Rivers of Living Water

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 6 - Spirit and Life

"It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I have spoken unto you are spirit, and are life" (John 6:63).

The two words, spirit and life, denote - firstly, the nature, and, secondly, the effect: spirituality in nature, and life in effect, or as the result.

Spirituality Creates a Divide

The context in which these words were actually used shows that they represented, and indeed effected, a divide. It was a divide, firstly, between Christ and the Jews as such; but it was, secondly, a divide between Christ and a number of disciples who were just adherents, 'professers', outward followers - such as had not been 'added' to Him in a spiritual way. "No man can come to me, except the Father which sent me draw him" (vs. 44). There was evidently a considerable number of people who added themselves to Him, who joined up with Jesus and went about with Him: whenever you found Him you could always see them - the same old faces, always there, showing some interest - and yet they had not been added to Him by the Father in a spiritual way, there was no inward change; and when He began to speak deep spiritual things, they found they could no longer be followers, for they were not disciples inwardly. "Upon this many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him" (vs. 66). They just dropped off. His words, because of their spirituality, found no corresponding spiritual ground, and therefore they created a divide. This is something to take note of and something which might be followed up with a good deal of illumination.

The division was, in the first place, between spirituality and materialism. When we speak of 'materialism', of course we usually think of something gross, something very much of the world of commerce, its results and values in finance and credit and so on - that realm of the mundane; but it is of much wider application than that. Materialism denotes an outlook that embraces, and at the same time limits itself to, everything that can be seen and handled and appreciated with the natural senses. It is the material as over against the spiritual, the seen as over against the unseen, the temporal as over against the eternal, the earthly as over against the heavenly. It is a very wide term.

It was also the divide between spirituality and ceremonialism. Of course, ceremonialism is only an aspect of materialism - the religious aspect of materialism. These very, very ceremonial scribes and pharisees and rulers and priests in Israel were very materialistic, as we know; everything was on the outside. The divide was between all that had to do with the external forms and procedures of religious institutions, and spirituality.

Further, it was the divide between spirituality and mysticism: a divide which is very real, but often very difficult to trace and to define. You see, the religion of the Old Testament was so very largely a religion of symbols - we might say that it was entirely presented in a vast and comprehensive system of symbolism. We shall come to that again as we go on. It is so easy to take symbolism and interpret it as mysticism and mistake that for spirituality. All these Old Testament symbols, of which we are going to speak again presently, how mysterious they are! If you like, how mystical they are! - it is only another way of saying the same thing. And then they become fascinating, especially to certain types of mind and temperament, and they are taken up and used and explained. Very often that is done, and the thing remains as a kind of mysterious fascination, and leads nowhere. It is all very wonderful: the very mystery about it is fascinating - it is not all on the surface; and that appeals to certain kinds of people. But what have you got after all your study of types and symbols? what does it amount to? how much real spiritual measure is resulting from it? how much of it all remains just mental enjoyment and pleasure? Mysticism and spirituality are two utterly different things - they belong to two different realms. Mysticism has crept into Christianity and is taken for spirituality - and it is nothing of the kind. It is very important to recognize that and to track it down.

We may sum up by saying that it is the divide between what is of the Spirit and what is of the soul - between the spiritual and the soulish. Israel's Old Testament religion was entirely of the soul: that is, it was something that could be appreciated by the natural man. He could look on, and could even participate in it, without being a different man; he could be thoroughly engrossed and absorbed in the thing, so that it was the thing above everything else in life, and yet it make no difference to him at all. That is what is of the soul. What is of the Spirit is essentially different from that. It not only belongs to another and different realm; it has an altogether different effect. The Lord Jesus, in the phrase which we quoted at the beginning, said: "It is the spitit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing". Of course, by "the flesh" He does not mean the body; that is only His way of saying 'the natural life'. He is saying to these religious people, who had all this of the Old Testament, its form and its symbolism and its typology and everything else: 'In the realm of things spiritual, the soul, the natural life, gets you nowhere.'

Spirituality - The Test and 'The Truth'

Now, the test of everything religious is: How far does it really reach its end - that of making spiritual men and women, spiritual and living people? The test of everything is there. All that these religious people, the Jewish nation, had - and it was a great wealth - did not make them spiritual people, and did not, therefore, make them living people, in the true sense. The Lord Jesus, as recorded in this chapter of John, is just putting His finger on this - that there is a tremendous gap between all that and true spirituality; and He is presenting the test. The test of the value of everything - the test of our Bible knowledge, the test of all the wealth that we may have derived from Bible study, the test of all our association with Christian things, the test of all the work that we may be doing in the Lord's Name, the test of every institution and every means of Christian service - rests just here, on one thing only: How far is it producing spiritual men and women?

This is a very necessary challenge for today in Christianity. Christianity, as we know it, can be divided between truly spiritual men, and those who are not that, though professedly Christians. Now note that all else - all that is other than spirituality, or spiritual men and spiritual women living as Jesus meant by 'living' - is what He called 'not the truth'. He was constantly making this distinction. This Gospel by John contains the distinction again and again. The most familiar instance is that in chapter 4, in His talk with the woman of Sychar. At a certain point, the conversation having become rather embarrassing - too personal - she changed the subject, and widened out. Recognising that He was a 'religious man' and 'wanted to talk religion', she decided that she could do that: 'Our fathers worshipped God in this mountain - you Jews say that God ought to be worshipped in Jerusalem.' The Lord said: 'Believe me, woman, the hour is coming and now is when the true worshippers shall worship neither in this mountain nor at Jerusalem. God is spirit and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth. Such He seeks to be His worshippers' (vs. 21-24).

You see, Mount Gerizim, the temple of the Samaritans, and Jerusalem, the temple of the Jews, represented the whole system of religion in that land. This temple is material; it is earthly, it is ceremonial; and Jesus simply, so to speak, takes the sponge and wipes that realm right off the slate. He says: 'That is not the truth; the truth is only that which is spiritual. That which is spiritual is the only truth.' "In spirit and truth": just go through the Word and see how often He is pressing that. It is really the essence of chapter 6 of John's Gospel. What is "the truth", according to Jesus? It is not all this of which we have spoken. The truth is that which in its very nature and essence is spiritual.

Spirituality Means Seeing

And the first thing about spirituality is to have eyes - to be able to see. Look at the context of the words which we quoted at the beginning. "And they said, Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? how doth he now say, I am come down out of heaven?" (vs. 42). That is an index to a very great deal. You see, these religious people, these responsible religious people, knew Him only in an earthly way - they had not the faintest conception of Him in a heavenly way. He is repeatedly saying, 'I came down from heaven', 'I am the bread which came down from heaven.' 'Oh', they say, 'this is all beyond us - this is all nonsense!' It was on that very point that first of all the Jews, and then His disciples, went away from Him. They could not see beyond what was earthly and of time; they only knew in that 'close-up' way of the flesh, not in a heavenly way at all. This talk about someone coming from Heaven was to them something altogether outside their realm.

Spirituality in its very first feature is seeing. That is clearly shown in the Cherubim, with which we were occupied in earlier chapters. We have not exhausted their significance by a long way, and we are going to look at them again. We know that one of the most, shall I say, conspicuous features of the Cherubim was their eyes, signifying their all-seeingness, their comprehensive intelligence. But let me put in here a general word about them before I go on in more particular ways. What are the Cherubim? First of all, what are they not? It ought not to be necessary to point out that they are not, as some people have foolishly asserted, angels; nor, in fact, are they heavenly beings of any kind. Indeed, they are not actual beings at all - as actualities they do not exist. There are no created, composite creatures which answer to this, in Heaven or earth, or in any realm whatsoever.

The Cherubim are a symbolic representation of spiritual ideas, Divine ideas. Now of course we know that symbols obtain in every realm, and in all times and in all parts of the world, more perhaps in some parts than in others. We, in our very practical Western world, still make much use of symbols. We should not get very far in our mathematics without them! And in many other departments we have symbols for things. This matter of symbolism has been very widely developed. Especially was this true in the ancient world, where symbolism was the common thing - everything had a symbolic representation. And God has chosen to present His eternal truths and spiritual principles in the form of oriental symbols. Jesus Himself presented heavenly and spiritual truths in spoken and acted parables. John was led to revert to the symbolic in the book of the Revelation. Paul and Peter give spiritual principles and truths in metaphors. The metaphors of Paul are many and interesting, but they are means of setting forth spiritual truths. If the Bible had first of all been written for the modern Western world, there would have been much less symbolism. It would have been presented in just plain, practical statements, with little artistry or demand upon the imagination. But it was not first of all written in or for this modern practical Western world, and God has chosen to use this means and this method.

But it does require the One who gave it to interpret it. If the Holy Spirit gave Divine truths and principles in this way, He never meant those things to be ends in themselves. He had a meaning behind them, and only He, the Holy Spirit, can interpret them. They cannot be interpreted without Him. The peril is always present of taking up these things without the Holy Spirit's interpretation, the result being mysticism. They become fascinating as symbols and types, but they remain just abstract ideas; there is no practical application, there is no spiritual result. Our business is, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to extract from these symbols the practical truth. We should see to it that we never handle the Bible in any part without aiming at - and, by the help of God, teaching - a practical issue. "The words that I have spoken unto you" are - not just interesting words, fascinating words - but "are spirit, and are life."

The Principles of the Cherubim Seen in the 'Acts'

Now let us come to the Cherubim again. We have already seen that they symbolize, amongst other things, four main features. First, heavenly and spiritual government or authority in the creation, seen in the lion aspect of the Cherubim. Secondly, heavenly and spiritual strength, represented by the ox aspect. I know the lion speaks of monarchy and the ox of service and sacrifice - yes, but what is the principle in monarchy or kingship, and what is the principle in service and sacrifice? The principle of the one is government, authority; the principle of the other is heavenly, spiritual strength - a kind of strength that is altogether different. In the third place, heavenly and spiritual intelligence, indicated by the man aspect of the Cherubim. And finally, the symbol of heavenly and spiritual sovereignty, in the sense of absolute liberty and freedom of movement - the eagle. As we said earlier, an eagle on the wing is the very embodiment of complete emancipation from earth ties, from any kind of bondage. He just floats where he will; he seems to have the whole world, the whole heaven at his command. His complete liberty of movement, absolute sovereignty in the heavens, is the symbol of the Holy Spirit's demand for absolute sovereign liberty, to do as He will and what He will and how He will.

Now these are the essentials of life. The Cherubim are the "living ones", and they are the living ones because they embody these things. It we come now to the New Testament, and to the book of the Acts, we see the practical expression of all this. The Man is in the throne, and these principles are in operation in the Church and through the Church.

Here, first of all, is the absolute authority and government of Heaven - the lion rampant. That is the book of Acts, is it not, from one standpoint?

Again, in this book we see tremendous strength, as of the ox, before which everything has to go down. Whatever else may rear itself in the path or way of this, will have to yield. There is a strength here that cannot be accounted for on any earthly ground at all. The vehicles and the instruments of this strength are the 'nobodies' of this world. They have no standing or status, no prestige, no title or reputation; and yet through them everything is being made to yield. A hostile power does rear itself, it does assert itself, and it seems, for the moment, as though it has gained an ascendency; but read further on - read on to the end. Here is the strength of Heaven operating in these that are nothing in this world.

As to spiritual and heavenly intelligence, it is perfectly clear in this book of the Acts. The people concerned have come into a knowledge and an understanding which is right out from Heaven. We have tried already to point out the tremendous change in their understanding. They misinterpreted, misapprehended, mistook everything up to the point of the coming of the Holy Spirit; and then their whole outlook and mentality was revolutionized and they saw things in an entirely different way. Heavenly and spiritual intelligence has come in. And so much of the New Testament is about that, is it not? "That ye may stand... fully assured in all the will of God" (Col. 4:12). "Till we all attain unto... the [full] knowledge of the Son of God..." (Eph. 4:13).

And then, if those things are clear in the book of the Acts, the fourth thing is even more so: the absolute sovereign movement of the Holy Spirit, brooking no interference, allowing no impediment. Let there be argument, even from apostles, and the Holy Spirit will beat that down, and say: 'I demand absolute freedom from your tradition, from your interpretation, from your set ways; I demand absolute liberty to take My course. If you do not fall into line with that, then I leave you behind. I am going on.'

Now, this is all very practical. The book of the Acts is a very practical book, is it not? Here is that which is symbolized in the Cherubim actually at work and in operation. And what is the result? The inclusive result is life. What life! Everything is alive; all the conditions are living. When the heavenly order and the heavenly principles are really established, then there is life. And the Cherubim represent those principles.

The Cherubim in the Garden

Let us now take up the Cherubim in their various stages of presentation in the Old Testament. The first, as we know, is in the book of Genesis: "So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden the Cherubim, and the flame of a sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life" (Gen. 3:24). What is their place and their function here? Note three things: (a) the man is outside the garden; (b) the tree of life is inside; and (c) the Cherubim come between: they stand between the two - the expelled and excluded man, and the preserved and reserved tree of life. Now, remembering that the Cherubim present what we may call the spiritual element in the administering of the creation - for they always relate to the creation; they are fourfold, and, as we have made clear, four is the number of creation in every respect: the four directions, the four dimensions, the four 'elements' (earth, air, fire, water), the four seasons, and so on - remembering this, we can see clearly that they prevent sinful and fallen man from coming into that place of administration. He was made for that, he was placed in the garden for that - to administer the creation as for God, as from Heaven; but he has sinned, and he is expelled, and now the Cherubim, the embodiment of heavenly principles of administration, stand in his way. They stand athwart his path; they rule him out of his place as God's agent in administering His creation.

For these things, these four things of which we have spoken, are the rights and characteristics of the Spirit of God. The rights of the Spirit of God are: heavenly authority, government; heavenly and spiritual strength, a peculiar kind of strength; heavenly and spiritual knowledge, intelligence, understanding; and heavenly and spiritual liberty, freedom of movement. Now the man has violated those very principles, those rights of the Holy Spirit. He has sinned against the Holy Ghost, in principle. Those very things stand in his way, across his path and say, 'You have no place in this kingdom: you have no authority here, you have no power here, you have no knowledge here, you have no liberty of movement here; you are outside, you are excluded. The kingdom is heavenly - essentially heavenly, essentially spiritual; only spiritual men can come in here. The very laws of this spiritual kingdom debar unspiritual men from having any place.'

Now that is a statement of truth into which a very great deal of Scripture can be gathered. But, as responsible people in the work of God, we have to take serious note of these laws. And there are laws. If they had been observed, a very, very great difference would exist today in the Church, in Christianity. The violation of those laws has resulted in terrible, terrible disaster. Only spiritual men and women have any place, or right, or authority, or knowledge, or liberty to touch the things of the Kingdom of Heaven. You can see how the Gospel is gathered into this. 'You must be born of the Spirit'. "That which is born of the flesh is flesh" - and it is outside, it is excluded. "That which is born of the Spirit is spirit." So here the Cherubim - because of their very significance, because of the laws which they embody, the heavenly laws of the heavenly kingdom which they represent - stand to say very forcibly: 'Look! You who violate heavenly principles are excluded: you are outside, and you cannot have life; you are in death - life is not for you.'

But on the other hand, by their very position they also declare: If we are to come into the Kingdom which is characterized by eternal life, and to have our God-intended place of administering it - and that is what the Church is particularly called for in the ages to come; that is the thing for which the Lord is trying to prepare us - if that is to be, the necessity is that we should be spiritual men and women. For only spiritual men - or shall we put it in the singular, only spiritual man - in virtue of spiritual and heavenly life, can come back to his intended function of governing for God. 'Thou madest him in order to have dominion' (Psalm 8:6). Yet "we see not yet all things subjected to him. But we behold... Jesus" - note the name Jesus - "...crowned with glory and honour" (Heb. 2:8,9). We see the representative One of this whole new race in the place where God intended the race to be - and where He still intends it to be.

This first presentation of the Cherubim has but one declaration: Man who is not a spiritual man is ruled out, and everything that is not governed by these heavenly and spiritual principles is outside of God's economy.

The Cherubim in the Tabernacle

The next presentation is in the book of Exodus, chapters 25 and 26. There is much about the Cherubim here in the Tabernacle, and we cannot attempt to deal with all the detail. Note, first of all, that there is a change - there is the change here. The Cherubim are not outside; they are inside - they are within. Moreover they are abiding within, and they are at rest within. But note, further, that this is the priestly section of the Old Testament. The dominating features of this whole section of the Old Testament are the priest and the altar. And that explains the place of the Cherubim. The great word here is mediation: the blood of atonement, the water of purification, the oil of anointing; and these are the things which go with the Cherubim within. They are wrought upon or into the very fabric of the curtain, the veil: the white linen, righteousness in humanity; blue, heavenliness in humanity; purple, royal dignity in man; scarlet, suffering by the Man. These are the components of the Cherubim within. They cover the Mercy-seat - the place the blood of atonement; the place where God speaks; the place of the covenant. It comprehends all that is meant by "a new creation in Christ".

Here, then, they proclaim the redemption of everything unto God - the redemption of the heavenly order, the spiritual order; declaring that through the redemption of that heavenly order man and God are together again. The first picture is of man and God separated: God inside, so to speak, and man expelled, shut out, excluded; a barrier between, no passing. But here the whole scene is changed: they are together. The Cherubim on the veil declare: God and man are together, in a spiritual relationship, in a heavenly order; union has been restored, recovered. God's satisfaction has been restored to Him and everything is at rest. I suppose there was no more silent place on the earth than the place of the veil. The hush of Heaven and eternity could be felt; everything spoke of peace, of rest, of harmony.

And in relation to that the priestly ministry goes on. The ministry of the priesthood relates to that: it is the ministry of reconciliation. The first presentation of the Cherubim betokens rupture; the second proclaims reconciliation, recovery: what was lost in Genesis is found here in Exodus.

If God has a true heavenly and spiritual order, on the basis of what Christ has done by His Cross, what will happen? People will be saved! It is customary - I suppose it has to be done, and I would say even that with reservation - but it is customary to make 'special efforts', tremendous efforts to get people saved. This is no word of disparagement or criticism; it seems as though it has to be done because of the way the Church is. But mark you, if God had a Church with this heavenly nature, this spiritual nature and this heavenly order, it would be the normal thing that people are being saved all the time. "The Lord added to them... those that were being saved." But the Lord must have that to which He can safely add.

The Cherubim in the Temple

Here the Cherubim were:
1. In the Oracle. 1 Kings 6:23; 2 Chron. 3:10.
2. On the walls of the House. 1 Kings 6:29; 2 Chron. 3:7.
3. On the doors of the Oracle. 1 Kings 6:32.
4. On the doors of the Temple. 1 Kings 6:35.
5. On the Veil. 2 Chron. 3:14.
6. On the Molten Sea. 1 Kings 7:29,36.

Two were of gold, two were of olive wood overlaid with gold. They were frequently in pairs. Two is the biblical symbol for full testimony, fulness of testimony. "If two of you shall agree..." (Matt. 18:19). Two of gold, signifying the great preciousness of that which is here symbolized; two of wood - olive wood overlaid with gold - signifying humanity, strengthened by the Holy Spirit. The olive oil, as we know, speaks of the Spirit; the olive tree, the strength of the Spirit in man after God's order. Two of the Cherubim look on the blood; the other two compass the whole place of ministry, the place of service. Note the greatness of the two, extending their wings to the whole width of the house. It is not an unimportant feature. But, leaving the details, let us sum up the meaning. What is it?

Firstly, spiritual and heavenly life in a full appreciation of Christ. Two look on the mercy-seat above the ark, sprinkled with the precious Blood: that is, upon Christ, God's Son, God's Man - the embodiment of God's thoughts, the mind of the Lord, the embodiment of God's Divine nature - in all the fulfilment of His atoning work, all that the Cross signified in the precious sprinkled Blood. These two bow toward that; they are there in the full appreciation of Christ and His mighty work by the Cross. Life comes that way, and no other way.

Secondly, heavenly principles in service. The second two are the very expression and embodiment of eager readiness to serve, to go, to obey, to respond to the slightest Divine behest. They stand; they are not sitting. Their wings are outstretched; they are not folded. Here, too, their feet are mentioned. Their feet are not mentioned in Genesis or in Exodus. They are mentioned in Chronicles, in Ezekiel and in Isaiah. Here it is all the active side of things; it is service that is in view. They are the very picture and expression of this readiness to do for God - active, energetic, alert service. They look toward the place of service (2 Chron. 3:13). It is the expression of life - life in ministry, life in service - in relation to the sanctuary, in virtue of all that the Cross means.

The temple is the Old Testament figure of God's spiritual house. Peter says, "a spiritual house" of "living stones", "to offer up spiritual sacrifices" (1 Pet. 2:5). We are that; the Church is that. But here, too, there must be these heavenly principles that are embodied in the Cherubim, which cover all, spread out over all, govern all, embrace all. They are there in the service of God, in the appreciation of Christ and the understanding of Christ, the motives and principles of His own life - it is in appreciation of that that they are in service. The service of the House of God, therefore, must be pre-eminently spiritual, by spiritual men. It must be in the authority which Christ alone gives. It must be in the strength which comes from Him. It must be in the understanding and intelligence which the Spirit gives. And it must be under the absolute sovereignty of the Spirit, who says: 'Not your thoughts, not your ideas, not what you think; I must have my way, I must be free.'

So we see that it is service that is in view here in Kings and Chronicles, the great Cherubim of ministry in relation to the Cross and Christ crucified. Service is that; it is very searching.

The Principles in Experience

Now, if all this seems difficult to collect and to grasp, after all in experience it is very real. If you are going to be a true servant of the Lord, if you are really going to come into the privilege of your eternal calling, you will discover, under the hand of the Holy Spirit, these four things.

Firstly, that the authority must be with Him - the government must be upon His shoulders. And in so far as you or I take it upon our shoulders, we shall have to carry the weight of it - He will leave us to it - and it will break us. We shall find ourselves outside.

Secondly, we prove, do we not, that in this realm of things spiritual there is no human strength that can stand up to it. We need another kind of strength. When Jesus said, "the flesh profiteth nothing", He meant that the strength of intellect will never get you through, the strength of will will never get you through, the strength of emotion will never get you through, and the strength of the body, the best physical health and fitness, will never get you through here; only spiritual strength, strength from Heaven. And in that lesson we have comprehended the whole Bible, in its principles of God's way of work, God's way of service.

Thirdly, we learn in all our learning that we do not know anything unless the Holy Spirit teaches us. One of the very deep lessons that we have to learn in the service of God is that, naturally, we know nothing! If we think we know something - well, we are certainly in limitation.

And finally, if there is anything that we learn at all, it is this, that the Holy Spirit claims and demands to have His own way. If we get in the way of the Holy Spirit, so much the worse for us!

The way of life, of the "living ones", is this heavenly way where these heavenly things are true, and that is spirituality. You say, 'Who is a spiritual person? Who is a spiritual man or woman? Show me one!' And I shall have to take you to one who is absolutely under the government of the Lord in their life, one who just refers and defers to the Lord about everything; one who is so conscious all the time of the necessity to draw every bit of strength from the Lord and have no strength in themselves; one who is always ready to learn, and knows so well that they know nothing, except the Lord makes it known; and one who is giving the Lord an absolutely clear and free way to do as He likes. That is a spiritual person. And the more it is like that, the more life there will be, the greater the measure of spirituality.

Spirit and life - spirituality and livingness: these two things are linked from Genesis to Revelation. We have not yet considered the Cherubim in the book of the Revelation. When we do, we shall only find that it is the summing up of all that has gone before.

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