The Spiritual Background of the Word of God
by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 6 - The Value of Spiritual Revelation

Reading: John 16:1-33.

Of all that we have been saying together in these gatherings, I think we could sum up everything in one thought, and that is that God is seeking in this age to extricate from this world a people for Himself, in living union with Himself. We have traced through the Word of God the abiding antagonism between God and this world, spiritually; between all that is of God in this world and this world's antagonism to that. We have seen two great factors in that state of antagonism. On the one hand the factor of an inward constitutional "something" in the very nature of man, by which he is bound spiritually to this world, bound up with it; and, on the other hand, the great system of spiritual intelligences bent upon maintaining that inward affinity. And even where it has been broken and suspended, and there has been brought about a counter affinity, through grace, with God and His things, the enemy does not abandon his object. He persists right on in seeking in some way, by force, by deception, by subtlety, to again entangle spiritually in this world. This explains the whole history of the Church, and of the people of God, in their continuous spiritual battle with the world, in which so many have fallen back again into the world, because of the strength of the world's call and draw. The Church has again and again fallen into that entanglement, so that ere the apostolic age was closed, you find in that representation of the Church universally, the seven Churches of Asia, with but one or two exceptions, an entanglement again in this world.

All this has been a very great emphasis upon the need for an utter separation unto God, and we shall pursue this matter, and come to consider now another factor in the conflict, and in the victory.

The Value of Spiritual Revelation

This factor is the supreme value and power of a spiritual revelation. It seems to me to be THE factor in the full extrication and emancipation of a people spiritually from the world unto God. I can see it running through the Old Testament, and I see it standing out so clearly in the New Testament; the supreme value and power of a spiritual revelation as the means of spiritual emancipation. It has been God's method all along. Whenever there has been an entanglement spiritually in this world, and God has moved again to break that entanglement and to deliver from that bondage, to bring out into a clear place with Himself spiritually, He has begun by a revelation of Himself. We will not trace it through - it would take too long - but we can touch upon one or two of the instances, which will immediately show you the principle of God's working in this matter.

The Case of Abram

You may take Abram; that great movement of God toward having a people for Himself in this world, and yet utterly separated from it. We are told that the God of glory appeared unto our father, Abram, when he was in Ur of the Chaldees, and Abram had a revelation of the God of glory. The issue instantly was that Abram left Ur of the Chaldees and came out. The terms and basis of his coming out are so strikingly akin to spiritual relationships: "...unto a place that I will show thee... and he went out, not knowing whither he went." And I say again, that very well represents the spiritual experience of the Lord's people. Very largely, in a certain realm, spiritual people are a "Don't know" people. That is, they cannot interpret themselves to the world, they cannot explain their goings in terms of human wisdom and understanding. To the world theirs is a most foolish and unreasonable line of things. The world would say that it was unpractical, it was altogether contrary to common sense. Abram left Ur of the Chaldees. Abram, where are you going? I don't know! What do you expect to find there? I don't know! Well, what are you going for? Well, I have been told to go, that is all! That is not the way of this world's business, "not knowing whither." You might say that it is being suspended between heaven and earth, and spiritually that is very true of the Lord's people. Yes, it very aptly expresses, defines spiritual experience.

Abram has had a vision, and it accounts for all sorts of extraordinary behaviour that the world could not understand. He is sure of one thing, and that is, of God. He is sure that he is moving under divine compulsion, though he himself cannot understand. He will find that in the course of things he will be more and more bewildered; things will become more and more difficult of understanding, and impossible of explanation; and at any point in his life, if you ask him for an explanation, of a variety of experience and its meaning, he will have to say, I don't know. All that I do know is that God has told me, and I have to do what God has told me. I believe God; the rest I have to leave with Him. Where will you be tomorrow, Abram? I don't know! How long are you going to continue in this kind of life? I don't know! And yet, deep down, as settled as anything can be, is the conviction that he is on sure ground spiritually. God has appeared to him, and he is a man spiritually outside of the world, even outside of the world's intelligence, understanding. He is outside, and he cannot be reckoned amongst those of this world; he cannot be judged by this world's standards; he cannot be explained according to this world; he is outside, resultant from a revelation.

The Case of Israel

Later in his life the revelation of the divine purpose developed; and God, in His foreknowledge, in His eternal present, saw the seed of Abram in bondage in Egypt, and had regard to His determined purpose to bring them out of that bondage. In order to get them out of the world, He will proceed along exactly similar lines to those which He has used in getting Abram out - by revelation. And so, in the 15th Chapter of Genesis, God appears to Abram again, and says to him, Thy seed shall be captives (bond-slaves) in a strange land. He gives him certain details, and then says, after four hundred years I will bring them out. That revelation has come through, as you notice in the chapter, by great conflict, tremendous conflict. God did not say that to Abram until certain things had taken place, until the ground of emancipation had been typically laid, in the sacrifice, the altar, the flame, the torch. You see in these all the symbols of our emancipation from this world - the shed Blood of the Cross, the mighty power of the Spirit, and then powers of darkness beating down, and a horror of great darkness. And then the revelation is given. It seems as though all hell is out to frustrate that revelation, because once that revelation is through - something made known by God - it is something God can never go back upon. Once He has expressed Himself and committed Himself to man, He is bound to do it. And so, to prevent the revelation, all the forces of darkness rage, but God gets His revelation through to His servant in spite of the horror of great darkness and the vultures, and all the forces working in opposition. And the fact - this is the point - the fact that a revelation has come, is the certainty of an emancipation. The emancipation hangs upon the revelation. The revelation is the ground of the emancipation. That is the law that we are indicating.

You see that at work many other times in the Old Testament. In the case of Israel's later emancipation from their captivity the same thing happened. Revelation came, and through the revelation came their deliverance.

Now, when you come to the New Testament you find the law still at work, that God must first of all, according to the law by which He has bound Himself, work according to a revelation. He first of all gives a revelation, before He acts in relation to it.

The Case of Paul

We take the outstanding case in the Scriptures. What is the position peculiarly and uniquely represented by the ministry of the apostle Paul? Undoubtedly it is the Church in the heavenlies. A Testimony, in a word, to the real, spiritual nature of the Church, the Body of Christ, as not being something of this world, but while, in part at least, here in this world, as certainly quite apart from it spiritually, having a heavenly life, a heavenly relationship, and everything heavenly. That is Paul's ministry, that is the thing which he represents. Before ever that could come about, God had to give a special revelation to an instrument, to secure it. We will touch that again later. I am simply trying to indicate the working of this law, that to certain divine ends, before God takes in hand the practical aspect of it, in the working out of it he always gives a revelation of it to some instrument, individual or collective; and it is that spiritual revelation which is of supreme value and power in accomplishing the extricating work.

Revelation of - Not Extra to - the Scriptures

Seeing that law - (I do trust that you have grasped it. I am not wanting to give you just truth. I have a tremendous revolt in me against increasing truth and doctrine as such, and if there is no real eternal, heavenly value for us from what is being said, and it is all for naught, I would pray to be delivered from words. But this, to me at any rate, is of very great importance) - seeing, then, that law clearly in the Word of God, let us seek to get inside of this thing, to reach its inner meaning, and see that, back of all things which are said, there is a spiritual reality and meaning, even in the Word of God. The Word is necessary, but it is only a vehicle. It is a vehicle of light, of truth. The things that are written in this Book have back of them something which cannot be seen, only as the Holy Spirit illumines it. Back of all things said, there is a spiritual reality and meaning for which we need a spiritual faculty. This Book can be an absolutely closed Book, though you may read it through and through, unless the Spirit of God illumines. But once the Spirit of God begins to illumine, this Book lives, it lives from end to end. What is it that you have in the Book? Perhaps you have had it in your pocket all the time, on your desk, on the shelf; but now you have something more than the printed page, even more than the words, and the sentences, and the chapters; you are receiving God's Mind back of it all. That is revelation, and it is that which is the emancipating thing. It is that which extricates, and which is of such tremendous power to deliver the life from bondage. We may organise the Book, organise it into very clever, able, interesting, fascinating Bible Readings, addresses; organise its material into subjects and themes, and what-not, and still there be no spiritual emancipation. The criterion is always this; not, Have we had an interesting time, a very interesting Bible address or Bible reading, a very fascinating presentation of scriptures? The criterion is, How much spiritual revelation has it brought to us? How much have we been brought out spiritually into a larger place in the Lord? That is the test. Back of the things said there is a deeper reality and meaning, and to possess that is to have revelation. I want to emphasise that, because some people think that when we use the word "revelation" we mean something extra to the Scriptures. Let that thought be dismissed from any mind if it has come in. We are bound by the Scriptures, and would not move into any realm of what is extra to the Scriptures. We have no need to. At any rate, for my own part, I have no desire for that, because I have found that the Scriptures have given me far more than enough with which to be occupied without having anything extra to them. When this Book lives, beloved you do not want anything extra. You will find your life is in this. Blessed be God, it can be like that! Now that is what we mean by revelation; it is that deeper reality and meaning back of the things said. That is a power that is of tremendous value.

Experience Necessary to Understanding

Of course, there is one thing that goes along with revelation, and that is experience. I mean this; the disciples had a great many things said to them. They had all that is contained in the four Gospels, at least, and we have reason to believe that they had a very great deal more. John tells us at the end of his Gospel, that if he were to write all the things that the Lord Jesus did and said, he supposed the world would not contain the books. So evidently they had a very great deal more than we have recorded in the four Gospels. But we have a good deal to go upon in saying that they understood very little of it. They had very little of what we are now calling "revelation." We find that when the Lord Jesus had been crucified, their light had gone out, and John 16 was surely fulfilled: "Ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice." You will be in sorrow, you will mourn. Then after His resurrection one of the first things that the Lord Jesus did on resurrection ground was to take up the Scriptures as they had them, all the Scriptures of the Old Testament - Moses, the Psalms and the Prophets - and to give them some revelation, with the result that they did not say, Was not that a fascinating exposition of the Old Testament! They said, Did not our HEARTS burn within us..." That is revelation. "The eyes of the heart being enlightened..." It was emancipating. But for the fuller appreciation of all the things that the Lord had said and done in their presence, they had to come into an experience. And as they went on through experiences, some of them deep and dark, through trials, through those weeks of testing and breaking and emptying in their lives, through the pressures, they came into a deep heart understanding of what the Lord had said. And it was by reason of the way in which the Lord had led them, that they came into a real living appreciation of what the Lord had said. It is ever thus. You and I have discovered the meaning of the Word of God by reason of the experiences into which we have been led. We have come into revelation through being broken, through being emptied out. Something has happened, in which our spirits have become open to the Lord, our hearts have been touched. In suffering, in sorrow, in adversity, in trial our hearts have been touched, and we have come into a heart appreciation of the Word of God, and it has become alive to us. Let a life encounter a real good bout of conflict with the devil, and such a one can well understand what Paul has written. You say, Now I know what Paul is talking about. Or again, how some of us remember having plodded away for months and years in ministry, giving the Word of God! There came a day when a brother came and said: "I believe I can see what you have been talking about all this time." Just that; and when that comes about there is life, something can happen, there is emancipation.

The Lord has to do things in relation to His Word in order to bring us into the good of it. Revelation is not only the study of the Scripture; it is our being wrought into it, sometimes by heartbreak, and having it wrought into us. Facts as facts have never yet constituted a messenger of God. Now, you young preachers, take that, and write it down inwardly, and not only in your notebooks. Facts merely as facts have never yet constituted a messenger of God, neither have they constituted a vessel of testimony. The essential to a messenger of God and a vessel of testimony is spiritual understanding; and spiritual understanding comes by life, by something inwrought; and that usually by experience. The Word is: "That ye may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding."

Spiritual understanding! You cannot gain anything spiritual, only by spiritual life and spiritual experience. It is not a matter of manuals and text-books; it is not a question of what certain people stand for and teach; such may know the teaching for a very long time and never enter into it. That is the danger. I have not infrequently had letters asking me to send literature to certain people, because they would like to teach our teaching and give out our truth. This is a false and perilous position. Nothing makes me recoil inwardly more than that. Such reasoning is not the fruit of life, but the work of the casual mind in the things of God. As an expression of life, it can never be merely a question of a teaching for which certain people stand, of which you come to the conclusion that it is very good teaching, and that everyone ought therefore to have it, and you yourself will do your best to get the teaching out; however justified and right your approval of what is taught may be. God save you from doing that! It is all too possible for people to be in the presence of teaching in that way, and yet never to have come into the real spiritual good of it, while their approval and taking up with it in that way has been thought to secure this; and that is the condition which gives rise to the blind spot in a life. The earnest and active dissemination of the truth as the result of life, while it may involve outward activities of a like kind, is yet quite another thing.

In order to get into the spiritual good of it, really to have revelation, time is very often essential, and a good deal of emptying. Revelation requires a spiritual state, and a spiritual condition, and an emptying of the natural life. There are two factors.

The Way of Revelation

Firstly, time. If you are going to be in a hurry about this thing, you are not going to have it. Time is a great factor.

And then there is the other factor of seeming to be losing rather than to be receiving. You lose what you have, it seems. Yes, the Lord empties out, and then begins right down at the bottom of the vessel to fill up in a new way, but this time it is not mixed, it is something that is pure spiritual understanding. That is a thing of pre-eminent value and tremendous power. It means that such instruments or vessels are brought into a heavenly position, which represents something very great for the Lord spiritually.

Spiritual understanding! What is spiritual understanding? It is, as we have said, the inward apprehension of that deeper meaning and reality of the things said and written by the Lord. It is a thing of the Holy Spirit, with which only the spiritual are conversant. Let me illustrate. When the people of Israel went into captivity, as you know, they were in captivity for seventy years. That meant that all the old men and all the middle aged men died, and only the younger ones were left at the end of the captivity. That again means that the youthful and infant part of the generation had grown up in a foreign country, with a foreign tongue spoken all round. Their fathers and their grandfathers had died, and left them with a foreign language. They learned that foreign language, and forgot their own, so that when the remnant came back from the captivity, they had lost their own language, and you find that in the 8th Chapter of the Book of Nehemiah certain men, who were conversant with the language of the Hebrews, were called upon to stand up in the midst of the congregation on that great day, to read the law, and give the sense thereof. Why give the sense thereof? Because the people did not know their own language, so that these interpreters of the law would read something and say, Now that means so-and-so. From infancy they had learned another language and had lost their own.

Out from that there came the official set of people called the scribes. The scribes were the official or professional interpreters of the law, and they took the law and read, and then said, That means so-and-so. So you see the perils of a professional party of scribes taking hold of the law and saying, That means this. Get away from the spiritual men who really have a spiritual insight into the law, into the merely professional realm where there is only a scholarly understanding of the language, and you get two distinct realms. In the New Testament you find a great deal referred to in the use of the phrase: "You have heard that it has been said..." The Lord Jesus used those words. The interpreters have said that it means so-and-so, "but I say unto you..." The Lord Jesus never contradicted the scribes, but He transcended them and the professional interpreters of the Scriptures, and you find that you have in the New Testament a very great deal brought in which was merely the sense that was given to the Scriptures by the professional party of interpreters. What had happened? The pure language had been lost by the people, so that they could not read the Scriptures in it, and an extra party took up the Scriptures and gave what they thought to be the meaning, but it turned out to be something else in the long run. It was the thought of their own mind cleverly imposed upon God's Word.

We are in a like case today, beloved. The pure language of the Holy Spirit concerning the Word of God has been almost universally lost, and what we are receiving today is the professional, scholarly, giving out its mind about the Word of God, and people are brought up on that. The great mass of Christian people today are not brought up on the language of the Holy Ghost in the Word of God. They are brought up on what so-and-so says. Of course, I know the big question arises as to who is to determine what is the pure language of the Holy Spirit. Well, you can answer that question only inwardly. The test is, Does it result in emancipation spiritually? If it does, all right. If you are walking with God, then the Word of God brought to you, being in the power of the Holy Spirit, will be your spiritual enlightenment, your spiritual quickening, or spiritual liberation. It must be tested out that way. How much does it mean of real spiritual growth out of all those trammels and limitations of our natural life? That is the language of the Holy Spirit.

Now that is spiritual understanding. It is having the sense thereof according to the true interpretation of the Holy Spirit. Revelation, in a word, is the language of the Holy Spirit inside of the written Word of God; not apart from it, but inside of it. Are we conversant with the language of the Spirit? I simply mean this, as you take up the Word of God and read certain words and sentences and phrases, does the Holy Spirit give you a deeper insight into that, and by what He shows you in that bring life into your heart, and liberation and joy? That is giving the sense thereof. The need of revelation is quite clear.

The Outward and the Inward

There is a heavenly background to everything in the Word of God, and it is that heavenly background which constitutes revelation that you and I need to know. If we are only seeing the things on the surface, then we have but an earthly thing after all, and that has been the trouble with God's people all along. They have seen the Old Testament and the order of the tabernacle and the temple; and they have reconstituted the church accordingly, with a ceremonial, with a vestment-order of things, and elaborate buildings. Of course, it is a beautiful reproduction of the Old Testament order of worship; and they would appeal to the Scriptures, and say that Solomon built the most magnificent temple for the worship of God, and point out how your Old Testament is simply filled with this beautiful order of worship. Yes! but that is on the face of things, that is not revelation. You can have the spiritual good of that in an emancipating way in a dungeon, in a catacomb, in a garret. It is the deeper thing that is liberating. You can have all the outward form, and still be spiritually in bondage, and that is for so many THE bondage. But another will say, May we not have what is behind the representation, and still profitably retain the typical order and symbols? We find, however, that the possession of the spiritual reality teaches us that to repeat the typical order is to miss the whole divine intention, to rob it of its distinction, and to convey a false idea.

To retain the typical order when the reality is come is to take a formerly God-given thing and to perpetuate it as a thing of the earth. This is, in effect, to set up an earthly conception of a heavenly nature and life, which all who have been born anew from above have now received and entered into by the Spirit. This earthly conception ever conveys to the natural mind of man the idea that spiritual life consists in the use of sacred words and forms of address, the observance of religious rites and the like; that to be godly and spiritual is, in a properly regulated life, to have a department for these things, a religious side to life, to sanctify the whole, in contrast to others who practise no such ways at all; and that the doing of these things in public and in private is itself spiritual life and that approach to God and worship such as can be known of man down here.

The truth as we have seen is that God, on a ground of His own providing in the Cross of His Son, gives into the convicted, contrite and prepared heart a new nature, a new life, and it is in this life that we know God, pray, worship, serve, and grow up into His likeness.

This life is not without its expression and ordered way when its possessors meet as a corporate company to worship God; for it is led and directed by the Spirit of life within the members joined by the same Spirit to Christ, their living and directing Head on high. But to seek this life in forms of provided expression, or to confine it within such limitations, is to hinder the true spontaneity of its own expression from within, to suppress the pure activity of its powers and glory, and often, if not always, to violate the very law of its operation and freedom, and not least, of its warfare. It is, in a word, to convey a totally false idea both of its nature and of its law of increase, expression, authority and will. It is what is behind that you and I need to know. There is a heavenly order back of everything said in the Word of God.

"The Decree of the Watchers"

Here is an interesting, and I think, illuminating instance of that. Look at the Book of Daniel, and at two passages in Matthew and Corinthians.

Daniel, Chapter 4. This chapter shows the dream of Nebuchadnezzar, of the tree that was cut down. Nebuchadnezzar had become exceedingly high and exalted. "See this great Babylon, which I have made." His pride caused him to reach, like this tree, unto heaven, and he had the dream. The tree was cut down, and Nebuchadnezzar went out like the wild beasts to eat grass; to eat grass like an ox, driven from the habitation of men. Look at verse 17 of chapter 4. Do you notice that extraordinary statement: "The sentence is by the decree of the watchers, and the demand (or the matter) by the word of the holy ones..." Have you ever thought about that? Matthew 5:21-22. "...In danger of Gehenna." The fires of Gehenna. The judgement: the council: the fires of Gehenna. The judgment is the lowest court, where the first judgment is given about a matter, a fairly simple matter. Moses appointed those in Israel to go as judges in secondary matters. If any man had a matter that was more or less simple, he went to the judgment. If a matter was more difficult it went to the council, that is, to Moses. If the matter was criminal it went to death, the final destruction and the stoning. You have got three realms of judgment there. Now that which you have with Moses is an earthly representation of something which is in heaven: "The decree of the holy ones."

1 Corinthians 11:30. "...Not a few sleep." "For this cause... not a few sleep," that is, die; "BUT if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged." What has happened? Something has gone to the judgment, and it has gone to the council, and there is the death sentence. "When we are judged we are chastened of the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world." What has happened with these Corinthian believers? The thing has gone to the judgment, and to the council. That has worked out in the Lord taking them away, so that they should not be delivered to the fire of Gehenna with the world.

I do not know whether you can follow that. I believe that is what the apostle meant when, speaking about women having their heads covered in the assembly, he said: "Because of the angels." Why? "The sentence is by the decree of the watchers, and the demand by the word of the holy ones." The angelic councils. In heaven there are angelic orders, who are watching, and when certain things take place, of a serious character, those angels come together and deliberate upon that, and pass sentence. What happened with Nebuchadnezzar? What happened at Corinth? The angelic councils saw these things happen at Corinth, this violation of the Lord's Table, and they were so horrified that they came together and said this thing must be dealt with, and they deliberated upon it. "For this cause not a few sleep." The decree is by the sentence of the watchers, the demand by the word of the holy ones. You see you have the presence of some other realm, for it goes on to say: "To the intent that the living may know that the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men." Do you see what that too indicates? That this judgment and this council and this fire of Gehenna, which had a literal expression on earth through Moses, is only an earthly representation of something in heaven. There is something in heaven, and the Lord Jesus, mark you, in this passage in Matthew is not talking about the judgment and the council of Moses. He is not saying, I say unto you that he that is angry with his brother shall be in danger of this company of men in Jerusalem, who pass sentence upon such things. They are in danger of the judgment, that is, the court. And whoever saith "thou fool," his case is taken to another court in heaven and is judged.

My point is this, that there is a spiritual and heavenly background to everything that is here in the Word of God. I am not taking this as a subject to apply for any purpose in this present gathering, I am simply indicating one thing that is clear in the Word of God, which points to the fact. We could accumulate evidence of this, that God has simply given a pattern of things here in His Word, and that is a pattern of things heavenly. The tabernacle is not THE thing. It is a pattern of something in heaven. The temple is not THE thing. It is a pattern of something in heaven. The judgment, the council, the fire is only a pattern of something in the heavens. "Fear not him who is able to destroy the body, but fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in the fire of Gehenna." That is something in heaven, it goes to the council there.

Now, for our present purpose, what we need to grasp is just this. Revelation is to come to see what that heavenly reality is as back of the representation in the Word of God; and when you get the revelation it is so emancipating, it is so enriching.

But remember that spiritual revelation - and spiritual revelation is for all the Lord's children - is a thing which has bound up with it a great price. It is a costly thing. The enemy is against it. He is against revelation; he is against the receiving of it; he is against the utterance of it; he is against the outworking of it. It is fraught with conflict, and it explains why Paul had such a time as he had. This was clearly because he was all the time giving the spiritual interpretation of the Old Testament Scriptures, while all those who held those Scriptures were saying: Paul is reading into the Scriptures something of his own mind; it does not say what Paul says it means. And, therefore, they would have none of him, and even Peter had difficulty: "Even as our beloved brother Paul in all his letters, according to the wisdom given unto him... in which there are some things hard to be understood." Peter is having difficulty with Paul, but it is that revelation of the inner meaning of things, that put Paul into a realm where so few could follow him, because of the lack of revelation in them. That is one reason why I believe he wrote the Letter to the Hebrews: "Of whom (Melchizedek) we have many things to say, and hard of interpretation, seeing ye are become dull of hearing." You have not spiritually grown, therefore I must keep quiet about these things. It demands this spiritual faculty inwardly, if we are to receive what the Lord wants us to have. Melchizedek has a tremendous amount to say to us, but we will never understand the seven verses in the Old Testament about Melchizedek, and all the realm that is bound up in those seven verses, unless we have got a spiritual faculty.

The Lord lead us to pray, as we have never prayed, that a spirit of wisdom and revelation may be given unto us. That is what brings a people out, into a price, into a conflict, but into a place of living power, where they have something for the rest of the people of God.

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