SPIRITUAL REFINEMENT

Paul Martin

Leviticus 2: 1-4

2 Kings 2: 1-14

Ephesians 5: 25-27

I desire, beloved, to seek the Lord’s help to say a word as to spiritual refinement, a matter which interests every lover of Christ because we are immediately before the rapture. I do not speak of refinement of man because that is hateful to God. The first man could not be refined in the eye of God; he has been removed in the death of Christ. But divine Persons have in view an answer that is so glorious that they serve the saints in order that there might be refinement spiritually. The Father works in many ways including His discipline to refine our spirits. It says as to the Father’s discipline that we should be "in subjection to the Father of spirits, and live”, Heb 12: 9. One looks round at a company like this and what a weight of discipline there is that lies on the brethren, in their bodies, and circumstances, and in their spirits! How much comes from the Father’s hand, but it is in view of forming our spirits.

I desire to speak firstly of the Lord Jesus. There was no need of refinement with Him. Everything that marked that blessed humanity was perfect. It says here regarding the offering of the oblation that it shall be “of fine flour”, even in every way, not one feature exerting itself over another as we find in ourselves. If we think of persons in the Scriptures, in a man like Peter the feature of zeal exerted itself, perhaps at times to the expense of other features, which led him to say things that he should not have said - I do not mean to speak badly of Peter = but in Jesus everything was perfect. We think of what it says of our Lord Jesus at the age of twelve - but even before that the prophet had said, “For he shall grow up before him” Isa 53: 2. The Father found His delight in every stage of the growing of the Lord Jesus. He found His delight in every feature that came into expression. He says to His own, “I live on account of the Father”, John 6: 57. That was the way that He lived. The Father was the source of all that He drew upon; the Father was the Object, the Father’s love the motive for all that He did; and His desire was to answer to that love as He did in its fulness in a way that no-one else could have done. What perfection in manhood was found in Him! Another has said, ‘When the Lord Jesus moved here, the Father could not take His eye off Him’. He was so delightful to the Father, so pleasurable in everything, not only in what He did, but in what He was, every impulse of His heart going out to the Father, and the Father finding in every circumstance that which was perfectly in accord with the longings of His heart. As Mr Darby says, ‘the hand that struck the chord found all in tune’, JND Synopsis on Leviticus p118. Everything was there in perfection in the Lord Jesus.

He was here as the One who was “mingled with oil”: how wonderful it is that the holy humanity, which was of the Holy Spirit, moved here as the One who was “mingled with oil”, the Holy Spirit’s identification. Even before His public service, there was there in Jesus what the Spirit found His pleasure in because it was of another order altogether. It was here for the pleasure of God.

But then He was also “anointed with oil”; and the Holy Spirit came upon Him, as we know, and you will find these references in the gospels because they are worth following up worshipfully. The Holy Spirit descended upon Him as a dove; He found a resting place in Jesus; He gladly identified Himself with that blessed Man. And He found a resting place for the sole of His foot, Gen 8: 9. When He came at Pentecost, He was sent, but when He came upon the Lord Jesus, He came of His own accord. He found His delight in identifying Himself with a Man who was here entirely for the pleasure of God, the “fine flour”; it needed no refinement. Every motive was Godward.

Jesus moved here in a suffering path. Did that change the order of humanity? What the suffering brought out was the excellence of that humanity in testimony. The One who could say He was, “Altogether that which I also say to you” (John 8: 25) was the One who stood and moved in the presence of the hatred of the Jews who would have cast Him out long before, had they not been restrained from doing so. Finally they did cast Him out as worthless. But God has built a whole world round that blessed Man.

And that is why I come to the second book of Kings because this relates to us. In the first book, in chapter 19, Elijah had been despondent, as sometimes we all get, and he had said to Jehovah “I am left, I alone” (v 10); and Jehovah told him that Elisha would follow on where he had been, and he found Elisha. He “was ploughing with twelve yokes before him, and he with the twelfth”, v 19. Elijah took his mantle and cast it on Elisha; and we do not hear any more of Elisha until he is found at Gilgal. That is a good place to be; it is a place of power. When the children of Israel crossed the Jordan they took out twelve stones; those stones were based at Gilgal, Josh 4: 3, 20. Think of what that signifies. The Lord Jesus has Himself been into death, and the ark went into the Jordan and the waters turned back and the ark stood in the middle of the Jordan, in the bed of the Jordan, until all the people had gone over, Josh 3. It was not the same as at the Red Sea. There was no ark at the Red Sea; Moses stretched out his staff and, with the authority of God, the waters fled, Exod 14. The Red Sea, as we know, relates to the Lord Jesus dying for us to deliver us from judgment, the One who has set us free from the bondage of sin. But when we come to the Jordan, the Lord Jesus has gone into death in order that we might come into the land of God’s purpose. If you and I were to come into the land of God’s purpose, it involved that He should die and that we should die with Him. We are “buried with him in baptism, in which ye have been also raised with him through faith of the working of God who raised him from among the dead”, Col 2: 12. What a wonderful thing that is, dear brother and sister: you have your faith in Christ; your part is not in the wilderness; that is not where your order of life is. We have to work that out in God’s ways. But your part is in the land of God’s purpose, and Christ has been into death in order that we might come into the land of God’s purpose, and that we might find that we have our part with Him as through death. So we can lay hold of the twelve stones that are set up in Gilgal, “and they are there to this day” (Josh 4: 9); they are immovable.

But then Elisha is at Gilgal. He would understand what we have been speaking of in these readings as to self-judgment because if Christ has set me free and brought me over the Jordan, I find that there are things about me that I need to get rid of in order that I might value the One who has done it all and enjoy His love, and that the things that might otherwise hinder might be judged and removed. There are things in us and about us naturally, and I have to say to myself, ‘Does this help me spiritually?. Does it further my appreciation of Christ and of the purpose of God?’. If not, let me cut it off! That is what happened at Gilgal. “Jehovah magnified Joshua in the sight of all Israel”, Josh 4: 14.

Another important thing that Jehovah did at Gilgal was to roll away the reproach of Egypt, and that is a sobering thing, because in our local assemblies there should be nothing that speaks of the reproach of Egypt. The local meeting is not the world; it is not the scene where the world should be. We have spoken of marriage in the Lord, and it is most important that marriage should be in the Lord, but is there any sense that the reproach of Egypt might mark our weddings? I just mention that. The reproach of Egypt at Gilgal was rolled away, and Elijah says to Elisha here, “Abide here, I pray thee; for Jehovah has sent me to Bethel”. We have spoken of the Lord testing His work, and Elijah is doing that here. He says, ‘Are you prepared to be without me?’ He says, “Abide here, I pray thee; for Jehovah has sent me to Bethel”. Does the Lord Jesus mean so much, dear brother or sister, that, come what may, you want to be in His company? When he says, ‘Abide here. I am going to Bethel’, Elisha says, “As Jehovah liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee!”. What an attractive Person the Lord Jesus is! If I might say carefully, we have here a type of Christ as Head; Elisha has found a new Head. We cannot know the headship of Christ without the experience of Gilgal. I have to cut off every other influence in order to know the headship of Christ, and Elisha says in effect, ‘I have had the experience of Gilgal, and the Lord Jesus is so attractive to me, His power I have proved, and I want nothing else than His company’. He says, “I will not leave thee!”.

And Elijah goes on to Bethel. Bethel means the house of God. Young people might ask, ‘Why does Bethel mean the house of God?’. If you look at Genesis 28 you will find that Jacob lay down, put his head on a stone as a pillow and he dreamt, and when he woke up, he said, “How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God” (v 17), and he named it Beth-el, v 19. Why was it dreadful to Jacob? It was because at Bethel Jacob began to have a sense of the fear of God. That is a right thing. It does not mean for the believer that the house of God is dreadful, but it does mean that in the house of God, there is to be a fear of God. Paul wrote to Timothy and said, “These things I write to thee, hoping to come to thee more quickly; but if I delay, in order that thou mayest know how one ought to conduct oneself in God’s house”, 1 Tim 3: 14, 15. Dear brother and sister, we are always in the house of God, always, not only when we are together but when we are apart; when no-one else sees us, we are in the house of God, and the fear of God helps to preserve us in keeping with what is suited to the house of God, and that we have a holy, reverent respect for the holiness and presence of God. Paul sets out to Timothy certain features of the house of God. He says, “I will therefore that the men pray in every place, lifting up pious hands”, chap 2: 8. I find that a challenge. What do I put my hand to? Are they “pious hands”? He says, “I exhort therefore, first of all, that supplications, prayers, intercessions, thanksgivings be made for all men; for kings and all that are in dignity”, chap 2: 1. That is an important part, beloved, of the character of the house of God. It has an influence on what is proceeding in the world; not that the house of God is known in the world, but it has an influence. The Holy Spirit has come; “And having come, he will bring demonstration to the world, of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment”, John 16: 8. Think of the Holy Spirit’s presence. Every believer having the Holy Spirit has a part in the house of God, and the Holy Spirit’s restraining influence has an effect as we give Him His place. Think of the awful powers that are arising in the world and the breakdown in the church that permits what the Lord hates! All these features should be felt by us and require, if they are to be felt rightly, that men should be lifting up pious hands, supplicating God as to the conditions that there are around us.

And then Paul says, “In like manner also that the women in decent deportment”, 1 Tim 2: 9. You may say, ‘Well, that does not really matter: God looks at my heart?’. But what is in the heart becomes manifest in the body. These things are expressed. These things bear on the house of God, and we, beloved, as having the Spirit, are to know how we should conduct ourselves in God’s house.

But then Elijah says, “Abide here”. You might say, ‘Well, this is a good place to stay, in the house of God’, but Elisha says, ‘No. I am not going to leave you’. Have you ever said that to the Lord Jesus? Have you made a committal to Him, dear young soul, that places your body on the altar, so that you do not want to leave Him? You want to have Him for the whole of your life. Have you made that committal? There is no-one better to commit yourself to, no-one greater. Paul in writing to the Colossians speaks of Him, the One who is “before all” (chap 1: 17), the One “who is image of the invisible God, firstborn of all creation; because by him were created all things”, chap 1: 15, 16. How great He is, and in that blessed pathway here “all the fulness of the Godhead was pleased to dwell”, v 19. Then Paul comes on to the second chapter and he says, “For in him dwells all the fulness of the Godhead bodily; and ye are complete in him”, v 9, 10. That is the enjoyment of the headship of Christ, “complete in him”, knowing Him as the source, knowing the love that understands every situation and bears the load when I do not, and you do not, feel able for it. What a glorious Head we have! But the danger at Colosse was that they might let go of Him, and Elijah was testing whether Elisha would let go of the Head. The Lord may test us, and He has a right to do so, as to whether we are going to let go of the Head. Paul says to them, there were some “not holding fast the head”, Col 2: 19. O, beloved, what a Person to hold fast to, this glorious One, in whom God has found His delight so fully that He has raised Him from among the dead and set Him at His right hand. He is there for the pleasure of God and for our blessing, and that blessed One is the One to whom we are to hold fast. And Elisha, in the Old Testament words, is really saying that to Elijah. He says, ‘I am holding fast to the Head; I am not going to let go’.

That is how unity is maintained. Unity, beloved, is maintained through holding fast the Head. Everything derives from Christ. If you are holding fast the Head and I am holding fast the Head, we will go on together; we will think the same; we will have the same glorious Object. Any thought of self-consideration, which never marked Jesus, will not mark me. The desire will be to hold fast the Head.

So Elijah says, “abide here … Jehovah has sent me to Jericho”. If you look at the atlas you will find that this was not a geographical order of movement; so it was a moral order of movement, his going to Jericho. Jericho was that great city that stood against the people of Israel going in to take possession of the land, Josh 6. We have had some sense in these occasions of what God has in view that we should take possession of. How wonderful! And Jericho was there. It had to be overcome. How is it going to be overcome? They were to walk round it for seven days. As they walked round that city, they would have had some assessment of the greatness of the power that was against them and, dear brethren, there are powers that are set in the present day against the saints entering into the purpose of God. How is it going to come down? Joshua tells them that the soldiers were to go first and then the priests carrying the ark, and then the people, and they encircled Jericho for seven days. It was the priests that blew the trumpets. The soldiers did not blow the trumpets. Soldiers were necessary. They were all part of God’s dealings with His people, but it was the priest that blew the trumpet; but what made the difference was the ark. In the chapters in Joshua as the people come into the land, the ark gets a place in the affections of the people. You find when they were approaching the Jordan, Joshua says to the people, “When ye see the ark of the covenant of Jehovah your God, and the priests the Levites bearing it, then remove from your place, and go after it”, Josh 3: 3. Christ is the Object in another world.

We have been speaking about reading. Dear friend, if you want to read ministry, and I trust there is a desire, ask the Holy Spirit to give you the desire to read. Ask the Holy Spirit to open up the teaching, to unfold the glory of what is here in these pages in the Scripture, and to occupy your heart with the Man that is in the glory. Ask the Holy Spirit to do it, and He will. In Christianity we get as much as we are exercised to go in for. In the matter of salvation, God gives us freely from His own resource in blessing, but as we go on in our Christian experience, we get nothing without desire and nothing without exercise, and that is something that the Holy Spirit loves; He loves both to kindle desires in our hearts, and to strengthen and answer our desires, and if we speak to Him - as we have been reminded, He is the greatest Friend we have on earth - He finds great pleasure in unfolding the things that concern our Lord Jesus Christ.

Elijah says here, “Abide here, I pray thee; for Jehovah has sent me to the Jordan. And he said, As Jehovah liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee! And they two went on”. What a moment! “Elijah took his mantle, and wrapped it together” - no doubt suggestive of the intrinsic power in our Lord Jesus who was able to meet and break the power of death - “and smote the waters, and they were divided hither and thither”. What power Christ has exercised over death itself! Every other person has succumbed to it. Christ has broken its power, brought us into a land of divine purpose, a land of waterbrooks, a land flowing with milk and honey, the place where gold can be digged. What resource there is in the land of God’s purpose; so Elijah smites the waters, and the two of them go over. Then he says, “Ask what I shall do for thee, before I am taken away from thee. And Elisha said, I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me”. What a wonderful thing that is! The double portion was the firstborn’s portion. We are among the family of the firstborn.

The Lord is affecting our spirits, beloved. It has impressed me greatly recently that I cannot come out from the presence of the Lord with a bad spirit. You cannot do that. He is forming our spirits. Elisha said, “I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me”. This was the spirit of the heavenly Man, “the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ”, Phil 1: 19. How great it is! Is there need for another resource? How that blessed Man, the Lord Jesus, met every obstacle, every foe! He “humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death”, Phil 2: 8. What moral qualities came into expression in that oblation, the One who “humbled himself, becoming obedient”, the One who was “heard because of his piety”, Heb 5: 7. What moral excellence was seen in the Person of the Lord Jesus! And Elisha says, “I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me”. Typically he wanted to move in the same dignity and power in which the Lord Jesus moved, the power of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. There is power in lowliness. When John the baptist came, the word as to him was, “And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias”, Luke 1: 17. There is power in lowliness. That is not how men think of it, but it is so, and it was never more manifest than in the One who went into death.

Now I come to Ephesians because the One who has gone up is the One who “also loved the assembly, and has delivered himself up for it, in order that he might sanctify it”. We do not always understand these words when we are young and perhaps even as we get older, but sanctification means that something is set apart from everything else for the divine pleasure. The assembly is for the divine pleasure. It is Christ’s assembly; it is for His heart. When you come to Revelation 21, the assembly is not only for the heart of Christ, but He administers through it in a city of glorious display, so perfect, so pure. It says “the city pure gold, like pure glass” (v 18) “and the street of the city pure gold, as transparent glass”, v 21. Everything is transparent in this city, nothing hidden. You and I, dear friend, have a responsibility to walk up the street of pure glass even in the present day; we have a responsibility to do that. You say, ‘Well, it does not matter. No-one knows’. Yes, “The eyes of Jehovah are in every place, beholding the evil and the good” (Prov 15: 3), and our responsibility is to do what is right and to walk up “the street of the city pure gold, as transparent glass”.

The Lord Jesus is presented here as having purchased the assembly, “delivered himself up for it, in order that he might sanctify it, purifying it by the washing of water by the word, that he might present the assembly to himself”. What a wonderful moment when He will present it to Himself, entirely in keeping with the perfection of His own manhood. This glorious vessel is “the fulness of him who fills all in all” (Eph 1: 23), and she will come out in display. All that she will display will be the perfection and glory of Christ morally. It will be seen in the wonderful city, and it is being formed now in the present time. We must be careful what we do and where we go because the Lord Jesus had to die to purify this city, to purchase it and to purify it. Just be careful where you go! Our mother used to say, ‘if you loved Him you would not do that’. If you loved Him, you would want to please Him, and His present service and the service of the Holy Spirit is to set this vessel apart from everything else even while we are here. No features of the world, the “beggarly principles” of the world that Paul speaks of to the Galatians 4: 9, belong in this city of pure gold. All these things, “philosophy and vain deceit”, that he speaks of to the Colossians (chap 2: 8), do not belong in the city of pure gold. The spirit of men reigning at Corinth (1 Cor 4: 8) does not belong in the city of pure gold. It is Christ, Christ, Christ. That is the Object of the assembly. He serves her that she in her undivided affection for Him might hold herself wholly for Him and answer to His own love, and that is what is proceeding now.

We often speak of what the enemy is doing and we should be aware of that, but let us speak also of what the Lord is doing. What is the Lord doing at the moment? I believe He is taking us from Gilgal to Bethel to Jericho to the Jordan that we might move here in the dignity and spirit of our glorified Christ and that what might be seen in testimony in the present day might be the very features that will come out in display, refined, glorious and beautiful. How wonderful that city will be: “And the nations shall walk by its light; and the kings of the earth bring their glory to it”, Rev 21: 24. The nations will bow in the sense of its majesty and glory, and Christ Himself will be the One who gives character to it all. May the Lord help us in these things! May we be increasingly prepared for the refining! He sits “as a refiner and purifier of silver” (Mal 3: 3); it is His own work that He refines. In Revelation chapters 1, 2 and 3 we have the Refiner in this dispensation. He looks at every local company and He says, “I know”. What a comfort that is: “I know”! You can go into His presence and lay the whole matter out before Him, as Hezekiah did, (2 Kings 19: 14), and you find He is saying, “I know”. How wonderful to be conscious that He sits as a Refiner in those addresses to the seven assemblies. He tells them what He approves of, and then we have what He has to draw to their attention that He condemns, so that in the enjoyment of what He is Himself they might come to appreciate, and we might come to appreciate, what is out of keeping with the holiness of His presence and judge it before Himself. It is all in view of the city shining. The hymn writer says,

The city shines with precious light,

As bride adorned in glory bright,

All fair in every trait; (Hymn 258).

May the Lord help us for His Name’s sake!

 

Address at three-day meetings in Aberdeen

6th August 2016