The Ways of God

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 6 - The Way of Spiritual Increase

Reading: Gal 4:21-31; John 3:6; Rev. 12:1-11,13,15,17.

In Galatians 4 we have Abraham and his two wives, Sarah and Hagar, and the two sons, Isaac and Ishmael. Abraham, such as he was, with all that he was, was a man of faith, a man to whom an initial revelation had been given, a man who at the beginning had been separated from the world unto God. The apostle says here that at a point in his life where he was undergoing a very severe test of faith, God broke his life into two. God created a fork in his life and from Abraham there came two courses. The apostle says that those two courses were the flesh and the Spirit, or the carnal and the spiritual (not the regenerate and the unregenerate) but both taking their course from Abraham, a man separated unto God, a man in the way of faith.

The apostle takes hold of this and uses it in a double way. First of all, he shows its application to Israel and the church. Israel after the flesh at the time at which Paul wrote, corresponded to Ishmael, the child of the flesh, the ordinary natural course, having had its origin in Abraham. It was a good origin nevertheless, out from what initially and originally was truly according to God, but by deviation there came in something wholly other than the Lord's mind. While still being, in a sense, the Lord's, it fell far short of His original intention, being altogether different from His thought for His own. In time it became a veritable menace to His thought. That is, Israel after the flesh, as Israel came to be a carnal seed. The church is, over against that, speaking generally, the heavenly seed, the spiritual, that which is according to God's mind.

But then the thing is pressed further, and it is shown that that second thing, the church, has a fork. There is a point at which it divides, and even in the church, that which had such a wonderful origin, that which at its inception was so wholly according to God as was Abraham, now at a certain point in its history also divides and in the church there are the carnal and the spiritual. This is found right through the whole history of things related to God. It did not begin with Abraham. We find it beginning with Cain and Abel, the first children of Adam, and it is found everywhere and persists right down through the ages, and as with Isaac and Ishmael, so with the church. There is always an irreconcilable conflict between the carnal and the spiritual. God never says anything in the direction of reconciling or bringing about an understanding and a co-operation between the two. God is utter and final in His attitude toward flesh and Spirit, the carnal and the spiritual. He says that these two things are as far apart as the heavens are above the earth. His thoughts are much higher than the carnal thoughts of Israel. There is the range of the heavens and the earth between the two, and they never can be reconciled. "As he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, so also it is now" (Gal. 4:29). And it is not only true between Jew and Christian, it is true in the church between the carnal and the spiritual, and the Lord's conclusion about this matter is not 'Reconcile', but, 'Expel!' "Wherefore cast out...".

We come to the book of the Revelation and we remember that that book was not written upon a chronological principle and basis, it is written in spiritual order. The last thing said in the Revelation in the message to the churches is: "Because thou art lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold I will spew thee out of My mouth" (Rev. 3:16). I take that to mean, 'You are Christians and yet not Christians; you are not utterly outside. If you were, there would be a chance of evangelizing you and getting you saved, but because you are inside and have come to this established position with your carnal mind and life, you are in a hopeless position so far as My purpose is concerned. I cannot evangelize you; I cannot do anything with you but spew you out.' "Cast out the bondwoman and her son"; "I will spew you out." I am not so sure (though I am not going to be dogmatic about it) that that does not get to the heart of Revelation 12. There is a man-child company (obviously plural) which is caught up to God and to His throne to rule the nations with a rod of iron. That word had already been said to one of the churches, to that very church to which we have referred - Laodicea; "He that overcomes, I will give to him to sit down with Me in My throne". That is the issue of the spiritual over the carnal. That man-child company was caught up to God and His throne. Then the end of the story is that the dragon went away to make war with the rest of the woman's seed.

You have the two seeds in the church, not the regenerate and the unregenerate, but within the church itself. They are the seed of this woman, they are her children who are the rest of her seed. Why have they not been caught up? Why are they not with the Lord in His throne? Why are they there in the wilderness for this period? May it not very well be that they represent the carnal among the Lord's people, who were not spiritual enough to be caught up? Leaving all matters of times out, it is the principle of this thing that we must recognize - how God sets His heart, thoughts, and purpose upon the spiritual among His people, and how the time must come when that legalistic, unspiritual, carnal 'Christian' order of things which exists and which is predominant as to its opportunities and its earthly power, will be spewed out of God's mouth. Is it not becoming apparent that Christianity in its organized, systematized, earthly sense, is losing its place with God? God is setting it aside and looking for something within that great mass that answers more to His thought - a spiritual company.

If that is true, that is the point of His word to us, and especially the point of His speaking to Christians today, to indicate that His thought is bound up with Isaac and not with Ishmael. He is committed to Ishmael inasmuch as Ishmael has come on to the ground of grace. I mean that if anybody is a Christian, however carnal, if they have accepted Christ as Saviour, then God is bound up with that one and with that people as with Ishmael, but He has not bound up His full purpose with that people. His full thought is with the Isaac company, the children of the Spirit, the children who have as the very basis of their life an impossibility were it not for God. It was impossible that Isaac should be, but for God; and that is the basis of the very course and history of the Isaac seed, that it is initially and continuously a matter of God, or it is nothing. It is God coming in at the beginning and God coming in all the time in the miracle of resurrection. But for God, there could be no existence, no going on; it is God who is the very life and existence of that people. That is the Isaac seed. We are of Isaac, says the apostle.

Well, we apply this to ourselves. God has all His interests and purpose bound up with the spiritual people, and God will, sooner or later, cast out, spew out that which is unspiritual. It represents a tremendous divide that God has placed between these two which will work out to its final conclusion; they cannot persist together indefinitely.

Now there is this other thing that I am wanting to get to. It is the increase of that which is spiritual. The apostle here quotes from Isaiah 54:1: "For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not: for more are the children of the desolate than of her that hath the husband." This is a strange quotation interjected by Paul here, and you need to look at it in its context. It evidently had a double meaning. Isaiah 54 is a wonderful chapter. It begins like that.

"Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear; break forth into singing, and cry aloud, thou that didst not travail with child: for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, saith the Lord. Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thy habitations; spare not: lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes. For thou shalt spread abroad on the right hand and on the left; and thy seed shall possess the nations, and make the desolate cities to be inhabited. Fear not; for thou shalt not be ashamed: neither be thou confounded; for thou shalt not be put to shame: for thou shalt forget the shame of thy youth; and the reproach of thy widowhood shalt thou remember no more. For thy Maker is thy husband; the Lord of Hosts is His name: and the Holy One of Israel is thy Redeemer; the God of the whole earth shall He be called. For the Lord hath called thee as a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit, even a wife of youth, when she is cast off, saith thy God. For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee. In overflowing wrath I hid My face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting lovingkindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the Lord thy Redeemer ... O thou afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted, behold, I will set thy stones in fair colours, and lay thy foundations with sapphires" (Isa. 54:1-11).

That is quoted right here at this point where the apostle is speaking about the carnal and the spiritual. Evidently that had a double meaning, for in Isaiah 54 we have come to that part, that half of the prophecies which looked beyond the captivity to the restoration of Israel. That is the meaning here.

Israel, the Lord's bride, was cast off for her sins, and being forsaken by Him, went into captivity. The remnant returned and is regarded as the whole, spoken of as the whole not as a part only; spoken to as though the remnant were all Israel, the bride. The Lord speaks not to the whole, but to the representative of the whole, the little remnant, the wife who was cast off and who was saying, "Where are all my children gone?" Look back to Isaiah 49:21, and you see that is made more precise: "Then shalt thou say in thy heart, Who hath begotten me these, seeing I have been bereaved of my children, and am solitary, an exile, and wandering to and fro? And who hath brought up these? Behold, I was left alone; these, where were they?" To this remnant that came back the Lord is saying, "You have lost all your children, but I am giving you a new family and a great family. 'Thy seed shall possess the nations.'" He promises a great expanse in restoration, in resurrection from the dead a great expanse and increase. In the first place, that evidently was to apply to Israel literally: cast off for a small moment, forsaken, suffering overflowing wrath, yet gathered again. Historically that applied to Israel.

But Paul, using that in connection with the church, gives it a second meaning and makes it perfectly clear that it had a double application, and it applies here. There is a little company of the spiritual, and if you stand truly for God you will lose (it cannot be otherwise; it is inevitable) you will lose a great multitude of merely carnal Christians; you will lose their fellowship. They will be cut off; God will have to set them aside. The true ones will be but a small remnant, and they will feel that they are shorn and bereft, brought down to something very small, and they wonder whether it is worth it, but the Lord comes in at that point.

This not only works out in the general dispensational application, but it works out in our lives individually and as companies of the Lord's people. We lose the sympathy, the fellowship of the great mass of those who are merely carnal Christians and sometimes we are tempted to wonder what is the real profit and value of being true to the Lord when there are so few who are that. The Lord says in that connection that He is going to realise through the spiritual a great spiritual purpose. There is going to be an expanding family of the spiritual. He is not going to leave it like that. "Thy Maker is thy husband." The Lord is going to get a spiritual company, an ever-growing company of those who are according to His mind. The Lord believes in increase, in fulness. The Lord is not in the end going to have a little insignificant thing as the result of all His labours and His sufferings. The Lord is going to have a great company who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. The end is not going to be just a little thing; it is going to be a mighty thing. Here His word says that while there may necessarily have to be reduction, He is only reducing in order to increase, He is only removing that which does not answer to His thought and cutting it off and setting it aside really to make way for something more according to His mind. That is a principle that the Lord is always putting into operation: getting rid of the thing which stands in the way of the truly spiritual in order to increase the spiritual. There is quite a lot of stuff that really does not serve the highest ends of the Lord. It is going on in us. Sometimes we feel we are reduced to nothing, and all that is left is a mere germ of spiritual life. The Lord is making room for the expansion of that germ in us.

Sometimes it is outward, the Lord has to cut off. As John says, "They went out from us, but they were not of us" (1 John 2:19). The Lord has cut off that which is not going His way in order to make room for something that is. This extends right from the inward life of the individual through the smaller companies to the whole church. The day comes when God comes right down as to the whole thing and spews the mass out of His mouth, but it is only to make room for increase. These words of Isaiah 54 have a double application, not only to Israel, but to the church. "I will lay thy foundations with sapphires." "Thy seed shall possess the nations." The Lord makes room for spiritual increase by getting rid of the carnal that is in the way wherever it is and whatever it is. That is what the apostle is saying here in Galatians. It must go, and he could only see with the Galatians that, if they were returning to a carnal basis, it was the way of being set aside, "You are fallen from grace, you are separated from Christ, you will have to be set aside". So his appeal is to go on on the basis of that which is spiritual and wholly according to God's mind, for that is the way of real increase.

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