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Monday, February 4, 2013

The Prophets' Ultimate Meaning # 2

Prophetic Ministry

There are many who will say say about the fixed orders and rituals: 'Of course, we do not regard this as everything; it is only symbolic. We do remember that it implies and points to something else, and it is that something else we are thinking of.'  'Yes, but is it not true that, when the Holy Spirit comes, as He came then, and gets possession, and you go on with Him, more and more the emphasis of the merely outward and earthly and temporal aspects of Christianity fade away, and you become increasingly occupied with the glory of the reality? The Jesus of history gives full place to the Jesus of the Spirit of heaven. That is exactly what is meant by "the voices of the prophets.'

So, on the day of Pentecost, you start with Joel. Everybody in Jerusalem was saying, "What meaneth this?" (Acts 2:12). They were all bewildered, without any understanding or perception; and Peter, with the eleven, stood up and said; "This is that which hath been spoken through the Prophet Joel" (verse 16). "This is that ..." What a crushing blow it was to tradition, what an upheaval  it created in Israel, this - with its implications of Jesus of Nazareth! And the Apostle went on, quoting freely from the Old Testament. He quoted David. That sermon of his on the day of Pentecost was just full of Old Testament quotations. But who ever saw that - who ever knew that that was the meaning of it!

You see the point. It is something that really needs to come to us with tremendous force, because even New Testament Christianity can be reduced again to an earthly system of exact technique. You can write your manuals on New Testament procedure. You can have it exactly according to the letter - but it is all on the horizontal, it becomes legalistic, it ties up the Holy Spirit. Although the intention may have been to be more exactly according to Scripture, that the Lord might have a fuller way, it does not always result in that. The whole thing must be baptized in the Holy Spirit and lifted clean off the earthly level, becoming something entirely heavenly.

Our Responsibility to Yield to the Spirit

Now I think we can rightly say that, when the disciples asked, "Lord, dost Thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?", they were seriously and genuinely exercised. The Scriptures must be fulfilled; what was written must happen. I think the disciples were very much occupied  with this, burdened and perplexed; they wanted to know how things were going to work out. The Lord said, in effect: 'Do not worry about that. The Holy Spirit is coming and He will take all responsibility for everything - times and seasons and everything else. He is coming with the whole purpose of God in His hands, and He will work it out. You can be at rest - it is all right.' Those who get this earthly idea and conception of a system become terribly worried and burdened to work it out - burdened with the awful responsibility of this 'New Testament Church', of having things exactly as the Scriptures say! If the Holy Spirit were in charge, the burden would go! He is doing it. All that we are called upon to do is to get into the hands of the Holy Spirit, get completely free from all this harness, free to the Spirit of God. Matters will work out all right.

And even if the Holy Spirit comes up against some stones in us and for a time there is some conflict, He is more than equal to that situation. He is more than equal to Peter and his never having eaten anything unclean. When the Lord gave Peter that vision of the sheet let down with all manner of four-footed beasts and creeping things and said, "Rise, Peter; kill and eat", Peter in effect quoted Scripture to the Lord; he quoted Leviticus 11, with its commandments concerning the unclean beasts which must not be eaten. "Lord, here is Scripture for my position; my position is soundly founded upon the Word of God!' What are you going to do with that? Now, listen - I am not saying nor even implying that the Holy Spirit will ever call upon us to do something contrary to the Scriptures. He never will! But He will very often show us that the Scriptures mean something that we never saw them to mean. Leviticus 11 had a meaning that Peter had not seen. He had taken the letter and the literal meaning of those things. He never saw the Divine spiritual meaning at the back of that. Cornelius had never received the Holy Spirit, and therefore an angel spoke to him. Peter had received the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, and it was the Spirit Who was speaking to Peter. The Holy Spirit had this matter in hand, and was dealing with the difficulties in Peter, even in his fundamentalism, to lift him off a merely temporal, earthly ground to a heavenly. Peter was living under an open heaven; and there are tremendous changes when you get there. It does not all happen at once.

The Holy Spirit "Upon" and "In"

Just one further word for the present. You notice here that there was a double operation of the Holy Spirit. In chapter 2, the Spirit lighted 'upon' them. These cloven tongues as of fire sat upon them; and then it says, "They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance." 'Upon' and 'In'. I do not want to be technical, contradicting what we have been saying about too much technique, but there is a meaning in the 'upon' and the 'in.' The coming 'upon' is the sovereignty of the Holy Spirit in relation to God's eternal purpose. That is, the Holy Spirit has come as the custodian and administrator of the eternal counsels of God, of the purpose of God from eternity, and, coming like that, He imposes (I trust that it is not the wrong word to use) the purpose of God upon the vessel. He gathers the vessel into the purpose in a sovereign way. It is as though He circled around and took charge of the vessel in an outward way and said, "This is the vessel of the eternal purpose of God." He takes charge of it, comes 'upon' for that.

But then He entered 'in' also, and they will filled, and this had a further meaning. It meant this, that in inward life of the vessel must correspond to the outward purpose. That is tremendous. You see, the old dispensation was not like that, and this is the problem that the prophets were dealing with all the time. The outward form was there. Israel had their temple, they were offering their sacrifices, they were going through all the ritual, but their inward life was far from corresponding to that. God had to say, through the prophets, 'Away with your sacrifices - I do not want them!' (Isaiah 1:10-14). The Lord Jesus took that up. "Sacrifice and offering Thou wouldest not, but a body didst Thou prepare for Me; in whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin Thou hadst no pleasure: then said I, Lo, I am come to do Thy will, O God" (Hebrews 10:5-7).

Formalism never does the will of God; merely external system, however much it corresponds to the technique of the letter, never does the will of God; and the Holy Spirit was having none of that. He did not come in sovereignty to take up a lot of new people in a new dispensation, and give them forms and order, and make them do things in such and such a manner, merely in an outward way. He was going to have the inner life of the Church corresponding to the purpose. You find before long that he very severely comes upon anything that does not correspond. Ananias and Sapphira will know you cannot carry on in an outward way, pretending all is right. The Holy Spirit has seen inside the contradiction, and is not allowing it to pass.

Many want the coming 'upon' because they want to feel the power, feel themselves taken up, manipulated and moved. There has been a great deal of that sort of thing, which has not carried with it an inward correspondence. But the Lord's end can never be reached fully while there is any lack of true consistency between the purpose of God and the life of the people called to that purpose. "I ... beseech you to walk worthily of the calling wherewith ye were called" (Ephesians 4:1). Oh, I do beg of you to have continuous dealings with God on this matter of the indwelling Spirit - not just for purposes of service, or power, but for purposes of life.

One of the tragedies of many Christians and many servants of God is this, that they can believe and give expression to things which are positively false, and propagate those things and do harm to to other Christians by propagating them, and yet the Holy Spirit never seems to be able to make them aware that they are not telling the truth. I do not mean in Bible teaching, but in relation to other servants of God, and other work that God is doing. The solemn fact that  there are such prejudices, suspicions, criticisms, misrepresentations, and so on, ought to drive us to the Lord with earnest appeal - 'Oh, Lord, it is no good my being engaged in Thy work, doing a lot of things for Thee, being prominent among men, perhaps, as well known for my Christian service, if yet, after all, the Holy Spirit cannot correct me within, put me right, give me a bad time when I say something not true. Save me from saying anything that does not correspond with the truth, or of which my inward life is a contradiction.' The Spirit within is to adjust us to the purpose of God. If we habitually, constantly, fall into ways which are not according to the Spirit, so that we become known for that kind of unpleasantness, we had better ask the Holy Spirit to do a deeper work in us. It is no use our having the deep things of God, while people know us as most difficult to get on with, always making life unpleasant for others. It will not do; it is a contradiction of the indwelling Spirit. He does not want us to have the system of things merely outwardly. We must have the inner life to correspond.

So we see that He came 'upon' to possess for the purpose of God, and He came 'within' to see that everything in the inner life corresponded to that purpose.

~T. Austin-Sparks~

(Next: "The Cry of the Prophets for Holiness")

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