The Life of the Spirit

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 2 - Possessing the Inheritance

Reading: Num. 27:18,20; 32:11-12; Joshua 14:8,9,14.

In our previous meditation, we were noticing that this matter of wholly following the Lord arose at a somewhat advanced point in the history of Israel, after all those years in the wilderness when they came at last to what should have been the end of that phase, the passing over the Jordan into the land. It was this question of wholly following the Lord which arose and determined the issue, whether it was on up and into possession, or whether it was to fall short, to miss and forfeit and to remain where they were on the level of life as it had been for so long. We pointed out that among other things, one of the main features which distinguished between these two was that the great majority of the Lord's people had personal interests bound up with their relationship to the Lord. They were influenced and affected by how their following of the Lord touched their lives here and now. If to be the Lord's people meant that they could still be successful as the world would regard them as successful, and get those advantages which would mark them out as being of account among men, then they would follow the Lord. But if following the Lord should carry with it all that which would look like an utter absence of worldly prosperity, success and status, and a living entirely in a realm of believing God and little more, during a time, at any rate, of severe testing and probation, then they were not prepared to wholly follow the Lord.

On the other hand, Joshua and his partner, Caleb, were just the opposite. They followed the Lord wholly, it is said, but the nature of their following was one which was so completely cut off from personal interests - it was the Lord Himself, and what the Lord wanted, what the Lord delighted in - they were governed by the delight of the Lord. That delivered them from many complications in their lives.

The Spirit of Life Overcoming Death

We can take another step forward in this matter by noticing that Joshua does bring in a new realm and a new basis. With Joshua an entirely new sphere is introduced. With him it is the transition from the wilderness and what that represents as a realm and basis and nature of life, to the land - and what that represents as an altogether other realm and basis of life. And what is the difference? What is the realm and basis brought in by Joshua? It is no other than the Life of the Spirit. It is very interesting that that is the first thing said about Joshua in the book of Numbers where Joshua is taken: "Take... Joshua... in whom is the spirit". Joshua, therefore, does bring in that realm and basis of life which is the Life of the Spirit and with Joshua the one matter which will always be in view will be spiritual degree, spiritual measure. When Joshua is on the line of his true significance, we shall always be facing something of a spiritual order. Of course, the passage of the Jordan is undoubtedly something spiritual. We will not stay with that, you can think about it - Jordan at its season overflowing all its banks, then a cleaving of a passage through the floods of Jordan and the passing over dry-shod - a resisting of that which represents the flood-tide of death, an overcoming of the full force of the power of death and a going right through. Who will ever make that passage... only in the mighty power of the Spirit of God!

Here we are on the ground of Ephesians so much. "That ye may know... the exceeding greatness of His power to us-ward who believe, according to that working of the strength of His might which He wrought in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and made Him to sit at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all" (Eph. 1:18-21). We are passing here through the mighty power of death into the heavens to be blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ. That is what is brought in with Joshua, and the very first thing is the mighty power of the Spirit of Life conquering the full force of death in order to secure a people on a heavenly basis, of a heavenly nature. Therefore they must, by the greatest thing in their history, know this Life of the Spirit in terms of Life more powerful than death, as an inward experience; for Jordan is inward while the Red Sea was outward. That is spiritual experience.

Of course, in our conversion we know the mighty power of Christ's triumph over death for us in the sense of triumph, of the judgment of our sin for us, but in the Jordan here, the end of the wilderness, we are coming into something more of the spiritual experience of the power of Christ's victory over death as an inward thing, and many of you know quite well in your own hearts and experiences what I am talking about. We do know the tremendous need for knowing the power of His resurrection as something far beyond that initial stage of our salvation, our conversion. We have discovered a power of death, now not only in the realm of that sin in which we are born, from which we are saved by faith, but we have discovered the power of death in our own natures, deep down in our own being: the ground of death. And there where death works in us, we need to know the power of His resurrection Life triumphing in us over the death that works in us, and that is Jordan. I have no intention of staying with Jordan. I indicate that with Joshua it is the introduction of the Life in the Spirit.

The Inheritance Possessed by Spiritual Men

Over Jordan you come to Jericho, and the most superficial glance at the conquest of Jericho convinces us without any doubt or question whatsoever that we are in a spiritual realm. This is the possession, the conquest, of a spiritual kingdom in which is our inheritance - "all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies in Christ" - and that has got to be possessed.

How is it going to be possessed? Spiritual blessings are possessed by spiritual people and the measure of our possession and the possessing of our inheritance is the measure of our spirituality.

Come to Jericho. Nothing like that was ever known before in the history of God's people. There are seven nations in the land in occupation; nations greater than Israel in possession of the inheritance. They have got to be dispossessed and the Lord's people have to possess. For six days there is a single circuit of Jericho. Just round once in the day and back to their tents. That was a strange kind of conquest; not much in that to display human natural ability, progress, power, reputation, potentiality! Just round once, and that is a conquest of a nation registered. That nation is circumcised and cut off. Round once, one nation put out; the next day the same thing, that is nation number 2; the third day, that is nation number 3; six days, that is nation number 6. On the seventh day, round seven times. The whole seven nations are potentially cast out, cut off, for seven is spiritual completeness. The thing is done by a faith encompassing. It is a spiritual thing, so spiritual it almost looks ridiculous. Joshua comes in with that and that is really the whole conquest in essence. It is all done like that at the beginning, completed in principle, it is the Life of the Spirit: spiritual conquest.

The next advance from Jericho is Ai, and Ai by its very reverse is an emphasis upon the very principle, "Jericho was such a walk-over, Ai is nothing like Jericho, it is a much smaller proposition, it will not require everybody to go up against Ai; let so many go up, they can do it!" - letting in something other than spirituality. They were saying, 'the flesh can do this', they are letting in the natural, and they met a terrible setback at Ai. There are other factors, there is Achan, but it is all of a piece; the natural has come in and they had to get back on to a spiritual level before they took Ai.

Then you know the snare of the Gibeonites who entrapped Joshua. The Gibeonites came with their feigning and their lying and their deception, and the elders of Israel did not go to the Lord and enquire about this thing. They acted on the basis of their own judgment. The natural level was taken and the spiritual was forsaken. So by defeat again, the very principle of the spiritual is emphasized all the more. God lets us know the truth of His laws both by blessing and by reverse according to our attitude towards those laws. So it was there, and the whole of that history of conquest is a spiritual thing. It is the life of the Spirit. The point is that Joshua brings that in.

The Inheritance Corporately Possessed

Now what I want to say is that Joshua and Caleb had to go through all this and have all this wrought in them and be this before ever it could become history in the people of God, in others. It had to be wrought in them first. They had to be spiritual men in very truth.

Well, their hearts were wholly set upon the Lord; they were bent upon wholly following the Lord. They were in a right condition and position of heart before the Lord. They were in a very real and full sense spiritual men, but how they had to suffer for their spirituality and in their very suffering for their spirituality, they were made capable of bringing the Lord's people and settling them in the inheritance.

You will note, by the way, that it was impossible for Joshua and Caleb to inherit alone. They are a real foreshadowing of that little word in the letter to the Hebrews summarizing all these Old Testament saints: "That apart from us they should not be made perfect (complete)" (Heb. 11:40). When all Israel failed because they did not wholly follow the Lord and were turned back to the wilderness to die, Joshua and Caleb had to go back and wait for that generation to burn itself out and for another generation to arise who could possess. They could not inherit alone, they could only inherit corporately in relation to a people, and that is a very testing thing for those who are spiritual. If it were only just a matter of what is individual, the Lord could rapture quite a lot of individuals whose hearts are going on with Him, but He is having to hold many devoted people back, as it were, while He is preparing others, and the presence of the few in the midst of the others is His point of contact with a new company. It is something to think about - the fact that they could not inherit alone, but that the Lord had larger interests bound up with them and they had to suffer for their spirituality on behalf of some others, and that is a test of spirituality, "Oh, I have sought to wholly follow the Lord, I have been so utterly devoted to the Lord, I have wanted to go right on with the Lord! Why does not the Lord do this, that and something else where I am concerned?" Because He has some other people in view, because you cannot inherit alone.

The principle again arises in the Lord's Word that the Lord has to have a people prepared for Him, and in order to have a people prepared for Him, He must have in the midst of them some disciplined ones, some points of contact. Where does that phrase come - "a people prepared for the Lord"? It comes right at the beginning of the gospels. The Old Testament has closed, the long period between the Testaments is now drawing to its close, the new period is opening. The birth of the Lord Jesus has just taken place. In the gap between the old and the new dispensations, there are just a few, Simeon and Anna and a few others, waiting for the consolation of Israel, looking for the Lord's anointed, and then in connection with them a people prepared for the Lord. Evidently beyond them, these few mentioned, the Joshuas and the Calebs at the heart of things, there were people looking expectantly, waiting for the coming of the Lord's anointed, a people prepared.

And what was true at the end of that dispensation will be true at the end of this dispensation - a people prepared for the Lord. There is a whole generation, you may say, a large body who are not in this particular sense wholly following the Lord. They are on the line of the Lord plus things, and you touch their things and you meet a very severe rebuff. But the Lord in the midst of this great generation is seeking to prepare a people. I am not saying that that generation is going to lose its salvation. I am not concerned with the matter of eternal salvation, but I am concerned with the inheritance, which is another thing.

Fighting for the Inheritance

I must stop just to ask you again: What is the upshot of the Word of God, Old Testament and New? What is the primary implication? What is this letter to the Hebrews? What is this third chapter of the letter to the Philippians, what is this letter to the Ephesians, and what is all that is raised with the Word of God with its emphasis about going on, pressing on, all these warnings drawn from Israel's history, perishing in the wilderness, as applied to Christians, not unsaved people? Why bring this up so constantly, this emphasis? Is it a question that you can, after all, be damned for ever if you do not go on? I do not raise that question, but I do see that it is always bound up with something called the inheritance, the on-high calling; not salvation, but the ultimate purpose of salvation; what God has in view for a people saved and brought from childhood in the wilderness to sonship in the land, from spiritual infancy in the carnal Christian life to spiritual maturity in the heavenlies in Christ. That is the discrimination, and it is inheritance, and I say that the implication of the Scriptures is that all the way through - you have not got to do something to be saved, and you cannot by doing anything add to your salvation as such, but you have got to do something with regard to the inheritance. You have got to go on and you have got to war and war. We are not fighting for our salvation but for our possessions. The Bible is meaningless otherwise. Can you give me another interpretation of the Word of God, both in the Old Testament and the New, that really meets the situation? The New Testament as the spiritual meaning of the Old Testament is saying all the time that the people of God have got to be pre-eminently characterized by a spirit of pressing on.

That can be looked at, as we may look at it again, from another standpoint. The Lord's people are regarded as a militant people, which means that they are a menace to something, and it is not just enemies to our redemption, otherwise it is not a completed and perfected work. Calvary is finished so far as redemption is concerned, and we have it as a gift. Then the enemy is forever finished, there is no longer any enemy! But if the enemy remains and the foe is still in view, that the church is militant spiritually means there is something more than our salvation in view. He is out to frustrate the possession of the inheritance. We have to be at full stretch, therefore. There it is on the face of things all the time, that it is pressing on to something, and that pressing on has to continue right to the end. "I count not myself yet to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting the things which are behind, and stretching forward to the things which are before, I press on..." (Phil. 3:13). "I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord" (Phil. 3:8). This is the life of the Spirit as brought in by Joshua, and this life of the Spirit is related to that realm in which all the high thoughts and purposes of God concerning a people are found: "Blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ".

Then in Ephesians chapter one, you know how the apostle speaks about our having received the Spirit as an earnest of our inheritance unto the redemption of the purchased possession. We have received the Spirit as an earnest of our inheritance. The inheritance is for spiritual people bound up with their being spiritual.

Now then, unto the redemption, the leading out, the realizing of the purchased possession, come back to Joshua 1. The Lord says, "I have given it to thee". In a sense, it is the purchased possession. God has got it, but it is in enemy occupation, and this purchased possession has got to be - the word is - redeemed, released, liberated, let loose, brought out. Therefore Ephesians which starts with "blessed with all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies in Christ" unto the release of the purchased possession by the Spirit, ends with our warfare in the heavenlies with principalities and powers. What is that for? That is the releasing of the purchased possession in enemy occupation, unto the redemption of the purchased possession. You can see how all of a piece this is, but this is for people who will and do make this divide between the Lord and an earthly life of things which they must have if they are going to continue faithfully with the Lord; between people who are on that level of things, and people who are on this other level where - "I count all things but loss for Christ". That is the Life of the Spirit.

Faith and Patience

I close by reminding you of a thing which must be most clear and obvious to anybody who has any spiritual perception at all. Is not this the thing that the Lord is doing more than anything else today? Look at all the striving and straining after things by the Lord's people, the strain to get some movements going of a Christian character that can be seen - a movement as a movement, a revival, some thing going. Tremendous efforts are being made in all directions and have been for some years now. What is going of it all? None of it is going. There are no movements, no great revivals. I am not saying the Lord is not doing anything, but in a public way where are the great demonstrations of Divine activity that you can write up, that will bring new periodicals into existence, requiring a new press? There is nothing. And how much the people are being tested by this. I am not saying that the desire for a movement of God is wrong, a concern for the state of things. God forbid! Our concern must be very deep, but what is God doing, and doing by this very denial of this craving, this strain? He is pressing spiritual people up to almost breaking point of faith and patience.

Now you are back to Joshua, Joshua and Caleb back there in the wilderness while a whole generation slowly dies, and they are men who have touched the land, seen the land, known the good of the land, men who have wholly followed the Lord, who know the power of the Spirit of the Most High, who have gone right on, and they are back there for a whole generation while another generation is being born and prepared to go on. It is a tremendous testimony to these men and the triumph of their spirituality that at last they go in and possess. Faith and patience has been tested tremendously over that long period of years. It had been tried before through all the years of the wilderness journey, but now they have to go and dwell in that wilderness standing still, not even with the variations of so much journeying as of yore and the breakings in of God from time to time. Now it is just one reign of death, waiting for a whole nation to come to an end naturally, slowly, to die out.

Faith and patience. God is doing that today with a people. There are others who will not let Him do it with them. They will try and force something and do all sorts of things to try and break the monotony of God's seeming inactivity. This is no brief for lack of concern and certainly no seeking that we should not be giving ourselves to what can be done in a living way, but let us see what God is really doing. And among a number of things He is doing, this to me is one of the most potent, that He is intensifying spirituality; and what is there more spiritual than faith and patience - the most unattractive things to the flesh. I am quite sure that naturally in the flesh you revolt against the very words, faith and patience. "Oh, let us do something, let us have something!" Yes, that is the flesh, that is our natural life. Men of spiritual measure are men pre-eminently of faith and patience. Do you know of anything that is more manifestly the order of the day than that? Do you know of anything that is more near to the mark than the perfecting of faith and patience? Is that not your experience? I do not want to say you are all wrong if you are having a life of sight without any need of patience. The Lord bless you, hold it as long as you can. But I think some of us are able to understand the other, the Lord putting us through a gruelling time on the matter of faith and patience. That means He is after spiritual degree and that points to that which is no less than His great vocation for His church in the heavenlies throughout the ages of the ages.

Now this is not fiction, not just theory. It is very true. I ask you just to allow yourselves to think for a moment: Is there anything like this in my experience? Does it in any way correspond with my history? Allow yourself to think it may be true. There still remains in the human heart a rebellion against that which is so utterly of God, that human heart that says all the time it wants to be practical, not abstract, and so on. We are up against it. We can revolt. If the Lord is going to be faithful and true with this, we may go on a bit, come up against it again, and we shall have to say that there is no getting away from it. The Lord is bent upon something. The Lord knows I want His best, little as I can respond to it, and He is being faithful with me in dealing with me in this way. May the Lord interpret to all who cannot see what He is trying to say and hold us all by His Word.

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