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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)

Friday, July 7, 2017

The Nature of the Dispensation In Which We Live # 4

The Nature of the Dispensation In Which We Live # 4

Why We Are Where We Are

Now, there are many more things I would like to suggest to you. May I just add this little word for each life? You see, the Lord disposes of us entirely on spiritual considerations, that is, our spiritual growth,and through that, the spiritual growth of others. That is the thing that is governing the Lord in His disposing of us all the time. If only I were in such and such a place, in such and such a situation, had such and such a job; if only I were there or here, how much more I could be doing for the Lord, how much more I could be counting for the Lord! But where I am, I am bottled up, I am shut up, I am pressed down, and there seems so little for the Lord, so little, practically nothing, if anything at all, for the Lord. It all seems so inadequate, so insignificant, so unworthwhile, and life is passing, nothing very much to show! Are you up against a situation like that? Things seem; what you want to see, you cannot see. That is the trouble, this matter of the things seen, even spiritual values.

Let me say this, and I understand the position, I know. It is a thing we have got to settle. What is the Lord doing? Have I deliberately taken myself out of the Lord's hands, taken my own way, acted without prayer, without committing my way to the Lord, chosen my own course? Oh well then, if that is true, there may be an explanation of the situation, but if I am where I am without any self-will, where the Lord has been given first place, where I have sought to honor Him, trust Him, put my faith in Him and subject everything to Him, and yet this situation obtains, what is the explanation? The Lord is more concerned with my, and with your, spiritual and heavenly measure than He is with the number of things we are doing. We would call spiritual success the number of converts, the number of churches, the number of workers. The Lord does not! It is the spiritual measure of ourselves that matters. That is what it is with the Lord. The heavenly measure, the spiritual measure, what there is of the Holy Spirit, that is the thing that matters. "Let him that glorieth, glory in this, that he hath understanding, and knoweth me" (Jeremiah 9:24). This is a hard school, knowing the Lord, a bitter school, nevertheless, that is what the Lord is after, a spiritual, heavenly measure of Christ. He is more concerned about that than He is about anything else, and remember that you and I can NEVER HELP ANYONE BEYOND OUR OWN SPIRITUAL MEASURE. The Lord is preparing us in this hard school to do something more than the average, to be something more than the average, of spiritual value. Whether it is here or hereafter, that is not the question, but that is the end that He has in view. Let me repeat. The Lord disposes of us on entirely spiritual principles. He puts us into the place, the situation, the circumstances, where our spiritual life is the thing in question, our spiritual life is the matter in hand, and we shall usually find that the Lord puts us where everything is contrary to our natural disposition, because that is the difference between Christ and Adam, between the spirit and the flesh, between the new creation and the old. Am I naturally one who shrinks and would not take responsibility, would never do by initiative myself? Well the school for me is, in the Lord's choosing, going to be one where I will have to take the initiative for my spiritual life, I have to do that from which my whole nature shrinks. I would like to be in a corner where no demands were made on me, where I could be left alone; but the Lord is not going to leave me there. Or the other way, Am I one who naturally lead, would dominate, would govern, would master, would lord it? Mine is going to be the bitter school of self-emptying where I shall eventually come to a place where I am not doing anything of myself. It is a bitter school because it lets men ride over your head, it brings you into the net, and all that about you that wants to be vindicated, justified, is simply being ground to powder, being humbled in the dust. That is the school which is going to make way for the Lord Jesus.

I wonder if you have contemplated the Lord Jesus. He was all this, you see, born to be Lord of the universe, and yet knowing how to be a servant. Again, He, the meekest of men, at times had to rise up and take a course, as in the cleansing of the Temple. Do you think it was easy? No, not easy. He did it on principle, on grounds of righteousness, but I believe that the Lord Jesus would rather not have done that. I believe the Spirit of Christ was, If I must come to you with a rod, it hurts Me more than it hurts you; it is not because I love to wield the rod, that is not My nature, nor the nature of the Spirit - and yet it works both ways.

Now you think of it, and that is what it means. The Spirit is making us, through our afflictions, which afflictions are things which work contrary to our natural constitution, making us to be conformed to Jesus in heaven and that by the Spirit, a spiritual life. Now I have suggested. Do you agree? Is it right? I hope the Lord will make it clear to us all and give us grace.

~T. Austin-Sparks~

(The End)

Sunday, July 2, 2017

The Nature of the Dispensation In Which We Live # 3

The Nature of the Dispensation in Which We Live # 3

Conception, Not Imitation

I do wish that we could see and really grasp inwardly this, that our New Testament is not something to be imitated in any matter. Our New Testament is something in the hands of the Holy Spirit to be wrought in us. You see, the New Testament did not come out of a study at all. Paul did not go and shut himself up in his study and think out the doctrines of Christianity as a theologian, look up his commentaries and authorities and so on, giving you the manual of New Testament doctrine. Paul was every day of his life right up against terrible tragedies, actual situations, and the New Testament was written right in the midst of the fight on the battlefield, grappling with problems, grappling with living problems, and when those letters were written they never thought that they were writing Holy Scripture, they never thought that in time to come people would sit down and study every word and resolve it into a doctrine, and crystallize it into "New Testament teaching". They never thought like that. What they were doing was that they were trying to meet a practical situation right on the spot, and it was wrung out of them. Yes, the Holy Spirit came through in that way and revealed the meaning of Christ in a living situation; and unless you and I are right in a living situation, faced with a terrible problem in our own case or someone else's, we will never be conformed to the heavenly Christ. We will never come to that by sitting down and studying New Testament doctrine. It has got to be wrought on the anvil of experience, and that experience is going to be, in a certain sense, tragic experience. It is going to be something of a real question of life and death. Anyone who has really walked with God knows that I am telling the truth, that what they have come really to know of God, what they have come to possess of real spiritual value and strength, has come out of some dark and terribly grim and awful experience in their own life. They were taken into the depths where faith rocked. They did not know but what this was the end of everything. That is how they have grown and become spiritual and heavenly. They have not come there because the Lord has pandered to every childish demand for satisfaction and gratification and answered prayer in everything temporal. They have been tested, and if the Lord has subsequently come in to do things to answer prayer, He has only come in when He has done the spiritual thing inside and prepared and made it safe to do that. He has done it after travail. THIS IS THE NATURE OF THIS DISPENSATION. It is heavenly, it is spiritual and God is governing the life of the true children with this fact.

Now, all practical points, all practical matters, have got to arise out of a spiritual quest. They have got to come up by reason of our seeking to know the Lord, to go on with the Lord, to reach the Lord's end, not the other way round. Quite a lot of people think if they do this and that and the other thing, that the Lord will lead them to spiritual things. Oh no, we cannot duplicate, we cannot reproduce, anything that is spiritual. You cannot duplicate a spiritual assembly. You cannot duplicate a spiritual company of the Lord's people. You cannot duplicate a real spiritual order. Now listen to me, brethren. It is no use going about the country saying, 'We are going to set up New Testament companies, order of assemblies!' You cannot do it. You cannot duplicate anything spiritual. You get people together and say, 'We will have a New Testament order and this is it' - and then have your order written down - 'this is the order of a New Testament church!' The thing may be absolutely dead. You cannot reach spiritual things by coming out of this and that and coming to some thing else. Oh no, let it be said very, very strongly, you can never guarantee that you are going to reach any fuller spiritual measure by coming out of something. I would never for a moment suggest to you that if you came out of a certain connection, a certain denomination, a certain church, a certain association, it would be  to your spiritual gain, unless that thing, of course, were wrong in some quite positive sense. If you are in some personal relationship which is evil, of course you will not move spiritually until you break that; but I am not talking about that. You can never assure people that they will make spiritual progress if only they will come out of this connection and that, and become connected with something else. Never do it, never hint at it, you may put them into an entirely false position. If ever such questions - I have only mentioned that out of a large number that I might mention - if such questions are ever to arise at all, if you have to leave something, withdraw, associate somewhere else, if ever such questions are to arise at all, they have got to come up as you are seeking the Lord and His fullness, to go on with Him. The Lord will make it perfectly clear to you that that is a hindrance, a spiritual hindrance, that is definitely athwart the path of spiritual progress. It has got to be an issue like that. Do not do anything because somebody else tells you you have got to do it. It has got to arise as a practical issue as you have a quest for God's fullness. It has got to be in the living way, not the legal way, not the technical way.

Let me repeat. It is impossible to duplicate spiritual things. It cannot be done; it is a work of the Spirit of God.  

I am speaking of a principle which is so perfectly clear in the New Testament if you look at it. You see, Paul and the other Apostles did not leave the Temple and did not leave Jewry in order to join the Christian church, in order even to go on with the Lord. No, no, they did not. They went to the Temple, they continued going to the Temple, they continued going to the synagogue, they continued association with the Jews, in fellowship, if you like, with them, until the matter became an inward, spiritual issue, a thing from heaven, a thing by the Holy Spirit, and then you find gravitation according to life, conformity to heavenly type; and when they came to see that the Temple is not that thing at Jerusalem, it is something from heaven, THAT came by revelation of the Holy Spirit, not because someone told them that was so. If ever they came to withdraw from the Temple and the synagogue because had seen the heavenly, it was a crisis in their spiritual life, a mark of their spiritual progress. It was not because it was said of them, 'You have got to leave this,come out of that, association with that is all wrong!' No, it was a spiritual matter with a living issue, and you cannot find the point at which it happened with them. There is no secession recorded in the New Testament, no split as a part of the history of Christianity. It happened, and it did not happen with all the Christians at once, just this one and that one. It happened, that is all. In the end, they saw there was a difference. It was a spiritual matter. That is my point.

And so that is the nature of things now. It has got to be like that. If you are in something not on that basis, I ask you to go back and reconsider your whole position. Are you where you are because it has become in you at some time a spiritual issue, a matter in which your spiritual life was involved, something between you and the Lord? Is that the basis on which you are where you are? If not, let me urge you, go back, do not be afraid, don't you think the Lord will be grieved with you. He will not be grieved with you putting things on a right basis. We must be on the basis of what is living, of the Spirit, in a heavenly way, that is, on the basis of Christ in heaven known and ministered by the Holy Spirit.

~T. Austin-Sparks~

(continued with # 4 - Why We Are Where We Are

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Nature of the Dispensation In Which We Live # 2

The Nature of the Dispensation In Which We Live # 2

If one thing is true among others, it is this, that you and I are utterly hopeless in the matter of making people spiritual. You may put them into institutions and colleges, and make them preachers, and make them organizers,and make them workers, and make them a hundred and one things, but you can never make them spiritual. It is no use having homes and places for gathering together the Lord's people with a view to making them spiritual. If ever you think that that is what you are going to do with them, let me tell you, you cannot do it. You can give them a lot of knowledge, teach them what is in the Bible, can turn them out very different from what they were when they came in in many respects, but you cannot make them spiritual. I cannot make myself spiritual, you cannot make yourself spiritual. You are helpless in that matter. Unless the Spirit of God comes and does something, we are helpless, and that is the great mistake many have made, that they have thought by imparting Biblical knowledge and knowledge of spiritual things and how to work for the Lord, they are qualifying people for the Lord's use. Does it work out like that? Not necessarily; unless there is something extra to all that which is God's own work, then that does not count with God, it does not get anywhere with God, and really it only provides the background of fresh tragedies. It is true of many. I am not saying that those things are wrong and useless. I am speaking of one thing. We cannot make people spiritual, in that matter we are hopeless. Only the Holy Spirit can do it, and that is done only on the basis of life or in a living way. It can only be accomplished by real, inward, spiritual history under the hand of the Holy Spirit.

The Purpose of Suffering

Now, it is just there that suffering, affliction, adversity, frustration and all those things have their place. Why adversity in the Lord's work and in relation to the Lord? Why frustration, why suffering, why affliction? When the story is told at last, when it is fully told at last - and what an immense story it will be - what we shall discover is that it was the frustration, it was the suffering, the affliction, the adversity, the sorrow, the trial, that was the means of making us spiritual, nothing else - it was that that did it. We have to say, by the grace of God, that we owe our spiritual measure of increase to the suffering through which the Lord allowed us to go.

"Our light affliction, which is for the moment, worketh for us more and more exceedingly an eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal" (2 Cor. 4:17-18).

God is working eternal values which are not seen, but only to be grasped by the eye of faith. We have got to settle this, or else we are beaten before we start. Are we not all the time really fighting strongly to get the Lord on to a temporal basis with us? Why have any adversity why have any suffering? Indeed,k why have an enemy at all, why have a devil, why have afflictions and persecutions? Why should we have this if the Lord is Lord almighty, all-powerful, all-gracious, and really is concerned for His interests and for the progress of His work? If the Lord really is with us and on our side as the Mighty One, then the devil ought to be swept out of the way, and all hindrances and frustration ought to go to the wind, and all sufferings at once ought to be subjugated, and we ought to know nothing of this, we ought to ride triumphantly on without any of this sort of thing which is a weight upon us, and is only interrupting and frustrating growth and progress. The devil all the time is hindering and the Lord is not getting. Is He not? That is a matter you and I have got to settle.

The fact is that the New Testament is full of that sort of thing. The one man who has more of the heavenly vision, the knowledge of things spiritual, than any other man in the New Testament is the man who knows more of this other side than any other man. He tells us more about what he had to go through. "Thrice I was shipwrecked" (2 Cor. 11:25). There is something wrong about that - the Lord letting one of His great apostles be shipwrecked again and again, just escaping with his life on a spar! Imprisoned again and again, thrashed with rods, suffering, hunger cold, nakedness. Oh, the list! We do not know when these things happened. He simply tells us that they did happen. Most of them have never been recorded by Luke. Why? Because he was not writing the life of Paul, he was writing the life of the Lord Jesus, but Paul mentions them. Paul says, "I once and again would have come to you, but satan hindered" (1 Thess. 2:18). Oh, there is something wrong about that! Paul does not explain it, he does not say that it is wrong, he takes it in his stride. You see what I mean.

We are so wanting to bring the Lord again on to the temporal basis, to clear up all these difficulties, to get hindrances out of the way, to have a clear course, to lift us right out of adversity, suffering, affliction, weakness, and very often we are tempted to make that the criterion as to whether the Lord is with us and for us. You know quite well there are plenty of Job's friends about, Christian ones too, always ready to say, 'Yes, it is because you are wrong, you are in error, that is why you have so much of it!' That is a matter that has got to be settled. Here it is. Are we going to expect anything different from what the Lord had Himself, the heavenly Lord? Are we going to expect anything different from what Paul and the believers of his day had? These letters are so full of references to these afflictions and sufferings of the saints. Do they mean that satan is triumphant and the Lord is defeated, or that the Lord is not with His own? Let us get that settled.

What, then, is the meaning of all this? Oh, let us look again. Is it not by these means that we are being made conformable to the heavenly Christ? You know the fact remains that the people who live in that infant stage of temporal things and who will not walk with the Lord unless He gives them proof positive in temporal realms of His being with them are not spiritually helpful people, that is, they are not the people to whom you can go in the deepest hours of your life. There is an inward place. People who can help those who really do know the deepest tests of faith,are those who have gone through and been sustained even when the Lord has not shown His hand for their deliverance. Is that not true? It is a level of life. Conformity to the heavenly Lord is by everything being heavenly and the Lord not letting us off in this matter of heavenliness. You want it down here, you want it in the temporal realm, things seen, things that you can bring up as proof positive, all the evidences. You want it like that, but the way of conformity to the heavenly Christ is not along that line. Things will be heavenly, and oh, my word, they are! We have not got much here, the Lord does not give you much here. It is all heavenly, it is HIMSELF. As soon as you and I begin to make a great deal of the things, the Lord may step in and smite the things in order that He might be the object and not the things, the heavenly Lord known and ministered by the Spirit in a living way on the line of life.

~T. Austin-Sparks~

(continued with # 3 - Conception, Not Imitation

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Nature of the Dispensation In Which We Live # 1

The Nature of the Dispensation In Which We Live # 1


"The Spirit himself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified with Him. For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed to us-ward" (Romans 8:16-18).

"For we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning our affliction which befell us in Asia, that we were weighted down exceedingly, beyond our power, insomuch that we despaired even of life: yea, we ourselves have had the sentence of death within ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raiseth the dead; who delivered us out of so great a death, and will deliver; on whom we have set our hope that he will also still deliver us; ye also helping together by your supplication" (2 Corinthians 1:8-11).

"For our light affliction, which is for the moment, worketh for us more and more exceedingly an eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal" (2 Cor. 4:17-18).

Just leave those words in the background, while we come to stand before the general prospect or presentation.

First of all, it surely is of very great importance that we, the Lord's children, should be able to recognize those governing features of the dispensation in which we live, that which gives to this dispensation its character, its nature. The importance of recognizing that is, that unless we do, we shall be out of joint all the time, we shall be found in a state of inward conflict, we shall have a battle continually going on inside us which completely unfits us for the battle outside; and I am sure that you will agree that it is no use trying to fight a situation outside, an enemy outside, while you are all the time occupied with one inside, if not altogether paralyzed, in the real work and warfare to which we are called, and the thing that has got to be settled is this matter of what is the nature of the dispensation in which we live. If we have got some wrong ideas about that, then we are constantly turning in and back upon ourselves, not  making very much progress, a state of strife and strain and uncertainty and questions all the time.

Well then, I suggest to you that that which gives to this dispensation its particular character, that from which this dispensation derives its real nature, that is, as to God's mind, is in the fact that the Lord Jesus is in heaven and that He is known, only known, but known and ministered by the Holy Spirit. If you  and I really could grasp what that means we are going to be taken a long way. The first half is that the Lord Jesus is in heaven, that is, He is not on the earth. If He were on the earth, an entirely different system of things would obtain. You think about that. If He were on the earth, the same things would be happening as did happen when He was on the earth. Everybody who had aches and pains would be going after Him wherever He might be, if He were in Palestine or in any other part of the world, they would be going after Him with aches and pains to get these cleared up.

There would be people who would take all their temporal difficulties and troubles and situations to Him and all the problems of this life as here on the earth. And then the whole world situation, political and so on, to have this whole temporal realm of things dealt with, and it would resolve itself into a matter of Jesus constituting a temporal order. As they did then, so they would now, want Him to be the leader of a new political or social movement, to deal with the political situations and the social difficulties, and so on.

Supposing you heard that the Lord Jesus was just round the corner. You would be after Him like a shot with some of your troubles, perhaps your physical troubles, or domestic quarrels, to get them put right. What shall I do with my brother? How am I to deal with my wife, my husband? All that would be going on, and when He was here on the earth, they were all the time seeking to get Him to deal with a whole temporal state of things on this earth. We do not find very many coming to Him really with spiritual troubles when He was there, not directly and deliberately with spiritual troubles. Not many raised the question of sin and how they were to be forgiven and have it dealt with. He had to go behind to deal with that, refer to that; they did not.

Well, you see, Jesus is in heaven. He is not on earth,and that means that everything in this dispensation from the Divine standpoint is heavenly in its essence and nature. It is not firstly, primarily, but quite subserviently, of secondary account, that He touches the temporal situation. Until you and I have got this adjusted, we are going to be in trouble all the time. Why does not the Lord do this and that and the other thing, a thousand and one temporal things? Why does the Lord allow this and that and the other? "Our light affliction ..." (2 Cor. 4:17). "If we suffer with Him..." (Romans 8:17). Look at all the suffering that there is in the New Testament when you get past the Lord's days on the earth - the suffering among the Lord's people. Why, why does not the Lord come in? Yes, we would bring Him down to earth again, into that realm, but He is not coming down. He is in heaven, and that is a governing thing for this dispensation. He is in heaven,and everything primarily with Him is heavenly.

He is to be known and ministered by the Spirit, the Holy Spirit. He is not known as He was known in the days of His flesh. He is not known after the flesh. "Though we have known Christ after the flesh," said Paul, "yet now we know him so no more" (2 Cor. 5:16). He is not known temporally in the first instance. He is known and only known by the Holy Spirit and ministered to us, given to us, imparted to us, by the Holy Spirit alone, which means that this dispensation is preeminently spiritual in the mind of the Lord; heavenly and spiritual.

The Lord Jesus has been perfected, that is brought to completion, fullness, finality, and has been filled by God, filled unto all fullness, and has therefore become the pattern and the standard for believers. He is in heaven and in heavenly fullness as a Man, and has been set forth as God's heavenly pattern for the people of God. So that this dispensation is above all things, from God's standpoint, governed by this - our being brought to that which Christ is, to heavenly completeness and spiritual fullness. It is heavenly and it is spiritual, heavenly completeness, spiritual fullness, and the Lord is devoted to that object in this dispensation, and looks at and deals with everything in the light of that.

A Living Way

The next thing, in line with that, is that everything unto that end is a matter of moving in Divine, heavenly, spiritual life. It is the living way, the living way, of reaching God's end. That is, it has got to be, it can only be, by the Holy Spirit getting us there. We can never reach that goal, that object of God, Christ in heaven and in Divine fullness, we can never reach that goal of God along any lines, by any means, save by a definite work of the Holy Spirit, that is, by a living way. Man cannot do this; no means of man can accomplish it. You see, you may, for instance, attend meetings. You can attend them three times a day or more every day of your life as long as your life can possibly be and not be one iota spiritually advanced. It is not the number of meetings or the nature of the meetings that we attend, it is not the addresses to which we listen. It is not anything of that kind at all that gets us to God's end. It is the Holy Spirit doing something in a living way, our coming by the way of Divine life to Divine fullness.

~T. Austin-Sparks~

(continued with # 2)

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Fundamental Questions of the Christian Life # 15

Fundamental Questions of the Christian Life # 15

An Overwhelming Appreciation of Grace

The second thing that came out of this shattering was an overwhelming appreciation of grace. The Lord Jesus, on one occasion which you will recall, enunciated a great spiritual truth and law, when referring to one who was pouring out devotion at His feet. He said: 'Where much has been forgiven, there is much love. She loved much because she was forgiven much' (Luke 7:47).

Now Peter came into the meaning of that spiritual principle - or it came into Peter. What an appreciation of grace! Look at the first letter that goes by his name. In that quite brief document, which you can read through from beginning to end in ten or fifteen minutes, Peter speaks of grace no fewer than ten times, and in every case the context of that word is tremendous.

Here, for instance, he speaks of "the manifold grace of God" (1 Peter 4:10). Grace is really the theme of this letter. It governs everything - every department of the Christian life. Yes, Peter knew what he was talking about: he was speaking out of experience. It was this tremendous appreciation of grace that made him the servant that he became. But he had to be baptized into that: that is, he had to be baptized into the agony of suffering, of self-discovery - of the discovery of his own unworthiness, weakness, failure. The waves of despair had to go over his head, in order to bring him to this place where grace was his theme, grace accounted for everything, grace became the great motive of his ministry.

A man cannot go through an experience of that kind, he cannot go through a spiritual history like that, he cannot go through such depths, without being caused to reflect deeply. It is not just our imagination, or reading something into the story, to say that, when Peter was recovered, restored, brought back into all the blessings of fellowship with his Lord, and given his commission, he must have thought something like this: 'Just imagine it - that such a one as I am, and have proved to be; such a one as I, who have done what I have done - could any man sink to deeper depths of shame, disgrace, dishonor? - that such a one as I should be called by the Lord at all, when He knew all about me beforehand! That day when He came along by the seashore, when I was engaged in my business, and He called me - that day He knew everything that there was to know about me!' Peter could indeed say with Paul: 'He called me by His grace' (Gal. 1:15). That is consolation, that is comfort, that is help; that makes service possible for anybody.

The Training of Grace

Anyone other than Jesus would probably have washed their hands of Peter and said, 'I shall never make anything of this man - I can do nothing with him: he is incorrigible.' The Holy Spirit has caused to be written in fiery letters, for all to see, all this blundering and blurting of Simon, all his rebuking of the Lord, correcting the Lord, telling the Lord, 'Thou shalt never...' All this - and then the Lord's infinite patience with that man. When John writes "Having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them unto the end" (John 13:1), there is an immense amount behind that statement in relation to this man alone, to say nothing of the rest of them. That is no small thing; it is wonderful. Think of all the training, all the infinite patience and care and kindness, and the going on - just going on. This was the training of grace do you not think Peter remembered that? I am sure he thought back over those three-and-a-half years, and how they culminated in his denial. 'Oh, what patience He showed with me! To think that I am here today at all, and having a place of honor in His service! What doest it not say for His patience, His forbearance, His longsuffering, His love!'

The Endowments of Grace

But then, as though that were not enough, grace brought endowments. First of all, the mighty, inclusive gift of the anointing Holy Spirit, and all that that implied! We have so often said that the anointing of the Holy Spirit implies that God commits Himself. It is as though He would say: 'I am going to join Myself with that man or that woman, and I am going on with them, for My Son's sake.' That is the basic meaning of the gift of the Holy Spirit.

But grace brought all those other things, all those new capacities, which come by the Spirit in the new creation. Are they not marvelous in Peter? Remember, he was a fisherman. Although that does not necessarily mean that he was an uneducated man, they did say about Peter and John that they were "unlearned and ignorant men" (Acts 4:13). At any rate, certain people, who considered themselves to be otherwise, said that of him in Jerusalem. Have you ever studied that discourse of Peter's on the day of Pentecost? Many years ago I made a list of all the subjects mentioned in it, and I was amazed what a catalog I had. Almost every sentence or part sentence touches on something which, being gathered into the whole, adds up to a most comprehensive statement. There is great understanding of the Old Testament Scriptures, wonderful insight into the Word of God and the things of God. We have already referred to that critical day in Jerusalem, when Peter's counsel, supported by James with citation of the Old Testament prophets, marked a turning point in the history of the Church.

And if that is not enough, read Peter's letters. I do not know how, apart from Divine revelation, Peter knew about the atomic age! Long, long centuries before the splitting of the atom, he talked, in language which we all understand now, about 'the heavens being on fire,' 'the elements melting with fervent heat,' 'all these things being dissolved.' (2 Peter 3:10-12). That is very up to date, is it not? Where did he get it? There are endowments by the Holy Spirit of understanding, intelligence and knowledge. And there are endowments of endurance. Here is a man who breaks down at the taunt of a serving maid, and vehemently denies his Lord. But look at him here - "when they saw the boldness!..." And there are many other endowments which we cannot now stay to tabulate. All this is the work of grace. Yes, Peter came into a large appreciation of grace.

The Dynamic of Service

This leads us to our sub-title: "The Dynamic of Service.' What is that? Surely it is the response of the heart to a love like that! That is what made Peter the servant of Jesus Christ. It may        be that he was fearful about trusting his love, and so dared not rise to the great word that the Master was using; but he meant it. He was trying to go as far as he could, and in the event he went further - he went beyond his own language. His response turned out better than he perhaps feared it would be. It was a mighty response to love - and that is the dynamic of service.

Now the grace that lies behind our being called by Jesus Christ into fellowship with Himself, the grace that lies behind His training of us, His dealing with us in longsuffering and forbearance, the grace that lies behind His gracious gift of the Holy Spirit, and all that goes with that gift, represents endowment for us all! This is not exclusive to Peter or his class, he is but representative. All these things are for the Church, and we, as organic parts of the Church, inherit the endowments, as we inherit the calling of grace. These things are true for us all. Because of the grace of God, every one of us can be a servant of God.

To be called at all, did we but know it, is the most marvelous thing that could ever have happened to us. And He calls us, knowing us through and through. I do not know how much you know about yourself, but if you knew yourself as He knows you, you would go out and weep bitterly, you would fall into the depths of despair. And if He should then come to you, in that day of self-discovery, in your despair and brokenness, and should mention your name, showing that you were still in His thought and love, would that not be a great step of grace? - and would it not qualify you to be a witness? Should He, moreover, with all His knowledge of you, and all your despair of yourself, give to you the great gift of His Holy Spirit, with all the wonderful capacities that come with that, would it not be a glorious thing? That is how witnesses are made, how servants are made. How poor our service must be, if there is not an answering love begotten in us by this over-whelming consciousness of the grace of God!

That is the dynamic of service. The Lord may take us through a hard school; but "wisdom is justified of all her children" (Luke 7:35), and in the end you will say 'He was right; He knew what He was doing - He did the right thing!'

~T. Austin-Sparks~

(The End)