The Holy Spirit, the Church, and the Nations (Transcript)

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 3 - The Spirit of Holiness

In the fourteenth chapter of the gospel by John, John's gospel chapter 14 and verse 26: "But the Comforter, even the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name...".

The book of the Acts chapter 1, verse 5: "John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized in the Holy Spirit".

The message is in the title: the Holy Spirit. We have sought in earlier messages to make clear that the Holy Spirit lays the foundations for all the work of God in the character of Jesus. He makes the character of Jesus the basis of all His work. And we, last night, were occupied with the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Truth, that great feature and characteristic of the Lord Jesus: truth.

This morning we are going to think about the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Holiness - the Holy Spirit. In the New Testament He is referred to as that somewhere about eighty times, which is in itself a very impressive thing. He is the Holy Spirit.

Now, I'm perfectly well aware that this subject of 'holiness' or 'sanctification' can be a very heavy-going matter, can be oppressive. I confess to you that for a long time it was the one subject I never enjoyed looking into, or having anything to do with. It can make for difficulties. That is very largely due to the fact that, as a subject, it has been resolved into various systems of teaching, and made respectively the ground of particular cults and movements, and even taking on the name of a church - the 'Holiness' church. And this whole matter has brought many Christians into bondage, and into confusion, and frustration of life.

That is mainly due to holiness or sanctification being focused down upon some particular aspects of human life. When you come to ask people what they mean, you usually find that they refer to certain common sins in human nature: and if you are delivered, or can be delivered, or want to be delivered from those, then that is "holiness". I'm not saying that holiness does not mean that, but holiness is a very much bigger, greater thing than any of our systems, or our crystallized teachings, or our movements, or our foci of application.

This is not intended to bring anybody either into bondage or into a life of struggle and strain. I think it's just in this very connection that satan has shown his cleverness. He himself brought about an unholy condition, and then he turns upon his own poor victims, and brings them under terrible condemnation and accusation, and brings about a constellation of complexes, so that they are all tied up on this matter of sin and sanctification and holiness. That certainly ought not to be the effect of the matter - it is just the opposite of what it is intended to be.

Now, of course, it's a matter that goes far beyond the limits of one brief half hour, but I do want to seek to get this matter into its right perspective. For, at the outset, holiness must be seen in its full setting. We're not stopping to argue that this is the supreme characteristic of God. We have to see it in its full background.

The Holy Spirit is Set Over Against an Un-holy Spirit

And the Holy Spirit is a Person and just as truly, there is a personal un-holy spirit. And you have to see this whole matter of holiness in that light. Satan it is, who has brought in an unholy State; not only an unholy condition, that is so, but I use that word State with a capital 'S', as we speak of the State, or the Kingdom, or the regime, the system, the government - the State. Satan has brought in an unholy condition and an unholy kingdom or State. He has defiled everything: he has defiled human nature; he has defiled the creation; he has defiled everything, and the proof is in the universality of death: God's verdict upon all that is unclean, that is defiled, that has been touched by satan.

It is therefore impressive and instructive to note that immediately Jesus had been anointed by the Holy Spirit, He entered upon a direct and immediate battle with satan himself. From the Jordan straight to the wilderness to meet and encounter this arch-foe of all righteousness. As Jesus went into His baptism, He said to John: "Thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness". And in figure and representation, His baptism, as a type of His Cross, death, burial and resurrection, was the fulfilment of all righteousness. Now then, on that ground, He encounters the embodiment of all unrighteousness. And this is under the anointing that He does it. The Spirit of Holiness, the Holy Spirit, takes the Righteous One to encounter the universality of unrighteousness, as represented by satan, there in the wilderness. I say, it is impressive and it is very instructive to note that that was the very first thing after the anointing, after the baptism.

Now the object and the method of satan is always to make a link with his State, a link with his kingdom, thereby making a link with his defilement. Remember that! Let me repeat it: the object and the method of satan is always to bring about some complicity, some touch, some foothold, some link with his own evil, unholy kingdom, or State, or condition. That is what was happening in that battle; all the time, satan, from one angle and from another, moving round, trying to involve that Righteous One in his unrighteous kingdom.

We are not going to argue out these three temptations, but it is perfectly clear, at last it comes out: "If Thou wilt worship me" - "If only You will recognise me, accept me, give me a place" - "If only Thou wilt worship me, all this will I give Thee!" "If only," in other words, "If I can get You on to my ground, I have spoiled Your kingdom, I have spoiled You. I have established myself, if I can but make that link." Blessed be God, that Holy and Righteous One saw through it all, and said, "No, not a hoof - not one iota. Nothing for satan." "The prince of this world cometh to Me: and hath nothing in Me". That is victory, absolute victory.

Now, remember then that what was true in His case is always true. Satan is ever seeking to find some way in which he can link us in with his kingdom, which is his power, by getting us on to his ground. Hence all those Old Testament prescriptions made by God against contamination, against mixture: "Thou shalt not plough with an ox and an ass together". There's nothing wrong with the ass, as such, for Jesus rode upon an ass, and the ass served many a good purpose in the Bible, but they belong to two realms, two kingdoms, they represent two orders of life, and you cannot mix them up, says God. The work of God must not be done on the basis of mixture of two things which belong to two different kingdoms and realms.

"Thou shalt not wear cotton and wool together in thy garment" - they belong to two kingdoms. There is nothing wrong with wool; God clothed the man and his wife with skins of animals, with wool; nothing wrong with the wool in itself. I suppose all the patriarchs wore woollen garments. But here together, woven together, they belong to two realms. And God is simply saying this: "You must not try to bring together things that don't belong to each other." It is a foreshadowing of this great principle.

Remember that when the remnant came back from captivity, for the rebuilding of the temple and the wall, the whole thing headed up in the book of Ezra, the whole thing headed up to this: the mixed marriages. And when that was settled, the book closes; the book closes, that is the end, it's alright, now we have got to the point - the mixed marriages between the people of God and other idolatrous nations. These two things must not come together. "Be not unequally yoked...". God will not have it. You see, this is the whole point of 'holiness' in its right setting as it was providing satan with what he is always seeking, towards which he is always trying to work - a link with his own kingdom.

Now, this is very thorough-going, and it is very comprehensive. For instance, let us allow this principle to take us right into the First Letter to the Corinthians, because this is the thing, you know, that explains everything in that book.

Here in this first letter to the Corinthians we first of all we begin with "the wisdom of this world".

The Wisdom of this World

You know what the apostle says about it there and then listen to another apostle later: "The wisdom that is from beneath is demoniacal!". Oh! The wisdom of this world, demoniacal? Well, so the Word says, so the Word says. And if we want the proof of that, come back to Paul's argument, that it was "in the wisdom of this world" that Christ was crucified, it was thought to be the wise thing to put Him to death. What folly, what madness, what devilishness in the wisdom of this world. Yes, and anybody who really touches that knows that it is a realm of death.

I don't know, I don't suppose anybody here, maybe one or two, have dipped into philosophy, but if you have, you know that there is no more deadly thing in all the sciences than philosophy. If you touch it, you touch death. Wisdom... in Corinth, the wisdom of this world. Ah yes, satan got a good foothold inside that church, along that line; he got them on to his ground right enough.

The next thing: "divisions among you". "Divisions among you...." remember - and this may be anticipating - the Holy Spirit is essentially the Spirit of unity. "There are divisions among you", satan has got them on to his ground, for he is the great divider. Satan never stops until he has divided the last thing: if he comes to one, he will make two of it! He never stops. "Divisions among you" - they are on his ground.

Nothing need be said about the next thing mentioned - fornication. But then you move on to the Lord's Table, you hear the apostle saying: "You cannot - you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. You can't mix things up like this!" But it was there in Corinth, it was there!

And listen: you've got to read that tenth chapter of the first letter of the Corinthians in this light, in this light. Oh, don't extract subjects from that chapter about women wearing hats or head-coverings, and all those difficult things - don't lift them right out, lift them out as separate subjects. If you do, you will just get into confusion. Look here: what the apostle was dealing with there was the coming in amongst the Lord's people, of the spirit of this world. That's how the world behaves - or misbehaves; that's how the world does it; and that world is satan's world. And if you let this sort of thing in, this sort of thing, study it in this light, all these details and practical matters, you let these things in and it is not just that you are having to deal with an apostle who you think had not too much of a liking for women and so on, you know. No, no! You are up against tremendous things here. It is satan seeking to get inside and get a foothold - a link between what is holy and what is his - in order that, defiling or bringing the world in, touching with his corruption and defilement, he may destroy that thing of God. Read it all in that light, for that is where the New Testament puts it - "lest, lest satan should get an advantage".

You see, the whole of the bulwark is raised against this one - this un-holy spirit that is in the universe; this corrupting influence and power; this defiling work - it is raised against that. The Church is always to be on its guard against these spirits of uncleanness that are everywhere. Why? Because of the power of holiness. It is not just to have a clean condition, as something in itself. Oh, don't make 'holiness' an end in itself, just to be something in itself. No, it is of the power, the mighty power of holiness.

Remember that in the Bible, and it is so clearly and strongly illustrated in the Old Testament:

Holiness is Always Militant.

It was the priests that led them into battle; it was the sacrifice that was the ground of the warfare. It is a most impressive thing that even the Levites are spoken of as set apart for "their warfare". Levites and priests, set apart for warfare? We thought they were set apart to offer sacrifices and deal with all that! No, holiness is militant, and it's a mighty power against one who is militant. Our warfare is with principalities and powers... they're making war, there is no doubt about it. They make war. What is the ground of our hope? Oh, it is not our phraseology, our language, our terminology, or our doctrine: it is our holiness of life. That is the point of attack. Unholiness, unholiness puts God back, you see. God is holy, the Holy Spirit is holy, and unholiness just keeps Him back, or puts Him back; it binds their hands, they can't do anything. It is as though the Lord is bound in the midst of His people and helpless, paralysed when there is unholiness.

I pulled a book out of the bookshelf this week, a book that I haven't read for a long time, for many years. As I was turning the pages, I came on this, it's just one simple, fragmentary illustration of what I mean, because it brings us to a very practical point. It is the story of a Christian college that was carried on by prayer and by faith for all its support.

It says this, I'm going to read this to you (I don't often read something out of a book to you here):

"The College was based on the simplicity of daring faith in God for the provision of need. As long as the spiritual life of the men was maintained, the necessary funds came in, in answer to prayer. If supplies failed to come in, or were low, with no sign of replenishment, it was recognised that the finger of God was on some failing or unconfessed sin among them, and not until this was put right would supplies come in. Thus, the meeting of the material needs became, as it were, the spiritual barometer.

"One instance of this may be recorded: Funds were so low that a meeting was held, and the students urged to a more complete surrender to God. Still matters did not improve, and it was thought that possibly the men were not devoting sufficient time to prayer, so the curriculum was curtailed, and more time devoted to prayer, but still no supplies. And, finally, all funds came to an end, and there was only the garden produce left.

"Then, late one night, two students came to the tutor and confessed secret drinking. He gave urgent advice to repair to God, and confess their sin and plead forgiveness, and not for the sake of the loaves and fishes, but because of the leaven of hypocrisy. And they did that. Confession was made before the whole college, and united prayer was offered. The next day was set apart for fasting and humiliation and prayer, at the close of which they gathered together with a great heart-thankfulness, feeling the moral and spiritual atmosphere was cleansed, and that God would be able to give an exhibition of His faithfulness. God honoured their faith, and the very next morning came a cheque for fifty pounds."

A very simple story, but it illustrates what I mean; the whole work of God can be held up; a whole assembly can have its spiritual life injured, limited; the warfare of the saints can be turned into defeat. Oh, what a lot will result if the Lord has to stand back and say: "I'm sorry, but I cannot go on with them - there is this, there is that; there is an Achan, there is an Ananias and a Sapphira..." He knows! Dear friends, unholiness, you see, in something which after all, was only a small part of a whole - two men in a whole college, or one man in all Israel, or a man and his wife in the Church at the beginning. "Yes, well, well the majority are all right; the mass are not doing this sort of thing...". Nevertheless, the Holy Spirit focuses right down on that, because He is bound to the corporate principle, He is committed to the corporate principle. On the one hand, "if one member suffers, all the members suffer, if one member rejoices, all the members rejoice". There is a relatedness which is sacred to the Holy Spirit. And our blessing, our blessing benefits the whole Church, our sin, our unholiness, may cripple the whole Church. A solemn word I know.

Holiness is militant; it is the power of triumphant warfare. Holiness is Christly character. Holiness is not formal make-up, something put on. The Lord Jesus saw right through that with the Scribes, Pharisees, and rulers. None of that, no 'make-up' spiritually, will pass with the Holy Spirit. Holiness is Christly character; more than teaching; more than profession; more than pretence; more than formal procedure on the outward side. It is the very Person, the very life, the very character of Christ in the believer and in the Church. It's a very big matter, far bigger than this, but that's enough. The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Holiness; and because He is that, everything else follows. Everything else follows!

Now, for your comfort, let me say this in closing. Those men who were gathered in that Upper Room for those ten days, and on that particular day, in themselves I don't think they were any more holy than they were when one of them denied the Lord Jesus thrice. They had all forsaken Him and fled, and in that way denied Him - they were all guilty. And I don't think that on the Day of Pentecost in themselves they were any more holy than they were before. But the Spirit came upon them. What for? To make them holy; to make them holy, to set up a holiness of life within them. You don't have to struggle to get to a place of holiness, trying to make yourself worthy of the Holy Spirit. You have to be where they were: before the Lord, set upon all that the Lord had spoken of, obedience to what the Lord had said. That is what they were doing. "After He had given them commandment through the Holy Spirit..." No I don't believe that that relates to the command to go into all the world to preach the gospel. Immediately the context said: "He commanded them that they depart not from Jerusalem..." - after He had given commandment by the Holy Spirit. They are obeying His command: that is, they are there, open, diligent, committed, earnest, ready, waiting on Him - men, with many, many imperfections, but the Holy Spirit saw a way in them, a way, and He came and took that way.

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