Spiritual Ministry

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 2 - Christ the Light of the New Creation

For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 2 Cor. 4:6.

It is plainly intimated in this passage that Christ is the light of a new creation. The thought of the two creations, the old and the new, is not strange to this letter. We know in chapter 5 verse 17 the Apostle speaks of the new creation quite definitely. Accurately translated the words are these: "Wherefore if any man be in Christ, there is a new creation..." Here in this passage in chapter 4 there is a connection with the old creation: "God... said, Light shall shine out of darkness". That is the form given here to the more familiar words of Genesis 1:3: "God said, Let there be light, and there was light". It is a reference to the old creation. Now we take up the clue and follow it out to its enlargement, until we are brought by it to the Lord Jesus.

The Ministry of Light

As we look back to the first creation we see quite clearly that the first feature of the old creation was light. When we come to the new creation the same thing is true; the first feature of the new creation is light. But there is an extra element inferred here by Paul; that is, the light is unto the knowledge of the glory of God. It is one thing to say that light is the first feature of the creation: that is but a statement of a fact. But the question arises, For what? Why? Unto what? Paul says that it was for the knowledge of the glory of God. The intention of the light, the purpose of the light, was unto the knowledge of the glory of God. That end, the knowledge of the glory of God, governed the Divine fiat at the beginning. When God said, Let light be! He said it with the intention that there should be a knowledge of the glory of God.

That is carried over by the Spirit to the new creation, as is stated here through the Apostle, that God Who said, Let light be! or, Light shall shine out of darkness, "hath shined into our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God..." God has shined to give illumination of the knowledge of the glory of God. The vehicle of that is the face of Jesus Christ, which is only a symbolic term for the humanity of Christ.

So that, first of all, the primary feature of the new creation is the revelation of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, and that in the heart of the believer. Everything begins there, and everything is bound up with that. Just as in the old creation the beginning was with light, and everything was bound up with the light, so is the beginning of the new creation, and all to the end that the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ should be revealed in the heart of the believer. Christ in the heart, revealed by the Holy Spirit, means the knowledge of the glory of God. That is the nature and purpose of the new creation.

Now we are going to look at that a little more closely. We have said that it is a clue. We do not affirm that Paul had in his mind all that we are saying, though we are not saying that he had not. I think Paul had a great many things in his mind when he was writing these words in the first chapters of the letter. He was as one unable to contain himself, and jumping from Old Testament scripture to Old Testament scripture. It was as though he were leaping from peak to peak, from the creation to the giving of the covenant through Moses, and then, with a spring, on to Gideon, and you find that he is touching pregnant, rich, throbbing things in the Old Testament, and with that touch the whole subject becomes illumined with suggestion, with implication, and makes you stop to question with yourself: What has he said? What has he intimated? What has he suggested? If it were not all actually in his own mind, it is the suggestion that the Holy Spirit brings forth by these things that we are seeking to note.

God's Seed-Plot

Coming back to the former creation, and the first movement in the inclusive movement of light, we pass to another phase. This is to be noted a little further on in the book of Genesis, in chapter 2 verses 8-10. All we want to speak of for the moment is the first clause in that paragraph: "And the Lord God planted a garden..." Why? For what purpose? A new world has been brought into being: there is no fault to be found with it, it is all good, there is no sin in it: everything is for God: the whole satisfied God's mind up to that point, that is, there was nothing about it that was contrary to the mind of God. Yet, having brought into being the whole world, all the earth in primal beauty and light, the Lord God chose a certain spot in the whole and planted a garden; placed a garden in the heart of His world, His creation.

He planted that garden, enriched it, and filled it with everything that was good. Why? That garden was an epitome, a microcosm, a representation of God's thought for the whole world. We might say it was a kind of seed-plot for the world. God's mind for the whole world was gathered up in fulness in that garden; trees, pleasant to the eye, the beauty of the Lord in the garden; herbs, for food, the sustenance of the Lord for man; fruit, to rejoice the heart. The Lord never stops at bare necessities for maintaining life. His thought is fulness; something more luxurious; full maintenance of life and health in herbs and shrubs. Nourishment, beauty, rejoicing, life on a high level is His provision for us. Then there was a river to water the garden, and going out from the garden and parting into four (four representing the whole creation), it was to benefit the whole creation. All that is in that garden is for the whole creation; it is God's thought for His whole creation. A tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and a tree of the knowledge of good and evil. All this, with the exception of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, was to be cultivated, exploited, if we may use such a word, to be turned to account, to be exercised in relation to the whole earth. God placed the man whom He had created to keep, to cultivate, to tend the garden, to exercise himself in the garden, so that what was there should be of practical value, turned to account. This was the starting place of the knowledge of God.

Look at that garden, contemplate it (and remember that the word "Eden" means "delight"), and you see that it is a revelation of the glory of God. All the thoughts symbolised there in the garden are thoughts of God's glory, God's nature, God's grace, God's goodness, God's beauty. They are expressed in the garden. If you want to know what God is like, go into the garden of Eden. God's thoughts are written there, God's nature is there.

A dim reflection of God is to be seen in any lovely garden in this creation. It is dim at best, but nevertheless, if you contemplate it for the fleeting moment of its existence you have cause to wonder. But go back into the garden where death as yet had never come, nor sin entered, where things are in their pristine glory and beauty, and you have something to think about as to what God is like. That garden, therefore, was a revelation, an illumination of the knowledge of the glory of God.

Who can fail to see that this garden is a type of Christ! Is He not the tree of life? Is He not the river of life? Is He not the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? Is not such knowledge in a secret way bound up with Him, to the end that through Him it should be known?

Are not the deepest secrets of God concerning good and evil bound up in the mystery of the person of Christ? He is the fruit. He is the health. He is the nourishment. In a word, He is the sum of the knowledge of the glory of God. Christ is set forth in type by that garden. All that the garden speaks of is in Him, and is for the whole creation. The creation is to take its character from Him. That is God's thought. Out from Him to the whole creation God intends the fulness of His own likeness to go forth. That is how the former creation should have been, and that is how all is to be at length. The earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea, and it is all going out through Christ. Christ is, so to speak, God's seed-plot for the whole creation, the microcosm of God's universal thought and intention. He shall fill all things. Out from Him all things shall be filled.

Ministers of Christ

That has to be expanded. It is all summed up in Him. It is, after all, but a garden in the midst of God's universe. It has to be expanded, increased, and that by exercise. This brings us back again to 2 Corinthians and the nature of our ministry. What was Adam's ministry? It was to care for that garden in relation to the whole creation; to develop in the creation, so to speak, the good of that garden, to make that garden and its content of practical meaning and value to the whole creation. That was Adam's ministry.

All are in that ministry who are in the last Adam. "If any man be in Christ there is a new creation". What the man in Christ is led to discover in Christ has to be appropriated in the first place by himself, as was the case with the former Adam, and then ministered. That is our ministry. Such a fact destroys the entire conception of a special class called ministers. It means that all in the last Adam are in the ministry, just as the first Adam was an all-embracing man, and he was called to the ministry of the garden. We are in the ministry of the Garden, which is Christ. "Seeing we have this ministry..."

Now you see what the new creation is. The new creation is conformed to Christ, the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ revealed in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. This is the new creation in Christ Jesus. That former garden was lost, but all of its meaning and value has been preserved and presented in Christ.

We have said that there is much more in the story. You must read through the second chapter of the book of Genesis to get the fulness. All its symbolic meaning, all its symbolic values have been preserved in the Lord Jesus, and are brought back to us, and while it may be true that in the end we shall be in a garden, while it is true that the Bible closes, even as it opens, with a garden, we are not now giving literal meaning to that. We are not thinking that going to heaven, going to glory, is to issue literally in an everlasting walk about a beautiful garden. Paradise at the end, the garden at the end, is the same as at the beginning. In the thought of God it is Christ. Our eternity is going to be enlargement to the full of all that God has stored up in Christ, without the intrusion of sin, or death, or any evil thing. That is the kind of garden to dwell in for evermore. There will be the tree of life. There will be the river of water of life, clear as crystal. There the leaves of the tree will be for the health of the nations. The whole creation will be benefited therefrom; for on each of the four sides of the city - east and west, north and south - are three gates open to the whole creation. It is the universal glory of God in Christ that is to be our ministry through eternity; we are to minister of that fulness.

Suffering and Ministry

We are training for the ministry now. We are learning in a practical way how to minister Christ, and it is in the school of affliction that we are learning. We are discovering what is in Christ through suffering. Paul frequently points that out in this letter, as we have seen. The way of the knowledge which issues in ministry is the way of suffering, the discovery of the riches of Christ in afflictions. What afflictions they were in his case! You are amazed at two things as you read in that letter what Paul says about his afflictions. Hear him say he was pressed out of measure, so that he despaired even of life. Paul, if you were pressed out of measure, what about me? If you despaired even of life, is there any hope for me? If such a man as Paul came to that extremity, seeing no way out, pressed out of his measure, I feel there may be some excuse for us if we are sometimes depressed. Paul came there. "So great a death", he said; "In all our afflictions". You wonder at Paul speaking like that, you are amazed; but you are still more amazed when a little later he is heard to say: "Our light affliction, which is but for a moment (note the change; he has caught a glimpse of the glory), worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we look not at the things which are seen, but the things which are not seen..." Unto what is all the suffering? Unto "a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory". That changes our estimate of it. The path of suffering is the pathway to the glory.

But our particular emphasis is upon the ministry which is bound up with this. We have said that the former garden was lost, but that all its values and meaning have been preserved in Christ, and in Him presented to us. But now all this has to be entered into through travail. We come back, as it were, into the garden through travail, through suffering. Christ is known and ministered through suffering. I doubt whether there is any other way. Things being as they are, there is no other way. Let us not be narrow in our apprehension of the word "suffering". What is suffering to one would not be suffering to another. Suffering has its own meaning for every one. Some can suffer with very little distress what others would find intolerable agony. Suffering covers a wide ground. Paul seems to have had a taste of every kind of suffering. He was a representative man. The Lord knows what to us is suffering and the most suitable means of bringing us to the knowledge of Himself in Christ, and He chooses for us the path which is most likely to bring us there. Whatever form the suffering may take, there will be no doubt as to its reality, but suffering is the way to this ministry of Christ.

Let us therefore regard these sufferings no longer as penalties. as judgments, but as the Lord's chosen means by which to bring us to the knowledge of His glory, the fulness of God in Christ, in order that there may be the ministry of Christ. There is beauty to be seen in the garden, and we must have exercise in relation to that beauty for its display to others. There is fruitfulness in the garden, the lusciousness of which is to be ministered. We discover some of the sweetest things of Christ in the hour of suffering. Here we are back in 2 Corinthians: "Who comforteth us in all our afflictions, that the comforts wherewith we are comforted of God may abound unto you". How have you been most comforted? Who has been of the greatest comfort to you in your distress, in your trial? Has it ever been a person who has never known the need of comfort himself? No, it is the one who, having been in the depths, and having been at the point of extremity, has discovered the comforts of God, and is able to speak out of experience about the comforts of God to your experience: one who has been in the garden, and has been in exercise about what was in the garden, and has come out with something healing, comforting: one who has been into death, who knows what the Apostle meant when he said: Alway bearing about in the body the putting to death of the Lord Jesus"; "Alway delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus might be manifested in our body"; "Death worketh in us, but life in you". You get the benefit. That is ministry. That is going into the garden. That is knowing Christ through suffering in order to have the fruit of the garden, the good of the garden, the riches, the benefits of Christ for others.

That explains why it is we have so much of trial. It is in order that we might have a very much richer ministry. It is in order that what is in Christ should come to the knowledge of others. He is the light of the new creation.

There are several things which are connected with this light. We should not cover the ground adequately if we did not look again at the context, and at least note these things.

Light Divides

This light, which Christ is as the light of the new creation, divides. In the former creation God divided between the light and the darkness, between the day and the night. When He broke in upon the darkness, the darkness was such as to represent an enemy of the light. The light, therefore, divided between the work of Satan and the work of God. That is exactly what Christ does as the light of the new creation. He divides between light and darkness, between day and night, between the work of God and the work of Satan.

(a) Between Persons

The first application of this truth is to people, and so the Apostle says here: "If our gospel be hid it is hid to them that are perishing, in whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of the unbelieving" (2 Cor. 4:3.) Here are people in darkness, blinded. Of others it is said: God has shined into our hearts. The light has made a difference between people; between the believing and the unbelieving; those in the light, and those in the darkness; those who are children of the day, and those who are children of the night; those who are children of God, and those who are children of Satan. Christ makes that division. He is a divider.

Thus Paul will confront the Corinthians with the question: "What concord hath light with darkness"? And he will make a practical application: "Be not unequally yoked with unbelievers". Christ as the light of the new creation makes that demand upon us, that we shall have no fellowship with darkness; that we walk apart from darkness; that our relationships, and our choices, and our affections shall all be in the light, not bridging the gap which God has set between light and darkness, lest they wipe out an established ordinance of heaven, and bring us back into darkness. "The light of the knowledge of the glory of God" fades in your heart if there is a relationship which you have chosen with someone who is not in the light, or with some thing of darkness. Light puts a difference between people. We know quite well that when once the light makes its way into us there is a difference. It is not a matter of religious conceit, or pride; we know there is a difference. It is the difference of two creations, the difference of day and night. God wants us sacredly to preserve that difference through life, and not to play with darkness.

(b) Between Works

The light not only divides between people, but it divides between works. Do you notice how often in the second letter to the Corinthians the Apostle speaks about conscience? "Commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God"; "Our glorying is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in holiness and sincerity of God... we behaved ourselves in the world..." Notice what he further says: "We have renounced the hidden things of shame, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully..." (2 Cor. 4:2). You can almost see the serpent in that passage as the Apostle refers to such things. "But we have renounced the hidden things..." The entrance of the light makes a difference in your conduct, in your moral life, in the way in which you walk before men.

Look at some of those great things in chapter 6 verses 3-10. Read them again. This is the ministry. "Commending ourselves as ministers of Christ". It is the coming of Christ into the heart which makes the difference. In consciousness, in conduct, in character, the dark things are gone.

(c) Between True and False Ministry

The light divides between true and false ministry. Thus the Apostle says: "We are not as many, corrupting the Word of God"; "We have renounced the hidden things of shame, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the Word of God deceitfully". "Corrupting the word of God". When you look into that you see that it really means "making merchandise of the Word of God". The Word of God was the instrument of the first creation. He spake, and light was. We believe that the worlds were framed by the Word of God. The Word of God brings in all this beauty, glory, fruitfulness, and meaning for the glory of God, and then there is that in the universe which would take hold of all for its own ends, its own glory. "We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus as Lord", says the Apostle. Was it then the case that some were using the Word of God, by which a new creation for the glory of God is brought about, for their own glory? "We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus as Lord". The difference between true and false ministry is that the one always has the glory of God in Christ in view, and the other always has the minister in view. That is making merchandise of, corrupting the Word of God. Christ in the heart means that a difference is made between true and false ministry.

Finally, the light divides between flesh and spirit. We shall not say more about that now.

So we come back to see that ministry is the work of the last Adam, and of all who are in Him. In practical terms that means knowing the glory of God and ministering that glory, revealing that glory; the personal expression of the glory of God in Christ as in our own hearts. That is ministry. The learning of Christ, as we have said, is in the school of suffering, in exercise through trial. What will be the result? There may be some little lustre here. We may wonder sometimes if the Lord gives us much light when there seems to be so little result, but that is not the end of the story. There may be value in such a word as this in our own hearts now, with the revelation of Christ which comes to us in it by the Holy Spirit; some change to us, some help to others; but chiefly our schooling is unto a ministry which is to be a ministry of Christ to the whole universe throughout eternity. The whole universe is to derive the benefit from our sufferings, according as these are the sufferings of Christ which abound unto us, that the comfort also may abound. Yes, there are values beyond.

This is the only explanation of that deep, deep, painful problem of why the Lord's children so often suffer right on to the end, and very often the period of the end is the time of the most severe suffering. Can it be that these are ministering Christ at such a time? Sometimes it is so. But so many are called to suffer out of reach of anyone else. Their sufferings are not in any way immediately related to anybody. Yet they are making discoveries of Christ. For what purpose, then, are these sufferings? The suffering is going to produce the fruit afterward; the value of that discovery of Christ is going to be the nature of their ministry in that sphere where "His servants shall serve him, and they shall see his face".

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