited and bound. Something happened, and not only were we in resurrection, but grave-clothes went.
I have only said that to reach this point. There is a difference. You may have difficulty in defining it, but it is the difference between death and life; it is the difference between our coming and taking up the Word of God with our natural powers of penetration and interpretation and analysis and presentation, and that revelation of the Holy Ghost in our hearts which lifts us into a new position and gives us an open heaven. It is a tremendous difference, and the Cross is the basis of that. The Holy Spirit brings new faculties, new capacities. They are different, altogether different. Before we were working in the things of God with our heads, now we are in them with our spirits. New faculties and a new power, spiritual power by the Holy Spirit. This is the positive side of the Cross.
So we have to challenge ourselves over this with regard to where we are. If this is not true, if this is only true in a very small degree, if ours is not this inward path which is growing brighter and brighter unto the noonday, why is it? Well, the responsibility cannot be placed at the Lord's door. There is some reason for it and God's answer to every such inquiry is the Cross. That Cross is intended to clear the ground for all that God has to give us, and into which He would lead us. If we are not coming into it, what is the reason? We can only say that somewhere the Cross is not being suffered to do its work. There is a need somewhere for the Cross to do something more.
Now, when I have said all this about the subjective application of the Cross, the Cross as a power, the Cross as an instrument, the Cross as a working thing in our experience, I must remind you that this has nothing to do with our acceptance, with our standing, with our position. That is assured to faith when we receive Christ. This is simply the outworking of God's purpose in us. But it is an important side. You cannot divorce these two. The divorcing of these two has resulted in a most deplorable state in Christendom and the end of the story is going to be terribly tragic. For many, the history of Israel is going to be repeated. They are going to die in the wilderness; that is, they are never going to reach the land of fullness, because Jordan has not been crossed. That does not mean that they are lost eternally; but they have missed all that God intended; they have come short of the fullness of Christ. There is a great deal of work that is going to be burnt up when it is tried by fire, a great deal of Christian profession is going to resolve itself into nothing. It is only what is really of the Spirit of the Lord, produced in us and produced through us, that is going to stand and go through; and that is determined by how much scope the Holy Spirit has; and the scope is determined by how thoroughly the work of the Cross is done in clearing the ground.
The Lord give us grace to receive His word and to be before Him very much that He will have His fullest way in us.