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Saturday, January 13, 2018

The Work of the Ministry # 11

The Work of the Ministry # 11

Pressing On for the Prize

"Brethren, I count not myself yet to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting the things which are behind, and stretching forward to the things which are before, I press on toward the goal unto the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:13, 14).

When Paul was pressed into journeying over to Macedonia, he little realized what great spiritual values lay in the city of Philippi. For him it must have been a time of extreme bewilderment. There seemed to be no way open for his ministry. The Spirit forbade him to speak the word in Asia. When he made an attempt to move towards Bithynia, the Spirit of Jesus would not allow him to proceed. It must have appeared very negative, with the Lord only saying "No" to all his plans and prayers. But God is never negative. He only checks and restrains because He has some better thing in view. At last the apostle discovered a way of life. When all his own ideas and plans had been rejected, when he was brought to a standstill, then the vision of the man of Macedonia gave him the clue to the Lord's direction.

What a wonderful sphere then opened up to him! He not only moved into a new continent: he entered into a much richer phase of spiritual ministry. And of all the churches which came into being as a result of this move, there was none to be compared with Philippi. It is very clear that the saints of that city were a great comfort and joy to the apostle as indeed they must have been a real joy to the Lord. How often must Paul have thanked God for checking and disappointing him when he had so strongly tried to work in Asia. How thankful he must have felt, too, that he had obeyed the Spirit. If Paul had forced matters, as we are often tempted to do; if he had brushed aside the Spirit's restraints and just pushed on; he would have missed Philippi, and nobody knows how great a loss that might have been. It may be that we also have been knowing disappointments and apparent frustration. And it may be that Lord now wishes to reveal to us His purpose in His strange dealings with us. He sets before us that which is of supreme importance, the prize. Let us be careful not to miss it.

A Spiritual Man's Ambition

As we read this letter to the Philippians, we get the impression of great confidence and intimacy between the writer and the readers. The love and understanding are such that the apostle is able to disclose his own deepest thoughts and desires. Many people would have misunderstood him. They might have thought that he was claiming some spiritual superiority or special privileges. The Philippians, however, would not do this. They would sympathize  with his aspirations. Indeed they would share them. They would feel that this "prize" of which Paul wrote must be something of supreme importance. It evidently was to him, and he sought that it should be for all the people of God. One cannot but feel that when the letter had been read to the assembled church it must have clarified their vision, challenging every earthly and unworthy motive, and revealing the great goal for the redeemed. They, too, were destined for the prize, and must bend all their spiritual energies to obtain it.

Paul was a man of great spiritual attainment. Yet he confessed that there was something more. The Philippians were fine, spiritual Christians, some of the very best; and yet the apostle was clearly not satisfied with them either. This should cause us to think. What is this prize, which ought to be gained, but which may be lost?

What the Prize Is Not

Perhaps it will help us if we first consider what the prize is not. Of course it is not salvation; that hardly needs to be said. Paul was so assured of everlasting life that it mattered little to him whether he lived or he died. He was not reaching out for the satisfying of personal needs at all. They were fully provided for in Christ. He could say, "I have all things, and abound" (4:18). Yet he still stretched out eagerly for the spiritual prize.

1. Personal Position

This could not have been concerned with his own personal position or apostleship. Most of us would truly covert to be an apostle Paul. If we had anything like the position which he held among the people of God, we should feel that all our highest ambitions were realized. But this is not the prize. It is one of the perils of our day, this wanting to be a great figure among the Lord's people, to be given a prominent place in evangelical circles. When we first turned our back on the world, we probably decided that we wanted no place for ourselves. We were willing to be just nothing, so long as Christ should be magnified. But, all too subtly, those personal ambitions are apt to grow up again, often disguised as being for the glory of the Lord. The truth is that we want to enjoy the praise of men. We say, and perhaps we think, that we want it all for the Lord, but the fact remains that we are pressing on towards a goal which after all is earthly and personal. We seek a position among men.

Paul already had this position. He was outstanding and preeminent in the work of the gospel. He was the great apostle of the nations. He could have been even more popular if he had cared to compromise a little. But to him this was certainly not the prize; and neither must it be to us.

~T. Austin-Sparks~

(continued with # 12 - Personal Possessions)

Saturday, January 6, 2018

The Work of the Ministry # 10

The Work of the Ministry # 10

The Wondrous Ways of God

"Thy way was in the sea,
And Thy paths in the great waters,
And Thy footsteps were not known,
Thou ledest Thy people like a flock,
By the hand of Moses and Aaron" (Psalm 77:19, 20)

What a strange juxtaposition of similes! It would be difficult to have a great contrast than is presented in these two verses - the pilot through the sea, and the shepherd with his flock. The sea in a rage and an uproar, the tempest and the storm - and, right alongside of it, the shepherd and his flock. One a picture of unrest, disturbance, anxiety, stress, mighty forces in action: the other of tranquility, restfulness, calm. What a contrast! - and yet brought together in one statement as to what the Lord is to His people - a pilot, a shepherd.

You need to read the whole psalm to get the full value of that. The first part of the psalm is a record of distress, perplexity, bewilderment, a crying out in trouble, reaching the agony of "Hath God forgotten to be gracious?" "Is His loving-kindness clean gone for ever?" - questions about the Lord. And then the writer recollects and says, "This is my infirmity... I will remember the years of the right hand of the Most High"; and the whole tone changes. Recollection and review, as to how it all worked out in the long run, brings reassurance, leading finally to this summary at the end. And yet it is only an introduction - because undoubtedly the last two verses of this psalm are in introduction to the next one, that great historic record of the Lord's dealings with His people - Psalm 78. What a long psalm it is, recounting the movements of the Lord's people and the Lord's guidance and dealings with them. The psalmist has worked up to that in this way. With all there is here for most helpful, encouraging, reassuring meditation, we can at the present time only look at the gist of the matter.

I am going to change the metaphor again, from the pilot through the storm, and the shepherd with his flock, to the mountaineer. There are three peaks which every child of God has to master - peaks that are suggested by this psalm. We are not really qualified for the service of the Lord, nor for life itself in relation to the Lord, until we have mastered these three peaks. They will challenge us; they may challenge us again and again; but somehow or other we have got to be the masters of them and they have got to be things that have lost their terror for us, have lost their dread, have lost that which makes them for us things that defeat and weaken.

Divine Purpose Governing All

The first of these peaks which arises out of this psalm so clearly is Divine purpose governing all. You know how this mountain presented itself to Israel at the beginning of their history. When the psalmist refers to 'His way in the sea' and 'His paths in great waters', what is he talking about? Undoubtedly about the Red Sea as it confronted them. What a terror, what a dread there was that night!  We may picture how the East wind howled and the water lashed. What a dread that sea was to the people - with what fear and trepidation did they approach its bank! The waters piled up as a wall on the left and the right served little to abate their terror. It was a terrible night, the passing through the Red Sea. It was, in a sense, a veritable mountain to be negotiated - and a mountain of, for them, terrible possibilities. But do you notice what the psalmist says? He says (Psalm 77:16) that these waters were - well, our translation does not give us the exact word. They were troubled, they were in anguish, they were groaning and the original word which is used to describe the state of the waters suggests that they were in travail, the sea was in travail, and the nation was born in that sea that night. A nation was born in the Red Sea that night, and the waters were in anguish. It is a picture.

You see Divine purpose, all that seemed so awful that night, Divine purpose was governing, producing a nation, bringing a nation to birth - "paths in the great waters". That is one thing that we have sooner or later to settle, that the raging, the terror, the dread, the threatening, the thing that seems to mean our undoing,k is being governed by Divine purpose to produce something of very great value to the Lord. The recollection of this saved the psalmist when he was crying out with those questions - "Hath God forgotten to be gracious? Is His loving kindness clean gone for ever?" The psalmist was in a state of distress. I think he was expressing the state of the people at that time, and wondering whether the Lord had not forsaken His people altogether and left them. Then he says, 'Let us look back - let us go back to our beginning as a nation. Were we not born in a threat? Did we not begin our history in what seemed to speak destruction? Was it not in the most terrible tempest that we, by the mighty power of God, came out His people, delivered, saved, set apart?' That recollection saved the psalmist in his hour, and we too have to reach the place where we say, with every new tempest, raging, threat, dread, fear, onslaught, whatever it is - God has something in this; purpose governs.

But then that involves something else, carries something else with it.

Divine Wisdom Dictating

The second mountain peak is this - Divine wisdom dictating. It is not only that there is purpose which is the end, but that there is wisdom dictating the way to the end. The psalmist looked back and saw, and said to himself, Ah! at the time we could see no wisdom of God at work, the way we were going seemed to be such a confused way, a contradictory way, everything seemed to be anything but the dictating of Divine wisdom; but now I can see God chose the way, the method, the means which He knew would most effectively reach His end, and we have to negotiate that mountain. It does seem so strange, the way the Lord goes. What is the Lord doing? Why? All the questions come up. But wisdom is dictating the way to the end.

Divine Love Controlling

And then, Divine love controls. It controls the end, the way, the motive - yes, the Pilot; but He is not a disinterested detached pilot, just doing his job without any heart-relationship to the people in his care. The metaphor changes at once, as though to say, "Ah, there is something more in it than that. God is not just negotiating through difficulties in a cold, detached way. He is a Shepherd.' And if there is one picture in the Bible of a heart-relationship to others, it is the picture of the shepherd. God's heart is bound up with His people, and the psalmist says an interesting here. "Thy way was in the sea, and Thy paths in great waters, and Thy footsteps were not known." What does he mean?

Go back again, after it is all over, to the other side of the Red Sea. The wind has quieted down,and the tempest has come to rest. You look to see where His 'footprints' are, and you cannot find them. You cannot say, 'He did it like this and that'. You cannot fine out just how He did it. The fact is that He did it, and that is all; you cannot explain, define, mark it out. The psalmist is saying - 'That is how God does things'. He does the most wonderful things - things which involve the whole question of life and death for us; and when He has done them, you just cannot see any trace of how He did it - but it was done. Do we not have to say that? We come up against a situation like the Red Sea, and say, 'How are we going to master this? What is the Lord going to do with this one?' He just does it. We look back, again and again and say, 'The Lord has done it, but how, I do not know'. "Thy footsteps were not known." You cannot trace out how the Lord does things, but He does them. He brings the mighty tempest to serve His end, by His wisdom, in His love, because He is the Shepherd of His flock - because His heart is bound up with them. It matters to Him about us!

~T. Austin-Sparks~

(continued with # 11 - Pressing On For The Prize)

Saturday, December 30, 2017

The Work of the Ministry # 9

The Work of the Ministry # 9

Manifested Glory Limited By An Earth Touch

The second passage - "Jesus saith...Loose him, and let him go". Do not forget that the glory of God is still governing, though that glory may be partially under arrest. The glory of God is found in the uncreated life of God, or the risen life of Christ, the life of the One Who is the Resurrection and the Life. The glory is inherent in that Divine eternal life. Lazarus has got to the point where he has the life, it is in him, he has come forth in the power of that resurrection life, but it is in limitation; therefore the glory is in limitation, and the full realization of the Divine intention, the full display of glory, requires that that life shall be loosed, shall be freed. From what? We say, Grave-clothes. What are the grave-clothes? Well, "dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return" (Gen. 3:19). The grave-clothes are just the 'earth touch'. That is a very very full phrase. It is some link with old mother earth, it is some still remaining tie with that cursed creation where nothing can go right through to fullness. Here it is the question of fullness of life, full release and resultant full glory; and, in any realm where the curse still rests, we know that the mark of the curse is that things go so far and then they fade out, die away, nothing really comes right through to fullness.

Here is Lazarus; he has got so far - but what is the good of this man tied hand and foot? Even though he has life, he cannot do very much, he cannot be of much use. He is not going to walk about and display the glory of God as a living corpse, always speaking of the grave - his own testimony being, even though he has life, the grave. He speaks of the grave bears, marks of the grave on him all the time - there is an earth touch. You see the comprehensiveness of application. We have to learn under the instruction of the Holy Spirit what and where is the earth touch in our case. It may be some ambition, natural ambition, some personal craving, something that we ourselves want for our own satisfaction. It may be any one of a thousand things that is still an earth touch, that means that we are not completely released for God, we are not really free for the Lord, still some ground of controversy,still some ground of bargaining with the Lord - If You will do this, then I will... There is still some earth touch somewhere, some bit of worldliness - oh, anything that touches that earth realm; and therefore, although we may have this wonderful life and have heard the call for the Son of God, we are still in limitation, still in straightness, still tied up, still not absolutely free and emancipated that the glory of God should be served in fullness. "Loose him, and let him go"; cut the earth ties.

I know, of course, that there is the dispensational outworking of this thing and that these grave-clothes dispensationally speak of the law, the Jewish law, because it is here, right in the midst of Judaism, that the testimony is born. This is Galatians. The whole letter to the Galatians is the words "Loose him, and let him go." Get rid of the legalism of the law and let this raised man go free. But there is a spiritual interpretation, and it is a wider one. There is this more extensive application, and the principle is universal - have an earth touch, and your life comes under arrest, the glory of God is limited. What is your earth touch? Well, let us ask ourselves, are we free? Are we really living in the fullness of this life and the effectiveness of this life in service? If not, why not? Are we still clinging to something for ourselves, still holding on somewhere to that which is banned by God, which cannot live? It is the death touch because it is the earth touch. The word is: "Loose him, and let him go."

satan's Opposition To The Manifestation Of The Glory

And the third passage - "the chief priests took counsel that they might put Lazarus also to death; because that by reason of him many of the Jews went away, and believed on Jesus". Anything that is in the full way of the glory of God, loosed for Divine purpose that God may be glorified in it, becomes the object of satan's malice. That is a third truth, which perhaps we need not emphasize, for we know it well, that if God does something in our lives out of which He gets glory to Himself through His Son, it is not long before the hate and spite of the enemy is directed against us. That is a part of our fellowship with the Lord. If they are going to put Jesus to death, they are going to put Lazarus to death as well, because these two are one. We are bound up with the Lord in this, and we shall find that if the Lord is after getting glory in and through our lives, and yet more glory, then the enemy will make us the targets of his real venom and he and his will take counsel to put us to death.

But how far can he go? He cannot go any further at any time than the Lord of Life permits him to go, because now His Son has been offered at Calvary, and for us it is our privilege, not to be killed, but to lay down our lives of our own free will.

Well, three things - "not unto death, but for the glory of God". What is it that you and I are wrestling with? See in it the possibility of Divine glory: it may be something ordained of God - tragic as it seems to you - ordained of God to be in the long run for His glory. Get free from that which limits the glory and frustrates the purpose of God in you adversity and trial - that is, any earth touch, any personal clinging; and remember that, even when you have done that, you are not going to escape the attention of the enemy - you are going to be an object of his consideration; and if the devil thinks anyone or anything is worth his consideration, it must be of value to the Lord.

~T. Austin-Sparks~

(continued with # 10 - The Wondrous Ways of God)

Saturday, December 16, 2017

The Work of the Ministry # 8

The Work of the Ministry # 8

"For The Glory Of God"

"This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified thereby" (John 11:4).

"He that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with grave clothes; and His face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go" (John 11:44).

"But the chief priests took counsel that they might put Lazarus also to death; because that by reason of him many of the Jews went away, and believed on Jesus" (John 12:10, 11).

You know quite well, but it may be as well if we remind ourselves, that in this Gospel there is brought out the one thing which governs all the interests and activities of God - namely, His glory, and His glory in the face of Jesus Christ: so that the one thing in view, giving meaning to everything, is the glory of God through the Lord Jesus. Let us keep that in mind, because if we detach anything from that we lose both its meaning and value, and probably lose our way. God is doing everything for His glory, and that particularly in the lives of those who are His.

God's Glory Manifested Against A Background Of Suffering

Let us now come to the first of three fragments in this wonderful illustration. "This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God". The statement is the explanation and the interpretation of a very mysterious providence, a providence which lifts things which otherwise could be regarded as the common happenings in human life on to another level, and clothes them with majesty, with glory. It is not an uncommon thing that a man should be taken ill and die, and there are literally countless things which just happen like that, making up the sum of human life and experience, every one of which can be regarded as the as the common lot, the everyday experience; but here is something which, by the illumination of the Lord, has to be seen in another way - and another way which almost startles us. It is that the sovereignty of God, moving toward that great object of His own glory in His Son, acts to make a man ill, to bring sickness upon a man; and providence stands back and lets that sickness take its course, until the man dies and is more than dead, and all the features of an earthly human tragedy are there, of bereavement, of sorrow and heartbreak. They are all there - and yet God is in this thing, involved and implicated by His own act in a most remarkable way, and it is made known that this thing was determined by God Himself with a tremendous object in view, the greatest object in the heart of God - His own glory.

Now you see the far-reaching possibilities of such a consideration, and the tremendous range of application. We shall be content just now to take the fact that when God is seeking to glorify Himself, to bring His Son into His rightful place of recognition, of Lordship, those things which we may naturally regard and interpret as the haps and chances of human life, to which all are subject, may be something predestined of God, under God's control, to bring out something greatly to the glory of God, to God's satisfaction.

Now, friends, this is something to which you and I, have to seek quite diligently to adjust ourselves. Let us widen and enlarge the application from just human indisposition or sickness, even if it does culminate in death. Let us view in the light of this perhaps a lifetime of difficulty and adversity and suffering, perhaps something that has come to us for which we have more than thrice sought the lord that it might be removed, and the Lord has in effect said, 'No': there has been no removal; it is something that we are called upon to experience and endure. It may be something in our lives as a whole, or it may be some event in our lives of great distress. Oh, look at it, whatever it may be in you case that you would have removed, to which you would take the attitude that Mary and Martha took - This is a tragedy, this is a misfortune, this is a great adversity, this is an overwhelming sorrow, this is all against us, all contrary to our good and to our blessing and to our joy. The Word of God makes it clear in more than one place that there is a sovereignty behind the lives of His own, "the called according to His purpose", which may have not just let that thing happen, but actually ordained it, and made that very thing, ordered by the will of God, the means by which something should come from our lives very much to the glory of God. I know that it is not easy to take that attitude toward things when you are in them - it is the most difficult thing; but here is something which is concrete as a statement,and it says in a general way to us, "to them that love God... that are called according to His purpose" (Romans 8:28): 'You who love the Lord, there is some tremendous possibility for the Lord's glory, the Lord's satisfaction, wrapped up in that which you are inclined to regard as a trouble, suffering, adversity, a setback, a tragedy, if not a catastrophe, a strange and mysterious providence which has reversed your hopes and expectations - all that and much more. That may be something that the Lord has not only allowed to take place, but has arranged Himself.' In the end, of course, we recognize that and acknowledge it, and we shall not be sorry that we went through that thing. I do not think Mary and Martha were sorry afterwards that they went through it. I think there was tremendous gain there, but the point is in suffering something for God's glory, and if our hearts are set upon His glory, we shall share it. "If so be that we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified with Him" (Romans 8:17).

That is just the first brief but quite real message to us, and it must be taken by every one of us according to our own hearts' secret bitterness and sorrow. You know the Lord has dealt with you in a strange way, upset all your plans, suspended all your expectations, reversed all your hopes, brought everything to a standstill, whatever it might be. Now "this sickness is not unto death". If Christ, the Resurrection and the Life, is involved in this, it is unto life; it cannot be unto death, but for the glory of God.

~T. Austin-Sparks~

(continued with # 9 - Manifested Glory Limited By An Earth Touch)

Saturday, December 9, 2017

The Work of the Ministry # 7

The Work of the Ministry # 7

The Work of the Cross, continued -

That constitutes the next battle for the child of God. To begin with, the Holy Spirit, as it were, does not talk about this; He just gives the joy of salvation. But after a bit there is the discovery of the need of something deeper. What is the final solution to a defeated Christian life? It is the end of Romans seven - "I thank God through Jesus Christ", and he thanks God because what is in Romans six has been realized. "Our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away, that so we should no longer be in bondage to sin; for he that hath died is justified (released) from sin" (verses 6, 7). And the revelation of the Spirit comes as to the further meaning of the Cross as deliverance from the power of sin.

The next thing is that the Cross begins to deal with the self-life itself, and we run into a deeper discovery of what self is - not actual sins and wickedness, but motives, a whole world of iniquity which is our self-life; and the end of it is that the Lord will lead us to a crisis, where we see that the Cross has dealt with that person, that self. Paul tells us in Romans six that the old man is crucified, and in Galatians two, verse twenty he says, "I have been crucified with longer I... but Christ". So the Cross is our deliverance from that.

But the deepest thing is that the work of the fall was undone by the Lord Jesus. Redemption was an adequate thing. He was manifested to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8). Now, one thing that was injected into the human race was enmity against God. The enmity between man and God was dealt with at the Cross; we who were once enemies were reconciled, and there is peace with God. But the fall has always brought enmity between man and man; between each one of us and every other one there is an enmity. If we had to live with one other long enough and uncomfortably enough, trouble would soon blow up. There is something that is "I", and it is irritating. Well, the Cross has slain that enmity - of course, in the Lord Jesus - but that is our refuge. Our refuge is the Cross, and Ephesians two touches that very matter. It says, "That He might create in Himself of the two one new man", "having slain the enmity thereby" (verses 16, 17). The Lord is not satisfied with a lot of warring units. It is a travesty to think of having peace with God upwards while there is war between His children down here. The Lord says, I want to get among you all and clear that away, so that you become one. And the proof that the Cross has done its work is the oneness that is in Christ.

A Practical Expression

Now, this is not just theory: it is the thing that the Lord longs for, "I pray for them...that they may be one", and our first exercise must be to commit ourselves to the Lord's will in this matter. He may touch actual points where there is not absolute oneness. That is a practical issue that we have to face. "If a man say, I love God,and hateth his brother, he is a liar" (1 John 4:20). The proof that we are right with God is that we are right with one another. We are living in tremendous, terrific, days: every man of the world you talk to admits it. But, in the midst of all the chaos, the Lord has an answer. How encouraging that in Isaiah it says, "Darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon thee" (Isa. 60:2) As the darkness deepens, the Church is the answer, and that means corporate life. "Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them" (Matt. 18:20). It does not mean two or three in a room; it means two or three who have been made one, who have been through the fires of the Cross until they are one and you cannot get a wedge between them; Christ has done something. And love is not sentiment - it is a miracle. You have to love people with whom you could not get on naturally. The Cross has to deal with that life, that the life of Jesus may be manifest; and it is one life. The Lord says, if even two or you are one, you can have anything you like. It is an immense thing to get two people really one.

What, then, is the answer to the day in which we live? It is the Church; it is Christ corporate; it is the "togetherness in Christ, at all costs, of the saints. "We ought to lay down our lives" (1 John 3:16). It is the losing of that natural independent self-life, whatever it costs, in the place where we live in order that the Church may be built. The churches are the expressions of Christ in His people, and that is what matters. There needs to be a closely related practical life in Christ to make this effectual. In other words, the Church has to be built. There has to be a knitting of member to member in order that the Lord's presence may be known.The Lord is not just present, in an indefinite way, in the middle of a room where the saints are. He is in saints who are one. The key to the whole situation in the earth is this matter of oneness in the saints, and I believe that it needs practical expression.

"I pray for them...that they may be one". The travail of His soul will not be satisfied until He finds something of His own likeness reflected in us, and that reflection requires our being close together. We must "grow up in all things into Him, Who is the head, even Christ", but we cannot grow separately.

~T. Austin-Sparks~

(continued with # 8 - For The Glory of God)

Saturday, December 2, 2017

The Work of the Ministry # 6

The Work of the Ministry # 6

The Seed Is The Church, continued -

So you go down into death as an individual, but you come up as part of a whole. There is only one Christ, Christ and His members, and that is the Church. The Church is Christ as the life and the realm of His people. The Church is not a lot of people. It is one new man, and the only way to know the Church is through death and resurrection. You have got to go right out of the picture, or you will never know what the Church is; because it is not on this side - it is on that other side. There may be religion on this side, but it is not the Church. The Church is on that side, and it is just Christ. It is not a thing, an organization; it is a life in union with the living Lord and vital union with one another. We feel for one another, we care for one another. How the whole physical body hurries to the aid of the of the foot that is damaged, or anything else. How insensitive we can be to one another, how terribly self-occupied and self-centered. The Lord wants to deliver us from that and bring us on to a new ground where we "love one another from the heart fervently", where we really care what happens to one another.

Than brings us to what I believe is the key to what was in the Lord's heart as He faced the Cross. I do not know where you think John seventeen took place. It looks as though it took place in the upper room, because chapter eighteen tells us that afterward they went into the garden, but it all seems bound up with Gethsemane. It was the same night, and more than once in John seventeen the Lord uses the actual words "I pray..." When He is facing the greatest issue that has ever been faced, He pours out His heart to His Father. This is, so to speak, the Holy of Holies. You could not have a greater opening of His heart really than John seventeen. He is letting us into His secret. What an extraordinary thing for those men to have been thee in His presence when He so prayed!

What does He pray for - the Saviour of the world, the One Who is going to the Cross as the Lamb of God to take away the sin of the world? "I pray for them; I pray not for the world" - is that not extraordinary? - "I pray... for those whom Thou hast given Me" (John 17:9). And what is the heart of His burden for those who are His children/ His one heart cry to His Father for His seed, His own ("they are mine", He says, "for they are Thine"). The Lord's burden is - not that people may exist spiritually, but they they may be one; not that they may be brought to birth, they shall be brought into oneness. The full fruitage of redemption is not merely their salvation. The Lord is not satisfied with countless saved souls. Saved souls can be a perfect travesty and a contradiction of everything. Some Christians are doing the most grievous harm, but you cannot say they are not saved. We have spoken to a Roman Catholic who was in the employ of a professing Christian. He says - 'Well, I am sorry, I know too much.' And your tongue is tied because sometimes you know things yourself - injustice, wickedness, lying -yes, but the man is saved. God's great issue is not only our standing in Christ, but the state is a very serious matter. There is no testimony by standing; the testimony is by the state. It is not until something happens inwardly in the life that there is any testimony, but being a Christian does not necessarily make you a witness.

Then there is one further thing. The travail of His soul requires something more than individual spirituality. You can as it were beget a lot of semi-spiritual people, because they have had the teaching and they have heard about the Cross; they are, as it were, going on with the Lord all by themselves, but there is very little impact in an unrelated, isolated spiritual individual. A ministry can so produce individuals, and the tragedy is that so often these individuals, if you meet them aside, fall into one of two categories. Either they think they have something a bit better than other people, therefore they cannot help feeling a bit critical of other people, and other Christians can smell their critical spirit miles off, and so are not interested - and so that testimony has gone out. Or, at the other extreme, they are going through such a time, because they are trying to go on with the Lord, that they are nearly always 'under the weather' - in other words, they are always having spiritual problems because they have heard this deeper thing and it has got them tired up. Even if you get quite a measure of spiritual life in a child of God as an isolated unit, and they go on faithfully and seek to be true to the Lord, the weight of things proves too much for them, and the more real they are, the more the weight of it is on them. They are nearly crushed out of existence. The Lord has another way, and the Lord's way is the Body - one life together, oneness. "That they may be one."

The Work of the Cross

The Cross has done a mighty thing. If we could see what the Cross has really done,we would all stand up and say, Hallelujah! It is tremendous, it is a mighty deliverance. It has taken away the whole sin of the world - yes; but that is not all, though that is big enough. When you and I had our sins forgiven, I wonder how many of us, after a little time, ran into a sticky patch? I did; I am sure most of you did. We discover that, although we have a new nature through new birth, unfortunately we also have another nature still there. "The flesh lusteth against the Spirit" (Gal. 5:17). We still have this other nature.

~T. Austin-Sparks~

(continued with # 7)

Saturday, November 25, 2017

The Work of the Ministry # 5

The Work of the Ministry # 5

Travail Unto Full Growth, continued - 

So Hebrew two says: "It became Him, for Whom are all things, and through Whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the Author of their salvation perfect through sufferings" (vs. 10); not 'in bringing many sons into eternal life', but "in bringing many sons unto glory"; and glory is moral glory, it is likeness to Christ. The only glory in us is the measure of Christ - not this wretched person. Glory is the presence of the One within, Who is there that He may increase and grow and develop, until His very features begin to appear in these poor vessels of clay: so that qualities and characteristics and beauties, which just are not in us at all naturally, begin to appear; and that is what the Lord is looking for. 'My seed", seed like that - because seed means nature. He is looking for the nature; He is looking for what which in Himself finds its fullness, manifested and brought through into actual expression in redeemed lives. The Lord's satisfaction with a seed is found not only where the life is implanted, but where it is increased and comes to expression.

We could spend much time on the great secret of that increase of Christ. There is a New Testament Scripture that bears right on this matter - Galatians four and verse nineteen. Paul, who has been used to bring into being a nucleus of believers called 'the churches in Galatia', says to these Christians, these saved people, "I am again in travail until Christ be formed in you". "Having begun in the Spirit, are ye now perfected in the flesh?" (Gal. 3:3). 'Having started in the power of that new God-given life, are you now going on in the energy of this same old one that you had before? You have a tradition, you have doctrines that you hold on to, you observe days and years - you are trying to be pleasing to God by doing things. That is all a dropping out of the realm of this new life which has made you sons of God; you have become withered, you have become babes again; and now I am in travail until Christ is formed in you.' Travail unto the full measure of Christ - that is the first thing.

The Way of Growth

The second great matter here is that not only is the seed a life imparted that it may come to fullness, but that fullness never comes without a basic work being done in the life. Paul touches on that in Galatians. He says, "Walk by the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh" (Gal. 5:16). We have the corollary of this in Romans eight and verse thirteen: "if ye live after the flesh, ye must die." If you ask, How can I live in the realm where Christ increasingly becomes my life" - the answer is: "They that are of Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with the passions and the lusts thereof" (Gal. 5:24). Only if we have repudiated the old natural basis of life and said, 'I have finished with it, I want it to be no longer I but Christ', only if we have decided that it must be Christ, can it so be. Do you want it to be you or the Lord? You have to make up your mind. The Lord says, "If any man would come after Me" the first thing he will have to do is to "deny himself" (Matt. 16:24). The word "deny" in the Greek is a deliberate and final repudiation of self. Baptism declares that; but baptism does not end the process, rather does it begin it - because from that crisis, what happens? Then all that is not Christ in us begins to come to light, bit by bit. You say, I did not know it would mean that! Then crisis follows crisis. But if you have wholly committed yourself, then there will be that further word of the Lord: "let him deny himself, and take up his cross" - in one case it says "daily" (Luke 9:23). As far as self is concerned, all the way of the Cross is the only way of the increase of Christ. 'Not I, but Christ.

But that has to be a heart matter settled secretly with the Lord. When a child of God settles that with the Lord, the Lord's mighty hand closes on him. He says, 'I will see you through'. How blessed it is to see children of God who come up to crisis after crisis; perhaps you see them meet the crisis, and you can tell from their faces what they are going through, it may be for two or three days, and then life breaks, and they seem more gentle. You have some fellowship with them: they say, 'Praise the Lord, that is done!' With those who mean business, it is remarkable how often that others,and how quickly they grow. You do not have to engineer your own crisis - the Lord does it. The Cross is the only way for Him to "see...and be satisfied". Can the Lord be satisfied with the carnal Christian - with someone full of their own importance, going their own way? Does heaven look down and say - "That satisfies God"? It is nonsense! The Lord is looking for something quite different. He is looking for the ruling out of that, that His Son may come into view.

The Seed Is The Church

But the further meaning of this seed, I believe, is that it is a corporate term. The Lord has not died and risen again merely with individuals in view, though it begins with individuals; but as we come into Christ, we become His seed, a kind of person - many persons, of course, but of a certain kind - and in that kind of person the mere persons begins to be very much at a discount. It does not mean that personalities and individuals are ruled out, but they become something more than just a lot of unites: and that brings us to that word in Galatians three and verse sixteen, where Paul is speaking about Abraham's seed, "He saith not, And to seeds, as of many, but as of one, 'And to thy Seed,' Which is Christ." Christ Himself is, of course, the seed of God, the Only Begotten, but in Christ we become a seed or a generation which is Christ corporate. What we are naturally is all under judgment at the Cross and ruled out. God is only seeing a new creation altogether,where He sees but one person - His beloved Son; one Christ, and every one of us in Christ.

Therefore the fruit of the Cross is not just individual salvation. The fruit of the Cross is the Church. The fruit of the Cross is a very big thing: it is oneness.Will you look at Galatians three,verses twenty-six, through twenty-nine: "For ye all all sons of God, through faith, in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ did put on Christ. There can be neither Jew nor Greek, there can be neither bond nor free, there can be no male and female; for ye all are one man in Christ Jesus. And if ye are Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, heirs according to promise." As individuals, each with our background, our opinions, our personal angle on things, which seem so real to us - if I am a Jew, well, I see everything Jewishly, and if I am a Greek, I cannot abide Jews, and therefore I see everything Greekishly. But then there is a grave, and we say, 'Lord, I want it to be You and not me'; there is resurrection on that side. How many Jews and Greeks are there over there? You cannot find one; there is nobody there at all except Christ.

~T. Austin-Sparks~

(continued with # 6)