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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