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Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Work of God At The End-Time # 5

The Work of God At The End-Time # 5

2. A Link With God's Purpose, continued -

In the case of Simeon, it made him a living link with God's purpose. Here was the old, the passing dispensation, but in it were spiritual investments of God. Here was the new dispensation, introduced by the coming of Christ. Simeon stood as a link joining those two, and he was a very living link indeed. We are coming to the time where a great many changes are going to take place to the set system of Christendom, and when the the spiritual will alone be of account, and when it will be of vital consequence that God should have a people who are a link with His fuller purpose. He has always required such. If we were inclined to do so, we could go back to the Bible and mark transition periods again and again, and see just what God put in at the point of transition as His link between the two, and as His bridge from the one to the other. But there is the fact. If we have any reason to believe that such a change is imminent, when it will not be possible to carry on, on the old lines and to go on organizing things with all the old machinery, and when the people of God are going to be forced by world conditions on to a spiritual ground where their concern will be just the Lord Himself, if we have any reason to feel that has commenced, then this must follow - that there should be something that becomes for God a ministry which links on with His fuller purpose, which stands vitally related to Him in His great intentions, which brings in the Lord in fullness. Simeon did that, and so became himself the sign of a dispensational movement, a living link with God's fuller purpose.

3. A Walk With God

Another effect that vision had upon Simeon was that it kept him walking with God, it gave him spiritual incentive, it made a spiritual man of him. I am sure you will agree that we very much need spiritual incentive. It is a question which is always very present. What is everything for? What is it all about? What is the good of it all? We can very often lose heart. Cannot you lose heart in the work of God as you look out on the spiritual condition of things? If you have any vision of what God wants, your heart can sink as you see how things are in comparison. It is a poor kind of spiritual vision that can be satisfied with things as they are now. But, in the presence of this heart-breaking state, together with all the wearing out, frustration, resistance, hardness of the way, and the many difficulties and problems which come upon the people of God, we do need incentive, and that is only saying in another way that we do need vision. "Where there is no vision, the people cast off restraint (disintegrate) (Proverbs 29:18). Without vision they go to pieces, there is no doubt about that. But, you see, Simeon had vision and therefore in a day when things generally were most disappointing and unsatisfactory, when that which was really of the Lord was very small indeed, in that day by his vision he was a man throbbing with incentive. It kept him walking with God. We need something to keep us walking with God. It is so easy to let go and to drift. The prayer life is so difficult to maintain in strength. You have to fight for your prayer life: you lose it if you do not;and so with everything else in this walk with God. Everything is against it - the drag and the drain and the pressure. Unless we have vision, we shall not be walking with God. To walk with God for His own sake, out of pure love for Himself is, I suppose, the highest level of which we can aim,and we certainly need something to promote such love and maintain it. A man once said to me, 'It is the ministry that keeps me going as a Christian.' That is terrible; but what he meant was that he had to have incentive, something to hold him to the Lord. It is in that sense that I say this. Because Simeon had vision, this perception that the Lord had committed Himself to something great and that he himself was bound up with it, he lived near to the Lord and found his strength for a close walk with His God. It made him a spiritual man. He "came in the Spirit into the temple;" he was evidently living in and walking by the Spirit,and that describes a spiritual man. How important, then, vision is.

4. A Strong Prayer Life

Again, vision made Simeon a man of prayer. It made Anna a woman of prayer, one who continued in fastings and supplications day and night. It was vision that did it. We must have a motive to maintain our prayer life, otherwise it becomes mechanical, something done, something that is an obligation, something that we are afraid not to do. Prayer is maintained in strength by vision.

5. Accountability

And altogether Simeon was an accountable factor because of vision. How needed it is for everyone of the Lord's people to be an accountable factor. We speak of "live wires," really life points that count in the midst of all that is dark and drab and heavy and murky, or all that could turn us in on ourselves and keep us circling round with questions. We need to be factors that count in the things of God, and that is only produced by vision. Well, what will make us positive in function and in influence? for that is what we need to be. What will save us from drift and diversion and from snares? What will take more nominalism and ordinariness and tentativeness and contentedness out of us? What will make us choose the best and not be satisfied with the good and argue that there is no harm in it? What will deliver us from all that sort of thing? Nothing but vision. The possession of true vision will save us. You will never be merely nominal if you have Divinely given vision, you will be vital.

It is that which explains Paul, for if ever there was a vital man, an accountable man, a man of destiny, it was Paul; and do you remember that Paul always places himself alongside of all saints and never for a moment regards himself as above them in any way. He is always speaking about "we, we, we," meaning himself and the other believers. What made him the vital, accountable man he was, able to say, "I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision" (Acts 26:19)? He had vision.

~T. Austin-Sparks~

(continued with # 6 - The Need For Exercise In Relation To Vision)

Sunday, September 3, 2017

The Work of God At The End-Time # 4

The Work of God At The End-Time # 4

The Importance Of Vision

Read: Luke 2:25-38

We were noting in our earlier meditation that Simeon embodies all that relates to an end-time, and that in an end-time a peculiar set of conditions arises. On the one side, there is a sense of disintegration with regard to what has been, and on the other hand a sense of something pending, a new situation and a new set of conditions coming, with certain very definite and serious issues arising in the meantime. Firstly, it may be asked, how much of all that has been going to survive and be carried on into the new situation? - for a great stripping is taking place, a great sifting of the spiritual as over against the temporal, even in relation to the things of God. Or (to come to the figure here of Simeon taking in his arms the child Jesus) how much of the Lord have we really got in hand in a time of transition and of break-up and of pending new conditions? On the other hand, how much of all that is associated with the Lord is after all of that external order and system which is purely earthly and transitory, temporal, the framework, the mold of things? These are very important questions and issues, and they are all forced in at a time when things are about to change.

Then very grave strain and pressure and conflict comes into the atmosphere. It is as though something is about to be brought forth which stirs the enemy to his utmost resistance, oppression and frustration, so much so that at such a time the whole fabric of the spiritual life is under strain and test, and it would be much easier to give up or take some line of less resistance. These are things which belong to an end-time, and we were noting that there is no doubt that we are in such a time today. That is the significance of this very hour. Things are going to change radically, one order is going to pass and another to come in. But amid this sifting ordeal today, there can be, and should be, that which answers to the case of Simeon, who was the embodiment firstly of all the spiritual values that had been, and then of the break-up of all that was not spiritual and permanent, being but a framework of things in the past dispensation; and further the embodiment of the principles and intrinsic values of what was coming. That is very briefly and broadly what occupied us in our previous meditation.

Simeon Had Vision

But now we are going to note one dominant factor about Simeon as representing this end-time, transition period. This dominant factor, which is also a dominant necessity, is contained in the one word "vision." Although Simeon and Anna were so old, they had vision; which meant that, although they were at an end of one phase and naturally might just have closed down, and so an end has come to everything, they had instead a new beginning in their hands, something more ahead than ever had been before. That matter of vision is of tremendous, of superlative, importance, for, as we are going to see more fully, these two people embody the whole principle of service to God at a most critical time in the development of His interests. Service will only be of a transient character and very limited in its value and range if there is no vision: it will be something that is being done for itself and largely as an end in itself, and that is not adequate. Service must have a far greater range of significance than that of just doing a thing, something done for the time, with the one concerned seeing nothing beyond the thing with which he is immediately occupied. That means limitation, transcience, poverty in service. Vision always carries forward beyond the present, and adds in something, so that what is being done contains more than itself in time and in value.

The Effect Of Vision

1. Life

See how vision was really the vital thing in Simeon's case, what manifold effects it had upon himself. Here is an old man who, according to all natural laws, is at the end of his life and may die any day. People would be saying about him, "We should never be surprised to hear old Simeon had gone;" and yet vision kept him alive. He could not die, because he had a God-given vision. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord's Christ. "Mine eyes have SEEN!" Here is a man with eyes in his old age, a man who is seeing; and there is a power in that seeing which casts him forward, and puts death back, making it a servant rather than a lord. He can say to death, "You must wait my time, the Lord's time." Vision kept him alive, and transcended all the ordinary course and laws, making him the master of them all, giving him ascendancy.

Whatever it may have meant in his case as to his natural life, his length of days on the earth, that has to be transferred to the spiritual realm. Of course, there is a direction in which it still holds good physically. If God has given a vision and bound up the realization of it, even in some measure, with the life of a chosen vessel, that man or that woman, that vessel, is immortal until the work is done. That one can cry with the Psalmist - "I shall not die, but live" (Psalm 118:17). But you have to be possessed of a vision of God's intention so much that your life is bound up with it. Well, his vision kept Simeon alive. There is a tremendously vitalizing effect about true vision.

2. A Link With God's Purpose

There is a very great deal more in what I have said than perhaps you have recognized, and a great deal more to be said about it. To be a link with God's purpose by receiving from the Lord a vision of what that purpose is is a tremendously emancipating thing. It is one thing just to go on from day to day and week to week and year to year in a kind of piecemeal way: we go to the meeting today,and to the conference next weekend, and that is repeated again and again,and so the whole rota of Christian activity and occupation is just something in itself. It is quite another thing to be caught up in the grip and the throb of a mighty, dominating vision corporately, so that the very atmosphere seems to proclaim there is something more than just the occasion - there is something big, something far-reaching in this - and you are brought into it by the Holy Spirit. You come in, as did Simeon, to the Spirit. You find you have not just joined something, linked yourself on with some thing which goes along as on wheels which are square, bumping over and bumping over, but you are in a course, like the wheels of Ezekiel's vision, full of life, going straight forward - tremendous vision! - to One in the Throne. There is a great deal of difference. You may be able to mark in your own minds the difference between these things - on the one hand the thing that is just something in itself, that is just going on, being kept going perhaps by its own momentum or drive, or by other interests brought in, something very much an end in itself, and it doe not matter very much whether you go or come. On the other hand there is that which is so different - a coming right into line with the great purpose of God in the power of the Holy Spirit, seeing what God is after as far beyond the present attainment.

~ T. Austin-Sparks~

(continued with # 5)

Sunday, August 27, 2017

The Work Of God At The End-Time # 3

The Work of God At The End-Time # 3

God's End-Time Work Inclusive Of All Former Values

Yes, the constituting of a new and spiritual dispensation. But I also used the word inclusive - that is, the heritage of all the values that God has ever given. This is, mark you, a dispensation principle. Spiritual history returns upon itself, it goes back to the last point of fullness. Perhaps you do not grasp what I mean by that. If there has come about a decline, whether in our own spiritual life or in the life of the Church, sooner or later we shall be forced back to the point where we left the full measure of God. Cannot you see that happening? We see it in various connections today. Take the matter of literature. There is an increasing demand for the old works. Publishers are finding a great demand for something of years ago, and it is coming into the market. The shelves have been full of cheap,superficial Christian stuff with gaudy wrappers and all that, and times have come when people are aware that this is not meeting the need, and the demand for something more is arising. The call is for some of the books which former generations had. That is happening. History is returning upon itself. There has been decline, loss, superficiality, frivolity, cheapness, in Christianity, and the Church is going to perish for want of solid food unless it is provided. Thus the cry is, 'Let us get back to what there was before.' That is happening in many ways. It is a dispensation principle. If God has really given anything, that will never be lost. Time will vindicate it. Sooner or later we shall have to come back to it. We shall be thrown back for our very lives on what God has given. This is where the new takes up the old.

It is a sorry and a superficial day, and one which will not stand up to things, when you think you can dispense with experience. If young people supposes they can think lightly of those who have gone through the fires and grown grey-headed in the service of God, in learning to know the Lord, and that such can be set aside as back numbers, that is a sorry day for the future. With all that is needed of the new generation, do not let us think they can produce all the past in their own lifetime. God will throw them back upon what has gone before. Do not count the past servants of God as back numbers. They are very much up to date. Simeon was very much up to date when he brought all the wealth, fullness, richness of the past in his hands, and, so to speak, transferred it to the new, to the Babe, Who took it all up, and Who later confessed that He did take it all up. "Think not that I came to destroy the law or the prophets: I came not to destroy, but to fulfill" (Matt.5:17). There are always, sooner or later, reactions from cheapness and superficiality, and that usually under duress and compulsion and a sense of being unable to go on without something fuller.k

Infancy in the arms of age, yes, and infancy depends upon those arms. I think I am not going too far in saying that here, in the holding of the infant Christ in these arms, there is this signification, that for the fulfillment of His life and ministry the Christ depended very much upon the past, upon all that God had done before. The only Bible He had was the Old Testament. How He lived on it! When He said, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God," He was talking about the only Bible He had, the Word of God, the Old Testament. You see how the Old Testament is used in the New. It is but another aspect of this. One of the richest studies and most profitable lines of inquiry is to mark where the Old Testament is found in the New and why it is found there, the use made of it. Yes, it is a tremendous fat that which is new depends upon that which has gone before.

The Abiding Value Of Every Working Of God

We come to a close for the present by noting this. We must live and we must work with our eye upon the after value of our lives. Thank God that can be. Life would be an enigma and intolerable if all that we have learned through suffering and discipline passed out with us and there was nothing more for it. No, it is not like that at all. There is an after value, and we ought to live, I say, and work, with our eye upon that heritage which we are to give beyond our own time. On the principle that God vindicates everything that He Himself has done and given and makes it necessary, then He is making necessary for His new dispensation what He is doing in you and in me now. That new dispensation is going to be constituted on the basis of what He is doing in his saints now. That is a New Testament principle. What He is doing in the Church now is to be the good of the coming ages. What He is doing in us, it is not presumption to say, is going to be the very life of some beyond our time. So we should not think of this life as something to be got through, to be lived through to ourselves, something in itself. It is something that is to be found again to the glory of God in that which is to be - the passing on of that which has been of God, which can never die but is conserved by Him forever, and will be necessary. I wonder if that is a new thought to you? What the Lord is doing in you by way of increasing the measure of Christ in you is going to be necessary long after you have gone. It is a principle, a law, that anything that God does is forever and will be necessary.

We will leave it there for time being and ask the Lord to exercise us quite strongly about this matter of the intrinsic value of the knowledge of Himself for the time that is to be, through this transition upon which we have now so seriously entered.

~T. Austin-Sparks~

(continued with # 4 - The Importance of Vision)

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