Spiritual Ministry

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 4 - The Ministration of Condemnation and the Ministration of Righteousness

Therefore having such a hope, we use great boldness in our speech, and are not like Moses, who used to put a veil over his face so that the sons of Israel would not look intently at the end of what was fading away. But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ. But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart; but whenever a person turns 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. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit. (2 Cor. 3:12-18).

When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil over his face. But whenever Moses went in before the LORD to speak with Him, he would take off the veil until he came out; and whenever he came out and spoke to the sons of Israel what he had been commanded, the sons of Israel would see the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses' face shone. So Moses would replace the veil over his face until he went in to speak with Him. (Ex. 34:33-35).

In our last meditation we were seeing the two aspects of Christ's person and work. This is again illustrated in the case of Moses, who when dealing with the people in their condition found it necessary to put a veil on his face, but when turning to the Lord, going in to speak with the Lord, could speak with Him with unveiled face. The two sides clearly represent the death side and the life side. As this chapter in 2 Corinthians makes so clear, there is the "ministration of condemnation" and the "ministration of righteousness". That is the key to the whole matter.

You will notice that the letter has a whole list of counterparts. It might be helpful in your reading of the chapter in view to have those lists outlined for you. They run like this:

Tables of stone                       Tables of the heart                (verse 3)
The letter killeth                      The spirit giveth life               (verse 6)
Ministration of death (v. 7)         Ministration of the Spirit         (verse 8)
Be in glory                               Exceed in glory                     (verse 9)
Ministration of condemnation      Ministration of righteousness    (verse 9)
Glorious                                   The glory that excelleth        (verse 10)

As to the past:- "that which is done away was glorious" (verse 11), the veil (verse 13); as to the present:- "that which remaineth is glorious" (verse 11), without the veil (verse 18).

You see how these comparisons and contrasts are followed through in a large number of details.

It seems that it all hangs upon this particular word, the "ministration of condemnation" and the "ministration of righteousness". The one is death, the other is life. One brings under judgment, the other makes possible an open communion with the Lord. This is one thing which all the Lord's people need to have very clearly and certainly established in their hearts.

Why was it that Moses, when in touch with the people, was on the death side, the condemnation side, the judgment side, and everything was death? On the other hand, why was it that he could turn and go into the Lord's presence, taking away the veil, and live in the very presence of that glory which to the people was death? It is a very impressive thing. Here is the glory, this tremendous glory, and yet that glory on the one side ministered death. But this man could just turn about, and without a veil go right into that glory and live. The answer is found, of course, in an altar. You will notice that, when Moses went up into the mount, the glory of the Lord was displayed, terrible glory, and he built an altar at the foot of the mount. He went up by way of the altar, and there was always an altar between the gate of the court, where the people assembled, and the Most Holy Place, where the Lord was. That altar made it possible for death to be changed to life. The glory which had ministered judgment, and condemnation, had become the glory of a blessed communion.

So we ask, What does this altar mean? We look at the sacrifice and we look at the blood: we find the offering and the blood perfect, without spot, without blemish, something that can pass the Divine scrutiny, can abide, can stand before the eye of God. When that is provided there is righteousness. If you can turn and take that with you, that is, go before God in the value and the virtue of that, then you turn death into life, judgment into fellowship.

Relationship to the Altar

The Apostle, then, here speaks of "ministration of condemnation." There was a glory associated with it simply because it was the glory of God; it was God Who was in view. Whatever the effect of God is, God is always glorious. The effect depends upon where we are, upon which side of the altar we stand; whether we stand apart from the present values of that altar, or whether we stand right in the good of those values by faith. It is clear that these people were in a state of unbelief, although called the Lord's people. At this time their whole history through the wilderness was one of unbelief. They perished through unbelief, and the inference here is that even in the presence of all this provision, in type and symbol, their hearts were still unbelieving hearts, their hearts were hardened, so that they were not really in the good of all this by faith. The effect for them was not what it might have been, namely, one of deliverance, of salvation; it was one of judgment, of condemnation. They had the sacrifices, they had all the means of grace, but in heart were not really living in the good of those things. That is why the thing was transient. It had to go. God never builds upon a foundation like that of mere external rites, performances; God builds upon an inner state. 

Read again from chapter 24: to chapter 34 of the book of Exodus, and mark the two movements there. You will notice that in the beginning Moses went up into the mount and received the pattern of everything. He was forty days in the mount. He received the law, the pattern of things complete, and then came down and found the people worshipping the golden calf, and there had to be this terrible judgment amongst them. Then Moses went up a second time, and the Lord gave him the law again on fresh tables,  and he came down with the glory. What we see is that, when Moses turned toward the people, there was a state there which was without faith, without heart relationship to the Lord, and the things which the Lord had provided. The glory was therefore an occasion of judgment and death to them, but Moses himself was on other ground. Moses was not on their ground; he was a mediator, he turned toward them; but he could also turn toward the Lord. He was a mediator, and had other ground, the ground of a heart relationship with the Lord, and heart appreciation of the meaning of the altar and the blood; so that he needed no veil for himself. The veil was because of the people. He himself could go in without a veil and live in the presence of the glory.

There are two sides, the "ministration of condemnation" and the "ministration of righteousness". The ministration of condemnation was because of the absence of faith in all that which God had provided; the offering, the blood, the altar.

The Issue of Life and Death

It is strange that the Word does not say definitely and precisely, the ministration of death and the ministration of life. It says, the "ministration of condemnation" and the "ministration of righteousness." Now you see exactly what life is. Life is referred to. Do you notice that whenever the Spirit is mentioned the Spirit is related to life? Life, then, is a matter of righteousness. The "ministration of righteousness" means the ministration of life, or the standing in life with an unveiled face, without fear of condemnation, or judgment. It is most important to recognise this truth. It is elementary. It is one of the first things of our faith. It may sound technical, but the Lord's people need instruction. It is good to have exhortation; it is good that we should have testimony; it is good that from time to time the Word of the Lord should come to us in the fulness of a proclamation, but as the Lord's people we also need sound instruction, foundation in the truth.

There are today a great number of the Lord's people who are finding it well nigh impossible to stand their ground because their foundation is not solid. After all, their relationship to the Lord has been very largely an emotional one, one of ecstasy, and when it comes to sounding the foundation of truth, they are not well grounded; when the enemy comes, and the storms beat upon them, they do not know where they are. When the ecstasies and the emotions and all the more superficial elements in our salvation are brought under the stress of terrific opposition; when in addition to that the enemy lays on his accusations, then the foundations are discovered, and many, many breakdown. It is not that they are lost, if they have trusted the Lord, but, so far as their enjoyment of their salvation is concerned, they lose it. So it is necessary for us to be thoroughly instructed in the Word, and this is one of the things about which we must be perfectly clear in heart and mind, and assured in spirit, that life, with all that it means - the life of an unveiled fellowship with the Lord, the life which in itself sets forth victory over death and the abolishing of condemnation - that life is rooted in righteousness, a ministration of righteousness. It must be possible for us to say with perfect assurance and confidence before God: "Lord, what I am as apart from Christ is one thing; what I am by faith's union with Christ is that I am righteous with Thine own righteousness; I cannot be destroyed, I cannot come under condemnation!" You can challenge God on that ground, if we may so speak. God invites us to test Him on that ground.

So often the Lord allows us to be put into situations which are intended to draw us out on that very line. You will remember that when the Lord announced to Abraham that He was about to destroy the cities of the Plain, Abraham brought this challenge to God: "Wilt thou consume the righteous with the wicked? ...That be far from thee to do after this manner to slay the righteous with the wicked, that so the righteous should be as the wicked; that be far from thee; shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" In so many words, Abraham was saying to God: You will be destroying Yourself in effect if You do! God's answer to Abraham in effect is: 'If that is true I cannot do it; judgment cannot fall while there is any righteousness. My own nature, however small the expression of it, the smallest measure of Divine righteousness in any given place prevents Me from judging, holds judgment at bay!' And we read that "it came to pass, when God destroyed the cities of the Plain, that God remembered Abraham, and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow ("delivered righteous Lot", 2 Peter 2:7, R.V.), when he overthrew the cities in which Lot dwelt." (Genesis 19:29.)

Christ is God's righteousness: "He is made unto us from God, righteousness..." Faith lays hold of the Lord Jesus as righteousness, and judgment and condemnation are destroyed, are paralysed. You see the tremendous weapon, the tremendous defence that the breastplate of righteousness is against the enemy. The Lord evidently wants this emphasised. It may be you are feeling the need of it. Many of us have had to take this ground with the Lord, for there seems to be an unceasing effort of the enemy to use anything, even the discipline of God, as a ground of condemnation, to destroy us and bring us into judgment. Faith in the Lord Jesus makes it possible for you and for me to say to a God of infinite holiness, Through faith, I am righteous as Thou art. That is tremendous. Christ is the righteousness of God in me. It is not some kind of righteousness that God provides for humans, which is a different kind of righteousness from His own; it is the righteousness of God.

What righteousness that is! Deal with that if you can. What devil can destroy that? What evil can affect the righteousness of God? The righteousness of God is going to be universally triumphant, is to cover the earth as the waters cover the sea. What power and what victory that speaks of!

The Sabbath of God

You see why it is possible to have blessed fellowship with the Lord with an unveiled face, because of righteousness. I am not surprised that there is such a strong emphasis laid down in connection with the Sabbath with Israel. Go back to the chapters in Exodus that deal with it, and note the references to the Sabbath that are to be found in them. I see this, that the Sabbath is the ground of the greatest strength that we could know in relation to God. Take as an illustration Israel's going round Jericho. They went round the city once a day for six days, and on the seventh day they went round it seven times. Save for the priests who blew with the trumpets, they went round in silence until the seventh time on the Sabbath day, and then as the priests blew the trumpets all the people shouted. You do not usually think of power to such a degree as bound up with a procedure like that. Suppose yourself to be there. You have a tremendously strong fortress before you, shut up and defended. There it stands, the very embodiment of strength. Now you mark a people silently walking round it, and then going home. The next day this is done again, and for six consecutive days, while on the seventh day it is done seven times. What is happening? You say, Nothing is happening. Well, apparently nothing is happening, but if you are able to read the spiritual history you can see what is back of this. There is, as it were, the going forth of a terrific power which is infinitely greater than the power of that stronghold, so that the consummation of that silence is but a shout and the stronghold is brought to the ground. That procedure has been invested with a power. What is it? It is all gathered up in the last day. The whole week is gathered up into the seventh day. The seventh day becomes the concentration, so to speak, of that power of the week, and the stronghold just collapses. What sort of power has been put forth, and why should it come to its issue on the seventh day? Because the seventh day represents God as having achieved all, as having fulfilled all His works, God coming into His rest. You have entered into the greatest power in this universe, when you have come into the rest of God by faith. Faith was there in operation day by day, and then on the seventh day it was still faith. There was no work done. They did not dig into the walls, nor were implements used against them. It was a case of resting faith, the rest of faith, quiet assurance.

They were the other side of Jordan, and were no longer the unbelieving people of the wilderness. They were the believing, obedient people of God, and God said do, and they entered in by faith and did what God told them, and came into God's rest. It is a most important thing to recognise that the meaning of the Sabbath was the very gate-way to the conquest of the land. The land was conquered on the ground of the Sabbath. Jericho was the coming to the altar, both as to principle and as to method. Do you recognise that?

What is God's Sabbath? In the new creation Christ is God's Sabbath, because in Christ God has finished all His works and entered into His rest. That wants explaining. What is it that gives God rest? God has created this universe, and is thus closely associated with it morally, but He can never know any rest while there is an absence of righteousness in this universe. He made it for Himself by an expression of Himself, and righteousness is the nature of God's being. God could not have rest, God is an unresting God, until He has found righteousness. He has found it in His Son. Christ has provided the righteousness which God requires for His new creation. God having found it enters into His rest. Christ is God's Sabbath. Christ is our Sabbath. When we enter by faith into Christ's righteousness, we enter into God's rest. It is a tremendous power. Does it come home to you in its practical value? If only you and I really enter into God's rest in Christ, we are in an impregnable position. That is why the enemy is always seeking to rob us of our rest in some way, to upset rest of heart, by raising questions about our standing, our state, our position in relation to the Lord. His object is to disturb rest of faith. We say that faith is the victory, but faith is not some abstract element; it is not simply a projecting of yourself to believe something is that is not. Faith has an object, a basis, and the faith which is the victory is the faith which appropriates and rests upon the righteousness of God in Christ. That is the victory that overcometh. Everything is overcome by the rest of faith.

The Lord says, in quite simple language, If only you will trust Me, and trust My provision, and stop worrying, stop fretting, stop being anxious; if you will but believe Me, I have the ground upon which I could meet all your need; I am no longer without ground. There was a time when I had not the ground upon which to do anything with you, and for you, but now you are on the ground of Christ, the ground which I have provided; if only you will trust Me, if only you will rest in Me to bring you through, you will be saved from so much of this weakness, and fret, and anxiety! Worry is a destroying thing. At the back of a lot that we suffer in body, and in mind, there is so often a secret, hidden restlessness, something deep down in our subconscious being of a fret, an anxiety, something that is not rest. It takes many forms. Sometimes over a concern of the Lord's we feel that, unless we do it, it will never be done. We feel that if we are not up and at it, then the whole thing will go to pieces, so much depends upon us. No one will think that this is the call for passivity, for abandon of concern for the things of the Lord; but it is possible for us to have the things of the Lord on our hearts and yet not to have faith in God about them. There are hidden secrets to a great deal of our weakness and defeat, and unnecessary suffering. They are the hidden things of something which is other than just restful faith in God. There are some people who need to take things to heart a little more than they do, but for many the trouble is perhaps of the other kind. They are thinking that they have to run God's universe for Him; they must look after things or else they will never be looked after!

The Sabbath governs so much in the life and history of Israel, because it represents so much on the ground of righteousness. Go out and gather sticks on the Sabbath, and you will die. Do works on the Sabbath, and you will die. You are violating the ground of God's rest through righteousness. But to observe the Sabbath (no one will take that literally as meaning the observance of a particular day of the week), to recognise Christ as God's rest through righteousness, to observe that, to keep that Sabbath, is life which conquers death, because it is righteousness which cannot be destroyed.

There is a "ministration of condemnation" if we stand apart in heart from the values of that altar (this is a heart matter in 2 Corinthians: "God hath shined in our hearts... " "...the fleshly tables of the heart"), but standing on the ground of God's righteousness in Christ by a heart faith means life, and an unveiled face, and a dwelling in the glory. "But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory..." (2 Cor. 3:18. A.R.V.) A great deal of the glory is lost through anxiety which raises a question about God's satisfaction. It may seem a strange thing, but it is by beholding that we grow, beholding Him. I do not see any other way for our sanctification as a practical thing, than to take the ground that we are already sanctified. If you are striving after sanctification you will never attain to it. If you take the ground that you are sanctified you will grow in sanctification. This is no matter of psychology, no question of making yourself believe something that is not actual. It is the work of the Holy Spirit; "we... are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, even as from the Lord the Spirit."

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