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THE SCHOOL OF CHRIST
By T. Austin Sparks
AN OPEN HEAVEN
THE BREAKING OF THE SELF-LIFE
There is one passage that I cannot get away from. It has been with me for a long time. It has been here as the basis of our meditation. It is John 1:51, and it seems to me that those are words which introduce us to the School of Christ, namely, those words of the Lord Jesus to Nathanael.
I think it would be helpful to read the whole section from verse 47: "Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile! Nathanael saith unto him, Whence knowest thou me? Jesus answered and said unto him, Before Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee. Nathanael answered him, TEACHER, thou art the Son of God, thou art King of Israel.
Jesus answered and said unto him, Because I said unto thee, I saw thee underneath the fig tree, believest thou? thou shalt see greater things than these. And he saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye shall see the heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man."
Here we are approaching the School of Christ, and there is one thing which is essential before we can even come to the threshold of that school, and that is what is marked by those words, "Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!" That put alongside the final words "the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man" gives us a complete picture of what spiritually lies behind.
At the time when Jacob in guile you remember the story of his guile stole the birthright and had to escape for his life, he saw a very great truth, though but dimly as in type or figure, and a truth moreover into which he was not then able to enter. Jacob at that time could never have entered into the meaning of what he saw, namely, the House of God, Bethel; that place where heaven and earth meet, God and man meet, where the glory uniting heaven and earth, God and man, is the great link, where God speaks and makes Himself known, where God's purposes are revealed.
Why was this the case with Jacob? He was in guile. Let him leave it there then, as he must, and go on, and for twenty years come under discipline, and at the end of twenty years' discipline meet the impact of heaven upon his earthly life, his earthly nature, the impact of the Spirit upon his flesh, the impact of God upon himself at Jabbok, and let that fleshly, natural life be smitten and broken and withered, to bear the mark for the rest of his days of its having come under the ban of God; and then with the Jacob judged, the Jacob smitten, wounded, withered, he can go back and pour out his drink-offering at Bethel, and abide.
The guile is dealt with. He is now not Jacob but Israel, in whom, speaking in type and figure, there is no guile. The work was not finished, but a crisis was met.
The Lord Jesus is saying here, to put it in a word, just this; to come into the place of the open heaven, where for you God is coming down in communication, and the glory of God abides, and where you enjoy what Bethel means, is nothing else than to come into Me; and to come into Me and abide in Me as the Bethel, the House of God, and have all the good of heaven and of God communicated, means you have come to the place where the natural life has been laid low, broken, withered.
You cannot come into His school until that has happened, and it is necessary for the Lord to say to us in Christ as we come to the very threshold of that door, Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no Jacob; you shall see the heaven opened! To speak of the Jacob-life, is, after all, only another way of saying the self-life; for self is the very essence of the natural life; not just the self-life in its most positive evil forms, but the self-life in its totality.
Jacob was in the elect line. He had a knowledge of God historically, but the transition from the natural to the spiritual was through discipline and crisis.
Let me stay with that. Here is the Lord Jesus. No one will dare to say that the self-life in Christ was like our self-life, polluted, corrupted, sinful. Not at all! And yet He had a self-life, a sinless self-life. For Him the self-life simply meant that He could act and speak and think and judge and move out from Himself. That is all. Not with evil intent, not as motivated or influenced by anything sinful or corrupt, but simply independently.
He could have done and said a lot of good things independently. But He took the attitude, the position, that, although there was no sin in Him, He could not and would not at any time act or speak apart from His Father. That would be independence, and give the enemy just the opening that he was working for. But we can leave that.
My point is this, that you and I must not think of the self life only as something manifestly corrupt. There is a great deal done for God with the purest motive that is done out from ourselves. There are many thoughts, ideas, judgments, which are sublime, beautiful, but they are ours, and if we did but know the truth, they are altogether different from God's.
And so, right at the very door of His school the Lord puts something utter. It is Jabbok. Jabbok was a tributary of the Jordan, and the implications of Jordan are right there at the very threshold of the School of Christ. He accepted Jordan in order to enter into that school of the Spirit for three and a half years.
You and I will not get into that school of the Anointing in any other way. It has to be like that. If you and I are going to learn Christ, it will only be as the Jacob-nature is smitten. I am not talking to you mere doctrine and technique. Believe me, I know exactly what I am talking about.
I know this thing as the greatest reality in my history. I know what it is to have been labouring with all my might for God and preaching the Gospel out from myself for years. Oh, I know; I know what hard labour it is with the dome over your head. How many times have I stood in the pulpit and in my heart have said, If only somehow or other I could get a cleavage through this dome over my head, and instead of preaching what I have gathered from books and put into my notebooks, and having to study it up, I could scrap the whole thing and, with an opened heaven, speak out what God is saying in my heart! That was a longing for years.
I sensed there was something like this, but I had not got it until the great crisis of Romans 6 came, and with it the open heaven. It has been different ever since then, altogether different. "Ye shall see the heaven opened"; and all that strain has gone, all that bondage has gone, that limitation; there is no dome there. That is my glory today. Forgive that personal reference.
I must say it, because we are not here to give addresses; we are right down on the reality of this matter of the Holy Ghost directly and immediately revealing Christ to us, and that ever-growingly; and this cannot be until we have come to our Jabbok, until the Jacob-life has been dealt with through that crisis, and the Lord is able to say, An Israelite indeed, in whom is no Jacob; thou shalt see heaven opened!
There is that dome, that closed heaven over us by nature, but, blessed be God! the Cross rends the heavens, the veil is rent from top to bottom, and Christ is revealed through the rent veil of His flesh. He is no longer seen as the Man Jesus; He is seen in our hearts in all the fullness of God's consummate thought for man.
It is a tremendous thing to see the Lord Jesus, and it is a tremendous thing to go on seeing Him more and more. That is where it begins, Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile, no Jacob! Thou shalt see heaven opened!