The Nature of the Dispensation In Which We Live # 1
"The Spirit himself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified with Him. For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed to us-ward" (Romans 8:16-18).
"For we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning our affliction which befell us in Asia, that we were weighted down exceedingly, beyond our power, insomuch that we despaired even of life: yea, we ourselves have had the sentence of death within ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raiseth the dead; who delivered us out of so great a death, and will deliver; on whom we have set our hope that he will also still deliver us; ye also helping together by your supplication" (2 Corinthians 1:8-11).
"For our light affliction, which is for the moment, worketh for us more and more exceedingly an eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal" (2 Cor. 4:17-18).
Just leave those words in the background, while we come to stand before the general prospect or presentation.
First of all, it surely is of very great importance that we, the Lord's children, should be able to recognize those governing features of the dispensation in which we live, that which gives to this dispensation its character, its nature. The importance of recognizing that is, that unless we do, we shall be out of joint all the time, we shall be found in a state of inward conflict, we shall have a battle continually going on inside us which completely unfits us for the battle outside; and I am sure that you will agree that it is no use trying to fight a situation outside, an enemy outside, while you are all the time occupied with one inside, if not altogether paralyzed, in the real work and warfare to which we are called, and the thing that has got to be settled is this matter of what is the nature of the dispensation in which we live. If we have got some wrong ideas about that, then we are constantly turning in and back upon ourselves, not making very much progress, a state of strife and strain and uncertainty and questions all the time.
Well then, I suggest to you that that which gives to this dispensation its particular character, that from which this dispensation derives its real nature, that is, as to God's mind, is in the fact that the Lord Jesus is in heaven and that He is known, only known, but known and ministered by the Holy Spirit. If you and I really could grasp what that means we are going to be taken a long way. The first half is that the Lord Jesus is in heaven, that is, He is not on the earth. If He were on the earth, an entirely different system of things would obtain. You think about that. If He were on the earth, the same things would be happening as did happen when He was on the earth. Everybody who had aches and pains would be going after Him wherever He might be, if He were in Palestine or in any other part of the world, they would be going after Him with aches and pains to get these cleared up.
There would be people who would take all their temporal difficulties and troubles and situations to Him and all the problems of this life as here on the earth. And then the whole world situation, political and so on, to have this whole temporal realm of things dealt with, and it would resolve itself into a matter of Jesus constituting a temporal order. As they did then, so they would now, want Him to be the leader of a new political or social movement, to deal with the political situations and the social difficulties, and so on.
Supposing you heard that the Lord Jesus was just round the corner. You would be after Him like a shot with some of your troubles, perhaps your physical troubles, or domestic quarrels, to get them put right. What shall I do with my brother? How am I to deal with my wife, my husband? All that would be going on, and when He was here on the earth, they were all the time seeking to get Him to deal with a whole temporal state of things on this earth. We do not find very many coming to Him really with spiritual troubles when He was there, not directly and deliberately with spiritual troubles. Not many raised the question of sin and how they were to be forgiven and have it dealt with. He had to go behind to deal with that, refer to that; they did not.
Well, you see, Jesus is in heaven. He is not on earth,and that means that everything in this dispensation from the Divine standpoint is heavenly in its essence and nature. It is not firstly, primarily, but quite subserviently, of secondary account, that He touches the temporal situation. Until you and I have got this adjusted, we are going to be in trouble all the time. Why does not the Lord do this and that and the other thing, a thousand and one temporal things? Why does the Lord allow this and that and the other? "Our light affliction ..." (2 Cor. 4:17). "If we suffer with Him..." (Romans 8:17). Look at all the suffering that there is in the New Testament when you get past the Lord's days on the earth - the suffering among the Lord's people. Why, why does not the Lord come in? Yes, we would bring Him down to earth again, into that realm, but He is not coming down. He is in heaven, and that is a governing thing for this dispensation. He is in heaven,and everything primarily with Him is heavenly.
He is to be known and ministered by the Spirit, the Holy Spirit. He is not known as He was known in the days of His flesh. He is not known after the flesh. "Though we have known Christ after the flesh," said Paul, "yet now we know him so no more" (2 Cor. 5:16). He is not known temporally in the first instance. He is known and only known by the Holy Spirit and ministered to us, given to us, imparted to us, by the Holy Spirit alone, which means that this dispensation is preeminently spiritual in the mind of the Lord; heavenly and spiritual.
The Lord Jesus has been perfected, that is brought to completion, fullness, finality, and has been filled by God, filled unto all fullness, and has therefore become the pattern and the standard for believers. He is in heaven and in heavenly fullness as a Man, and has been set forth as God's heavenly pattern for the people of God. So that this dispensation is above all things, from God's standpoint, governed by this - our being brought to that which Christ is, to heavenly completeness and spiritual fullness. It is heavenly and it is spiritual, heavenly completeness, spiritual fullness, and the Lord is devoted to that object in this dispensation, and looks at and deals with everything in the light of that.
A Living Way
The next thing, in line with that, is that everything unto that end is a matter of moving in Divine, heavenly, spiritual life. It is the living way, the living way, of reaching God's end. That is, it has got to be, it can only be, by the Holy Spirit getting us there. We can never reach that goal, that object of God, Christ in heaven and in Divine fullness, we can never reach that goal of God along any lines, by any means, save by a definite work of the Holy Spirit, that is, by a living way. Man cannot do this; no means of man can accomplish it. You see, you may, for instance, attend meetings. You can attend them three times a day or more every day of your life as long as your life can possibly be and not be one iota spiritually advanced. It is not the number of meetings or the nature of the meetings that we attend, it is not the addresses to which we listen. It is not anything of that kind at all that gets us to God's end. It is the Holy Spirit doing something in a living way, our coming by the way of Divine life to Divine fullness.
(continued with # 2)