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Sunday, June 18, 2017

His Great Love # 5

His Great Love # 5

Union With God In The Beloved

Now, what does that mean? As I see it, it means that the sum of Paul's ministry, which was the outflow of his own life and experience and understanding, was and is union with God in Christ, and that, living union, organic union. I would have to take you back to the Old Testament again to indicate how much that was so in the terms used. We saw in our previous meditation the terms used by God concerning Israel, calling Israel His child. His son, His daughter, His betrothed, His wife. All these are organic, vital conceptions. It is not the relationship of one brick to another in a building, inanimate, cold, however closely connected. It is the throbbing life of a love union, so strong and deep that Paul will cry in one of those inexpressible utterances of his "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?" (Rom. 8:35). Then he tabulates and catalogs all the things that do effect separations - life and death, things present, things to come, and all the rest, and he says, But none of these "shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." The union is so much a part of Himself that it would be dividing God and dividing His Son.

I am not stepping over now to the obligations and responsibilities of this love where we are concerned, but at once you will glimpse something when I quote that passage from Corinthians - "Is Christ divided?" That is only one way of saying, that you cannot divide Christ, you cannot make Christ into parts without destroying His very Person. So this love makes for such a oneness with God, of an organic and vital character, that to separate would be to destroy an organism. Oh, that we had a right conception, God's conception, of the Church and of relatedness! What a tremendous statement that is - "I am persuaded that neither death, nor life," or this and that and that  (tremendous things) "shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Rom. 8:38-39). What a pity it is that the chapters should have been broken there (Romans 8 and 9). We need to read on to get the full force of it. But we must not be too detailed now.

Paul's whole conception and unfolding of the purpose of God from eternity is in this little phrase - "in Christ," "in the Beloved." Here, in the Letter to the Ephesians, you have the summary of it all. He goes right back before ever we were formed, and before ever this world existed in its present order - before the re-creative activity of God. It was back there God chose us in the Beloved. Looking right down through all the ages, He chose us in Him.

Called Into The Fellowship of the Beloved

Then Paul passes from the eternal choice of love and speaks about our being called into the fellowship of God's Son. Chosen, now called. I wonder what weight you give to your salvation, your conversion, your coming to the Lord, however you may put it? Is it no more than just that one day you met the Lord Jesus, one day you were saved, one day you came to the Lord? Have you recognized that was the day of a call, concerning something related to you and to which you were related, which goes right back before time? It is as thought God in eternity past chose you in love, and then called you according to His purpose. He had to wait until you were here to actually call you; and the call came, but that call was wrapped up in something vast, and the vast thing was union with God Himself in His Son to the terms of eternal love.

What is God after? And when He gets what He is after, what will things be like? We talk about the testimony of Jesus. We have a lot to say about the fullness of Christ, of the Church, which is His Body, of identification with Christ. All these are great truths, great conceptions. But what I find is this, that we have not come to an end of God's thoughts yet. I am very glad of this; but it is the most painful thing we can know, that we never come to an end here, and in order to go on a further stage something has to happen to us that knocks the bottom clean out of all that has gone before. That is to say, we go through a new experience of death and desolation and emptiness, of hopelessness, in order to come to something further on in the Divine revelation. We thought, "Oh, now we have come into the fullness of God's thought! Now at length we are seeing what God is after!" We get on with that for a time and it fills our whole vision; and then everything is as though it were nothing, and we go through a terrible time. Oh, yes, it was right, it was true, but it was not God's end. My experience is that it is through just such a history with God, of repeated desolations and emptyings and despairings after wonderful unveilings and times when you feel there cannot be anything more, that you are brought up again into something further on, with your vision enlarged. I do not know whether we have come to the last point of God's movements, but what I am saying now is this, that when God gets His end, everything will be only, but absolutely, a manifestation of His love.

I think that is what Paul means here in the Letter to the Ephesians, for this is a wonderful revelation. But look at the place of grace in this letter, look at the place of love. "...the breadth and length and depth and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge." (Eph. 3:18, 19). That is the object. Paul holds it up into view, that we may come to that in the end.

Well then, if you and I are going on to God's end, what will characterize us? This one thing - abounding more and more in love. I state that and leave it for the time being.

All-Sufficient Provision In The Beloved

He called us, but, blessed be God, His calling of us is on to and into a perfectly prepared ground to an all-sufficient provision. It is in Christ. What a terrible thing it would be if He called us with so great a calling, and we had somehow to attain to it of ourselves and to find all that is required for attaining. Why, it were better that we have never been called! We know how utterly impossible it is for us to provide the smallest degree of anything that can attain to God's end. Can you find in yourself this love of God, this kind of love? Why, we have only to read one section of this whole revelation ti find ourselves defeated at every point. I refer to 1 Corinthians 13. There is not a fragment of a sentence that that does not knock us to the ground. "Love suffereth long, and is kind; love envieth not; love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not its own, is not provoked, taketh not account of evil." And to sum it all up. Where are we? Can you stand up to that? No! But He called us in the Beloved, and in Christ is a perfectly prepared ground. "In whom I am well pleased" - an all-sufficient provision.

~T. Austin-Sparks~

(continued with # 6)

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

His Great Love # 4

His Great Love # 4

God's Beloved

"...but God, being rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us..."

In our previous meditation, we were seeking to point out that, although this whole vast universe has behind it a mind, a reason, a design, a plan, a will, a fiat, yet back of all that there is a heart, and that means love. We sought first to see that the very creation of man was dedicated by the heart of God for purposes of His own love, and then that the whole Bible is a progressive and growing unveiling of that fact. It is God's love for man that lies behind all His dealings with man. We traced that fact from Adam, through the chosen seed, particularly citing the case of Abraham, and then of the chosen nation, Israel. How full, wonderful, altogether inexplicable, was the love of God! We went on into the New Testament and pointed out how that eternal, mighty, mysterious love of God became fully embodied in the person of His Son, Who lived His life, did His work, gave Himself, all on the basis of love for the Father and that the Father might have in man that upon which His heart has ever been set. We dwelt at some length upon His love for God His Father, and we marked it also in connection with His disciples, whom, having loved, He loved unto the end; and we saw at what infinite cost to Himself all was at length accomplished, all in the strength of that love.

God's Love For the Church In the Beloved

Passing from the days of His flesh over into the next part of the Bible, beginning with the Book of the Acts and running on to the Book of the Revelation, we have the love of God from eternity as now seen to be centered, in the first instance, in something called "the Church." "the church of God which He purchased with His own blood" (Acts 20:28). "Christ...loved the church, and gave Himself up for it" (Eph. 5:25). It is quite impossible for us in a brief time to go right through all that section of the New Testament, but I think we shall be agreed that this unveiling is brought to us, not exclusively but in its fullest and richest form, in the ministry of the Apostle Paul, who himself was a wonderful embodiment of God's love. It was the one note deepest in his own heart, breaking out from time to time in nothing short of utter amazement. He "loved me, and gave Himself up for me!" (Gal. 2:20). "O the depth of the riches..." (Rom. 11:33); they are the riches not only of wisdom and knowledge but also of His love. And this man, who could never understand why that eternal love should light upon him and single him out, has given us such a marvelously full, deep, rich revelation of that love. We are just helpless and hopeless when we try to cope with this revelation through and in Paul. We can only do the best the Lord enables us to do in thinking about it and bringing it to the notice of others.

We remember, as we pointed out in our previous mediation, that, when the Son of God's love stepped out into His great public ministry at Jordan, the Father's word from heaven was - "This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased" (Matt. 3:17). "My beloved Son." You will recall what we said about that little prefix - 'he loved"; not just "My loved Son," but "My beloved Son," that is, one to whom I am utterly given. Now this Apostle of the eternal love of God - with what would be frightful audacity were it not the whole doctrine of the love of God - dares to use that same phrase of the believer, "hath made us accepted in the beloved" (Eph. 1:6). "Us in the beloved"; God giving Himself to us in the same way as He gave Himself to His Son. Oh, I do hope you do not just take that as a kind of play upon words, a little touch of interest, when I stay to underline the beginning of the word "beloved." I pointed out that it is the beginning of many words and every one of them has to do with a complete thing. If it is "betrothed," that is the complete giving. If it is "beseech," that is something more than asking. When I come to you concerning something with which my life is wrapped up, something which is of very great importance, I do not just simply and casually ask you about that matter; my whole being goes out to you; I beseech. God is very particular about that, and He very often heads us up to something more than easy asking - to beseeching; not because He is reluctant or unwilling, but because He wants us to get right into the matter. It is of paramount importance. "I beseech," said Paul - that was how he approached men. "We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be ye reconciled to God" (2 Cor. 5:20). It is a life and death matter. Or take "besiege." If you are going to besiege anyone or anything or any place, you do not just walk up to them or it. You give yourself to that thing,you are all in on that matter. That is where God is over His Christ - the Beloved; and that is transferred to us.

Chosen In The Beloved

Here, in this letter to the Ephesians, right at the beginning everything is put on that basis. "He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blemish before Him in love" (1:4). An alternative rendering to that is, "He chose us in love before the foundation of the world that we should be holy." "Having foreordained us unto adoption as sons through Jesus Christ unto Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved: in Whom we have our redemption." It is all in the Beloved, in the Be-loved. Do you catch the emphasis? It is not just that He chose us, or that He chose us for this or that. It is where He chose us. Nor is it just that He chose us in Jesus Christ: He chose us in the Beloved, giving the character and the quality of the basis of our relationship to God. That being so, our very existence in relation to God is a love existence, a love relationship. It is what Christ's relationship was to the Father that is ours; and you know how in the New Testament this very word "beloved" is frequently used concerning believers. [Note: Let it be clearly understood that nothing said here or elsewhere means that the unique and exclusive nature of Christ as "the only begotten of the Father," the eternal Son, is infringed or overlooked. The peculiar nature of the Person of Christ is preserved and jealously preserved. We are here dealing with our calling in Christ.] Paul was tremendously fond of using it. Here he says it inclusively - "In the Beloved," but again and again he will say to the saints, "beloved of God." That is not just a pleasant thing said. We can use that language to one another, we can address people in those  terms; but Paul was not just saying a nice thing, calling them beloved of God to make them feel comfortable.

For him, the whole doctrine of grace was wrapped up in that. He comprehended the eternities past and future in that; "in the Beloved," "beloved of God." If you think that is just language and words, do remember that Paul's horizon, his whole world, beyond which for him there was nothing, was what he so frequently called "in Christ." You have little need that I remind you of the way in which Paul used that phrase. I have managed to find 128 occasions in Paul's writings alone in which he uses that phrase, or what corresponds to it. "He chose us in Him." "In Whom we have our redemption." Now you go on and see all that he has to say about "in Christ." It is the Beloved.

~T. Austin-Sparks~

(continued with # 5 - Union With God In The Beloved

Friday, June 9, 2017

His Great Love # 3

His Great Love # 3

God's Love Embodied In His Son, continued -

Oh, but you say, there is another side to the Old Testament. There is the awful story of God's wrath. Ah yes, but what is God's wrath? Rightly understood, wrath, anger, only exists because of love! There is no such thing as anger or wrath if there is no such thing as love. In the fallen creation, if we are angry, it is so often because so some self-love. There is very rarely that crystal-pure essence of wrath which is utterly selfless. We are angry because in some way we are cheated or defeated or robbed; something is happening to us, and we are angry. There is very little of that pure wrath of God in this creation, that which is apart from any selfish consideration whatever, when we are angry in a disinterested, detached way, angry with pure anger. If you can get that, then it is that because you love so strongly, therefore you hate so strongly. Wrath is only the other side of love. If God is angry, it is His love in reverse expression. That comes out at the end of the Bible. It is seen to be anger because of all that Divine love means - the very nature of God.

But to return to our point. The issue of the Old Testament is - "God so loved the world that He gave His ...Son". The Scriptures have all been pointing to that, but it is love that is behind all. The Lord Jesus is the succession of all that has gone before showing the love of God.

The Love Relationship of the Son to His Father

You can see Him in His relationship to God His Father. Oh, if the Lord Jesus does reveal God, how does He reveal Him? Well, I do not see any fuller way in which He reveals Him than in terms of love, through His devotion to the One Whom He always calls "My Father." The Father says, once, twice, "This is (Thou art) My beloved Son" (Matt. 3:17; 17:5; Mark 1:11). He could have said, "Thou art My loved Son." It is not making something out of nothing. Look at some words with that little prefix. "Betrothed" - that is your relationship of a troth to a person. "Besiege" - the direct, immediate relationship of an investing army to those invested. "Beseech" - there is something more in beseeching than just asking. When you beseech, you give yourself, you pour yourself out, you let yourself go, you hold nothing back. And so, "Beloved." The point is that God has come into an immediate heart-relationship with this One, He has taken Him into His heart, He has related to Him in terms of love. His relationship with this One is not just that He loves Him, He has given Himself to Him. He is "Be-loved!"

See the relationship of the Lord Jesus to God's will. Oh, yes, it was a blood conflict, even unto death, sweating as it were great drops of blood, but His love for the Father bore Him through. "The cup which the Father hath given Me,shall I not drink it?" (John 18:11). "Father...not My will, but Thine, be done" (Luke 22:42). This love relationship to His Father went down so deep, was so tremendous. Words with us have become so common as to be robbed of a great deal of their strength. I was going to say, it was terrific, that love for the Father, when you see what the Son went through. Do you notice that when He had fought through the battle, that battle of His relationship with the Father in terms of love, from that moment He was so calm and steady and tranquil that everything was going down before Him? The battle is over, the situation is established. They come to take Him, with torches gleaming in the night; with sound of hurrying feet, of swords being drawn from their scabbards; a traitor betraying a leader, a traitor who has said, "I know where He goes, I know because I have been with Him, I will take you to Him; and in case you might mistake one of His disciples for Him, I will give you a sign as to which is He, I will kiss Him." Thus they came, with all the hatred that lay behind on the part of the High Priest and the rulers; and He is as steady as a rock, they fall back from before Him. "Whom seek ye?" "Jesus of Nazareth." "I am" - and "they went backward, and fell to the ground." Again He says, "Whom seek ye?" "Jesus of Nazareth." "I told you that I am He"; "if you seek Me, here I am; take Me, let these others go free." See how tranquil, steady, rock-like, He was right to the last, before the rulers, the High Priest, before Pilate. Oh, there is something about triumphant love that settles a great deal of conflict and hate and fever and anxiety, and makes you very steady. That was the Lord Jesus.

The Son's Love Relationship To His Own

See His relationship to His own. It is summed up in one word - "having loved His own that were in the world. He loved them unto the end" (John 12:11). Perhaps He loved Judas. You notice that when Judas led that band to Him, He did not look at him and say, "Traitor! You scoundrel! You wicked man!" He said, "Friend!" I think that was enough to send Judas to suicide. "He called me friend, and yet He knew what I was doing!" He loved His own to the end. And knowing ourselves, shall we not agree that there is a mystery about this love? Oh, yes!

I am going to stop there, because at that point you have to go right on from the persons here in the days of His flesh, through the rest of the New Testament, and all the teaching that was given to the Church, and so at length to the Revelation, and you find that it is all turning round this one point - the love of God. I think I have said enough to give some ground at least, for believing it is true. Oh, there may have been times in your experience, and there may yet be - if you have not yet come there, do not worry, go on with the Lord - when you wonder whether you will ever again speak about the love of God. Everything seems to argue to the contrary, and satan has struck such a blow as to have made your faith rock. What the Lord is, I think, trying to say to us is this, that that may very well be just the way to a new discovery that it is all in love, and just the opposite to what the devil is trying to say. "Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth" (Heb. 12:6).

Well, to sum all that up again, to the center of this universe is a heart. That is God's side. Our side has yet to be contemplated. But oh, it is wonderful, inexplicable love, and I, for my part, am one of those who believe that if only we could present the love of that aright, we should never have to speak of the wrath of God in order to persuade men - and even if we did, we should have to show that His wrath is love in reverse.

~T. Austin-Sparks~

(continued with # 4 - God's Beloved

Saturday, June 3, 2017

"His Great Love" # 2

"His Great Love" # 2

God and Abraham - A Heart Relationship

You can only explain and understand the drama of Eden by recognizing that it was a love matter between God and man, and that the enemy's activity from then on to the end was, and ever is, to  cheat God of that on which His heart is set, to take from God the object of His love. From that tragedy of the garden, you find God moving again in sovereign love, choosing that which is called "the seed." You see Him fastening mysteriously, inexplicably, upon certain individuals. Let Abraham stand out as a very strong and full example. God fastened upon Abraham, and brought him into a relationship with Himself which was a relationship of love. Mark the progressiveness of God's dealings with Abraham as a representative one in bringing that man right into His very heart. Step by step, stage by stage, Abraham was being brought more to the inward side of the heart of God. I am not going now to trace those steps; they are familiar to you. In His dissatisfaction and disappointment with man, and yet in His hunger to have man all for Himself (which was the first motivating activity of God) God chose this man Abraham, brought him in love to that relationship with Himself, one with His heart in His disappointment over man and in His desire to have man according to His own mind, right  those successive stages to the final step. "Take now thy son, thine only son, whom thou lovest ... and offer him" (Gen. 22:2). It was the last step of a spiritual journey where finally, in one magnificent, triumphant step of faith, Abraham went right into the heart of God. "For God so loved...that He gave His only begotten Son." He became one with God's heart in its passion to have man. That is the essence of John 3:15, 16). So the end of that journey sees Abraham as the friend of God, "Abraham My friend" (Isa. 41:8). You can have all other kinds of relationship without having that. You can be parents and children; you can be husband and wife; yes, you can be on the basis of any known relationship, and yet not just come to that - "My friend." If a man's son is his friend, or if a son's father is his friend, you have something extra, the climax and the crown of the relationship. And so with every other relationship. Said the Lord Jesus to His disciples, "No longer do I call you servants...but I have called you friends" (John 15:15). Abraham, the friend of God! Is it not perfectly clear that, in the choosing of this seed, what God was after was a heart relationship? It was a matter of God's heart. The climax of all was not merely some world, some creation, some race of very wonderful people objective to God upon whom He had conferred many wonderful blessings and benefits, that the universe could look on and say, "Well, God thinks a lot of those people, He has done a lot for them." That is all true, but something far more than that is involved. The end which God has in view is a race of friends, the expression of mutual love; God's love begetting love, destroying that evil work when God lost what He was after in the first place - a potential friend. You cannot understand that; He is speaking in human language, to express a Divine mystery; but the Bible is full of it.

God and Israel - Love The Only Explanation

From the individual seed you come to the nation. Again the mystery deepens. Why choose that nation, Israel, the seed of Jacob? But here is the nation chosen. It would take us a long time, but it would be well worth doing, to trace the love of God in the history of that nation. We find ourselves very near the heart of God when we touch Israel. You think of all the words the Lord used, the titles He employed, concerning that people. He called Israel His child. "When Israel was a child then I loved him" (Hosea 11:1). He called Israel His son. "I...called My son out of Egypt" (Hosea 11:1). He spoke of Israel as betrothed unto Himself, His wife (Hosea 2:19, 20, etc.); His daughter - "virgin daughter of Zion" (Lam. 2:13, etc.); He spoke of Himself as Israel's mother - "Can a woman forget her...child...yea, these may forget, yet will not I forget thee" (Isa. 49:15). Have you not read the prophecies of Hosea? There, within a very small compass, you have this whole story of God's love for Israel in such terms of strength and passion and longing and yearning and heart-brokenness as cannot be found anywhere else.

"When Israel was a child, then I loved him ... I drew (Ephraim) with cords of a man, with bands of love; and I was to them as they that lift up the yoke on their jaws; and I laid food before them. They shall not return into the land of Egypt; but the Assyrian shall be their king, because they refused to return to Me. And the sword shall fall upon their cities, and shall consume their bars, and devour them, because of their own counsels. And My people are bent on backsliding from Me: though they call them to Him that is on high,none at all will exalt Him. How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? how shall I cast thee off, Israel? how shall I make thee as Admah? how shall I set thee as Zeboim? My heart is turned within Me, My compassions are kindled together" (Hosea 11:1, 4-8)

That is God speaking; and note the setting of that eleventh chapter of the prophecies of Hosea. It is the time when Israel's sin had filled the cup to overflowing, the time when they had reached the climax of iniquity and idolatry, practicing such wickedness as I would not dare to mention here. It would be a scandal in the presence of decent-minded people to say what was going on in the streets of Jerusalem in the name of religion. It is at such a time, when His wrath might most justly have been poured out upon them, that God says about those people - "How shall I give thee up?" You know the story of Hosea's life - how he was commanded by God to go and love and marry a harlot, all to set forth in the life of the prophet the great truth that however deeply buried in iniquity these people were, God loved them. Oh, the mystery of God's love! Will you tell me it is not true that the universe has at its very center a heart that loves? Well, think again and go back to your Old Testament.

God's Love Embodied In His Son

We pass to the New Testament, and what do we find? We find there that the heart of the universe is now embodied and revealed in One Who is God Himself incarnate. This One gathers up into Himself - and far transcends - all the past. If Israel has so direly sinned and so stricken the heart of God, that heart has gone beyond Israel now. Here, in the person of His Son, God is showing it is not only Israel that is in His heart, but the whole world. "God so loved the world." "...the Gentiles are fellow heirs" (Eph. 3:6). And then you read the first chapters of Romans, and see the state of the world. Horrible things are said about the state of man in those chapters; and yet how does that letter break out? It breaks out in a matchless revelation of the grace of God, which is only another word for "love." In this One - His Son - the love of God, far transcending all the wonderful revelation of it in the past, is now embodied and manifested.

You can see the link of the Lord Jesus with all the Scriptures of the past; and let this be the key to them. It is not just that He was foretold - thought that is true: He was the theme of the Old Testament writers and they were all pointing toward Him. But it is something more than that. What have they all been dealing with, what has been the substance, the essence, of all the Old Testament writings? Is it not God's love for man? The Lord Jesus embodies in Himself all the Old Testament on that point; He includes everything.

~T. Austin-Sparks~

(continued with # 3)

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

His Great Love # 1

His Great Love # 1

The Creation Motivated By The Love Of God

"...But God, being rich in mercy, for His GREAT LOVE wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace have ye been saved)" (Eph. 2:4, 5)

"And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up; that whosoever believeth may in Him have eternal life. FOR GOD SO LOVED the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on Him should not perish, but have eternal life" (John 3:14-16).

There is a great weight made to rest upon that little word "for" - "For God so loved the world." We say that John 3:16 is the heart of the gospel: but it is much more than that, it is the heart of the universe. There is back of all things in this created universe a heart; not just a mind or a will, a design, a reason, a power, a fiat,k but a HEART. We are familiar with the attempts to prove there is a design in creation, that there is a mind behind the universe, and that a will brought it into being. That is all quite good and right; but we are not so often asked to consider that behind it all there is a heart - and more heart than anything else. The reason, the will, the design, come from the heart. Everything takes its rise in the heart of God. We have said much about the thoughts of God, the counsels of God. The nearer we get to the very center of things, the more we shall become affected by this fat, that right there in the center is a heart. It is a heart that we shall come to eventually; not an explanation to satisfy our reason, not a demonstration of power, but just a heart - but a mighty heart: and when we use that word rightly, we simply mean LOVE. We speak of people being heartless. That means that they are without all that love means. Love is not the governing thing in their thoughts, actions, and motives; they are strangers to love. Heart then for us means love, and when we say that back of all things and at the center of all things there is a heart, we mean there is love.

All the dealings and ways of God with His own people will have a twofold result - but mark well that this is with His own, who have come into some very real and vital relationship with Himself in an inward way.

The Twofold Effect of God's Dealings

(a) A Deepening Exercise to Know Him

Firstly, a deepening exercise to understand Him, to know Him. Think about that. Is it not true that God's dealings with us and God's ways with us have the effect of causing us to reach out longingly for a knowledge, some better understanding, of Himself; when things have got beyond us, nay, the Lord has got beyond us. For all that we know, for all that we may have learned, He has got beyond us now. He is too deep, too hidden for us now; He is defeating all our efforts and all our ability to understand Him. But we are not just prepared to leave it there and throw up our hands and say right away, "Well, I do not understand the Lord, I do not know what He is after, what He means; I give it up." Those in whom the Spirit of God is at work find that, although they may be in such a position as to be completely helpless and hopeless in the matter of knowing and understanding the Lord, at this juncture they find they HAVE to know, they MUST know, they CANNOT just leave it there and give up. Everything depends now upon knowing the Lord anew. And it is a very big everything - far more than our life here on this earth as mere human beings. If that were all, we should cut it short and seek the way out through the forbidden door. But we know that something very much more is at stake than just the finishing of the tenure of our days on this earth. Everything that matters over and above this earthly life, all that we have said and professed and claimed and hoped for, is bound up with this crisis. There has to be a discovering of the Lord in some new way. That is the first effect of the Lord's dealings and ways with His own.

(b) The Resultant Knowledge of His Heart

The second thing, as issuing from that, is the resultant knowledge - not in the first place of His mind, not an explanation to our reason, a solving of our problems, a satisfying of our inquiries, but the knowledge of His heart. Any of you who have known anything of a life with God can test it by your experience. You have these deep crisis, you come to an impasse by reason of the ways and dealings of the Lord with you, and the one thing, the only thing, to save you is a new knowledge of the Lord, I ask you, has He explained Himself to you in the first place/ Has He ever come to you and said, "Now this is exactly why I have taken you, and am taking you, this way" - and so solved your problems and satisfied your mind? Has He done that? Not in the first place. No, the first effect of this deep exercise of your heart is the knowledge of His heart; that is, arrival in a new way at the fact and the reality of the love of God. We shall come to the wisdom of God through the love of God. We shall come to the understanding of God only along the path of the love of God. Everything is revolving upon this pivot of the universe - the heart of God.

Is that not proved in many ways, and not least by spiritual conflict? Upon what does spiritual conflict turn and hinge? Well, when we get into the vortex of a great spiritual warfare, where the pressure is almost unenduring, where everything is going against us, when the heavens are as brass over us and our prayers seem to get nowhere, when the Word of God seems a sealed book, when adversity and disappointment follow on in quick succession, what is the upshot? The upshot is the love of God every time. When the evil forces create conditions like that, and when the Lord is giving them so much liberty for the time being, those forces are always near to whisper about His love, to turn for us His love into hate. "This is not His love, this is the opposite of love!" Is that not true? You have only to get right down, really down, to have that issue of the love of God presented to you. The heart of the universe is this matter of God's love.

The Love of God: The Key to the Scriptures

Having said that, are we not able with this key to unlock the whole of the Scriptures? Is not this the key to the Bible? - for the Bible is one continuous and growing revelation of this central and basic fact, that love is the motive of all things. What was the motive back of the creation, and of man as the very center of the creation? It was love. All the rest of the Bible is an unfolding of God's love for man. Man was made for the heart of God. It is a mystery. The mystery deepens and grows as we go on; but there is always a mystery about love, even among humans. Love is a strange thing. Very often you cannot for the life of you explain why some people love certain other people - why it was that so-and-so fell in love with so-and-so; it defeats every attempt to explain. Well, if that is so in the human realm, the Divine is infinite in its range above the human. To explain in terms of love why God, with all His perfect knowledge, knowing the end from the beginning, set His hand to make man, is not the easiest thing. Indeed, I think we are at the depth of mystery. You follow that through the Bible. As we proceed, we are coming on to that again and again.

~T. Austin-Sparks~

(continued with # 2 - God and Abraham - A Heart Relationship)

Friday, May 26, 2017

The Hiding Of His Power

The Hiding Of His Power

Not along ago, we came across a letter in an old "Witness And Testimony" magazine (no longer published. Austin-Sparks joined  the Lord in the spring of  1971.) that was written in January 1945;and, even though we know that in England they had been suffering through the intense years of World War II, it seemed that the ink was still wet and it had been written to the Body of Christ just yesterday.

Beloved of God,

What a time of faith's testing the saints are in just now! And what a time of satanic fierceness! What does it all mean? There seems to be only two answers. Either the Lord is preparing for some fresh, and perhaps final, movement to the consummation of His purpose on the earth; which movement requires a state that will guarantee depth, strength, and lastingness, so that real fullness shall mark the ingathering to glory at His appearing; or else this is the end of a phase and the Lord is coming for the ripe fruits. If Revelation 12 represents an end-time situation, then there is very much just now that conforms to it. The words there are undoubtedly prophetical, for the "Revelation" was not written as history but as prophecy - in the main, that is, not what was past, but what was, and was to be. The great issue of that chapter is "Now is come the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of His Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down..."

In "Salvation" there is "deliverance from every calamity, victory over enemies, recovery from disease, and release from captivity." The kingdom and authority referred to are withstood by the great accuser, and a great warfare in heaven is waged to circumvent the establishment thereof by the emancipation of the elect from the realm of satan's power. Does not this throw light upon the test of faith and the intense conflict through which the saints are passing? Here is the explanation to long unfulfilled manifestations of answer to prayer; the deferred deliverances, the passing of the power of God from the temporal to the spiritual realm in our experience - "The Hiding of His Power."

The combination of tested faith in relation to things seen, and the intense conflict in the spiritual life, is very true to this issue. As we have cried for "salvation" in one or other of its forms, and have only been conscious of conflict and delay, the accuser has come and raised the ultimate questions of our relationship to God, and of His to us. It is the old issue - "If Thou be the Son." So, to cast us down, he accuses and seeks to make us accept a setting aside, a casting off, a having-finished-with-us by God. Triumph over this by the witness against him by the blood of the Lamb, the declaration of our testimony, and the elimination of self-interest and concern - loving not our life unto death, is to result in his casting down, and this is the nature and object of the trial and the battle. What an immense issue is bound up with a little word - "if." If... then why? That was Gideon's question. That was presented to Christ.

But, blessed be God, the end is revealed, and the accuser is cast down; the kingdom, power, authority of God and His Christ is seen as come. While we do not want to suggest that a satan-complex should be developed, we would urge that a looking behind things to his part and place in them will be a great deliverance from the paralysis of the things themselves. Whether we are alive to it or not, "our wrestling is with ... spiritual hosts of wickedness," and not until we tackle the spiritual forces behind the things, in the infinite virtue of the blood of the Lamb, shall we stand possessed of the key to the situation. But let us remember the value of the "they." There is need for corporate actions; and we should take much more seriously the united prayer against the spiritual forces. So, whatever may be the immediate meaning of the present experience, the need is the same, a people in spiritual strength to bring about satan's casting down, either in specific positions and situations, or in the final consummate disinheriting of the heavenlies.

The Lord strengthen us with might unto this warfare through as much of this new year as He wills for us to see.

Yours in His Life and Hope,
T. Austin-Sparks

Brethren, as we read this letter the phrase "The hiding of His power" stood out to us; and we found that it is only mentioned one time in the Scriptures, Habakkuk 3:4. When a phrase or word is mentioned only one time in the Word of God it is usually speaking of something that is important to God and His people. Habakkuk is a small prophetic book that was probably written at the same time Jeremiah prophesied and the nation of Israel as a whole was in a state of idolatry and apostasy "as it was in the days of Lot." Little is known of Habakkuk himself except from his writings, which immediately let us know that he is a prayer warrior who is deeply burdened for God's purpose. He was a man who must have had a shadowless communion with his Lord, for the three chapters of which this book consist are written in the form of a colloquy: which means a mutual discourse between those who are intimate and familiar with one another.

So, Habakkuk and the Lord were carrying on a reciprocal, Spirit to Spirit, Soul to soul, Depth to depth communion;and, as their mutual discourse begins, we find Habakkuk is discouraged for he could not see in the temporal realm that God was working out things according to plan: - the wicked ruled and seemed to escape judgment; and the righteous were suffering greatly.

Habakkuk prays (1:1-4):

"Oh Lord, how long shall I cry, and Thou wilt not hear!... Why dost Thou shew me iniquity (trouble, having special reference to the nature and consequences of evil-doing), and cause me to behold grievance (the oppression, or injustice that comes to the just and righteous)?" How Long Oh Lord! How Long! Habakkuk asked this question just as many of us do in times of trouble. However, one thing we need to know is that Habakkuk's cry is not for his personal desires , but he is praying in the name of all who suffered from the evil times.

God answers Habakkuk (1:5-11):

"Behold ye among the heathen, and regard, and wonder marvelously: for I will work a work in your days, which ye will not believe, though it be told you..." Then the Lord goes on to speak of the judgment that is coming forth. The Lord is telling Habakkuk that, no matter how bad things may look in the natural, He is working all things after the counsel of His own will.

Habakkuk continues his discourse with his Lord, still somewhat discouraged but, also, encouraged for he says (1:12-17; 2:1):

"I will stand upon my watch, and set me upon the tower, and will watch to see what He will say unto me, and what I shall answer when A am reproved."

And God answers Habakkuk and tells Habakkuk that His purpose and counsel will certainly come about in His timing (2:2-20):

"...For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it, because it will surely come, it will not tarry." - And God says, that during the time of waiting, the faith of the faithful will be tried! - "but the just shall live by his faith."

This is the only command that the Lord gave to Habakkuk: "But the just shall live by his faith." In this Scripture, the word "but" is very important; it is an adversative conjunction; and it generally marks a distinctive contrast, a contradistinction to all that surrounds. In other words, the Lord is saying, "When things look the worse, and it seems the enemy is having his way: the just shall live by his faith." The Lord is telling Habakkuk that his life is to be a distinct contrast, it is to be diametrically opposed to all that satan instigates in the world, or among the people of God. Habakkuk is to live and move and have his being in the realm of faith.

Then the Lord continues to speak judgment, as well as many prophetic words which were (and are) very hard for the faithful to understand. However, right in the midst of all this judgment, He wondrously declares:

"For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea. But the Lord is in His holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before Him."

Then, as God shares this with Habakkuk, Habakkuk breaks out into a glorious prayer which is a Psalm of praise as well as a warring prayer of the Spirit. For, even though it may look as if all things are not being worked out according to God's purpose, Habakkuk has come to realize that just the opposite is true: - God is truly "hiding His power," and in the unseen realm the enemy is being defeated, and the elect of God are being freed unto the glorious liberty of the sons of God.

"...and there was the hiding of His power ... and the everlasting mountains were scattered, the perpetual hills did bow: His ways are everlasting" (Hab. 3:4, 6).

Beloved, let us become prayer warriors such as Habakkuk by jointing "the just" of all ages who, in the midst of their trials, have lived by the faith of the Son of God; and, let us embrace in the Spirit the burden of our Lord for His people - Habakkuk's name implies "embracer of the burden" - and let us sing as Habakkuk:

"Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labor of the olive shall not fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cast off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength, and He will make my feet like hinds' feet, and He will make me to walk upon mine high places" (Hab. 3:17-19). Amen, Amen, Amen

~T. Austin-Sparks~

(The End)

Saturday, May 20, 2017

What It Means To Be A Christian # 15

What It Means To Be A Christian # 15

The Urge And The Imperative

That, surely, is enough to bear out the statement that there is a comparative element in the eternity to come. And that is the point of the urge and the imperative, that is the force of the constraint: "Let us press on unto full growth" (Heb. 6:1) - not looking back, but pressing on; it is the force for all the warnings - not looking back, but pressing on; it is the force of all the warnings - not that you may lose your salvation, but there there are positions and there is a vocation to which you are called in eternity, and you may miss that. I think Paul saw that in what he called "the on-high calling" (Phil. 3:14). He saw something of this reigning life in the ages to come.

Now, with God, nothing is merely official. God never appoints officers in His Kingdom. There are not politicians - political officials - in His Kingdom, neither are there ecclesiastics - ecclesiastical officials. With God, I repeat, there is nothing that is merely official. You know, God does not appoint officers in His Church. God's principles of appointment is always according to spiritual measure. Even now in the Church - where it is a spiritual thing, where it is according to His mind - God indicates those who are to have oversight as being men of spiritual measure; not selected, chosen and votes in by popular vote. That is the principle of the New Testament, and in the Kingdom it is like that. No one is going to have any position just because he is appointed officially to it. Not at all! Every position will be according to our spiritual measure.

Hence we are urged repeatedly - 'let us go on to full growth' (perfection). It is always according to the "measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Eph. 4:13). It is just how much of Christ there is, how big we are according to the standard of Christ. That is God's basis of appointment, and it will always be so. It is so now and it will be in the ages to come. It will always be that vocation depends upon how much of Christ there is in those concerned. God's whole thought, as we saw at the beginning of these meditations, is that Christ shall fill all things.

Now that explains our discipline, for our discipline is our training for then; and the nature of our discipline now is just to increase the measure of Christ and to decrease the measure of "I", of ourselves, in every way; to set aside the one man, that occupies the place of Christ, and to put Christ in His place. The one all-inclusive object of the Holy Spirit in this dispensation is to make Christ everything, and to get as much room for Christ as He possibly can - and that means, where we are concerned, as much as we will let Him have. That throws us back, of course, upon the question: Are we really going to be "utter?" The measure of our "utterness" will be the measure of our usefulness in the ages to come. This will be governed by spiritual measure and by no other principle.

Reward and Grace

Some people find difficulty - a purely mental one - in reconciling reward and grace. Some may want to say, 'Oh, but it is all of grace, and you are making it a work. After all, it is all of grace.' How can you reconcile reward and grace? Well, you have got to find somehow the place of rewards, haven't you? But it is not so difficult as all that. It is all of grace that I can be a Christian and that I can go on with the Lord, that I can serve the Lord even a little bit. It is all of grace. And if suffering is going to lead to glory, and the measure of the glory is going to be according to the suffering, then it will require all the grace of God for that. You can never get outside of grace. If ever there should come a reward - if you like to visualize such a thing as a reward being literally offered now, I tell you, dear friend, when we get to that point of full understanding and knowledge of all the forbearance and long-suffering and patience of the Lord, we shall fall on our faces and say, 'Lord, I cannot take any reward - it is all of Your grace.'

But then remember that grace is spoken of in more than one way in the New Testament. There is grace which gives us access and acceptance. "This grace wherein we stand" (Rom. 5:2). It is all the favor of God, without merit, that we are saved at all, that we belong to the Lord. Yes, that is grace. But then grace is also spoken of as strength - strength beyond initial salvation. It is what the Lord meant when He said to Paul in the presence of his affliction and suffering: "My grace is sufficient for thee: for My power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Cor. 12:9). Grace is acceptance without merit, but grace is also strength to labor, serve and suffer. However you look at it, it is all of grace.

Utterness For God

So now we have to focus down upon this, that there is in the New Testament a large place for our meaning business with God. It is not all willy-nilly - that you believe, you accept Christ, and that is the beginning and end of it; you get everything now. Surely all these entreaties, exhortations, beseechings, bear down upon this. Their burden is: Do not leave anything to chance. Do not say, 'Oh well, this does not matter very much, this will not hurt, there is not much wrong in this; I have got salvation, and the grace of God will cover all these imperfections; I can do all this and that, and it will not make much difference; God is a God of love.' The New Testament says, in effect, 'Do not take any risks.' If it does not mean as to your salvation ultimately, it does mean as to something. The whole force of the Word is: 'Look here, you be utter; God does not make provision for anything else. You go all the way with the Lord,for it is that to which you are called.' The Lord has never said, 'Well, you only need to go so far, and I will excuse you the rest.' No, it is always fullness that God keeps in view, and He is challenging us all the time as to whether we will mean business with Him. But there will be no place, in the end, for our boasting in our endurance, our success, our utterness. Even though we pour ourselves out to the last drop, at the last it will be ourselves, above all, who will be the worshipers - we shall be the ones who are down before Him most. The most utter people are always those who are most conscious of their indebtedness to the Lord.

The Great Crisis Which Determines Everything

And now, as we draw to a close, we come to the great crisis which determines everything. It is always there in the Scripture, always kept in view: a great crisis - the coming of the Lord. It is there, it is then, that everything will be determined. Though we may have passed on before He comes, the Word makes it perfectly clear that makes no difference - we shall be there when He comes, and those who are alive when He comes will not get ahead of us. We shall be there together, and so we shall all be on the common footing; and then it will be determined what the future is going to be - just exactly what will be our place, what will be our function. That is a big factor in the prospective aspect of things. The Scripture always keeps in view the prospect of the Lord's coming. When we are saved, we receive a new hope, but as we go on as believers we find that that hope becomes something very definite and  concrete. It is called in the New Testament 'the hope,' and the hope is related to the coming of the Lord.

So that all the appeals and all the warnings and all the entreaties focus down to this. The Lord is coming, and at His coming everything will be decided, everything will be settled. It is then that our future eternity will be decided upon. You recall all those appeals, in the light of His coming, for watchfulness, for being fully occupied, being on full stretch, till He comes, and the earnest warnings that, if we are not, something serious is going to happen - something is going to go wrong. I am not putting this into any system of doctrine, crystallizing it into any form of teaching;  but these are the facts, pure, simple facts. At the coming of the Lord, great decisions will take place, and if we are not watching, if we are not occupying, if we are not on full stretch, something is going wrong. The Word makes that perfectly clear in various ways. Something is going wrong - I put it like that. I mean that something is going to be other than the Lord would have had, and what might have been with us.

So we bring the eternity that is ahead right into the present, and say that this is a tremendous motive. It gives a tremendous motive to the Christian life. Oh, the life hereafter - going to Heaven, or however we may speak about it - is not something that is just out there, in a kind of objective, detached way, and we are looking forward to that day, waiting for that day to come. Dear friends, that day is pressed right into the present. That day is here now in all its implications. There is little hope of our going to Heaven, if Heaven has not already come to us. Our place and our vocation in that day (though not our salvation) will depend very largely upon the measure that Christ has had in us in this life.

That again, explains many things, does it not? It explains, for instance, why the Lord very often presses into a short time a great deal of suffering, much affliction, much trial, that produces a wonderful measure of Christ. You can see the growth in grace. You discern the patience, the forbearance, the kindness, the love of Christ coming out in this suffering child of God. This is preparation for glory, preparation for service. It explains very much. We can go round it, and look at it from many different standpoints, but after all what it amounts to is this. The New Testament keeps the future in view as the great governing thing for the present. The New Testament says that it is going to make a difference in the eternity to come just how far we have gone on with the Lord, and how much room the Lord has gained in our lives now.

And it is going to be definite. The New Testament says the Lord is coming. The Lord will come in His own time, and then all will be decided. You see, so many people are interested in the second coming of Christ purely from a prophetical standpoint,as to events and happenings in the world, so so on,  and so few Christians are alive, fully alive, to the fact that in the New Testament the coming of the Lord is always brought to bear upon our spiritual state. "He that hath this hope" - not 'he that hath this prophetic interpretation of the second coming' - but "he that hath this hope set on Him purifieth himself" (1 John 3:3): he gets ready, he seeks that his state shall be all right as well as his standing. It matters, and it will matter, a very great deal. So we must open the door wide in our Christian lives to that far greater life that is before us. At most this is a brief one, a small one; it is only the beginning; but in that day all its meanings are going to come out in fullness.

Will you hear the appeal? The Christian life, as we have said, is a tremendous thing, an immense thing. We are called with an eternal calling, unto an eternal vocation. Here we are just brought into relationship with the Lord, and then are dealt with by the Lord. We are allowed to serve the Lord; but even in our service we are in school, we are learning, rather than anything else. Do you not think that that is how it ought to be? Not just that we should be learning deeply in the school of experience. And it is all related to the calling on-high,and the great vocation afterward.

The Lord move our hearts to be utter for Him, to take no risks, to leave nothing to chance whatever, but, like His servant Paul, to go for the highest prize, the fullest thing that the Lord ever intended.

~T. Austin-Sparks~

(The End)

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

What It Means To Be A Christian # 14

What It Means To Be A Christian # 14

The Prospective Element In The New Testament, continued -

And how much there is in the Word in the nature of an urge and an imperative to wholeheartedness, to utterness. All the time the Apostles are urging us, bringing upon us the weight of this great imperative to go on - go on - go on! By exhortation, by warning, they are constantly saying to us, "Go on and ever on! Have no margin of life that is not burnt up for God!" And the point of that argument, or that urge and imperative, is the coming eternity. All this is in the light of the afterward. We must, they say, be utter for God because of what is going to follow, because this is not the end. There is that which, coming afterward, will show the justification for having been utter for God.

The Comparative Element In Eternity

Now, that leads us to the next thing in this connection - the comparative element in eternity. There is, I think we agree, a prospective element in the Christian life which occupies a great deal of the New Testament. Cut out that prospective element from the New Testament and how how much you have got left, whether it be Gospels or Epistles. You are not going to have very much left if you take that out. It is there and it is mightily there. But in addition to it, there is in the New Testament what I am calling the comparative element in relation to the coming eternity. I mean by this that things are not all going to be on one 'mass production' level hereafter. There are going to be differences where the children of God are concerned, and very great differences.

It was to this, of course, that the Apostle was pointing when writing to the Corinthians. Speaking about foundations and superstructure, he said: "The foundation is laid. Now let every man take heed how he build thereon. If any man build thereon wood, hay, stubble, gold, silver, precious stones, every man's work shall be tried by fire" (1 Cor. 3:10-13). And, he implies, if it is wood, hay or stubble, it will all go up in smoke. And then he brings in this tremendously forceful word (verse 15): "If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as through fire." That is, the man may just scrape through, as a kind of "emergency" - just managing to get in, as we say, "by the skin of his teeth." But everything else has gone. The argument surely is that that is not what God intended. Over against that we have a phrase like this: "For thus shall be richly supplied unto you the entrance into the eternal kingdom" (2 Pet. 1:11). On the one hand, we see the possibility of just getting in, with our life and nothing more: on the other hand, an abundant entrance into the everlasting kingdom. You see, there are differences, there are comparative features about the afterward.

What about those messages to the seven churches in Asia, which we have at the beginning of the Book of the Revelation? I believe that the people in those churches are true Christians and not merely professors. If you grant that, then you have got to face this, that between Christian and Christian there is a difference, and there are some very distinct promises given to certain Christians there. "To him that overcometh ... to him that overcometh ... to him that overcometh will I grant ..." Surely logic implies: 'If you don't then you won't. If you don't overcome, then you won't get what the Lord offers.' There are differences. I do not believe this is a matter of loss of salvation, but it is something more than just being saved, just getting in.

Relationship With The Lord For Eternal Vacation

What is the nature of the difference or the differences? Some people will say, 'Well, of course, it is reward.' But what does the New Testament show to be the nature of the reward? The answer is quite clearly this. The reward relates to "calling." It is vocational - it is always vocational. "And His servants shall serve Him; and they shall see His face" (Rev. 22:3, 4). It is service, but service without all the burdensome elements that are so often associated with service now: service to Him without limit, without restraint, without opposition, without suffering. To be able to serve Him! Surely there can be no greater joy than just to be able, without all the straitness and limitations and difficulties of the work now, to serve the Lord in fullness.

Now that is where the New Testament puts its finger. It is calling, vocation, and this, it goes on to show, is a matter of positions in relation to the Lord, different positions for service. Take an illustration of this from one of the messages to the churches. "He that overcometh, I will give to him to sit down with Me in My throne" (Rev. 3:21). There you have two ideas. One is a very close relationship with the Lord, a very intimate nearness to Him; the other, royal service - the service of the throne. What is your conception of sitting with Him in the throne? Let us not have pictures of sitting on golden or ivory thrones, and so on. This simply means union with the Lord in the administration of His eternal kingdom. That is service. But that is said to be a special gift to certain people - it is their reward, if you like. The point is that it is vocational, and it is a matter of relationship to the Lord.

The final picture that we have in the New Testament, while so full of symbolism, is an embodiment of these spiritual principles. It is the picture of the City. Now again get your mind clear, and do not think of a literal city. It is only an illustration, a figure, a symbol. This city is undoubtedly the Church. Need I argue that? "The Jerusalem that is above ... which is our mother" (Gal. 4:26). "Ye are come unto ... the heavenly Jerusalem" (Heb. 12:22). "Ye are come ..."  We are not coming later on, afterwards. "Ye are come .... unto the heavenly Jerusalem ... and to the ... church of the firstborn." So that that city which is said to be the "new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God" (Rev. 21:2) is the Church. Now, like a capital city, it is put into a particular and peculiar position, and the idea of such a city is that it is an administrative center. We are told that "the nations walk in the light thereof' (vs. 24). You see, there is something at the center for government, and there is much more that is not at the center. Here is proximity to the Lord, relationship with the Lord for eternal vocation in administration in His kingdom.

~T. Austin-Sparks~

(continued with # 15 - The Urge and The Imperative)

Saturday, May 13, 2017

What It Means To Be A Christian # 13

What It Means To Be A Christian # 13

(b) Relatedness, continued,

No wonder, then, that we find a poor, mean, miserable measure of spiritual life at Corinth at that time. Thank God, we have another side to the story later on. They evidently got over it, on the basis, the principle, of the Cross. Paul's second letter to them gives a very different picture of the Corinthian church. But Christ cannot be divided, and all divisions, from individual differences between two or more Christians, right up to the great divisions between major Christian groups, are a contradiction of Christ, and no wonder there is spiritual poverty, weakness, ineffectiveness, and lack of registration and impact upon this world. The devil has triumphed there. We must take note of that. It is a great battle is this matter of fellowship, for the very reason that all the evil forces are set against it. Paul says that this is a matter about which we have to be very diligent: "giving diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph. 4:3).

(c) Purity of Heart

I close by just mentioning a third principle, without enlarging upon it. It is the principle of purity of heart. You and I will not grow at all with the increase of Christ, toward the fullness of Christ, unless we maintain a very pure spirit. By that I mean an open heart: one that is free from prejudice, free from suspicion; a readiness to receive, an ability to adjust; no final closure, even though we may have been brought up in a certain way. If the Lord has 'more light and truth to break forth from His Word,' we are open to it, we have not come to a final position that we know it all, we have got it all, we are in it all. A pure spirit means an open heart, a ready spontaneity of response to every bit of light that God gives; obedience instant, without argument. Upon this hangs very much more than we may imagine.

The Eternal Prospect of The Christian

We saw at the beginning that the Christian life is not something which just springs up in this particular era - the Christian era, as it is called - but that it dates right back to eternity past. We saw that it was designed by God in His eternal counsels - the New Testament has much to say about this - and that that eternal Purpose and design is pressing into this present dispensation in a very definite and particular way.

Now we are to see that the future eternity is also pressing into this dispensation. The future eternity is governing the present, is shaping and explaining the present. God is not only working onward. Really, the onward aspect of Divine activities is our side of things. God is, so to speak, working 'backward.' From His side of things He is always working back to His full thought in eternity past. He is bringing us on, but from this other standpoint He is really bringing us back.

The Prospective Element In The New Testament

So we come to this matter of the eternal prospect of the Christian. We have to realize - not that it is difficult to do so - that there is a very large prospective element in the New Testament: that is, the New Testament is always looking on. In the New Testament everything is dominated by the ages to come. God's conception was an eternal one, not just one of time; it is something far, far too big to be realized in fullness in any mere period of time. It certainly, therefore, cannot be realized in the lifetime of any person. It outbounds time. This is "from eternity to eternity," and it requires timelessness for its full realization.

This, of course, explains a great deal. It explained the very nature of the Christian life and of Christian service. A very big factor in the ways of God with His people, with Christians, is that of experience. God puts a great deal of value upon experience. Yet it often seems that, just when we are beginning to profit by experience, the end comes, and we are called away from this life, and all the long and full and deep experience has really had no adequate expression. There is something about this that would be a problem. If God puts so much value upon experience, and then when we have got it we cannot use it, it seems like a contradiction. It requires an extension somewhere, somehow, in order to turn to account all that deep experience which God has taken so much pains to produce. And so this eternal prospect explains God's ways with us in the path of deep and deepening experience.

Then as to the work of God. Well, the work is difficult, it is hard; the progress is all too slow;and though you may do much, and fill your life, when you have had all the days that can be allotted you and have spent yourself to the last drop, what have you done? What does it amount to, at most? We have to say - little, comparatively little. There is so much more to be done, and every successive generation of Christian workers has the same story to tell. On we go, on we go, and we never overtake, we never reach anything like fullness in this life. Something more is required to make perfect both our imperfect lives and our imperfect work.

And then another factor, which is not a small one, is that God seems to be so much more concerned with the worker even than with the work. This of course creates the perplexities of Christian life and service. If God were really concerned with our Christian work, surely He ought never to allow us to be laid aside from it, especially repeatedly or for long periods, and He certainly ought not to allow us to die 'prematurely,' as we would say. If the work is everything, then He ought to keep us on full strength all our days,and extend our days to a full period; but He does not. So many of His choicest are not able to be in action, to serve, in the way in which Christian service is ordinarily thought of; and even those who are fully in action are conscious that the real need in the work of God is for their own deeper knowledge of God Himself - that God is concerned with them, even more than He is with their work.

What does this say? All that discipline, chastening, trial, testing, that we go through under the hand of God: is all that just for now? Surely He is preparing for something more. He is concerned with men and with women - with people - quite a much as, if not more than, with what they do for Him. This, of course, will never be taken as an excuse for our not working to full capacity, but it does all point to something more. There is nothing perfect or complete so long as death remains. You will remember the argument which the Apostle develops in the Letter to the Hebrews concerning the priesthood of the Old Testament. A priest of the old dispensation could bring nothing to finality because he died and had to hand on to another, and in like manner he himself never attained to finality; and so it went on. The argument is that, because of death, nothing was made perfect. But He - Jesus, our High Priest - had made and does make things perfect, because He "ever liveth." It requires an endless life - "The power of an indissoluble life" - to reach fullness. That is clearly shown in the Scripture.

You see, the picture of immortality which the Bible gives us is a very wonderful one, and one, of course, which in our present order of things we cannot understand. The picture of immortality which the Bible gives us is that of new productions coming about without the dying of the old. Our present order is that everything new comes out of a preceding death. Seed, flower, everything has to die, in order to produce or make way for something new. That has been the natural order of things since Adam fell. And the heart of this present dispensation is the great truth of Jesus Christ, the "corn of wheat," falling into the ground and dying, that there should be a production on a larger scale. That is the order of this dispensation. But that is not the order of the coming eternity. The picture of immortality there, as given in the Word, is of trees producing new branches, new leaves, new fruit, and yet the old never dying. Fruit is brought to perfection without any death at all. That is rather wonderful, is it not?

~T. Austin-Sparks~

(continued with # 14)

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

What It Means To Be A Christian # 12

What It Means To Be A Christian # 12

(a) The Cross, continued

And there the Heaven opened. God accepts that Man, and He is installed and instated forever before God, as the type of man that God has ever had in mind. The Cross, on the one side, sets aside a kind of man, and, on the other side, installs and instates another kind of man. "Wherefore," says the Apostle, "if any man is in Christ, there is a new creation: the old things are passed away; behold, they are become new" (2 Cor. 5:17). The Christian life is just that, in principle. The Cross has brought about this - that there is a difference between where we were, and how we were, and what we were before, in God's sight, and how it is now. In Christ, there is a different man: by faith in Christ there has come about a different creation. In the resurrection of Christ, the old kind of man has been replaced by an altogether new one. Now there arises the necessity for our first of all accepting this position. We shall never get anywhere in Christ, anywhere on the way to the realm of fullness, until we have accepted that position into which God has put us in the death of Christ. In effect He says to us, 'Look here: so far as I am concerned, in yourself you are a dead man, a dead woman. I want you to recognize that, when My Son died, you died in Him, and when He rose, you rose in Him too, and there is now a new creation. Until you do that, you will never get anywhere at all. When you do that, then you are in the position to take your place in the reality of Christ risen.' Sooner or later our growth spiritually will come up against that principle in the form of suffering and discipline.

You see, first of all it is a matter of a position to be taken, deliberately taken by faith. This is something that needs constantly to be underlined. It is the basic principle of the Christian life, that we have got to consent to God's verdict upon us as we are by nature. We are not to dissect ourselves and say, 'This is good and this is bad, and this is not so good and this is not so bad.' God says: 'All of you has gone in My Son. I do not make distinctions between what you call good and what you call bad. I regard you as altogether under condemnation.' "There is none righteous, no, not one" (Romans 3:10). "In me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing" (Romans 7:18).

Yes, that is basic, and it is vital that we should get hold of this fundamental principle of the Christian life. Many Christians do not make any progress at all, development and growth is stayed and arrested, because they have not got that basic matter settled. They are still trying to make something of the person, the "self", the nature, that God says He will never entertain at all. They are still thinking that they can be something in themselves, and trying to be something in themselves. They have never accepted this utter, ultimate position. God says, 'I have put you in a grave with My Son, and that was the end of that. Now everything has got to be of another kind, from another source altogether. It must all come from Christ risen, and NOT from you at all.'

That is the key to fullness. It opens up the way, throws wide open the doors. When you get that really settled and by faith take that position, there is no limit to what can be done in the Christian life. But then, when once the position, the utter position, has been taken and accepted, acknowledged, received by faith, then the other side begins - the application of the principle. We accept that ultimate position as a basis and recognize it as God's own verdict, and then the principle of the Cross begins to work in us. Yes, the tenses again, that we had earlier,are: firstly past - we were crucified with Christ (Rom. 6:6; Gal. 2:20). Then present - Paul says: "always bearing about in the body the dying of Jesus, that the life also of Jesus may be manifested in our body" (2 Cor. 4:10); and again: "I die daily" (2 Cor. 15:31). And lastly future - his aspiration was: "that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable to His death" (Phil. 3:10).

Here is the principle at work. It was accepted in a definite act, but now it is being applied as an active thing in the life, on the one side bringing to an actual reality our death with Christ, and correspondingly, on the other side, bringing into our experience our life union with Christ. As the death works, so the life works. This is just the meaning of the Christian life. What is God doing with us? Why all this trouble, all this difficulty, all this discipline - this chastening, this hard way, this difficult school? Why all this? 'I thought the Christian life was going to be one continuous song and picnic and joy-ride!' You find that it is not. It does not mean that joy disappears, but it does mean that we come into a lot of difficulties and into what, to that 'old man' of ours, is a very difficult way. What is the meaning?

Ah, God is applying the principle - getting the old man out of the way and making way for the new. Is it not true of a Christian, a true Christian, as differing from any other person, that suffering produces beauty, suffering produces the fruit, the nature, of Christ; suffering just brings out what Christ is? In others, so often, suffering brings out bitterness, resentment. Some of the most difficult people that I have ever met and tried to help have been people who, because of some great adversity in their lives, have turned against God, become bitter, sour. Suffering has done that. But that is not what happens to a Christian. The marvel of the Christian, the miracle of the Christian life, is just this, that you can find some dear children of God, in lifelong suffering and agony, either of body or of circumstances, who are just wonderfully radiant. You go in where they are, and it is the peace of God. The hymns they sing are hymns about the love of God. Such are their favorite hymns, and yet, if they sang at all, you would think, naturally speaking, it would not be about that. I have clearly in mind certain outstanding instances of such people, in my own experience.

What is it all for? Why, the principle of the Cross is at work, clearing the ground for Christ, for this new creation life, making way for the fullness of Christ. That is the first principle.

(b) Relatedness

The second principle can only be mentioned briefly before we close. This is a very important principle indeed. It is that of relatedness. You see, no individual Christian, and no number of Christians just as separate isolated individuals, can come to the fullness of Christ. Indeed, if you think about it, it goes without saying. If Christ is as big as we have said, how can anyone individual come to that? It is nonsense to suggest it. It would be arrogance to think it. It will require a vast, vast multitude to come to that; but they will never come to it as a multitude or congregation of individuals.

You see, the great conception that is given to us in the New Testament is of the aggregate of Christians as the Body of Christ. You have only to think for a moment about your body, and you know quite well that no one member of your body will grow if detached from the others. It requires not only all the other members, but all the members united, to make one body. There can be no development, either of any member or members, or of the body as a whole, without articulation. I believe that one of the first things that a student of medicine has to face is a box of bones - a box of bones is handed to him. It is all the bones of all the members of a human body. 'Now then, put those bones together and make up a skeleton!' That is the first lesson. And the very first lesson of spiritual fullness and growth is the articulation of Christians, the recognition of the fact that we belong to one another.

The second lesson is that we cannot get on without one another. Our spiritual life depends upon our relatedness with one another, and the maintenance of that adjustment one to another is the secret of spiritual growth. You will find that if satan can carry out his master stroke of separating Christians, he has effected their spiritual arrest. It is always like that. That is why he is after it. Divisions are the masterpiece of the devil, who is set against God's ultimate purpose - the fullness of Christ. If we would only look at our divisions - not only the larger ones, but the little ones, between us and somebody else - in the light of how it first of all affects our or their spiritual growth, and then relates to the larger interests of Christ's increase, we should have a motive for getting rid of those divisions, healing those quarrels, and adjusting our relationships. Relatedness is vital to growth. It is first of all articulation, member to member, and then it is mutually of life, dependence and interdependence, the recognition of the fact that we must have one another, that our very spiritual life depends upon it. Fellowship is essential, is indispensable. It is a principle of growth. You will be greater or smaller in your measure of Christ according to your recognition and observance of the principle.

But, mark you, it is not artificial, it is not institutional, it is not something that we organize: it is organic - it is by life and by love. It is not from the outside, by our arranging it, deciding to have it and fixing it up; it comes from the inside - it comes from Christ within. Paul put his finger upon that very thing in the church in Corinth, when he found rival circles there. One circle centered in himself, saying "We are of  Paul." Another circle centered in Apollos - 'We are of Apollos.' Another circle centered in Peter - 'We are of Peter'; and so on. His appeal to them was this "Is Christ divided?" (1 Cor. 1:13). Of course, the answer is, "No, you cannot divide Christ." Then if Christ is in you and governs, this is all the contradiction to Christ, this is all not Christ.

~T. Austin-Sparks~

(continued with # 13)