Fundamental Questions of The Christian Life # 11
A Man Under The Control of Heaven, continued -
Look at Philip's history. The Church has been born in the mighty vibrant activities of the Spirit, in the onward march of the ascended Lord. Difficulties arise in certain practical matters, and the Apostles cannot withdraw from a great movement of the Spirit to handle these matters of temporal consideration. They call upon the Church to look them out certain men for that purpose: it does so, and they choose seven men "full of the Spirit and of wisdom" (Acts 6:3) - of whom Philip is one. Philip first comes into view as one of a group of men appointed to poor saints. You call that menial, perhaps, you would hardly think that a man full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom was required for that! But such men were required, even for that. Philip's history marks him out as a man of spiritual capacity. He is not a little man - he is spiritually a big man; and yet he is prepared to accept a job that you might think anybody could do - to give the few pence or shillings to some poor widows who were in need. Being the man that he was, spiritually so large, he put it all into that, without bad feeling, without revolt, without reservation, without question.
Then came the persecution through Saul, and the scattering. What became of the widows, I do not know, but I know what became of Philip. Philip was one of those that were scattered abroad, and he went down to Samaria, and preached the Christ (Acts 8:4,5). And we know that great things happened. Now came another test of the quality of Philip. In the midst of this onward pressing of the mighty Lord, in the onward sweep of the Spirit in this irresistible tide, Philip is suddenly spoken to. Without any explanation, promise, assurance or anything else, he is told to leave it all and go far off into the country, in a direction which was desert. Such an injunction is a good test of whether a man has two interests in life: whether his heart is divided, or single. But here is a man of only one thought, one purpose, an undivided heart. We read of no controversy whatever, but instant obedience. Notice this principle of instant obedience: it implies such a total abandonment to the Lord that you are ready to do anything and everything He says, whether you understand it or not. The Lord has got you - the Lord has got your heart; you have no argument with Him about His ways with you.
That, then, is Philip: a man just governed by the Spirit, quite evidently; not only filled with the Spirit, but taught by the Spirit. He stands out in contrast to so many: not only to the Ethiopian, and all those to whom the Ethiopian had been for light and who were unable to give it, but more than that, in contrast to the very Apostles themselves as they were before Christ, by the Spirit, opened their understanding that they might understand the Scriptures (Luke 24:45). Something has happened to Philip. He is a man taught of the Spirit, his eyes have been opened; and so he can bring understanding and light in the Scriptures where it is needed. In a word, this man's need in the desert was met through an instrument that was absolutely abandoned to the Holy Spirit.
The Dispensation of the Spirit
What, now, are the implications of bringing these two together? Firstly, and preeminently, the fact of the nature of the new dispensation - the dispensation of the Spirit. A new dispensation has been ushered in and inaugurated. The Holy Spirit is the characteristic of this dispensation, and everything, so far as God is concerned, rests upon that fact. There is to be nothing other than by the Spirit; everything is to be only by the Spirit. This is a dispensation shut up to the Holy Spirit. We shall not get anywhere in relation to the things of God until we recognize and accept that. The real significance of this incident, and of all others, is that it is a part of the peculiar movement from Heaven in this dispensation - the movement of the Holy Spirit in relation to the exalted Christ.
That is the great principle of spiritual understanding: that is the "extra," and that is the "other." It is the "extra" to all the best of education, of achievement, of position, of everything else that we have mentioned. A man may have it all, and still be in the dark! It is "extra" to the letter of the Word - it is of the Spirit. The Word can still be a closed book, even when you have memorized it from beginning to end (if you can do that). When you can quote and cite, freely and largely, from its pages; when you know its content, its subjects, its themes; when you know immediately where to look for any given passage or subject, it may still be a closed book. That is a fact,and that fact explains a very great deal. The "extra" to everything, whether it be large or small, great or little, is the Holy Spirit.
And it is the "other" - something different. By these means of education and knowledge, human ability, you may arrive at certain conclusions. You may say that on this or that matter the Bible teaches so-and-so. Yes, but a hundred others say it teaches on those very same things something different - you may take any one Christian doctrine today and get many different interpretations. That is Christian theology! Which is right? Where is final authority? Now, you see, the Holy Spirit may altogether change our conclusions and make us see that on our strongest convictions we are at fault. Once He gets an opportunity, He may upset all our "final positions" of biblical interpretation, doctrine and theology. He is "other." We come to that again in a moment.
But the Holy Spirit is particularly concerned with the Word of God; He is bound and committed to the Scriptures. There is no revelation extra to the Scriptures, but there is a vast amount of undisclosed light in the Scriptures, at the disposal of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, with His concern and commitment to the Word of God, is in quest of such as the Ethiopian. That is a most important significance which arises out of this incident. The Holy Spirit took the initiative in this matter. Philip would never, never have thought of this. The Holy Spirit was in quest of people such as this man on his lonely desert journey. It was by the Spirit that the question was put to him and the interpretation given which brought the great crisis in his life "...thou readest," "...what thou readest" - Understanding thou what thou readest?" Yes, the Spirit was in quest of people like that, and He still is. It is because they are so few and far between - like this man in the desert, with probably miles between him and the next one - that there is such a poor state generally in the Church. If only the Spirit could find more people like this, what a different situation would obtain!
(continued with # 12 - The Root Principle of the Cross)