By way of illustration in the type, the antagonism of the nations toward Israel of old was simply because of Israel's spiritual position. They represented a heavenly position as apart from this world, as in union with God and His Christ, and ultimate supremacy was bound up, not with them just in a people, but with them as a people in the spiritual position which they held. When they lost their spiritual position, the destiny was suspended, the realization of the purpose was made impossible. But, while they preserved the spiritual position, that, in itself, brought everything against them. You might have said, Well, these people, somehow or other, are the most provocative people in the world; somehow or other they stir up trouble wherever they go! That may be said to their disadvantage, to their discredit, but the fact is that they could not help themselves. It was not that they were inviting hostility, but their very position precipitated it, and brought it upon them.
And we must recognize that there is something even more in the antitype than in the type; I mean in the case of the Church. The Church is a far more spiritual thing than was Israel on the earth. The Church is a far more heavenly thing in reality than was that which was only heavenly in type, and we shall be very provocative people if we are in the faith. I mean that we shall be the cause of trouble; there will be spontaneous antagonism. We shall not have to be awkward people who cannot get on with anybody. We shall be here as a challenge, and we shall not be able to avoid or evade spiritual conflict. It becomes spontaneous.
It is like that in the type. You remember the smitten rock, the waters gushing out, and the Psalm "Spring up, O well" (Numbers 21:17 - a foreshadowing of the Holy Spirit coming in fullness into the life of the Lord's people. What is the next thing? "Then came Amalek, and fought with Israel" (Exodus 17:8). There is nothing between. "Spring up, O well": that is one phase. The next phase is, "Then came Amalek, and fought ..." Pentecost, then persecution! The Spirit, then the wilderness and the devil! It is always like that. A spiritual position precipitates spiritual conflict, and the faith was always in that very atmosphere and realm. Every time you have the faith, you have the fight. It is a position.
The Faith - a Nature
But of course it is also another thing. It is a nature. A kind of being has come into God's universe which is not welcome, the universe being as it is. To spoil that kind, to change that nature, will be the one object of those antagonistic forces; to bring down from the position by corrupting, polluting, tainting, changing the nature if possible. That was the enemy's objective in and with the very Son of God Himself in the wilderness; to get Him to forsake His exalted position by coming down on to another level of life and nature.
The faith, then, represents a kind of people who must be got rid of, if possible, anyhow: and therein lies the conflict. So the faith is not just a subject preached or taught; it is a power let loose. That is the faith - a power let loose. Paul says, "I have fought the good eight ... I have kept the faith"; and he exhorts Timothy to "fight the good fight of the faith." The article occurring three times in that statement is impressive - "Fight the good fight of the faith, lay hold on the eternal life."
The Principle of Sonship - the Heart of the Faith
This is something specific, unique, peculiar in God's universe, which marks out those associated with it as being different in position and nature, and we must get closer to this, with regard to what the faith was and is. I think the best point at which we can approach it and get help is to note just where the fight came to light. I do not mean where the fight began; it began long, long centuries before this. It began in the Garden; it began perhaps even before the Garden. But, while it was there all the time right through the ages, it came to light in its nature and meaning at a certain point. The Lord Jesus dragged it out into the light by coming Himself, by Himself being present.
In Luke 4 we have the point at which the fight came most clearly to light, and it is couched in this interrogation repeated by the enemy - "If thou be the Son of God ..." The occasion was a battle in the wilderness between Christ and satan, the battle o all the ages now joined in its fullest and deepest and most malignant sense, and that battle is concentrated in this word - "If thou be the Son of God ..."
What then, is "the faith"? It is gathered into that phrase "the Son of God". Now, Jesus Christ as the Son of God - that is, the deity of Christ - may be a tenet of the Christian faith, a part of Christian doctrine; but oh, it is something more than that! It is something around which this battle has raged in unabated fury. It is the occasion of all the conflict. Jesus, the Son of God: that is "the faith."
That is something far more than a statement. I have said it is an experience. Sonship is something immense in God's thought, and it is upon this whole question of sonship that the battle rages, both in His case and in ours. If you want to know what the occasion of all the trouble is, it is gathered into one word - sonship; all that that means with God, both for the Lord Jesus and for the many sons whom He is bringing to glory. [that means both men and women here on earth and who, when in heaven will have no distinction between man or woman. We will all be the same sex in heaven.] That word "sonship" carries with it everything that stirs and rouses hell to its depths, and explains all the trouble, all the suffering, all the conflict. It came to light on that point. There had been an announcement made from heaven - "This is my beloved Son" (Luke 3:22). Then, into the wilderness, and to the challenge - "If thou be the son ..." And so intense was the spiritual conflict in the wilderness that angels had to be sent from heaven to minister unto him.
Well, we may know just a little bit about that. Have you never known spiritual conflict which has made it necessary for the Lord to minister life to you in such a way that, but for it you could not go on. That ofttimes is the effect of spiritual conflict. His, of course, was an experience far beyond ours, but we share that, and the focal point of it all is just the same in our case as in His - although He was the consummate center of it all - sonship. "If thou be the Son ..."
In that challenge and that language, there is a recognition of the uniqueness of this Sonship. What I mean is this: One of the strategic, cunning, subtle methods of satan, to deal with this whole matter to its nullification, is to propagate the doctrine of the universal sonship of mankind. You can hear it on the radio almost any morning you like. We are all God's sons, if we will look deep enough into our own natures. All we have to do is to turn inward and go deep and we shall find God! Then, by the holy exercises of prayer and the sacraments, we will bring God up out of the depth of our own natures, and bringing Him up, we shall have fellowship with Him! That is the stuff that is preached worldwide today. It is a cleaver move of the devil's to get rid of this unique element in sonship, that it is something peculiar, particular, unique. There is no Divine continuity in man. That has been severed, and only by a miracle can union with God be recovered. But satan, you see, by his false doctrine, and doctrine of demons, has sought to subvert the truth. Is it not of that that Paul says to Timothy, "... in later times some shall fall away from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of demons" (1 Timothy 4:1)? Of course, on the face of it, that sounds terrible: they must surely be very terrible doctrines. No, they are very lovely doctrines! One of them is this doctrine that you have God in you by nature and, if only you will turn into your own heart, you will find God and you can bring Him up by holy exercises, and, if you will but habituate yourself to this practice, you yourself will become divine. A lovely doctrine, swallowed by the multitude, but a doctrine of demons! It is the satanic move to get rid of this unique nature of sonship, because that is something apart in God's universe. satan cannot touch that; it is something outside of his realm, it is unique. "If thou be the Son ..." "The Son" and "the flesh" represent something exclusive. In refuting one error I am not going to fall into another. Even by being born anew we are not made sons of God in the sense that Christ was the "only begotten" of the Father. We do not partake of deity, but we are made children of God in a sense hat is not true of men generally by nature.
In this challenge - "If thou be the Son ..." - there is not only recognition of the uniqueness of sonship, but there is the realisation that in that sonship there is a challenge. There is not much challenge to satan in this other doctrine of the continuity of the continuity of the divine in man! But in this sonship of Christ, and of those who are begotten of God, in whom, as Paul says to the Galatians, the Spirit of His Son is ("God sent forth the Spirit of his Son into our hearts" (Gal. 4:6), there is a tremendous challenge to satan, and that is why satan assailed in this way, and does assail! He would seek in some way to neutralize the spiritual reality of sonship, because it is such a challenge and threatening menace to him and his kingdom.
Paul makes it perfectly clear in Romans 8 that, when the time comes that the sons of God are manifested, then the curse will forever be nullified; that is, all the work of satan will be destroyed with the manifestation of the sons of God.
(continued with # 1 - "The Nature of the Challenge - Destiny Bound up with Sonship")