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Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Work of God At the End-Time # 2

The Work of God At the End-Time # 2

All Former Spiritual Values Centered in Christ, continued -

This expectation and hope has reached its consummation in these very two who, with others, were looking for the consolation of Israel, the redemption of Jerusalem. They were looking; and what a day it was of little prospect, of seeming hopelessness! and yet there were those who were still hoping, still believing, still clinging. And there that day stood Simeon, holding in his arms the fulfillment of all the hopes and expectations and promises - holding the complete embodiment of the full thought of God. Simeon held all that in his hands, and by his words and attitude, holding it forth. "This child is set for ..." the whole future is going to be affected by Him. It was a tremendous moment. 

All Types and Systems Transcended By Christ In Person

Ah, but note, it carried with it a stripping of all framework of earthly systems. It was no longer that which encased Christ, it was Christ Himself. All the encasements of Christ were finished at that moment. What a moment it was! The encasing in types and figures, symbols and prophecies and the whole system of Judaism, that whole framework was shattered and stripped off that day, and the manifest reality of all that had been inherent and intrinsic in the past was in Simeon's hands, to be handed on to the future. It was a crisis, a turning of the dispensations. It was a passing from all that was merely of earthly systems in relation to Christ, to the Christ Himself: and that is no small thing, and that is the mark of the end-time. 

See what we come to. Christ Himself emerges from the framework of things, from all the scaffolding of past ages, from all the figurative and typological and symbolical, and transcends the things by His own Person. There is all the difference between Himself and His things. Right up to that time, God's people had been occupied with the things concerning the Christ: now they were to be occupied with the Christ Himself. It was a tremendous moment. This is what will be at an end-time. That is the point. An end-time is transition from a lot that has had to do with Christ to Christ Himself, transition from frameworks to the essential and the intrinsic, transition from all the works and the things related to Christ to that which is known of Him personally. All the other is going to be stripped off, and we are in the day when that stripping off has seriously commenced. The issue is going to be - may I put it this way? - how much we have actually in our hands of the very Christ Himself, how much we are occupied with the things concerning Him, the encasement of Christ.

This work of transition is going to be done, for this is an end-time movement. I see it here so clearly, the prefiguring of the prophesying of that other end-time which we have in the book of the Revelation, when the man child is brought forth, and the ultimate things are in view. At such a time everything will be tested and challenged by the forces that will be let loose from hell. There started, with the bringing in of this first man child, the Lord Jesus, a loosing of satanic and hellish forces which has gone on and on, right trough this dispensation. Herod heard, and loosed his sword, occasioning a terrible massacre, in an endeavor to compass the death of this One; and from that time onward hell was out (and has continued to be out) not against a system but against a living Person. So here we see the man child presented and the tremendous reactions that are immediately provoked.

Pass right on to Revelation 12, and there you see a corporate company called the man child. (It is corporate because the language is "and they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb.") This is the corporate counterpart of the individual,of the personal. When that corporate expression of the man child is presented in the book of the Revelation, what have you? - a most violent release of evil forces for the destruction of everything that speaks of Christ.

God's End-Time Work - Everything Essentially Spiritual

Well now, what is the service of God at an end-time? As far as we have gone, surely we are able to see one or two things. The particular work of God at an end-time is, to begin with, the constituting of a new and spiritually inclusive dispensation, a new age of an essentially and wholly spiritual kind. In Hebrews 12:27 we have, "And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that have been made, that those things which are not shaken may remain." That word "removing" really means the transferring or the transposing on to another and different basis. The fact that that comes at the end of the letter to the Hebrews is significant, for that letter is just full of that earthly system of Judaism with all its forms, its ritual, its makeup and constitution. All that is earthly, even in relation to God, is going to be removed, and everything is going to be transferred to another basis - a spiritual, a heavenly basis, and when begin to happen on the ground of an end-time, that is the character of what is taking place. The earthly is now going to be forced to give way to the heavenly, the temporal to the spiritual, the outward to the inward. Then it will be proved just how much we have that can be transferred, for there are many things that are not going to be transferred. "Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Cor. 15:50). that signifies and implies that there is a whole order of creation which is not going to constitute that eternal order, it is to pass away. Everything is going to be transferred to another basis, and this kind of thing intensifies at an end-time. Do you see that?

Let me put that more simply. What God will see to, by sheer force of condition, is that anything that is only temporal will go and that which is spiritual alone will remain. There must therefore be intensifying processes to bring out the spiritual. Is not that where we are? I do not know what your experience is, but touching one and another here and there I find there is some real understanding of this. We never knew such spiritual conflict, pressure and difficultly as we are knowing now; things seem to be getting beyond measure. May this not be the explanation? The Lord seems to be concentrating upon bringing out spiritual values, making spiritual men and women, and if I am not mistaken (and I claim no gift of prophecy, in the foretelling sense), we are going to see, and are already seeing, the removal of so much, the external things, upon which Christians have been relying as though these things constituted their Christian life. We are going to be forced back to the place where the one question that faces us is, After all, what have I got of the Lord Himself? Not, What can I do, where can I go? but, What have I got? I believe that is a very present and appropriate question in many parts of the world just now, and it will be increasingly so as everything outward is brought to an end. Now is the test - What have I got in my hands?

~T. Austin-Sparks~

(continued with # 3 - God's End-Time Work Inclusive Of All Former Values)

Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Work of God At The End Time # 1

The Work of God At The End Time # 1

The Peculiar Conditions Of An End-Time

Read: Luke 2:25-38; 1 Corinthians 10:11; Hebrews 8:13, 9:20

We are being led at this time to take note of the fact that we are at an end-time, and that God does a peculiar work at such a time. Things become very strange and very difficult at an end-time; everything seems to be thrown into a state of disturbance, upheaval, intense pressure and conflict. The great conflicting forces in this universe register very terribly and intensely upon that which is of God and upon those who are of account to Him, so that there often arises the sense that this is an actual end, and a question as to what more is possible. Inwardly we feel that the way is becoming exceedingly hedged up; "frustration" is the word which seems to prevail, and outwardly everything is in a state of serious and great question as to the future. Indeed, it becomes more persistently the experience of the true people of God that they could give up and abandon everything. The ways in which this works out are numerous, but the whole effect is to paralyze and put out of commission that which is of God and bring it to a complete standstill. It is this, then, that will govern our consideration at this time - that we are in an end-time and that in end-times the work of God takes a particular form and is of a peculiar nature. It obviously becomes supremely important and necessary for the Lord's people to know the time in which they live, what the portents are, and what it is that God would do at such a time.

I suggest to you that that constitutes a real reason for getting together in serious and solemn conference, for it is not something that we can take just as a part of a sequence of meditations. Our consideration of it may be supremely crucial and in a peculiar way related to a time in the history of this world, and of God's work in this world, which is of tremendous importance and will not be repeated.

Now, this matter of the end-time and God's work therein is brought very fully and clearly into view by Simeon and Anna. There is no doubt that they represent firstly an end-time - an end-time dispensationally and an end-time with regard to their own age, for they were both advanced in years. And then they also represent God's service at such a time. Simeon used the word himself - "Now lettest thou thy servant depart, Lord, according to thy word, in peace." "Thy servant." Anna was found continuing in the temple in fastings and supplications day and night, not leaving it, a prophetess thus occupied in the house of God; and if that is not a picture of service, what is?

Fullness Of Ripe Age Carried On In Freshness Of New Life

I am, in the first place, going to take up the age factor. Let me say at once that, although I am going to talk about old age, my message is mainly to young people. If that sounds hardly kind and fair to others, let me put it in this way: age is not a matter of years at all. You may be young in years and yet be far beyond your years, or you may be old in years and far behind your years. This age factor, as represented by Simeon and Anna, corresponds to the word in Hebrews 8, "He hath made the first old. But that which is becoming old and waxed aged is nigh unto vanishing away"; and again, to the words in 1 Cor. 10, 11, "upon whom the ends of the ages are come." That makes us very old, does it not?

Well now, what have we as the picture before us? We have an aged man with a babe in his arms, at once bringing an end and a beginning together, an end handed on to a beginning, a beginning taking up all the fullness represented by the old. It is the old passing over into and giving place to the new. If we get the Divine idea, the spiritual thought, about this - an aged man with a babe in his arms - we at once see that from the Divine standpoint that is the Divine principle. Age is not diminution, contraction, declension, depreciation. That is not God's mind about old age. There is a passage in Isaiah which says, "The child shall die a hundred years old" (Isa. 65:20). There is a state, a condition, a realm in which a child shall die one hundred years old. It means there is a principle here - that there is a realm in which age has the child present, has the babe there in its arms. At one hounded years old the child has not gone, it is still the child. The Divine thought about old age is rather that of fullness, fullness unto the enrichment of what is yet to be, and which is about to come in; to provide a heritage; not to pass out and take everything with it and for that to be the end, but to have something very full and rich to be taken up and carried on and expressed in newness, freshness, youthfulness, all the value of a long history brought out in new ways. That is what is here.

You know the instances in the Bible of infancy linked with old age. How much is made of this spiritual principle in relation to Abraham and Isaac! When Abraham was old, Isaac was born. The fact is taken up to express this - that when there is a great accumulation of history and spiritual knowledge, God will reproduce that, He will give it form again and yet again. "In Isaac shall thy seed be called" (Gen. 21:12). Or again, Jacob and Benjamin, the child of his old age; and what a lot Benjamin represents spiritually. Then we have the case of Eli, who was very old, and the child Samuel. It is not only a beautiful picture, but it is a very significant one, that child alongside of the aged Eli. God started there again, right in the presence of something that was in itself about to pass out, but taking up all its spiritual values to reproduce them and bring out all their intrinsic worth. Here again are the aged Simeon and Anna, - by certain computations we arrive at the conclusion that Anna was 106 years old at this point - these two with a babe. It is not an end with God; it is something very much more than that.

All Former Spiritual Values Now Centered In Christ

So the inclusive thing represented by Simeon and Anna is fullness by fulfillment. Firstly, it was the completing of a phase, the gathering up of all past spiritual values, as represented in these two, into a new and wholly spiritual order, the order of Christ.

Simeon so clearly speaks of that transition mentioned in the first chapter of the letter to the Hebrews: "God, having of old time spoken unto the fathers in the prophets by divers portions and in divers manners, both at the end of these days spoken unto us in his Son." It is a transition from the fragmentary, the partial, the occasional, the diverse, to the complete, to the inclusiveness of the unified, and to the final. That is the transition here represented. The bringing in of the  Babe, the Christ, holding Him in his arms, was in figure, simply the gathering up of all that had been of God in the past, and centering it in Christ, and seeing how He takes it up and is the fulfillment of it and transcends it.

See Simeon, then, as to the past. Something was happening now with the coming in of this Babe, the coming in of the Christ. It is not without a certain significance that Matthew's Gospel has been put out of chronological order and put into the first place in our New Testament. In that Gospel, again and again Matthew uses this phrase, "that the scriptures might be fulfilled," or, "that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet." It is characteristic of Matthew's Gospel. It pointed backward to all the Scriptures which were looking toward this Christ in Whom they were to find their fulfillment, their realization, their finality and their transcendence. All the hopes, all the expectations, all the promises, all the foreshadowings and all the forecastings, were gathered  into the hands of Simeon that day as he held that Babe. The Hope of Israel was in his hands. What a long hope, what a checkered hope! Even through all their failures when black and dark despair seemed sometimes to have settled down upon them and they cried that their way was hidden from the Lord and their judgment passed away from their God, still they cherished a hope. 'Through all their failure, through all their sufferings, they still held to the hope that there was something yet to be. Through all the judgments which were poured upon them from heaven for their sins, they still clung to the promises and believed that they would one day see the salvation of the Lord. Oh, here it is all in the hands of Simeon! All that past is here present in those arms. That Little One answers to it all. The Hope of Israel!

~T. Austin-Sparks~

(continued with # 2)

Friday, August 4, 2017

The Lord's Attitude To His Children In Adversity # 2

The Lord's Attitude To His Children In Adversity # 2

The Lord's Love To The Rebellious

But even so, the third phase is a very blessed one. "Then He remembered..." (Isaiah 63:11). Even when He had to be their adversary because of the attitude which they had adopted, the end of it is "He remembered...Moses." He remembered His word; and the last phase is that He came back in love to restore. In the end the Lord reaches out even to the rebellious. "Yea, the rebellious also" says the Word (Psalm 68:18). "He knoweth our frame; He remembereth that we are dust" (Psalm 103:14). Are you one of those who at some time has really turned in heart, in hardness and bitterness and sourness, against the Lord because of the difficulty of the way and you have become very rebellious against Him, and how the enemy says, The whole thing is hopeless, you see you have shut the door, and that is the end! Oh, how this enemy will take hold of everything to use it for our destruction! But, even if we have done that, the end is "He remembered..." It is a marvelous overture of His love again to the rebellious.

They are going on with the Lord; they suffer adversity, but that does not mean He is against them. They rebel against Him, and He has to bring them into the discipline; at that time He must be against them. But that need not be the established, permanent situation. "His mercy endureth for ever" (Psalm 106:1 etc.). If in our hearts at some time or other we have become bitter, have felt the Lord was too hard and the way anything but the way of His love, if we have entertained bitter and rebellious thoughts, satan comes in to try and consolidate them into some unalterable situation that has forever closed the door in terms of unpardonable sin. Yet - the Lord remembered His word, and His love is found, after all, not to have changed. I hope there are not many who have turned and rebelled. If you have, here is a word of comfort and encouragement for you.

The main word, however, is for the majority of us who, while our hearts are toward the Lord, find much straitness, much shutting up of the way, much narrowing down, much cutting off, much that to the natural life seems a dark way, yet it does not mean the Lord is against us. It means just the opposite. The Lord is after an enlargement that is much more than enlargement of this life here. Although we have all here, and yet are small in the measure of Christ, what have we gained? We have gained nothing. So if the enlargement of Christ seems to mean the narrowing of self and the world, that is the evidence of the Lord for us,and not against us. "In all their adversity He was no adversity." In all their straitness, He was not against them.

~T. Austin-Sparks~

(The End)

Saturday, July 29, 2017

The Lord's Attitude To His Children In Adversity # 1

The Lord's Attitude To His Children In Adversity # 1

"In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the Angel of Hi presence saved them: in His love and in His pity He redeemed them; and He bare them, and carried them all the days of old" (Isaiah 63:9)

The first clause of that verse is what will occupy us for a few minutes, and it will be as in the more correct translation that some of you will find in the margin of your Bibles. While there is some authority for the ordinary translation of the words here, the actual language of the original reads thus - "In all their adversity He was no adversary." You can choose between the translations which you like best, and you will not be in error if you prefer one to the other; but this alternative translation to the usual text conveys a message of its own which I think should be of very great help, encouragement and strength to us.

The Fact of Adversity

First of all, we note that adversity among the people of God is recognized and accepted - that is, it is taken for granted. It is unnecessary to say that, among the people of God, adversity is a fact. None of us requires to be told that. Here the word of God takes note of the fact that the Lord's people do know and suffer adversity, and their adversity is under His eye. That is only said lest anybody should think that adversity signifies that things have gone wrong. Perhaps at times we do feel that because of severe and continuous adversity there must be something wrong. While there may be a realm in which the adversity is the result of some wrong-doing, the enemy having rightful ground, nevertheless that is not the thing that is referred to here. In the first instance, it was not adversity because of evil and wrong; it was the adversity which is the common experience of the Lord's people who are moving with Him; and when it is like that, as we shall see in a moment, there is nothing wrong about it at all. So much by the way for the fact of adversity.

The Nature of the Adversity

Then we come to the nature of the adversity referred to here. The word "adversity" is really the word "straitness" - "In all their straitness He was no adversary" - and that thought of straitness is capable of manifold application. What was the straitness referred to? Well, Israel is here seen as in the wilderness. You notice that all the phrases which follow take you back to Israel's life in the wilderness, and it was the life in the wilderness with its many forms of straitness to which the word referred.

First of all, they were shut up with regard to many things which the world had, and the world could do, which constituted the whole life of the world and gave the world its pleasure and, so far as it went, its satisfaction. They were cut off from all that, and sometimes that form of straitness came home to them very hardly and severely. You know when they got into a very hard time how their hearts went back to Egypt and they thought and dwelt upon the onions and the garlic and all the rest of the things there. In Egypt we did have this and that and the other thing which we miss now, and it is hard to be cut off, as we are, from those things; there was a certain element of certainty in Egypt, but out here you never know where you are going to be one day from another, or what is going to happen to you - so far as actual evidence is concerned you do not know whether you are going to be fed tomorrow. It is all such a life of faith, and faith is a life of straitness so often cut off from much and shut up to this wilderness where things are, to the natural mind, 'narrowed down' to God. (We know that is the wrong way of putting it - to the spiritual mind things are expanded to God; but who has got fully there, to the place where always earthly straitness is really heavenly enlargement?) Naturally, this is how it was with Israel - shut in, narrowed down, pent up, straitnened so far as many things in this world were concerned. Because they were the Lord's people they could not do this nor have that. There was a whole realm of things cut off from them; naturally, to the soul, it was straitness.

Adversity No Proof That The Lord Is Our Adversary

When you and IA begin to feel that - and there are days when the pure, unsullied joy of the Lord Himself and of heavenly things becomes clouded and veiled and remote, and we seem to be far more sensitive of our lives and how we are shut up - how quickly the enemy comes in and says, "The Lord is against you! This is not the goodness of the Lord, this is not the bountifulness and graciousness of the Lord, this kind of life really is not the life that the Lord promised you." In our hearts and minds he tries to turn the Lord to be our adversary because of the consciousness of the present situation of difficulty. He misrepresents the Lord; he gives to the Lord the color of our trial, of our difficulty, and says, "The Lord is like that, He is a hard master to serve; this Christian life is not all that it was represented to be; the Lord has deceived you, He has failed you, and so on." He twists the whole thing to malign the Lord.

What the word here is saying is quite definitely this - in all that straitness, that privation, that pent up-ness the Lord was not against them; however it seemed, the Lord really was not against them. Then we must find some other explanation. The facts are very real, these conditions are very true. Adversity, trial, suffering are very real, and if they do not mean that the Lord is against us, what is the explanation?

The Lord's Intention Of Good

The only alternative, surely, is that the Lord is meaning this for good - that in His intention it is not ultimately for our limitation and deprivation but for our enlarging, for our enrichment. Evidently the Lord means other than the circumstances seem to say He means. In all this straitness He is not against you. "If God be for us...?" (Romans 8:31). In the adversity, the straitness, the cutting off of many things, the saying "No" to a lot, the Lord is not against you, He is not out to rob you of any really good thing, to take from you any real pleasure. He is not working contrary, to your interests, He is no adversary; but in all, He is for you while you are in the way of His will, going on with Him.

I said that that word "straitness" is capable of manifold application. I am not going to pursue in any detail those lines along which it could be applied. You know straitness. How often the enemy shuts the doors and then says the Lord has shut them because He is against you! How often the enemy brings you into suffering, puts upon you something, and then says, "it is the Lord!" How often the enemy tries to becloud your assurance and bring condemnation and accusation upon you, and to bring you under a sense of judgment, and then says, It is the Lord! Not A bit of it!!  That is not necessarily the explanation or interpretation at all. You notice that the first phase of this thing finds the people out and moving with the Lord, and as they did so, they came into this adversity of many kinds; and the declaration is that this did not mean that the Lord was against them. If we wanted to, we could gather up many Scriptures to show how the Lord was really for them in those very days of difficulty and adversity. I just give it to you as something to put your feet upon.

The Lord The Adversary Of The Rebellious

The passage moves into another and darker stage. "They rebelled...therefore He was turned to be their enemy" - their adversary (Isaiah 63:10). But even when we state that dark aspect of the thing, it only enhances the other. Have you rebelled against the Lord? Can it really be said of you that you have taken the attitude which these people came to take? You know some of the hard and terrible things which they said in their rebellion, when their hearts turned away from the Lord. In effect, they said, We do not want this Lord any more; we will not have this Lord any more. Can that be said of you? Well, then, the Lord in such situations must turn to be the enemy of that, and be your enemy while you are in that position; He cannot stand by you while you are there. But if it is not like that with you, and despite all weaknesses and all failures, faults, imperfections (yes, we are never without something that might well be condemned in us) nevertheless our hearts are toward the Lord, it is our desire to go on with Him, then He is no adversary. Yes, many imperfections, but He is no adversary. It is when we, like these people, deliberately and positively turn and rebel against the Lord, and say, in effect, We will not obey, we are not going on! then He turns to be our adversary. That means He has to bring into judgment.

~T. Austin-Sparks~

(continued with # 2 - The Lord's Love To The Rebellious


Saturday, July 22, 2017

Being A Christian On Weekdays # 2

Being A Christian On Weekdays # 2

True holiness is no vague sentiment - it is intensely practical. It is nothing less than the bringing of every thought and feeling and act - into obedience to Christ! We are quite in danger of leaving out the element of obedience, in our conception of Christian living. If we do this, our religion loses its strength and grandeur - and becomes weak, nerveless and forceless. As one has said, "Let us be careful how we cull from the gospel such portions as are congenial, forge God's signature to the excerpt, and apply the fiction as a delusive drug to our violated consciences. The beauties and graces of the gospel are all flung upon a background of requirements as inflexible as Sinai, and the granite. Christ built even His glory, out of obedience.

Now, it is the weekday life, under the stress and the strain of temptation; far more than the Sunday life, beneath the gentle warmth of its favoring conditions - which really puts our religion to the test and shows what power there is in it. Not how well we sing and pray, nor how devoutly we worship on Sunday - but how well we live, how loyally we obey the commandments, how faithfully we attend to all our duties, on the other days - tell what manner of Christians we really are.

Nor can we be faithful toward God and ignore our human relationships. "It is impossible," says one, "for us to live in fellowship with God - without holiness in all the duties of life. These things act and react on each other. Without a diligent faithful obedience to the calls and claims of others upon us - our religious profession is simply dead! We cannot go from strife, breaches and angry words - to God. Selfishness, an imperious will, lack of sympathy with the suffering and sorrows of other men, neglect of charitable offices, suspicions, hard censures of those with whom our lot is cast - will miserably darken our own hearts, and hide the face of God from us."

The one word which defines and describes all relative duties is the word LOVE. Many people understand religion to include honesty, truthfulness, justice, purity - but do not think of it as including just as peremptorily: unselfishness, thoughtfulness, kindness, patience, good temper and courtesy. We are commanded to put away lying - but in the same paragraph, and with equal urgency, we are enjoined to let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor and evil-speaking be put away,and to be kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another. The law of love in all its most delicate shades of application - to attitude, word,act and manner - is the law of all true Christian living.

Thus the religion of the Sunday, like a precious perfume, must pervade all the days of the week. Its spirit of holiness and reverence, must flow down into all the paths of every day life. Its voices of hope and joy, must become inspirations in all our cares and toils. Its exhortations, must be the guide of hand and foot and finger, in the midst of all trial and temptation. Its words of comfort, must be as lamps to burn and shine in sick-rooms and in the chambers of sorrow. Its visions of spiritual beauty, must be translated into reality in conduct and character.

So, in all our life, the Sunday's lessons - must be lived out during the week! The patterns of heavenly things shown in the mount - must be wrought into forms of reality and act and disposition and character. The love of God, which so warms our hearts as we think of it - must flow out in love to men. We must be Christians on Monday - as well as on the Sunday. Our religion must touch every part of our life - and transforms it all into the beauty of holiness.

~J. R. Miller~

(The End)

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Being Christians On Weekdays # 1

Being Christians On Weekdays # 1

How to carry our religion into all parts of our life, is the question which perplexes many of us. It is not hard to be good on the quiet Sundays, when all the holy influences of the sanctuary and of the Christian home are about us. It is not hard, in such an atmosphere, to think of God, and to yield ourselves to the impact of the divine Spirit. It is easy then to accept the promises and allow them to entwine themselves about our weakness, like a mother's arms about feeble infancy. Most of us have little trouble with doubts and fears, or with temptations and trials, while sitting in the peaceful retreats into which the Sunday leads us.

Our trouble is in carrying this sweet, holy, restful life - out into the weekday world of toil, anxiety,strife and pain. Ofttimes with Monday morning - we lose all the Sunday calm, and resume again the old experience of restless distraction. The restraints of godliness lose their power, and the enthusiasm for holy living, so strong yesterday, dies out in the midst of the world's chilling influences, and we drop back into the old bad habits, and creep along again in the old dusty ways.

The Sunday has lifted us up for a day - but has no power to hold us up in sustained elevation of spirit. The duties we saw so clearly, and so firmly determined to do, while sitting in the sanctuary, we do not feel pressing upon us today with half the urgency of yesterday. Our high resolves and our excellent intentions have proved only like the morning cloud and the early dew. So our religion becomes a sort of luxury to us - a bright unreal dream only which for one day in seven, breaks into the worldliness and the self-seeking of our humdrum lives, giving us a period of elevation - but no permanent uplifting.

It is only as when one climbs up out of a valley into the pure air of a mountaintop for one hour, and then creeps down again and toils on as before, amid the mists and in the deep shadows - but carrying none of the mountain's inspiration or of the mountain's splendor with him back into the valley.

Yet such a life has missed altogether, the meaning of the religion of Christ - which is not designed to furnish merely a system of Sunday oases across the desert of lie, with nothing between but sand and glare. Both its precepts and its blessings - are for all the days. He who worships God only on Sundays, and then ignores him or disobeys Him on weekdays - really has no true religion. We are perpetually in danger of bisecting our life, calling one portion of it religious and the other secular. Young people, when they enter the church, are earnestly urged to Christian duty, and the impression made upon them is that Christian duty means reading the Bible and praying every day,attending upon the public means of grace, taking active part in some of the associations, missionary or charitable, which belong to the Church, and in private and personal ways striving to bring others to Christ.

Now, as important as these things are, they are by no means all the religious duties of any young Christian, and it is most fallacious teaching that emphasizes them as though they were all.

Religion recognizes no bisecting into sacred and secular. "Whether therefore you eat, or drink - or whatever you do - do all to the glory of God." It is just as much a part of Christian duty - to do one's weekday work well - as it is to pray well. "I must be about my Father's business," said Jesus in the dawn of youth; and what do we find Him doing after this recognition of His duty? Not preaching nor teaching - but taking up the common duties of common life and putting all His spirit into them! He found the Father's business in His earthly home, in being a dutiful child subject to His parents, in being a diligent pupil in the village school, and later in being a conscientious carpenter. He did not find religion too spiritual, too transcendental, for weekdays. His devotion to God - did not take Him out of His natural human relationships into any realm of mere sentiment; it only made Him all the more loyal to the duties of his place in life.

We ought to learn the lesson. True religion is intensely practical. Only so far as it dominates one's life - is it real. We must get the commandments down from the Sinaitic glory amid which they were first engraved on stone by the finger of God - and give them a place in the hard, dusty paths of earthly toil and struggle. We must get them off the tables of stone - and have them written on the walls of our own hearts! We must bring the Golden Rule down from its bright setting in the teaching of our Lord - and get it wrought into our daily, actual life.

We say in creed, confession and prayer - that we love God; and He tells us, if we do - to show it by loving our fellow men,since professed love to God which is not thus manifested, is not love at all. We talk about our consecration; if there is anything genuine in consecration, it bends our wills to God's, it leads us to loyalty that costs, it draws our lives to lowly ministry.

"One secret act of self-denial," says a thoughtful writer, "one sacrifice of selfish inclination to duty - is worth all the mere good thoughts, warm feelings, passionate prayers, in which idle people indulge themselves."

We are too apt to imagine, that holiness consists in mere good feeling toward God. It does not! It consists in obedience in heart and life to the divine requirements. To be holy is, first, to be set apart for God and devoted to God's service: "The Lord has set apart him who is godly for himself." But if we are set apart for God in this sense, it necessarily follows that we must live for God. We belong wholly to Him, and any use of our life in any other service - is sacrilege, as if one would rob the very altar of its smoking sacrifice to gratify one's common hunger. Our hands are God's - and can fitly be used only in doing His work; our feet are God's - and may be employed only in walking in His ways and running His errands; our lips are God's - and should speak words only that honor Him and bless others; our hearts are God's - and must not be profaned by thoughts and affections that are not pure.

~J. R. Miller~

(continued with #2)

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The Year of Grace

The Year of Grace

Read: Luke 4:16-29, 42-43

"To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord." "All...wondered at the words of grace which proceeded out of his mouth."

It may interest you to know that that word "acceptable" and that word "grace" are identical in the original. Verse 19 ought really to be translated "to proclaim the year of grace of the Lord." These were words of grace which were proceeding out of His mouth.

We are brought back to re-emphaize that word "grace." For some reason the Lord is stressing that note at this time, and this whole chapter is a chapter which circles round that one thing - grace.

It introduces the whole of this age, this dispensation, from the coming of the Lord Jesus in the first place, to His coming again, which may not be long. Between those two comings is the year of grace. It is a long year, but it is the year of grace. It is therefore the acceptable year of the Lord. This particular time in which we live is peculiarly the age of grace. I think we ought to be profoundly grateful that we are born and are living in the age, the day, of grace, and that the Lord keeps strictly to the nature of grace in this dispensation. That is something for which to be very thankful and something which we must not violate in our hearts. If we do, we do so at our peril and to our loss, and we can only really glorify God - this is what comes out here - and please God and be in the way of the light of His countenance, His blessing, when we really do come into perfect harmony with the note that He has struck for any given time, and we are attuned to that keynote. If we ever get on to any other line than that of grace, things will begin to go hard with us; there will very soon be discord and friction, but so long as we remain on this line of grace, we are in oneness with Him, we are in tune with Him.

Now the day was introduced, the acceptable year of the Lord came, with the Lord Jesus as the Anointed, the Spirit of the Lord upon Him for this very purpose - to announce that the day of grace had come. The Holy Spirit rested upon the Lord Jesus for the purpose of introducing the day of grace. The Holy Spirit is working in relation to the Lord Jesus right through that day according to the nature of the day, that is grace. Well, it is announced.

Then it is demonstrated, and from the Old Testament two incidents are taken, in order to bring the nature of grace home to this people. "There were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah...and unto none of them was Elijah sent, but only to Zarepheth, in the land of Sidon" - a woman outside Israel - and she was a widow. And that is grace. The incident is taken in order to bring home this, that in Israel in those days the attitude of heart and mind was such as to make it impossible for the Lord to meet them in terms of grace. They were, perhaps, regarding things as their rights. They were Israel and as Israel they had a right to things. They were within the covenant and they were standing upon the ground of legal right. Or perhaps some other mood was operating in Israel, hurt, pride, offendedness with God and His ways, rebellion of heart, stiffneckedness, something which made it impossible for them to meet the Lord on the ground of those who recognized the grace of God, and God had to go outside to one who, when the Lord did do something for her, would at once recognize she had no rights, that she stood in no legal relationship for claim and that this was the unspeakable grace of God to her.

That is what the Lord brought home to these people of Nazareth. Evidently they were in a state like that, and the Lord read their hearts and saw quite well that in Nazareth there was no condition which would mean that they took the goodness of God in sending His Son as an expression of His grace. They were taking everything as their Israelitish rights, they were on some other basis.

Then the second thing taken from the Old Testament was that of Naaman. There were many lepers in Israel, and all lepers have this in common, that they are desperately in need.  Somehow or other, in Israel, the lepers being just as much in need as any other lepers, were not in a condition to be dealt with in grace. We may be in as desperate a need as anybody, perhaps a greater need than anybody else, yet the Lord cannot meet us because we are in some frame of mind that just exits the ground of grace from under our feet. Maybe we are offended, we are hurt, we are aggrieved with the Lord, something like that that just puts up a barrier between us and the Lord and He cannot meet us. So the Lord says, "There were many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet: and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian", someone outside the boundary, who had none of the legal rights and claims in Israel, he was healed.

To the woman outside and to the man outside, grace was a very real thing, and grace is always grace to the outsider, to the one who knows he or she is an outsider. We can be an insider and an outsider at the same time. I mean, in our hearts we may know that it has got to be all of the grace of God. In spirit, in mentality, we can be outsiders in that way and find the grace of God.

Well, here are two great examples that the Lord gives. Here there are no claims, no rights, no ground whatever of merit. There is nothing here that can set up a situation that puts God under an obligation to do something. Here is a state and position which, if anything is going to happen, it is going to be the grace of God.

The Lord brought that home to the people at Nazareth and it  got home. It was a nail in a sure place. It stung. They saw the point. "You people here are demanding, are claiming as your rights; you have no due sense of your utter unworthiness or need, your undoneness, your dependence upon the grace of God. Here God sends His Son in grace right into your midst, He has been brought  up in your midst, but you have not a sufficient sense of  the need  of the visitation of God in grace to open your hearts to His Son!" It brought it home and they were wrath with Him. So grace was introduced and grace was demonstrated and, so far as they were concerned, pride of heart meant the grace was rejected. They were not going to get down, let go. They were going to hold to their rights, hold to their ground. We can do that in many ways and shut the door to the Lord by not letting go, and they rejected the grace of God. Well, He departed, and that is how it is. Grace goes, and we are shut up to the outworking of a position in which grace no longer operates. God forbid that that should be true in any case here or in any way.

But the story, thank God, does not end there. They rejected; they said, "Go, get out, we do not want you!" But when He came into this other region they said, "Stay!" This multitude said, "Do not go!" (Luke 4:42). Here is grace triumphant, and when some close the door, there are always those who recognize the need of grace and say, "Don't go, stay!" - in whom grace triumphs. The line of the Lord's fullest blessing is the line of our most conscious need of His grace. That is the way of the light of His countenance, and it is not necessary for us to take the position of working to merit salvation or of purely legalistic lines in order to rule grace out. There are many ways in which we can get a condition of heart which shuts the door to divine grace. The only thing to know the grace of God, the unmerited favor of the Lord, is to realize all the time that it must be all of Him and that we in no way have any claim upon Him at all.

~T. Austin-Sparks~

(The End)