Spiritual Ministry

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 3 - Christ the Glory of the New Covenant

Reading: 2 Cor. 3.

We must keep in mind that the governing object of all that is spiritual is the light of the knowledge of the glory of God. We have seen  this to be the object of the creation, and that when the light was first brought in it was for the glory of God. In the creative activity of God, everything subsequent to the bringing in of the light was for the knowledge of the glory of God. So in the new creation, the light shining in our hearts is intended to be unto that knowledge. This same object governs the further method and means of revelation of the truth set forth in chapter 3 concerning the new covenant.

We must keep that governing thought in mind all the time. The light of the knowledge of the glory of God is here connected with ministry, which is seen to be the outcome of such knowledge.

The glory of God is something revealed, and what we have in this chapter is a parallelism between the old and the new covenants. We are shown, firstly, that the means of the revelation of the glory of God is the covenants. The first covenant was a means for the revelation of God's glory, and so likewise is the new covenant. The ministers of that revelation are, in the one case,  Moses, and, in the other, Christ.

The nature of that revelation is the perfection of Divine order, and the accompaniment of that revelation is glory. Four things have to be borne in mind.

(1) The means of the revelation is the covenants.
(2) The ministers of the revelation are Moses and Christ respectively.  
(3) The nature of the revelation is the perfection of Divine order.
(4) The accompaniment of the revelation is glory.

Perhaps you wonder what is meant by the  perfection of Divine order. Well, we know that,  with all that the Lord said to Moses in the mount - and it was not a little - the governing thing, the pre-eminent thing was the tables of the law, the tables which afterward became known as the testimony. The ark was made for the keeping of those tables of law, and the ark became known as the ark of the testimony. The tables of law, the law of commandments, governed the whole of the revelation given to Moses in the mount; we may say, summed up that revelation. Everything was bound up with those laws, of which the number was ten. Ten, throughout the Word of God, is always the number of the perfection of Divine order.

Here the thought presented is that of the embodiment, the sum total, shall we say, of Divine revelation of the covenant. There is a great difference between the old and the new, but that difference is not in God. The new covenant makes no difference in God. The covenant that is brought to us through the mediation of the Lord Jesus does not bring a different God to us. The difference is not in Him; that is, His nature and His standard are always the same, unchangeable. Grace never brings God down to a lower level. Grace does not make any difference to the holiness of God, or to the righteousness of God. The difference in the two covenants is not that of a change in God. His position remains as it ever was, perfect in holiness, perfect in righteousness. The difference is, firstly, in the mediators, secondly, in the ground upon which those mediators stand.

The Glory of God and the Old Covenant

That brings us to this matter of the glory, and the effect of the glory. Glory was connected with the old covenant. When we read of the terror,  the fear, the dread, the petrifying effect in the  people we are apt to think of that as being the fruit of something far other than glory. Probably the people would have timidly acknowledged the revelation to be one of glory, but they would have called it terror, awfulness, if they had expressed their feelings truly. They would not have spoken of it as glory: and yet it was glory. It was a true revelation of God, and He is, above all things, the God of glory; but of course, to man it was terrible glory. The terror was nothing to do with God. The dread, and the awfulness, and the fear were resultant from man's condition of weakness. Here is a revelation of God, what God is like, God's moral perfection, God's high standard, a standard which, if it obtained amongst men universally, would transfigure the universe. Just think of the world being maintained through and through upon God's standard as revealed even in the law. Think of the whole world loving the Lord its God with all its heart, with all its soul, with all its mind, with all its strength, and loving its neighbour as itself. That alone would go a long way to transfigure this world. But there is a good deal more than that in the law. The law sets forth what God is like. There is nothing awful about it. If you contemplate it in itself there is something glorious about it. But when you bring yourself over against that revelation, and discover how other you are, and how positively contrary to it - not because you will to be other, but cannot help yourself - and discover further that God will not lower that standard, demands that, and says, "Unless I have that you perish!", then it is that, because of our state and our weakness, the revelation of God in glory becomes awful, terrible.

That means that the glory becomes condemnation. It is very probable that the mentality of Israel was something like this, that whenever the glory of the Lord appeared at the door of the tent they instinctively said, What is wrong? The appearing of the glory made them feel instinctively that something was wrong, that there must be trouble. Why was this? Because the appearing of that glory always had its occasion in the failure of man, and in his coming short of the glory of God, and God had to appear to make man aware of the fact that he was failing of His standard for His people. That is the old covenant, the old glory.

The Glory of God and Divine Order

This is related to the perfection of Divine order, and wherever the Divine order was violated, even in one point, there was a conflict with the glory of God, which meant judgment. But we are taken by the Apostle to the latter glory, the glory accompanying the new covenant. We are not coming down to a lower level: God maintains His position, God maintains His utterness; but we begin at another point. That which God is in Himself, the perfection of Divine order, is now set forth in the Mediator Himself, Who stands, therefore, in great contrast to Moses. The mediator of the old covenant did not himself approximate to the Divine standard; he had to offer sacrifices for his own sin. But here is the Mediator of the new covenant, Who is not acting merely as a type to declare what God is, but Who is Himself the Antitype. The Lord Jesus is in Himself the embodiment of the perfection of Divine order, and that now as Man. So that God has in a representative Man a Mediator between God and man, the Man Himself, the embodiment of the expression of the perfection of His Divine order. Christ is that personal revelation of God. That means that Christ is the full satisfaction of God's standard. God's full standard is answered to, and His utmost requirement met and supplied in the Person of the Mediator, Who is Christ.

The Mediatorship of Christ

There are, of course, two sides to the mediatorship of Christ. On the one side He represents us. He takes in a representative way our position, our place; shall we say, He takes the place typified in Israel, trembling and afraid, dreading, horrified, because of conscious weakness. That is just ourselves. He takes that place, enters into our weakness, into our faultiness, our imperfection, enters representatively into all that we are, which is so contrary to what God would have. He Who knew no sin, is made sin for us. That is the one side. He takes that up, and is crucified through weakness. The Lord Jesus, not in an inherent way, but in a representative way before God, has taken our infirmities and our weaknesses, our imperfections.

Then there is the other side, where He utterly satisfies God, all God's requirements, and in one Person He brings these two things together. In Him is taken out from the presence of God, all our weakness, our imperfection, our sinfulness, our inability to meet God's requirements. All that is taken out in Him by death, and put away from the sight of God. Then all that He is as the perfect Man comes in, and the ground which was occupied by that faulty, weak man before is now occupied by Him. So that God does not now see that other man, but one perfect Man wholly satisfying Him. Christ thus brings together in His own Person representatively two races, two creations, an old and a new, and then by death puts the one away and establishes the other. That is how He is the Mediator of a new covenant. Thus there is established before God a humanity which satisfies God utterly. That is the grace of God in Christ.

In that way it is possible for us to appreciate, to enjoy the glory of God in the face, the humanity, the manhood of Jesus Christ. He is God's satisfaction. Shall we put it more utterly than that. Christ is God satisfying Himself for man; the Lord finding His own satisfaction in a Man, providing that Man for Himself.

The Glory of the New Covenant that of Christ Within

Now, to follow this through with the Apostle, the next thing he says is, that Christ, that triumphant Christ, that God-satisfying Christ, that Christ Who has put out of sight for ever the faulty, weak man, the helpless and hopeless man, that Christ, that glorious Christ, is within us as Lord when we believe, and that by the Spirit. He is within in all the value of Divine satisfaction.

You and I need this ground maintained more and more in life in our consciousness. We are not dealing now with our salvation but our ministry. This is basic to our testimony, to our ministry. So that now we find that through faith Christ, the full satisfaction of God, is within us as the Lord the Spirit, and all the values of His having satisfied God's uttermost demand are there within us as Christ is in us, the only hope, the sure hope of glory.

Beholding the Glory of the Lord

The point at which we arrive is this - and it is perhaps the pivot for our present purpose - we are called upon to look on Christ. The Apostle in the chapter we are considering urges a contemplation, a gazing, a beholding, a looking steadfastly on Christ. We are called upon to look on Him. Christ is to be the sole object of our occupation. Unless that is so, there is no ministry. It is in connection with this that the Apostle is heard to say, We have this ministry. It is the ministry resultant from the inward revelation of the Lord Jesus with Whom we are continually occupied; in other words, the ministry which springs out of our being engaged with Christ in our hearts, with the Christ Who utterly satisfies God. If for one moment you or I should fail to keep our eyes upon Him, in that sense, we shall be found looking for God's satisfaction somewhere else, in ourselves most probably and that is fatal. It is fatal to hope; fatal to assurance; fatal to rest, to joy; it immediately brings death: it is fatal to ministry. Anyone who has broken away from his occupation with Christ, in this sense of His satisfaction to God, is one who is without a testimony, and without a ministry. I believe it is the establishment upon this which lies behind the delay in ministry on the part of so many of the Lord's children. They are not established upon this basic, all-inclusive fact that there is no requirement in this universe made by God which has not been met in the Lord Jesus for them. Until you and I have been established there, God will not entrust us with ministry.

What is the nature of the power of ministry? It is the spontaneous result of an apprehension of Christ as God's satisfaction on our behalf; seeing Christ as having answered the utmost demand of God for us, and that not objectively, but as now having come within us to establish that satisfaction to God at the centre of our being. It is marvellous to think that here, within this faulty, weak, imperfect vessel, and all that it is by nature, God is seeing that which satisfies Him. Right at the centre there is that which satisfies God; such a God as He is, with eyes which see the remotest spot of iniquity. That is utter salvation, utter satisfaction, and that is in Christ in us. God's eyes of glory, looking through, can rest with delight upon us, because Christ is in us, and we are in Christ. That is the new covenant through or in His Blood; not the Blood of another, but His own Blood.

So, then, to be occupied with Christ is the secret of all blessing, which in turn becomes ministry. True ministry is the blessing of the Lord in our own hearts. If our ministry is not  that it will not get very far. It is from the knowledge of the Lord, the enlargement of the Lord, the revelation of the Lord within us as God's delight, God's good pleasure that ministry springs.

Marks of a True Minister of Jesus Christ

(a) Liberty

This being occupied with Christ results, firstly, in the Holy Spirit setting us free. The Apostle says, "When it shall turn to the Lord the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty". Turn to the Lord, and the veil is taken away. The Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of  the Lord is there is liberty. Liberty from what? Well, if we turn to the Lord, and are occupied with Him in the way we have indicated, the Holy Spirit sets us free. It may be you are struggling, striving, fighting, wrestling, praying, pleading, longing, yearning, asking the Lord to set you free from condemnation, free from fear, from those paralysing bonds in which Israel was when the glory appeared. Do you want to be free from fear, from dread, from terror, from condemnation? What are you doing to get free? There is one simple, direct way, namely, to be occupied with the Lord, to turn to the Lord. Get Christ as God's satisfaction in your view, and cease trying to satisfy God yourself. Faith in Christ is all God's requirement. How deeply true were His words, "Apart from me ye can do nothing". "Abide in me. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me". That is only figurative language, which means, Be occupied with Him, set your mind on Him, dwell in Him, rest in Him, abide in Him; or, as Paul would say, Gaze on Him, behold Him, let Him be the object of your occupation, and the Spirit will make you free.

(b) Conformity

More than that, this beholding of Christ means that the Holy Spirit changes you into God's likeness: "Beholding... we are changed". It is not said, Beholding, we begin to change ourselves, we embark upon self-transformation with all its struggle, and conflict, and battle. We are changed by the Lord the Spirit. Be occupied with Christ, and the Spirit takes up the matter of transforming into His image. Be occupied with yourself, and you will see that the law of conformity to type operates. If you are the type, then you will conform to that type. If Christ is the type, then the Holy Spirit will conform to His likeness.

(c) Sufficiency

Then this being occupied with Christ means that the Holy Spirit makes us sufficient as ministers of a new covenant. I do not think that ministry is such an onerous thing after all. We need to come back to the simplicity and the spontaneity of ministry. Be occupied with Christ, and the Holy Spirit will show you more and more in Christ with which to be occupied, and as He makes that livingly real you will have something to give to others. Your ministry may not be a platform ministry, but it will be ministry, something for others. Who wants more than that? Oh, the snare of the platform idea that so often constitutes the whole conception of ministry, as though other people are not ministers at all! It is just as much your privilege to behold Christ as any man's in this universe, and, that being so, it is just as much your calling to minister what you see in Christ to others. Beholding Him we are changed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. This is the latter glory, the glory of the new covenant. Christ is the glory of the new covenant. The difference is not in God, it is the difference between the mediators, and the difference in the position which we occupy because of the Mediator; we are now in Christ, Who satisfies God.

The Lord give us the ministry issuing from a continuous and ever-growing contemplation of His fulness in Christ.

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