Spiritual Maturity

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 3 - The Way to Divine Knowledge

Reading: 2 Cor. 3; Rom. 8:19,29; 5:17-19; 3:12; 4:6; Gen. 2:17; 3:4-7.

In those passages you have the parts of a wonderful revelation. First of all, there is God’s thought and intention: His Son, His image, His fullness; the standard, the model, the completeness. Then you have believers conformed to the image of His Son, and the whole creation brought into being in relation to that purpose, its very meaning and object found in the intention of God as to His Son, and man’s conformity to His image. So that the whole creation is, as it were, made to hang upon one central purpose, man in the image of God’s Son.

Life and Light

Two things become the great governing factors and principles by which the purpose was to be realised; the one life, the other light. “God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness,” planted a tree of life, open to man, and a tree of light (the tree of the knowledge of good and evil) which, while man was under probation, was kept from him, under a prohibition. It is well to remember that true light only comes along the line of the obedience of faith. It was not that God was withholding essential knowledge from man, but was testing him as to his faith in Himself, and as to his obedience of faith.

We have seen how things proceeded. Man ceased at a certain point to believe and obey God, and believed and obeyed God’s adversary instead, and man’s disbelief and the disobedience were in the direction of having knowledge and light for his own ends and glory, that he should have the seat of glory and power and wisdom in himself, and become something. When you have recognised that you have got to the heart of everything, for God never intended man to have that in himself, but only in His Son. The glory and the wisdom, the knowledge and the power are all bound up with His Son, Jesus Christ, and never to be had apart. Man essayed to possess it all himself, to have it in himself, so that he would become independent in God’s universe. So he struck for light and knowledge, for self-glory and empowerment, and exaltation. The result was immediate death. “In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die”. There was no postponing of things. Death took place that day, and the evidence of the death from that day onward is blinding, darkness or ignorance; just the opposite of what they aimed at, and struck for. Even when we come to Israel in the wilderness in the presence of a great revelation of God’s glory, we read that their minds were hardened, and a veil was upon their hearts; and that veil remains.

All that, of course, is the working out of a deeply laid plot, a plot to defeat God in His purpose, to cheat Him of His end, to frustrate the realisation of His intention concerning His Son. The history of this world is the history of a rivalry between the Son of God and Satan; divine purpose fixed in Christ, divine purpose assailed by Satan, and the assault always directed against the Son of God, revealing that Satan’s great object is to have the place which God has given to the Son. So that this is just the outworking of that plot, that evil device.

Now we come to this second letter to the Corinthians. It has a tremendous background and you will see how very great is its significance and its value. Oh, how much there is behind this letter. Here is a man sitting down to his spiritual correspondence, writing to believers a personal letter, and as he writes the Spirit of God takes him back into the past eternity and into the counsels of God, touching all the deep, mighty elements of the drama of the ages. When you read the letter for the first time, it looks like so many personal things said by one man to a few friends, but if you dwell upon it, meditate upon it, it expands, and expands, and you find yourself taken right back into the heart of God before times eternal, and on through the past ages and up to the cross of the Lord Jesus, and out from the cross on through this dispensation, and still on to the consummation of all things. It is all in one simple letter.

We come, then, to this letter, and with but a few touches there flash out these great thoughts of God. We commenced with the verse so well-known in chapter 5: “Wherefore if any man is in Christ, there is a new creation: the old things are passed away; behold, they are become new” (verse 17, R.V. margin). God is here seen beginning all over again. The creation missed its way. Its course was foiled, the purpose of God in it was interrupted, it went astray. Creation is bound to a divine purpose, but even if in the straight way of that divine purpose it has not the urge of that purpose unto consummation, while if it has gone out of the way it is like a person within whom is a groaning to get back. “The whole creation groaneth and travaileth…” What for? “…waiting for the manifestation of the sons of God.” “The earnest expectation of the creation” is still bound up with God’s purpose. That creation has gone astray. The purpose of God cannot be set aside, and therefore there must, if needs be, be a new creation, and that in Christ Jesus.

“God, that said, Light shall shine out of darkness…” (We are back at the creation.) For what purpose was this? That His Son, the fullness and the express image of His thought and intention for man, should give character to the race, and that we should be conformed to that image. God said light should shine out of darkness, and that was His first act in the direction of that purpose. Now you leap right into it here, without ages between: “…hath shined into our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”. You have all the divine thought and intent, and the divine end, reached in Jesus Christ. There is a new creation, a creation with a purpose, which is conformity to the image of God’s Son. How is it to be reached? By life. Put your pencil line underneath each occurrence of the word “life” in this second letter to the Corinthians. You will be surprised how many times that word occurs, and you will notice that it is always life out of death. The apostle is speaking much of his own experience. “We despaired even of life.” Ah yes, but there was an object in God’s bringing him there. What was the object? “…that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead.” “Always bearing about in the body the dying of Jesus, that the life also of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh.” Life works in you as the result of our dying! There is much more about life coming out of death with which we will not stay at this time. Then there is light out of darkness: life and light in relation to the new creation, with this end in view, conformity to the image of God’s Son.

All those elements are quite clear, and you can piece them together. Our purpose is to bring it down to quite a precise application.

God’s Purpose and its Realisation

Firstly, God’s intention. An attaining unto the full measure of Christ as God’s standard is His intention. We are told definitely that “whom he foreknew, he also foreordained” to that end, “to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren”.

Secondly, the way to its realisation. The apostle sums all up in one central thing in the creation, giving the creation its meaning and its value, namely, the revelation of Jesus Christ in us.

Now you see the movement. In Romans relatedness to God is secured anew through the work of Christ in His cross; righteousness, which is by faith. Those who were separated, afar off, alienated through sin and wicked works, are made nigh by His blood, and union with God in Christ is established; deliverance from all that which had come in to frustrate the divine purpose, deliverance from the dead man: “O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” So the relationship is renewed and established through faith on the ground of righteousness.

In the first letter to the Corinthians a man indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and endowed with spiritual capacities for knowing the things of God, is seen. As the apostle says, “We have not received the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God, that we might know the things which are… given us by God.” That is enablement, empowerment, that is faculty for spiritual knowledge, for spiritual things; the man is there. Now that is what is to go on in that man. What is the central thing that is to be the object of those faculties? For what are those faculties given? They are given for an apprehension of Jesus Christ. In a word it all amounts to this, that to reach God’s end, to come to that fullness of our foreordination according to His foreknowledge, there must be that inward revelation of Jesus Christ which is constantly expanding. All growth is bound up with that, and so the apostle bases the whole of this argument upon the one point, namely, that “God… hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”. I take that phrase “the face of Jesus Christ” to mean that Jesus Christ is an image or portrait of God’s glorious thought. It is only a figurative word, which does not mean actually his countenance. The face is the representation: it is the man. The knowledge of the glory of God is in the face of Jesus Christ, and that has to come into us by revelation. Every inch of ground in spiritual progress that you and I will cover, every bit of advance in spiritual increase will be upon the basis of some fresh revelation of Jesus Christ in our hearts — not truth to our minds but the revelation of the person in our hearts. God has bound up everything with His Son in person, and there can be no light, no knowledge and no life leading to God’s end apart from the revelation of Jesus Christ. Thus spiritual progress, spiritual increase just resolves itself into a question of the unveiling of Jesus Christ in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, so that as we go on we are able to say: “I am seeing more and more of what the Lord Jesus is, and who He is in the divine thought, and that seeing for me is enlargement, is increase, is strength, is life, is power.” It is all such a thing as that.

The Proof of Experience

You see the apostle takes an illustration. He takes us back to Israel at Horeb, and tells us of Moses going into the Mount, of his receiving the law and coming down with some of the light on his face, and standing before the congregation and reading the law, and of the glory being too much for them to look upon, so that he had to put a veil over his face. He read a law which itself was in glory, given in glory and accompanied by glory, albeit a glory that was departing. What was the effect? It was, as we have said, written by the finger of God, it was accompanied by glory, it was an unveiling of the divine mind for His people. Everything was very wonderful; it spoke of God, had all the accompaniments of heaven with it: but what was the effect? Death! Condemnation! That very generation perished in the wilderness, and never came to the end which God had fixed for it. God had referred to the land flowing with milk and honey, with fullness. That was His thought, His intention, His purpose. He covenanted to give them the land. Then came the revelation of His mind as to the way in which they could come into His thought and intention for them, and they perished in the wilderness and never reached the land. Why? Because there was not only a veil over the face of Moses, but there was a veil over their hearts. They had not had the eyes of their hearts enlightened. They had not received a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him.

The apostle takes that right up and comes immediately to the question of the new creation, and says: “Things are different now; there is no need that anyone should perish in the wilderness today. Here is the so much greater advantage which secures God’s end.” What is it? It is not something presented to you in your impotence and helplessness, but a revelation given within you, Christ who is God’s full intention revealed within you. It is not something objective to which we are journeying; it is Christ within, the hope of glory. It is not something into which we have to strive day by day, but an inward reality. Christ is revealed within, and when you see Him, you are in the land. You have come right into living touch with God’s end. What remains? Only that what is within you should be expanding from day to day, growing, increasing, until Christ (as the apostle puts it) is fully formed in you, and you, not now beholding Him in some objective way, but by the Holy Spirit in your own hearts seeing the Lord Jesus in a growing way, are changed into the same image from one degree of glory to another, conformed to the image of God’s Son. It all hangs upon this: “God… hath shined into our hearts…” God has made this whole thing in His purpose now an inward thing by the Holy Spirit. How near we are to it. How marvellous is the possibility of reaching God’s end. The apostle here says, in effect: “That is the basis of all our ministry. We are not talking from a book; we are not, like Moses reading from tables of stone; we are not just reciting something which God has written; we are now living out something that God has done within”. That is ministry. “We have this ministry.” That is something that is coming from the inside.

Now let us see how far we have, for real practical ends, grasped the significance of this. Let us start at the beginning. Can you really associate yourself with these words: “God… hath shined into our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”? You can put it in other words if you like, if that seems too wonderful. Can you really say, I know the Lord Jesus in a living way within my own heart? Then you have all the fullness summed up in that, and all that you need to reach God’s end is that you should discover what you have; not seek that God will give you more, but that God will show you what you have in Christ, what Christ is. There is such a fullness in Christ that it will take so much longer than the longest life that we could live here on this earth to discover anything worth while comparatively of what Christ is. I am quite certain that the one effect left upon us of a growing knowledge of the Lord Jesus will be that we feel we are only on the edge of things all the time. However long we live, and however long that goes on, we are only on the edge of things. I am sure that is true in the case of those who are discovering something more of the Lord Jesus. I can say that my most recent discovery of the Lord brought me to the place where I wondered if I had ever known Him before. It almost makes you feel that you have been wasting your time when you get a new revelation of the Lord Jesus. That is how it will always be. It is a wonderful thing to have a revelation of God in Christ in your own heart, and it is a wonderful thing if that revelation is opening out, growing from day to day as you go on. Do believe that, while it may sound to you a thing altogether too high for you, it is meant to be of the greatest and simplest help to you.

You young people have a high standard put before you, the whole thing seems so immense, and so difficult, that you wonder if ever you will reach it, and sometimes you perhaps feel the burden of it all, and do not feel you will ever attain. Now let us get rid of all that burden, and all that worry, and come right back to the secret of everything that God ever intended for you. It is this: “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Have you despaired of reaching that glory? Well, the hope of glory is Christ in you. There is hope. If you look upon the old creation, that old creation of which you are a part, and which is in you, you despair. Christ in you is the hope of glory. There is a new creation in Christ Jesus. If you have the basic thing you have the root of the matter. We do not mean that thing of which a great many people are talking in their modernism, about the Christ in every man. We mean that definite act of faith in Christ Jesus, and His work on the cross, by which you receive Him into your life and are thereby born again and made a new creation. If that has taken place, and you know that Christ is in you, you have the root of the matter. Everything in the outworking of divine purpose related to that is simply a matter of your seeking to know the Lord Jesus Christ in all that He is as your fullness for every day.

The Path of Discovery

As you look at this second letter to the Corinthians, you see that it begins another chapter in this very thing, and you look at the apostle Paul himself there, because he is brought into view as a practical example of this truth. You will see what is implied when we speak of learning to know what it means that Christ has been revealed within. See this apostle, in whom Christ is, in whom Christ has been revealed, taken into definite situations, trying circumstances, deep waters, through much suffering, and as he passes that way I see that all that upon which he might count and reckon in himself and in this world to get him through is breaking down. He comes to a place where he himself cannot go on any further, and he knows it; he cannot take another step, he cannot put forth another effort. If this man had ever acted upon the strength of his own will — and, you know, some people can do an immense amount by their will power, and I think Paul did something in that way sometimes — if ever he had been so actuated by his own will as a strong-willed man, making up his mind that he would do it if he died in the attempt, he got to the end, where he could not make another effort, he despaired of life. Then it was that he made a discovery, that that was not the end but the beginning. When he got to the end himself there was “God who raiseth the dead”.

He discovered Christ in him as the risen One in the power of resurrection, and to have made that discovery had a wonderful result. In what way? “We have this ministry.” The whole of this second letter to the Corinthians is on the ministry. What is this ministry? It is the ministry of life being ministered, the life of the risen Lord who has been discovered as life, discovered in the hour of death. The energy of His risen life was discovered in the hour when all his own energy had come to an end. Yes, the light of that risen life breaking upon him when he was in a corner and did not know which way to turn, and felt that he was shut in and there was no way out. He discovered that the Lord had a way out, the Lord had ways of which he was entirely ignorant, the Lord knew more than he did.

To make that discovery sometimes is good. Somehow or other we are always coming up against the fact that the Lord knows more than we do, and knows better than we do. That is discovering what Christ in you is. It is very practical. It is something for every day. Believe me, the Lord is taking you and me along such a path with the one object (Oh, let this be written in our hearts!) of making us discover what a Christ we have; and as we discover Him, what He is to us in every circumstance, in every need, in every hour of despair and weakness, and helplessness, that is the increase of Christ. That means that something more of the Lord has become our life, and that kind of thing goes on. That is why the Lord presses us so much, deals with us as He does. The greatest discoveries have been made in the greatest trial, and the deepest distress of heart. We have come out with a fuller measure of the Lord. That is what constitutes ministry, Paul says here. “We have this ministry”, and “We have this treasure in vessels of fragile clay…” and that is necessary in order that “the exceeding greatness of the power may be of God and not of ourselves”. It is all of God. It is revealed in Christ.

We have touched upon the mere fringe of this whole glorious matter. We see that “the earnest expectation of the creation waiteth for the revealing” of this that God is today doing in secret, under cover. The world is not seeing, and we ourselves do not always see what God is doing in us, but there is going to be a day of manifestation. It is the day when sonship is manifested, and sonship is not just some kind of formal relationship to God. Sonship is a nature developed, a likeness produced. The day of the manifestation of that likeness to His Son is coming, and the whole creation will heave a great sigh of relief and say, We have arrived at last!

That is God’s end, the revelation of His Son in us, our conformity to His image, the hope, the assurance. “God… hath shined into our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

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