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Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Fundamental Questions of the Christian Life # 12

Fundamental Questions of the Christian Life # 12

The Root Principle of the Cross

Now, I wonder if we can discern that in all this the Holy Spirit was acting and operating upon one principle. This is the fundamental significance of this incident - something that throughout is never specifically mentioned, but that emerges as we meditate upon it. When the Holy Spirit is in action, He never gets away from this one thing - namely, the Cross. He was acting all the time on the principle of the Cross. The Cross is the mighty, devastating counter to the chief root-evil in mankind - pride. The principle of the Cross is selfless concern for what is of God and what is of God alone. There was here a readiness, on the part both of the Ethiopian and of Philip, at any cost, without a second thought or consideration, to obey light. This man might well have said to himself, "Well, when I get back, what will the Queen say - what will the men in the court say? If I tell them that I have become a baptized Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ, I am in for it!" But the principle of the Cross means no place for secondary considerations. You can see it in Philip: he was an utterly crucified man. You can see it in the Ethiopian: the principle of the Cross was already there, though he knew nothing about the Cross, and it gave the Holy Spirit something to work upon.

And here we find the focus of the whole question. There will be no light of this kind, no understanding of this kind, no coming through out of shadows, darkness, half-light, into the full blaze of Divine illumination, until the Cross has effected in us death to our own intellects. If we are going to argue, to project our reasoning faculties into this thing, the Holy Spirit will stand back - He will not commit Himself. We shall go on in that circle, round and round and round, in everlasting weariness, never arriving. The Cross must come right home to our intellects. That is the full force of the first chapters of Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians. There you have two things placed over against each other. On the one side, the wisdom of the world, on the other side the wisdom which is from above - "Things which eye saw not, and ear heard not, and which entered not into the heart of man" (1 Cor. 2:9); and in between, "Christ crucified".

In the same way, the Cross must deal with our hearts - our affections, our desires, our attachments - and with our interests here in this world, our consideration of how things are going to affect us, how we stand to gain or lose by any course taken. If we have any such considerations, the Holy Spirit will stand back. There will be no light for such people.

And the Cross must deal with our wills. It is so clear from this account that the man, instantly the way was pointed out to him, "jumped at it," as we say. How Philip had arrived at baptism through Isaiah 53, I leave you to consider; but he had got there, and the Ethiopian, with his openness of heart, his readiness of spirit, his will poised to do the right thing when it became clear to him, said, "Look - water! Why shouldn't I...?" Most people say, "Why must I?" This man said, "Why may I not?" There is all the difference of disposition, and the disposition has come under the power of the Cross, for all that will determine the issue.

This man came out and came through. There is something very precious about this, something to take note of, as another implication. When the Spirit caught away Philip, what did the eunuch say? "How am I going to get on without him? I dare not go back without him!?" No,k it was as though it did not matter in the least, for he now had Philip's Lord within. The same Spirit was in him as was in Philip, and, in a right way, independent of all external props and nurses. This is the kind of Christian we want to find! "He went on his way rejoicing." The heart quest has been met, the light has come.

A much larger incident of the same kind is that presented to us in the twenty-fourth chapter of the Gospel by Luke. Those two on the Emmaus road were but representative of this whole class to which the Ethiopian belonged: those possessing a Bible - yes, and knowing its content - but to whom it remained a closed book until the risen Lord opened the understanding. But it is the will of the risen Lord to do that. As I said earlier, the question is quite a proper one: "Understandest thou what thou readest?" Is it an open book or a closed one? a living one or a dead one? a dynamic one or an ineffective one? a weariness or a joy? That is all gathered into this question. But remember, this is the dispensation of the Spirit. He has come committed to the Word in relation to the risen Christ; and through the Word - through Isaiah 53, and through all the rest - He will bring you to the Christ.

~T. Austin-Sparks~

(continued with # 13 - The Imperative Dynamic of Christian Service)

Friday, May 26, 2017

Fundamental Questions of The Christian Life # 11

Fundamental Questions of The Christian Life # 11

A Man Under The Control of Heaven, continued -

Look at Philip's history. The Church has been born in the mighty vibrant activities of the Spirit, in the onward march of the ascended Lord. Difficulties arise in certain practical matters, and the Apostles cannot withdraw from a great movement of the Spirit to handle these matters of temporal consideration. They call upon the Church to look them out certain men for that purpose: it does so, and they choose seven men "full of the Spirit and of wisdom" (Acts 6:3) - of whom Philip is one. Philip first comes into view as one of a group of men appointed to poor saints. You call that menial, perhaps, you would hardly think that a man full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom was required for that! But such men were required, even for that. Philip's history marks him out as a man of spiritual capacity. He is not a little man - he is spiritually a big man; and yet he is prepared to accept a job that you might think anybody could do - to give the few pence or shillings to some poor widows who were in need. Being the man that he was, spiritually so large, he put it all into that, without bad feeling, without revolt, without reservation, without question.

Then came the persecution through Saul, and the scattering. What became of the widows, I do not know, but I know what became of Philip. Philip was one of those that were scattered abroad, and he went down to Samaria, and preached the Christ (Acts 8:4,5). And we know that great things happened. Now came another test of the quality of Philip. In the midst of this onward pressing of the mighty Lord, in the onward sweep of the Spirit in this irresistible tide, Philip is suddenly spoken to. Without any explanation, promise, assurance or anything else, he is told to leave it all and go far off into the country, in a direction which was desert. Such an injunction is a good test of whether a man has two interests in life: whether his heart is divided, or single. But here is a man of only one thought, one purpose, an undivided heart. We read of no controversy whatever, but instant obedience. Notice this principle of instant obedience: it implies such a total abandonment to the Lord that you are ready to do anything and everything He says, whether you understand it or not. The Lord has got you - the Lord has got your heart; you have no argument with Him about His ways with you.

That, then, is Philip: a man just governed by the Spirit, quite evidently; not only filled with the Spirit, but taught by the Spirit. He stands out in contrast to so many: not only to the Ethiopian, and all those to whom the Ethiopian had been for light and who were unable to give it, but more than that, in contrast to the very Apostles themselves as they were before Christ, by the Spirit, opened their understanding that they might understand the Scriptures (Luke 24:45). Something has happened to Philip. He is a man taught of the Spirit, his eyes have been opened; and so he can bring understanding and light in the Scriptures where it is needed. In a word, this man's need in the desert was met through an instrument that was absolutely abandoned to the Holy Spirit.

The Dispensation of the Spirit

What, now, are the implications of bringing these two together? Firstly, and preeminently, the fact of the nature of the new dispensation - the dispensation of the Spirit. A new dispensation has been ushered in and inaugurated. The Holy Spirit is the characteristic of this dispensation, and everything, so far as God is concerned, rests upon that fact. There is to be nothing other than by the Spirit; everything is to be only by the Spirit. This is a dispensation shut up to the Holy Spirit. We shall not get anywhere in relation to the things of God until we recognize and accept that. The real significance of this incident, and of all others, is that it is a part of the peculiar movement from Heaven in this dispensation - the movement of the Holy Spirit in relation to the exalted Christ.

That is the great principle of spiritual understanding: that is the "extra," and that is the "other." It is the "extra" to all the best of education, of achievement, of position, of everything else that we have mentioned. A man may have it all, and still be in the dark! It is "extra" to the letter of the Word - it is of the Spirit. The Word can still be a closed book, even when you have memorized it from beginning to end (if you can do that). When you can quote and cite, freely and largely, from its pages; when you know its content, its subjects, its themes; when you know immediately where to look for any given passage or subject, it may still be a closed book. That is a fact,and that fact explains a very great deal. The "extra" to everything, whether it be large or small, great or little, is the Holy Spirit.

And it is the "other" - something different. By these means of education and knowledge, human ability, you may arrive at certain conclusions. You may say that on this or that matter the Bible teaches so-and-so. Yes, but a hundred others say it teaches on those very same things something different - you may take any one Christian doctrine today and get many different interpretations. That is Christian theology! Which is right? Where is final authority? Now, you see, the Holy Spirit may altogether change our conclusions and make us see that on our strongest convictions we are at fault. Once He gets an opportunity, He may upset all our "final positions" of biblical interpretation, doctrine and theology. He is "other." We come to that again in a moment.

But the Holy Spirit is particularly concerned with the Word of God; He is bound and committed to the Scriptures. There is no revelation extra to the Scriptures, but there is a vast amount of undisclosed light in the Scriptures, at the disposal of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, with His concern and commitment to the Word of God, is in quest of such as the Ethiopian. That is a most important significance which arises out of this incident. The Holy Spirit took the initiative in this matter. Philip would never, never have thought of this. The Holy Spirit was in quest of people such as this man on his lonely desert journey. It was by the Spirit that the question was put to him and the interpretation given which brought the great crisis in his life "...thou readest," "...what thou readest" - Understanding thou what thou readest?" Yes, the Spirit was in quest of people like that, and He still is. It is because they are so few and far between - like this man in the desert, with probably miles between him and the next one - that there is such a poor state generally in the Church. If only the Spirit could find more people like this, what a different situation would obtain!

~T. Austin-Sparks~

(continued with # 12 - The Root Principle of the Cross)

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Fundamental Questions of the Christian Life # 10

Fundamental Questions of the Christian Life # 10

A Man In Need

Firstly, then, the man - the Ethiopian - and his need. Let us get his full-length portrait, as far as we can. Firstly, he is a man of high position and achievement in this world. He is a man who is successful, who has attained to a place of great honor. He is a man, evidently, of mo mean learning. He has been up to Jerusalem to worship, probably at one of the feasts, which implies that he understood the language used there by the Jews - Hebrew or Aramaic; and then he was also versed in Greek, because the passage which is quoted here from Isaiah is quoted from the Septuagint - the Greek translation of the Old Testament. For an Ethiopian that indicates a wide range of intelligence and a considerable degree of learning and knowledge.

Then, he was evidently a devoutly religious man, doubtless a Jewish proselyte, for we are told that he had made the long journey to Jerusalem in order to worship. But because he was a eunuch, laboring under a veto in the Old Testament, he was strictly forbidden to enter within a certain area of the Temple. I mention that, because it might well have put him off. As a proselyte of the gate, beyond a certain point he would meet a closed door. That might have discouraged him and kept him away: but such is his devotion that he undertakes the long journey to Jerusalem, in spite of the handicap and the seeming rebuff he would meet at the temple. He goes up to worship.

Then, having taken his long journey, in his honesty and devout sincerity, he returns, clearly a disappointed man. He has been to the very headquarters of the learning and teaching of the Scriptures, to the very center of Bible interpretation. He is returning, still in quest of something to satisfy his heart, without the real joy of having discovered. That is made perfectly clear, is it not, by the issue of this incident? There is something still eluding him, beyond his grasp, beyond his understanding.

But that is not all about him. Clearly he was a truly humble man; he was not frustrated by his own self-sufficiency - for there is nothing more frustrating to spiritual understanding than self-sufficiency. The man or woman who 'knows it all' is a frustrated person; they are not going to get through. But here is a truly humble man, conscious of his need, and ready to confess it, knowing his ignorance and having no compunction or hesitation in letting it be known that he is ignorant in this matter. "How can I, except some one shall guide me?"

Moreover, he is a man with a Bible which is a closed book. He has a Bible, though it be the Old Testament only - it might only be the Prophets - but it is still the Bible. He had the Bible open before him, and was reading it, but it was nevertheless a closed book.

Finally, he is a man prepared to obey, ready without any hesitation to follow the light when it comes. That is, I think, the measure of the man, the life-size portrait.

Many of these things might be thought to be great advantages, providing a sure positive ground of knowing and understanding - and yet he was still in the dark! Some of those things, of course, are essential to coming to the light, but not all of them. You can do without high position, great attainments, the achieving of ambitions; you can do without great education and natural intelligence, and still get the light. On the other hand, unless you have some of them, you will not get the light. A really humble spirit, that is teachable, open to learn, and a preparedness to obey when it comes, are essential. Nevertheless, all put together, they do not constitute a guarantee of understanding. There is an 'extra,' and an 'other,' factor, without which all those things still leave you, Bible in hand, in the dark.

The Meeting Of The Need

Now, we must step behind the incident. You notice the setting of it. Though so vital, so important, so significant, this incident is but a part of the onward movement of the exalted Christ in relation to the Church and to the world. Until we recognize this, we are without the key as to what it is and what it represents. The exalted Christ is continuing. At the beginning of this book, Luke refers to his earlier work as being the account of "all that Jesus began both to do and to teach, until the day in which He was received up" (Acts 1:1, 2). This book of the Acts as we have often said, records what He continues to do and to teach after He is received up. That is quite true. The Lord does not stop. He goes on. The march of the Lord in the earth, in the world, in relation to the Church, is still forward with mighty, dynamic force.

And behind the book, behind the doings recorded here, is the One Who is doing. He has not only been lifted up on the Cross: He has been lifted up to the glory, and He is drawing all men to Him-self. That is the issue all the time. The issue of every doing, every incident in this book is: Himself, Himself. He is pressing on with that. It is Christ - now in His right place, in the glory, at the right hand of the Majesty in the heavens, as Lord of all - Who is governing all these events. That is the setting here. It is the sovereign movement of the Spirit of Christ. Figures come and go on the scene - an Ethiopian, a Philip, and how many more - but there is one overruling Figure, the shadow of a Man in the background, governing, maneuvering, moving by His Spirit every one and everything in this book.

A Man Under The Control of Heaven

Philip, then, comes under the Spirit's government, which means that he comes under the government of the exalted Christ. That is clear, is it not? There is an interchange of words which we will not stop to discuss. 'An angel said to Philip...' 'The Spirit said to Philip...' Whether that means two things or one does not matter very much. Angels and the Holy Spirit are in cooperation. The letter to the Hebrews tells us that angels are 'ministering spirits, sent forth to minister to the heirs of salvation' (Heb. 1:14). We see here the cooperation of heavenly intelligences in this matter. Philip is under the government and control of the Holy Spirit, of the exalted Christ.

Now note that Philip is a man with but one interest in life - a very important contributing factor to the issue, to the answer to the question, "Understandest thou what thou readest?" Here is a man under the government of Christ, under the mastery of the Holy Spirit: so much so that he was no other interest in life. We could almost resolve the whole matter into that, though it is only a part. But understanding of the Word of God in such a way that it lives gloriously, and growingly lives, becomes a dynamic force in the life, and leads on to the fullness of Christ, will only be on this principle - that you and I are not people of two interests in life. It is essential that we have only one interest.

~T. Austin-Sparks~

(continued with # 11)

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Fundamental Questions of The Christian Life # 9

Fundamental Questions of The Christian Life # 9

The Vital Value of Understanding The Word of God

Read: Acts 8:1, 4, 5, 26-39

"Understandest Thou What Thou Readest?"

We have called these meditations 'Fundamental Questions of the Christian Life' which means that we are seeking to get to the real foundation and nature of the Christian life, to understand what the Christian life is meant to be. Whatever may be the argument (and I am quite conscious that much argument might arise out of what will be said here, for very much argument has already circled around this question), it will always return to one matter, and it should be that one matter that governs and influences the argument. The one matter is the question of absolute satisfaction with the Christian life.

If you are perfectly satisfied with your Christian life, if you are satisfied that Christianity as it is in this world today is an absolute satisfactory thing, then there is no point in a book as this. But if we are not wholly satisfied with our Christian life - that is, if we realize the need for something more, something fuller; if we feel that, speaking quite generally, Christianity as we know it in the world is not quite what it should be; if we deplore all these disruptive elements, all these divisions, all this atmosphere of suspicion and criticism, and so on - if we feel like that at all, then we are surely under the necessity of trying to find out the better way, the remedy. It is incumbent upon us to seek to discover the cause of the much disappointment which exists in the hearts of so many Christians, disappointment with Christianity as we know it.

Do we, in the first place, find some explanation in the matter of our first consideration: an adequate apprehension of Christ? May not an inadequate apprehension of Christ lie at the root of much disappointment and many conditions which we deplore?

Do we, moreover, find some explanation in our second consideration: Did ye receive the Holy Spirit when ye believed? May it not be that some misunderstanding, some confusion,some uncertainty about this matter of the indwelling Holy Spirit, with all that that ought to mean, lies at the root of many of our trouble?

And now, thirdly, may it not be that the state of spiritual weakness, defeat, uneffectiveness, unfruitfulness, and many more positive elements which are quite unsatisfactory, can be traced to this: not really understanding the Word of God? We must now investigate this question. Let me say that we are not setting out to prove the inspiration of the Scriptures. That is assumed. What we are concerned with is to emphasize and explain the necessity for understanding the Scriptures. We underline the word understanding.

Stopping Short With the Bible

For a large majority of Christians, the Bible is a book of passages to comfort them in time of trouble, to encourage them in days of depression, to give them promises for the future when the present is difficult, or to help them to decide their course in a time of perplexity. In a word, the Bible is for many a matter of the personal day-by-day life in seeking to do God's will.  We open our Bibles perhaps in the morning, to get something to help us for the day - a promise, a bit of comfort, a bit of light, just something to help us through; and we do that every day. Perhaps we do it a little more diligently when things are a little bit more stressful; when things are not like that, perhaps we are not so diligent about the Word! Forgive me if that is a misjudgment, but I think that for many Christians the Bible resolves itself into that, and no much more.

Now do not misunderstand me: I am not saying that that is wrong - that the Bible is not for that. It is for that! That is right and good, as we all know. But in this matter, as in many other matters, we stop short.

In the matter of salvation, for instance - our own as well as other people's - we so often stop short, as though that were an end in itself. Get people converted, get them to make a decision for Christ, get them to come to the Lord - put it how you will - and that is that. It is all done. Get on with others. Salvation is an end in itself. And yet, that is only the first step on a mighty highway of ever greater fullness. 

In the same way we stop short with our Bibles. In these quite valuable, profitable and necessary things which I have mentioned, we fail to recognize that the Bible is not ultimately for that. If the Bible gives us comfort, gives us light, gives us guidance, gives us hope, gives us some uplift, on occasions, in the thought of God that is all related to something infinitely more. It is related by God to a vast, eternal purpose. You are to get your guidance, your help, your comfort, your light, your promise, whatever it may be, not just for the day or the hour or the moment, in order to get you over the stile that is immediately before you. It is intended by God to get you on the way of a great purpose which has been formed by Him in Divine counsels before this world was. The Word of God is a vastly greater thing than a set of encouraging sayings, comforting words: there is a purpose behind the whole, and every part, in the intention of God, relates to something more than itself. That we must recognize before the Bible can really become alive.

Eternal Design and Central Person

All that is in this book of one piece. It is linked up with one great eternal design, which relates, not to so many individual Christians as such, but to a whole, corporate Body, chosen by God in Christ before the foundation of the world. It is only as we come into line with this that the Bible will really fulfill its purpose in our lives. Otherwise - well, we may go through a day helped by something that we read, a promise or a word of comfort; it may help us very blessedly over today - but is that all? Surely there is more to it than that! Individuals will only become enlarged unto all the fullness of God's purpose as they come into relationship with one another in that purpose: and the Bible is for that.

Yes: every promise, every bit of comfort, every bit of exhortation or light, is an integral part of a great design - and that design is central in one Person - God's Son. If any part of the Scriptures fails to lead us into some greater knowledge of the Lord Jesus, it has failed of the very purpose for which it is there! You see, we are in keeping with our passage: "Understandest thou what thou readest?" Where does the answer lead you? It leads you to Christ. The understanding of the Scriptures is a matter of bringing us to understand Christ. The answer is found in a Person.

Now we must recognize that in this matter of knowing the Word of God, knowing the Scriptures and understanding what we read, there is a factor which is "extra" and "other." That comes out very clearly in the instance before us. This incident in which we have our question is "bigger than itself." In itself it provides us with all the factors that we need for our consideration. But it is representative of a far bigger situation than itself - a situation which has a very large place in the Word of God and in Christian experience. "Understand thou what thou readest?" This is a very pertinent and proper question. It really implies no lesser questions than these: "Does the Bible live to you> Is the Word of God a mighty dynamic in your life? Is it the voice of God to you? Is God all the time speaking by this to you?"

Let us look at this incident, which will itself lead us out into the larger consideration. Firstly, we will look at the man who, I think we can say, is the occasion of what is here - the Ethiopian. Then we will look at that which met his need, and then at the implications of bringing these two together.

~T. Austin-Sparks~

(continued with # 10 - A Man In Need)

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Fundamental Questions of The Christian Life # 8

Fundamental Questions of The Christian Life # 8

(2) Disciples, continued - 

But Aquila and Priscilla, that fine Christian couple who had accompanied Paul to Ephesus from Corinth, soon detected the flaw and the lack, and took him and expounded to him the way of God more carefully (vs. 26). His ministry enlarged greatly after that. Soon afterwards he left Ephesus and crossed over to Corinth, and it is interesting to follow the wonderful ministry of Apollos from this point. But I just mention it for this reason: that when Apollos got beyond John the Baptist to the real meaning of the Holy Spirit and of baptism into Christ, it made an immense difference to his ministry. Paul was able to say: "I planted, Apollos watered" (1 Cor. 3:6), and much more. That is no small thing. It illustrates the vital importance of having the Holy Spirit. Now these disciples knew nothing about the Holy Spirit. Although they had dwelling in their midst a man mighty in the Old Testament Scriptures, and familiar with the teaching of John the Baptist and his baptism, they could not be led any further by him. They knew nothing vital concerning the way of the Lord, although such a man had been ministering to them.

These disciples, then, represented a kind of parenthesis,an interlude,a discontinuity; something held in suspense, as it were, between John the Baptist and Jesus. And I am not sure that are not many such disciples today, suspended in that gap. Yes, they know something of the Bible; they know something about Jesus. They have been 'taught by word of mouth.' But I fear there are multitudes of those who have the name "Christian," and who would be called, or would wish to be called, disciples, who have no real, personal experience of receiving the Holy Spirit. They belong to this kind of parenthetical Christianity. It has not gone through, not gone right on; it has stopped, it is a discontinuity. But these at Ephesus did go on, as the record shows us - they did bridge the gap.  

(3) Baptism

We now turn briefly to the third matter - that of baptism. For it was up to that that the Apostle led them. From their reply, "We did not so much as hear whether the Holy Spirit was," we are not quite sure whether they meant that they had not heard that there was such a thing or person as the Holy Spirit, or that they had not heard whether the Holy Spirit had come. But it is not of great importance. It is perfectly evident that they knew nothing about the Holy Spirit. And so Paul says, 'Well, then, into what were you baptized?' That is the point upon which the big question turns. "Did ye receive the Holy Spirit when ye believed? Into what then were ye baptized?' These two things go together; the one question is within the other - the one resolves itself into the other. "Into what...were ye baptized?"

What, then, we have to ask, did baptism into Christ mean? To put it in another form: Why did the Holy Spirit wait for that testimony? And in answering this question we touch the greatest things in the Christian life. Here we really do come to the "seal" and the "constitution" mentioned in our title. I do not mean that baptism is that, but look behind it and see what it really meant. You have to go a long way back to answer the question. What did baptism into Christ mean? You have to go right back to the beginning. What was it that happened in the garden, when man disbelieved God? When man, at the suggestion of satan, disobeyed God, he opened as it were a door into his own being - a door into which satan put his foot, and from which he has never withdrawn it. Through man opening himself to satan, satan got a purchase in man's soul, obtained a foothold in the very heart of man, upon which all the evil powers have fulfilled the work of satan in man and through man ever since! 

Make no mistake about this: the soul of the unregenerate man and woman is in alliance with the evil powers! It is not a matter of how conscious you are of it. Try to get away and turn to the Lord Jesus, and you will become aware that you are not as free as you thought you were, you have not the ability that you thought you had. You will wake up to the fact that you are a prisoner, and that, unless a mighty deliverer and rescuer comes to you, there is no escape. That foothold was given; that alliance and link with satan was formed; and it remains. The soul of this unregenerate  is linked with satan, and the evil powers fulfill all the purposes of satan in this life.

What is the way out? The only way out is through death. God pronounced that upon man. "In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die" (Genesis 2:17). "The soul that sinneth, it shall die" (Ezek. 18:4). But "one died for all" (2 Cor. 5:14). Jesus took the place of the sinner, and died that death; and in His death He broke that link. He severed that union: He stripped off the principalities (Col. 2:5); He 'nullified him that had the power of death, that is, the devil' (Heb. 2:14). One died for all. Baptism is our testimony, the believer's testimony to the double fact that, in the death of Christ, the man in union with satan has been removed and satan with him, and that, in resurrection-union with Christ, the Holy Spirit constitutes inwardly a new relationship. Death is the great divide. Resurrection is the great new union. Through this new link or union, Christ and His Kingdom operate. All the purposes of God are realized - but only realized through and upon the ground of this union effected by receiving the Holy Spirit. 

[finally! an understandable explanation of what satan's lie and resultant works, in man achieved such a tremendous hold on mankind. And, as importantly, how Christ's death and resurrection broke the link satan had on man! And note too, the absolute importance of the indwelling Holy Spirit! Not just the initial filling of the Holy Spirit at repentance, and baptism, but since then, when the Holy Spirit fills those of us who desire to grow in grace and continue onward with Christ, to the fullest.]

~T. Austin-Sparks~

(continued with # 9 - The Vital Value of Understanding The Word of God)

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Fundamental Questions of the Christian Life # 7

Fundamental Questions of the Christian Life # 7

(c) Revelation of Man's Destiny

How profoundly and how fully does Paul teach concerning the purpose and the destiny of man! At the beginning of the Bible we have hints that God created man with a great purpose and a great destiny, but Paul divulges it all. He tells us exactly what was in God's thought before He created man or the world - what He intended in creating man - what the destiny of man was to be. All this comes out through Paul. How is this possible? Because the Holy Spirit Himself has revealed it to Paul, and then Paul, by the Holy Spirit, has been enabled to reveal it to us. And by the same Spirit this great Divine work of a new creation is to be carried on to its final fullness. The last thing in the material creation was: "And God saw everything that He had made, and, behold, it was very good" (Gen. 1:31). God entered into His rest. That is the crowning work of the Holy Spirit bringing everything ultimately to the pleasure and satisfaction of God - not only bringing God into His rest, but bringing God's rest into His creation.

(d) New Consciousness and Capacities

Paul goes on to say much about the new consciousness of the new-creation man and woman. An entirely new consciousness is given to the believer who receives the Holy Spirit. All that of which such a one was entirely unconscious, now breaks forth into consciousness and becomes the most living reality in the believer's life - such as the consciousness of God as Father, the consciousness of Christ as Saviour, and many other sides and aspects. Every believer who has received the Holy Spirit knows how true this is. There is a new awareness in every realm; there are new capacities for doing and for being what was entirely impossible before. All this relates to the spiritual counterpart of the creation - the new creation that is in Christ Jesus; and it is all accomplished by the indwelling Holy Spirit, just as the material creation was effected by the pervading and brooding Spirit of God.

(e) The Teaching of Jesus

Let us remember, furthermore, that Paul was an inheritor of what Jesus had said regarding the Holy Spirit. Now Jesus had said very much about this matter. At the end of His life here on this earth, the Lord Jesus had taken many hours, apart from the world, apart from the multitudes, to be alone with His disciples. And through those many hours there was one thing about which He was speaking, in one way or another, almost continually. There was one phrase that was constantly on His lips: "In that day ..." He said, "in that day ..."; and when you look to see what "that day" was, you find that He was saying: "When He, the Spirit ... is come" (John 16:13) - He shall do this and that. It was the coming day of the Spirit. All that Jesus had said about that day, and about what the Spirit would do when He came, Paul had come into, had inherited. Paul had come to know - what the Apostles had dreaded, until they knew it - the truth of Jesus' words: "It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you" (John 16:7). Yes, the disciples dreaded His going, but they lived to prove that it was, as He had said, a far, far greater thing for the Spirit to come than for Jesus to remain in the body. Paul had come into the reality of that - into the superior greatness of the Spirit's presence even to the physical presence of the Lord Jesus.

Now Paul knew all that by experience, and he therefore brought all this knowledge, this spiritual knowledge, into the question that he put to them. And how the question grows! What a tremendous question it becomes if it implies all that! All that Jesus taught and meant about the day of the Holy Spirit, all that that same Spirit had done in fulfilling the very words of the Lord Jesus: "He shall guide you into all truth ... He shall take of Mine, and shall declare it unto you" (John 16:13, 14). - all that had come to Paul. What a wealth we have in Paul's letters about the Holy Spirit! And all that comes into this question: "Did ye receive the Holy Spirit when ye believed?" It is a very big question! Viewed in that light, I doubt whether there is a greater question. What a difference it should make to the Christian life if it is all true!

Let me sum it all up by saying this: The Christian, the believer, who has really received the Holy Spirit, is a supernatural being. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, and His imparting of eternal life, constitute the believer a supernatural being, a being who has something within of a supernatural character, distinguishing him from all others. It is a deathless life! To receive eternal life means that there is that within which transcends the natural order, making the recipient an eternal being, in the Divine sense, linked with Heaven and linked with eternity. And the Church in which this is true, which has truly received and is indwelt by the Holy Spirit, is a supernatural Body; there is no power in this universe which can destroy it. History has proved that and will prove it to the end. Let men and devils combine against this Church: no matter - it will remain; it is supernatural.

(2) Disciples

In the second Place, we find "disciples" mentioned here. "Paul ... found certain disciples." They would no doubt have been people who were bearing the name "Christian"; they would have classed themselves as such and would probably have been referred to as Christians. And yet they were people who, while being called disciples, were yet without the fundamental essential of the Christian life. What were they? I think the answer is to be found in Apollos, the Jew from Alexandria, who had recently arrived in Ephesus and had previously come into touch with the ministry of John the Baptist concerning Jesus. We are told here that he had been 'instructed by word of mouth' [katecheo] (Acts 18:25). Now, what was John's vocation? John's vocation was to prepare the way of the Lord, to lead on and point on to Jesus. What was John's message? Repentance in view of the imminent coming of the Messiah. "Repent!" said John. But John had definite limitations. Said he: "I....baptize you in water...He that cometh after me...shall baptize you in the Holy Spirit" (Matt. 3:2, 11). That represents a very great difference.

Now Apollos had got all that, and probably some extra teaching about Jesus, apparently at second hand ('by word of mouth'). In the main, Apollos ended where John ended: that is, he was without a personal experience of the work of the Holy Spirit through baptism into Jesus Christ. He had, nevertheless, some particular values on the positive side. We are told that he was "mighty in the scriptures" (Acts 18:24): which I take to mean that he had an unusually wide and deep knowledge of the Old Testament Scriptures about the coming Messiah - what we call the 'Messianic Scriptures' - all of which pointed toward the Christ; all of which rang  out the note of preparation, and especially of repentance, for the Christ was coming. John baptized with a baptism of repentance in preparation for the Christ and His kingdom: but there he stopped and could do no more. And Apollos seems to have stepped there too. Perhaps he was a mightier man in the Old Testament Scriptures than even John the Baptist, but with all his knowledge of the Scriptures he fell short of the experience of the Holy Spirit. And therefore, according to the law of ministry, he could not lead these disciples further than he himself had gone.

~T. Austin-Sparks~

(continued with # 8)

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Fundamental Questions of the Christian Life # 6

Fundamental Questions of the Christian Life # 6

The Foundation of a Great Church and of Great Ministries, continued

Here was a church being founded and formed for tremendous purposes and with tremendous capacity. What spiritual capacity it requires to be a church like that - to be able to take all that an apostle such as Paul could give! That is a very testing thing. Those who minister in the Word of God, and in the Holy Spirit, know very well the capacity of their hearers by the liberty that they have to give the message. Sometimes they find themselves limited because their hearers cannot take more. They may not know the people, but they are conscious of the limitation. At other times they find themselves completely released, able without any difficulty to give all that they have. They are moving in the Spirit, and those to whom they minister have capacity.

Now these people at Ephesus had capacity. In those three years they could receive "the whole counsel of God", and later they could receive this matchless letter which the Apostle wrote from his prison. A church with such capacity - and, let me add, Christians with such capacity - must know in a very real way what it means to receive the Holy Spirit. The receiving of the Holy Spirit is the beginning, the foundation, of all the work of building and enlarging.

Paul's ministry was a great ministry here, among these believers. Let us recall that Timothy, also, was a minister of the church at Ephesus, and that his ministry was enriched, constituted, inspired, instructed, by Paul himself. Paul was able to say that Timothy had followed his teaching and conduct (2 Tim. 3:10). Yes, Timothy had been in close association with the Apostle, for a long time and over a wide area, and he ministered at Ephesus. And then we remember that the great Apostle John was an elder of the church at Ephesus. What wealth John has given us, in Gospel, Letters and Revelation! What a church this was! What a church it became from these twelve believers! And it all sprang out of the receiving of the Holy Spirit. I commend to you a study of the place of the Holy Spirit in the letter to the Ephesians. He has a very large place in the letter from beginning to end.

(2) What The Passage Teaches

The first aspect of the significance of our passage, then, is the church itself and the ministries that were fulfilled in it. Let us now come to the second aspect - namely, that which the passage teaches. You notice that it can be divided into three sections. The middle section is the Holy Spirit: that is central, that is the focal point of everything. Then on the one side of that you have a section circling around the word "disciples" - "Paul... found certain disciples" - and on the other side a section circling around the word "baptism." You have the Holy Spirit in the center: then, on the one side disciples, on the other side baptism.

(1) The Work of the Holy Spirit

We must recognize, first of all, that Paul's question concerning the Holy Spirit must have had a good reason. I do not think it was just a casual or formal question - that Paul arrived there and in a quite casual way, without any special point or object, put this question to these people. "Did ye receive the Holy Spirit when ye believed?" We are bound to believe that Paul had a reason, and a very good reason, for asking the question. We are left, of course, to surmise, to conjecture, but the issue of the question shows that Paul had discerned something. He had detected in these disciples some lack. And his discernment enabled him to put his finger on the spot, as we say.

Now, when Paul puts a question like that, we have to bring to it all that Paul would have brought concerning the Holy Spirit. We should need to go to all his writings, and to his own personal experience, and gather up, if we could, all that Paul knew and all that Paul had experienced as to the place, the work and the importance of the Holy Spirit. And that was no small thing! Paul has set forth what he knew about the Holy Spirit from many different aspects.

(a) Union With Christ

To begin with, Paul has made it clear that without the Holy Spirit there is NO union with Christ. Union with Christ is the very heart of Christianity: it is the great, great theme of Paul, and union with Christ is the work of the Holy Spirit. To quote one of his own fragments: "He that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit" (1 Cor. 6:17). All that Paul knew and had experienced about the Holy Spirit focused upon this great matter of union with Christ, and he brought all that into his question. The question could have been put in other ways. Paul could have raised directly the fundamental question of union with Christ. Or he could have spoken of the new creation. Paul has a good deal to say, both directly and by inference, as to a new creation in Christ Jesus. And from these and many other suggestions and indications, we see that Paul thought of the Christian life as a kind of spiritual counterpart to the material creation. He said: "God, that said, Light shall shine out of darkness ... shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Cor. 4:6). He saw this as the counterpart of the creational act, or Divine fiat, "Let there be light." The spiritual counterpart has taken place in us. In another place you will find that Paul brings in the Holy Spirit in that connection. He changes his metaphor, but keeps to his truth. God has written in our hearts, not with pen and ink, but by the Spirit of the living God (2 Cor. 3:3).

(2) Order and Fruitfulness

Paul has many other allusions to the creation, as he takes it over into the spiritual life. What a lot he made of the power of the Word of God in the life - creative power in the life of the believer! How much he has given us concerning order as a result of the work of the Holy Spirit! At the beginning of the Bible we see order developing or emerging out of the chaos and disruption, under the influence of the brooding Spirit. Now, in the spiritual life, under the influence and power of the Spirit of God in this new creation, the same thing is taking place: a new order is emerging in the life of the believer. And as, out of the barren desolation in which the earth is found at the beginning of the Bible, fruitfulness emerges and develops, so is it, Paul teaches, with the fruit of the Spirit in the life of the believer. "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control" (Gal. 5:22, 23). Instead of the barrenness of the unbeliever's life, there comes this fruitfulness. It is a work of new creation by the Holy Spirit. And as at the beginning in the material creation we see a progressive development and growth, so Paul has much to say to us about growth and progressiveness under the government of the Spirit of God. A life governed and led by the Spirit is one that goes on developing, growing, increasing in Christ. In a life in which the Holy Spirit is having His way there is NO stagnation. Such a life is not the same today as it was a year ago - that would be all wrong. The progressive factor in the new creation, as a part of the work of the Holy Spirit, is made very clear by the Apostle.

~T. Austin-Sparks~

(continued with # 7 - Revelation of Man's Destiny)

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Fundamental Questions of the Christian Life # 5

Fundamental Questions of the Christian Life # 5

The Essential Seal and Constitution of the Christian life

Read: Acts 18:24, 19:6

"Now a certain Jew named Apollos, an Alexandrian by race, an eloquent man, came to Ephesus; and he was mighty in the scriptures. This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and being fervent in spirit, he spake and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, knowing only the baptism of John; and he began to speak boldly in this synagogue. But when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more accurately. And when he was minded to pass over into Achaia, the brethren encouraged him, and wrote to the disciples to receive him: and when he was come, he helped them much that had believed through grace; for he powerfully confuted the Jews, and that publicly, showing by the scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.

And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper country came to Ephesus, and found certain disciples: and he said unto them, Did ye receive the Holy Spirit when ye believed? And they said unto him, Nay, we did not so much as hear whether the Holy Spirit was given. And he said, Into what then were ye baptized? And they said, Into John's baptism. And Paul said, John baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people that they should believe on Him that should come after him, that is, on Jesus. And when they heard this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them; and they spake with tongues and prophesied."

"Did ye Receive the Holy Spirit When Ye Believed?"

Let it be said at once that we are not here attempting to expound the person and work of the Holy Spirit, but are seeking to emphasize the importance of the Holy Spirit's personal presence within believers.

The Terms Explained

First let us examine the terms that we are employing in our sub-title, "The Essential Seal and Constitution of the Christian Life."

When we use the word "essential," we are thinking of such a statement as that made by the apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans: "If any man hath not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His" (Romans 8:9). This clearly indicates that the possession of the Holy Spirit is essential and indispensable to the Christian life.

Then, when we go on to speak of the 'and,' we think of other words such as those used by Paul in his letter to the Ephesians. "Having ... believed, ye were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise" (Eph. 1:13). Note that it was the Ephesians to whom was originally put the question: "Did ye receive the Holy Spirit when ye believed?" Upon their testimony of faith, they did receive the Holy Spirit, and, years afterward, the Apostle wrote to them the words that we have just quoted. The word 'sealed' implies putting the seal upon a transaction': something quite certain, quite precise, belonging to a moment; a definite act - "ye were sealed with the Holy Spirit."

And then when we go further and speak of the "constitution" of the Christian life as by the Holy Spirit, we think of such words as those used by the Lord Jesus Himself to Nicodemus: "That which is born of the flesh is flesh;and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit" (John 3:6): indicating a definite, distinct, different kind of person, one with a different constitution, a person who is constituted in a different way. "That which is born of the Spirit" is different from " that which is born of the flesh." One is flesh, the other is spirit.

Many other Scriptures could be added to these to explain and define our sub-title.

Initial Reception of the Holy Spirit

Now when we come to the passage which we have read, and from which I have taken the question that is placed at the head of this chapter, we find an incident with several features of very great importance. I think we shall see, as we proceed, that this is something of great significance. But first we must translate it correctly. It may be that you have in your head the old Authorized (or King James Version). That is very good, but it is not always correct in the sense of being up-to-date. That version reads: "Have ye received the Holy Spirit since ye believed?" Now, the word here in the original text does not mean 'subsequent to your believing.' It does not mean: "Did you, at some subsequent time after you believed, receive the Holy Spirit?" The Revised Version corrects the translation and says: "Did ye receive the Holy Spirit when ye believed?" And that is correct, and true to the whole teaching and meaning of the New Testament. The point is that believers in the Lord Jesus Christ are supposed to receive the Holy Spirit at the time when they believe, when they definitely exercise saving faith in Him.

(a) What the Passage Records:

The Foundation of a Great Church And of Great Ministries

The importance of this incident is seen in two aspects. Firstly, you note that this is the beginning of a great church - the church at Ephesus. Little need be said, to those who are familiar with the New Testament, by way of emphasizing or proving the importance of the church at Ephesus. It was to that church, as to one of a circle, that the Apostle Paul wrote the greatest document in the history of the world. That is not exaggerating at all. The greatest document that has ever been written is Paul's letter 'to the Ephesians' so-called. It was probably a circular letter to a number of churches, of which Ephesus was one. But no greater letter or document exists. I invite you to investigate it and see if you can exhaust it. It will take you back into eternity past; it will take you through the outworking of the counsels of God through the ages; and it will take you right on into "the age of the ages," showing you God at work in heaven, in earth, and in hell, in the whole universe: a mighty, mighty document, written to the church that we see here in our passage coming into being.

Note, then, the place of the Holy Spirit in the foundations. How careful the Apostle was to make sure that the beginning was right, that the foundation was sound! It was going to have to carry an immense superstructure, and it must be trustworthy. Hence to the nucleus of that great church - perhaps only twelve disciples - he puts the question: "Did ye receive the Holy Spirit when ye believed?" Think of  the ministry of the Apostle Paul subsequent to this question. For three years he tarried at Ephesus, and at his final interview with the elders or leaders of that church, during the course of his last journey before his imprisonment, he was able to say to them, in retrospect: "I shrank not from declaring unto you the whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:27). For three years, such  a man as this was giving out all that he then could give of his knowledge of the Divine counsels.

~T. Austin-Sparks~

(continued with # 6)