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The Basis Of All True Ministry

No one can be a true servant of God without knowing the principle of death and the principle of resurrection. Even the Lord Jesus Himself served on that basis. You will find in Matthew 3 that, before His public ministry ever began, our Lord was baptized. He was baptized not because He had any sin, or anything which needed cleansing. No, we know the meaning of baptism: it is a figure of death and resurrection. The ministry of the Lord did not begin until He was on that ground. After He had been baptized and had voluntarily taken the ground of death and resurrection, the Holy Spirit came upon Him, and then He ministered.

What does this teach us? Our Lord was a sinless Man. None but He has trodden this earth and known no sin. Yet as Man He had a separate personality from His Father. Now we must tread very carefully when we touch our Lord; but remember His words: “I seek not mine own will, but the will of him that sent me”. What does this mean? It certainly does not mean that the Lord had no will of His own. He had a will, as His own words show. As Son of man He had a will, but He did not do it; He came to do the will of the Father. So this is the point. That thing in Him which is in distinction from the Father is the human soul, which He assumed when He was “found in fashion as a man”. Being a perfect Man our Lord had a soul, and of course a body, just as you and I have a soul and a body, and it was possible for Him to act from the soul—that is, from Himself.

You remember that immediately after the Lord’s baptism, and before His public ministry began, Satan came and tempted Him. He tempted Him to satisfy His essential needs by turning stones to bread; to secure immediate respect for His ministry by appearing miraculously in the temple court; to assume without delay the world dominion destined for Him; and you are inclined to wonder why he tempted Him to do such strange things. He might rather, you feel, have tempted Him to sin in a more thoroughgoing way. But he did not; he knew better. He only said: “If thou art the Son of God, command that these stones become bread”. What did it mean? The implication was this: ‘If You are the Son of God You must do something to prove it. Here is a challenge. Some will certainly raise a question as to whether Your claim is real or not. Why do You not settle the matter finally now by coming out and proving it?’

The whole subtle object of Satan was to get the Lord to act for Himself—that is, from the soul—and, by the stand He took, the Lord Jesus absolutely repudiated such action. In Adam, man had acted from himself apart from God; that was the whole tragedy of the garden. Now in a similar situation the Son of man takes another ground. Later He defines it as His basic life-principle—and I like the word in the Greek: “The Son can do nothing out from himself” (John 5:19). That total denial of the soul-life was to govern all His ministry.

So we can safely say that all the work which the Lord Jesus did on earth, prior to His actual death on the cross, was done with the principle of death on the cross, and resurrection as basis, even though as an actual event Calvary still lay in the future. Everything He did was on that ground. But if this is so—if the Son of man has to go through death and resurrection (in figure and in principle) in order to work, can we do otherwise? Surely no servant of the Lord can serve Him without himself knowing the working of that principle in his life. It is of course out of the question. The Lord made this very clear to His disciples when He left them. He had died and He was risen, and He told them to wait in Jerusalem for the Spirit to come upon them. Now what is this power of the Holy Spirit, this “power from on high” of which He spoke? It is nothing less than the virtue of His death, resurrection and ascension. To use another figure, the Holy Spirit is the Vessel in whom all the values of the death, resurrection and exaltation of the Lord are deposited, that they may be brought to us. He is the one who ‘contains’ those values and mediates them to men. That is the reason why the Spirit could not be given before the Lord had been glorified. Then only could He rest upon men and women that they might witness; and without the values of the death and resurrection of Christ no such witness is possible.

If we turn to the Old Testament we find the same thing is there. I would refer you to a familiar passage in the seventeenth chapter of Numbers. The matter of Aaron’s ministry has been contested. There is a question among the people as to whether Aaron is truly the chosen of God. They have entertained a suspicion, and have said in effect: ‘Whether that man is ordained of God or not, we do not know!’ and so God sets out to prove who is His servant and who is not. How does He do so? Twelve dead rods are put before the Lord in the sanctuary over against the testimony, and they are there for a night. Then, in the morning, the Lord indicates His chosen minister by the rod which buds, blossoms and bears fruit.

We all know the meaning of that. The budding rod speaks of resurrection. It is death and resurrection that marks God-recognized ministry. Without that you have nothing. The budding of Aaron’s rod proved him to be on a true basis, and God will only recognize as His ministers those who have come through death to resurrection ground.

We have seen that the death of the Lord works in different ways and has different aspects. We know how His death has worked in regard to the forgiveness of our sins. We all know that our forgiveness is based upon the shed Blood, and that without the shedding of Blood there is no remission. Then we have come further and in Romans 6 have seen how death works to meet the power of sin. We have learned that our old man has been crucified in order that henceforth we should not serve sin, and we have praised the Lord that here too His death has worked for our deliverance. Further on still the question of human self-will arises, and the need for consecration is apparent; and we find death working that way to bring about in us a willingness to let go our own wills and obey the Lord. That indeed constitutes a starting point for our ministry, but still it does not touch the core of the question. There may still be the lack of knowledge of what is meant by the soul.

Then another phase is presented to us in Romans 7 where the question of holiness of life is in view—a living, personal holiness. There you find a true man of God trying to please God in righteousness, and he comes under the law and the law finds him out. He is trying to please God by using his own carnal power, and the Cross has to bring him to the place where he says, ‘I cannot do it. I cannot satisfy God with my powers; I can only trust the Holy Spirit to do that in me.’ I believe some of us have passed through deep waters to learn this, and to discover the value of the death of the Lord working in this way.

Now mark you, there is still a great difference between “the flesh”, as spoken of in Romans 7 in relation to holiness of life, and the working of the natural energies of the soul-life in the service of the Lord. With all the above being known—and known in experience—there still remains this one sphere more which the death of the Lord must enter before we are actually of use to Him in service. Even with all these experiences we are still unsafe for Him to use until this further thing is effected in us. How many of God’s servants are used by Him, as we say in China, to build twelve feet of wall, only, when they have done so, to undo it all by themselves pulling down fifteen feet! We are used in a sense, but at the same time we destroy our own work, and sometimes that of others also, because of there being somewhere something undealt with by the Cross.

Now we have to see how the Lord has set out to deal with the soul, and then more particularly how this touches the question of our service for Him.

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