Companions of Christ and the Heavenly Calling

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 7 - The Two Beginnings

Hebrews chapter 3, verses 1 and 14, only by way of refreshing your memory, not by way of insulting it! "Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers or companions of a heavenly calling... we are become companions of Christ if we hold fast the beginning firm unto the end." Companions of Christ and of a heavenly calling... and we are seeing that this letter to the Hebrews embodies the whole of the character of the dispensation in which we live. It is the change from the old earthly Israel, to the new heavenly Israel.

I am sorry for those friends who have only been able to join us today, but I am more sorry for myself than for you - we are today exactly halfway through this conference, which means that a great deal has already been said. It is quite impossible for me to gather you into what is being said by going over all the ground covered. I trust that the Lord will help you to fall right into the course that He is taking. So we go on with a further fragment of this matter of the new Israel as the companions of Christ in a heavenly calling.

This morning we are going back to the beginning of this history, because we have been seeing that God is following, in a spiritual way, the line that He took the first Israel. He took a certain line with Israel in an earthly way; He is taking that same line with the new heavenly Israel, but in a spiritual way.

It would be a very wonderful thing if we were to spend some time in seeing God's line right from the beginning up to Christ. There were many generations which came to an end. In one place there is a large summary of what came and what finished. It says, "So-and-so lived, and he lived for so long..." and then it says "and he died". And that is said about a long list of people - they lived and then they died. But right through there is one line that lives and never dies; it is the line moving straight through history right up to Christ and you can clearly follow that line.

Now, at a certain point in that movement of God, we find ourselves in the presence of God's beginning with Israel. It has now moved from individuals to the point where the nation comes into view. So far it had been individuals; it had been Abel, and Enoch, and Noah, and all those antediluvians, as they are called. But when it comes to Abraham, we come to the point where a nation comes into view; it is Israel, the Israel of history; that is, the Israel of this earth.

And this morning we are going to note the beginning and how God began with Israel, and how the principle of that beginning is transferred to the new, heavenly Israel in Christ. And it is very impressive that you have the beginning of the first Israel in the New Testament, and you have it in the book of the Acts. Now note that's a significant thing because the book of the Acts is the link between the old and the new. The focal point of the transition from the one to the other is in the book of the Acts. And interestingly enough, it is in the discourse of the martyr, Stephen. The old Israel killed Stephen and out of the death of Stephen sprang the new Israel.

The first thing that Stephen said to the old Israel was this. Chapter 7 of the book of Acts and verse 2: "The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was in Ur of the Chaldees". "The God of glory appeared..." that was the first movement to the old Israel, and that is exactly the first movement to the new Israel: it is the appearing of the God of glory. We are seeing in the New Testament this beginning.

Turn again to the Gospel by John: "In the beginning was the Word... and the Word was made flesh and tabernacled among us..." now note: "and we beheld His glory". Turn again to the letter to the Hebrews chapter 1: "God... has at the end of these times spoken unto us in His Son... who is the effulgence of His glory". The God of glory appeared... has spoken to us at the end of these times in His Son... who is the effulgence of His glory.

First of all, then, it is:

God is Breaking into Human History.

That is how it was with the first Israel. Away there, in Ur of the Chaldees, a pagan country with two thousand other gods, the God of glory broke in and changed the course of history. He took His first step toward the securing of Israel.

The first chapter of John is God in glory breaking into human history in a new way. Now that, of course, is in the Bible, in the Old Testament and in the New Testament, and you may mentally put it out there and view it in an objective way. But you must just take hold of that and bring it right into this room and bring it into the rows of people and let it come right on you personally, because this relates to you and to me personally. It is you and it is me who are called by God to be the companions of Christ in a heavenly calling; this belongs to all of us.

The very beginning of our history as God's heavenly Israel is the intervention of God in our lives. Perhaps to some of us it was just as unexpected as it was to Abraham in Ur of the Chaldees. We were living our lives in this world, we were mixed up in the course of this world, the god of this world ruled our lives. Well, there we were, just one in a great crowd... and then God broke into our lives. And when God breaks into a life there is no doubt about it: there's a turning-point in history, in our history. And the nature of the change is that we no longer belong to this world. We have become members of a new Israel; in other words, of a heavenly people with a spiritual nature.

It may not have been with us just as it was with Abraham, but it is essential for every one of us to know that God has entered into our human history. It was not something in the first place from our side, but it was something from God's side. He took the initiative, perhaps in some wonderful way, or in some very simple way. It may belong to a moment in time, or it may belong to days, weeks and months. But the fact is that God came in where we were. How did God come in? And how has He come in? How should we put it, if we wanted to put it into words? Well, it says here about the old Israel: "The God of glory appeared". Could you put it like that as to your experience?

Well, you see these words here in the New Testament explain that. God came in Jesus Christ, and in Jesus Christ is the glory of God. And as we have seen Jesus Christ, we have come into touch with the God of glory. In these words of Hebrews 1: "God has spoken to us in His son". And all those who know that Jesus Christ has come into their lives really do know that the God of glory has come in. And so, after saying that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, John says, "and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father".

And what is the glory? "Full of grace and truth". You notice in the New Testament grace and glory always go together. If you want to know what the glory of God is, it is the grace of God, and if you want to know what the grace of God is, it is the glory of God. It is the glory of God to be gracious. God glories in being gracious, and when you know the grace of God, then you know the glory of God. The glory of God will always come to us along the line of grace, and so, because of grace, we shall be able to say: "and we beheld His glory".

Now, perhaps you know that that word "glory" is one of the big words in John's Gospel. If you have never done so, I advise you to go through that Gospel and underline the word "glory".

Now, just a little word to the young Christians who have not done a lot of Bible study yet. I hadn't thought of saying this, but perhaps it will be helpful. I do not profess to know a great deal about the Bible, indeed, I know very little of the Bible, but I'll tell you how I started to study the Bible. I bought a box of coloured pencils and I bought a new Bible. And I came first of all to the gospel by John and I gave a certain colour to the same word through the Gospel. Of course, I put green always where the word "life" is found! That's the colour for life; you see it all around - green speaks of life. I put blue wherever the word "glory" is - that's the colour for heaven. I put red wherever the blood is, or anything to do with the blood or the Cross - and so I went on. I had a wonderful result in the Gospel of John when I was finished! And to this day if I want to say something about Life, why, it's all there in green! Now that's only a suggestion, and I think you might find it a very simple help. There are a lot more colours than those three!

Now I'm speaking about glory, glory is one of John's great words, and all the references in John to Christ's glory are related to His supernatural person and His supernatural power. When John said "We beheld His glory" he was writing many, many years after the Lord Jesus had come and gone. John's gospel is one of the oldest of the New Testament writings. Probably all the other apostles had gone to the Lord when John wrote his gospel. And so John was looking back over all that history and he was putting into certain words his impressions, and as he thought of the Lord Jesus, His life, His work, His teaching, and everything else about Him, he summed it all up in this: "and we beheld His glory".

How did he behold His glory? He beheld His glory on many occasions, He beheld His glory by a whole series of humanly impossible situations. Now there's another line of study for you! Go to the gospel by John and see how many impossible situations you can find! Oh, that gospel is just full of impossible situations. Think about the marriage in Cana of Galilee, when the wine failed. It's a humanly impossible situation. Go into your next chapter with Nicodemus and what is it that Nicodemus is saying? "How can a man be born when he is old?" - an impossible situation! Think of the woman of Samaria. She had tried everything to find that satisfaction. An impossible situation! You see you can go right on like this. And in all these situations, Jesus came in and turned the impossible into actuality. And so it says at the end of the account of the marriage in Cana: "This first of miracles did Jesus in Cana, and showed forth His glory". That was the principle governing everything. It does not always say that in exact words, but if you went back with that woman of Samaria into the city and heard her shouting to all the people in the city: "Come, behold a man, is not this the Christ?" you would conclude that she had beheld His glory.

And so you go right on to Lazarus. Jesus said: "This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified". And in the difficulty being faced by those sisters in Bethany, when they could not accept altogether that their problem was going to be solved at once, and they said: "I know that he shall rise again in the last day", Jesus said: "Said I not unto thee, that if thou believedst, thou shouldest see the glory of God?" You see, the glory of God in Jesus Christ related to what God could do that no other could do. It was the supernatural Person and power of the Son of God. That was the glory of God.

And dear friends, that is why we sometimes have such a difficulty in getting through. Perhaps you have often been troubled because of the difficulty that some soul has in getting through to the Lord. It almost seems as though the Lord does not want to save them! They go through difficulties, sometimes for days, weeks or months, and you know all the time they are arguing, they're bringing up their problems, and nothing seems to happen. And then, at last, it does happen and they come through. Why is that? God is saying emphatically: "This is going to be of Me, and not of yourself". No man or woman can save himself or herself; with all the goodwill of other people to help, they cannot save. The salvation of a soul is an impossible thing but for God, and God sees to it that it is put upon the supernatural basis. And very often He does not come in until we have come to the point of despair - but He does come in then.

And what is true about salvation is so often true about our spiritual history. Again and again we are brought to the point where situations are quite impossible where man is concerned. We cannot solve that problem ourselves, we cannot change the situation ourselves. If it were that we were only people of this world, we might be able to do it, but somehow or other, because we are the Lord's people, it just doesn't work. All our cleverness fails. Naturally there is no reason why we should not get on, but the fact is that we just do not. We try everything, we are greatly perplexed. We are being brought more and more to despair, and we are being brought to the point where we say: "Well, only the Lord can do this!" - and that is exactly what the Lord has been working for. When the God of glory appears, He appears as the God of glory. Do you see the point?

Well, I said that the word "glory" in John's gospel is connected with the supernatural power of Jesus Christ, and we only learn who Jesus is by coming up against situations in which He only can help us. The more we are going to learn about the Lord Jesus, the more impossible will life be here on this earth and the more impossible will situations become.

Well, that's the beginning of the God of glory.

Note the next thing:

God's Glory in Abraham Reached its Climax in Sonship.

There were many things in the life of Abraham which needed the God of glory to come in and so we read that in different situations "the Lord appeared unto Abraham". But the climax of all God's appearances to Abraham was in connection with Isaac - that is, it was bound up with this matter of sonship. The covenant of God with Abraham was going to be realised along the line of sonship; all God's purposes in Abraham were bound up with Isaac.

Of course, at the beginning Isaac was an impossibility, but at the end he was still greater an impossibility - "Take now thy son, thine only son, whom thou lovest... and offer him a sacrifice". Here is all the promise and covenant wrapped up in Isaac, to be slain with a knife. This is an impossible situation! Isaac to die? There's no possibility of another Isaac, indeed, I doubt whether Abraham would have wanted another Isaac. It was a matter of life or death to him; a quite impossible situation if Isaac lies dead on the altar. But you know what happened and you know what the New Testament says about that, it says: "he received him back as by resurrection".

Has ever anybody raised someone from the dead but God? Men can do a great deal in prolonging life, and they think that they are going to reach the time when they will raise the dead. Well, we haven't reached that time yet, and we shall see whether God will surrender His own one prerogative - that is, to bring back a departed spirit into a dead body. That is God's act, that is resurrection, not resuscitation.

I was saying that the glory of God reached its climax in Abraham's case along the line of sonship. Later on we shall have to look at this more closely in connection with Lazarus, but let us come back to our beginning.

John 1 again, "We beheld His glory". How do we behold His glory? "He came unto His own, and they that were His own would not receive Him. But as many as did receive Him, to them gave He the right to become sons of God", He gave them the authority to be sons. That's our history. We, here this morning (I trust it's true of everybody) are able to say: "By God's intervention I am a child of God." And then you notice how John analyses this: "which were born, not of the will of the flesh, not of blood, nor of the will of man, but of God". Children of God by the intervention of God, by a direct act of God, born from above, made children of God. The glory of God revealed in Jesus Christ in sonship.

Are you glorying in the fact that you are a born again child of God?

This same John, all those years afterward, with a very full heart wrote these words: "Beloved, now are we the children of God, and it does not yet appear what we shall be. But when the children are full-grown, we know that we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is". And connected with that, John says: "Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called sons of God".

Oh, it's a wonderful thing to be a child of God! Anyway, John said so, and he knew what he was talking about.

The glory, then, is in sonship. And I think I'm going to leave it there for this morning, perhaps if I say much more you will forget what I have said. But it is just at that point, you see, that the Israel comes into view: Abraham's seed through Isaac. It's the nation that is coming into view now and, as we have said before, God said to Pharaoh: "Let My son go". And that word "son" was a comprehensive word, it embodied the whole nation. God saw that nation as one son and He would not surrender one fragment of that, because sonship is such a complete thing. Pharaoh said "Well, just let the men go. Leave the women and children and leave your flocks and herds". And Moses said: "Not one single hoof of one single cow shall stay behind." God had said "My son", and that included the nation. Oh, how I'd like to go over the New Testament with that, but we can leave that until tomorrow.

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