Category Archives: Austin Sparks

The Responsibility of Hearing the Word of the Lord 

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by T. Austin-Sparks

“I will destine you to the sword, and ye shall all bow down to the slaughter; because when I called, ye did not answer; when I spake, ye did not hear; but ye did that which was evil in mine eyes, and chose that wherein I delighted not.” Isaiah 65:12.

“Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things that were heard, lest haply we drift away from them.” Hebrews 2:1.

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me… He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches… He who testifieth these things saith, Yea: I come quickly. Amen: come, Lord Jesus.” Rev. 3:20,22; 22:20.

The Lord is constantly coming to His people. He comes to them every time that there is a living Word from Him. This familiar passage in Revelation 3 is impressive when you note that the knock, the voice, the ear and “the Spirit saith” are all one. “I knock”; and if you listen, it is not a tapping but a Voice, a Voice that could only be heard by the inner ear because it is the Voice of the Spirit and what the Spirit says is all one language. “My knock is My voice and My voice is what the Spirit says”, and that requires an inner ear giving heed to what the Spirit says, so that every time a living Word comes, the Lord has come, and coming in His Word by His Spirit, He comes expecting a response. 

There is a practical issue bound with every drawing near of the Lord in His Word and it is only as that issue is taken up definitely that the real meaning of the Lord’s drawing near is entered into and secured. The Lord may be there in His Word, the Spirit may be there speaking by that Word, the Word of the Lord bringing the Lord near may visit us, may be with us; and all that may be wonderfully true, as true as ever it was in those days of which it is written “The word of the Lord came by the mouth of” this one and that one, as true as ever it was true as a prophet said “Thus saith the Lord”. It may be just as true as that today, and yet at the same time result in nothing; that is, so far as the Lord’s purpose and intention is concerned. That is always the peril which lies alongside of a Word of the Lord coming, that it may, after all, result in nothing so far as that which the Lord intended is concerned.

“Herein is My Father glorified that ye bear much fruit…” not that ye know much truth, that ye hear many expositions of the Word, that the Word of the Lord indeed has come to you, but “Herein… much fruit”. And that can only be as we recognise the issue bound up with the Word and definitely lay hold of it. The response which the Lord expects when He comes in His Word is the response of Life, not merely of assent, agreement or pleasure. We have from Him the parable of the sower, a fourfold response from the Lord being present with His Word, for He is the sower, and the seed is the Word. The Lord is present with His Word, and He is sowing in expectation, and His expectation is disappointed very largely, whenever there is any kind of response to Him other than the response of real fruit, and that is taking hold of the issue into the heart. That is the very core of the parable, it is taking it into the heart; I think I can say: taking it to heart. There may be some kind of reaction that is not the response the Lord is seeking. He wants a heart response, not in emotion, but in fruit: that which becomes the embodiment of the Life that is in the Word which He brings so that the Word, having the Life, being planted in our hearts, means that that Word expresses itself in a living way in us. Such is the response which the Lord is seeking every time He comes to us in His Word. 

The apostle said to Timothy, “Give thyself wholly unto them that thy progress may be manifest to all”; “the things thou hast heard and received of me, give thyself wholly unto them”. As you give yourself wholly to them, the fruit, the progress, shall be seen of all. That is the only way to spiritual progress and it is the only response which satisfies the Lord. That is the response which He is seeking. Therefore it means utterness as well as immediacy.

Another peril is always present when the Lord comes with His Word. It is somehow indefinitely in the mind to postpone the issue. If it is not a deliberate postponement – for very few perhaps do that – it is a postponement all the same, for every failure to take hold and follow up is a postponement.

I do feel that there is much room with the Lord’s people as a whole for immediate transaction on the basis of every word which comes to us which we have any reason to believe is the Lord’s. This is the way of fruitfulness, this is the way of progress, this is the way of enlargement. I am sure you are concerned very much about the matter of spiritual growth, advancement, progress. I am sure you, in your own life with the Lord, often ask Him for spiritual increase in you, progress, that you might go on, that you might come to maturity. I am sure there is much in your prayer in that direction. Now, may I suggest to you a way in which you may co-operate with the Lord in answering such prayer? It is that you make a practice, whenever the Word of the Lord has come, of going immediately and dealing with the Lord on that matter, with the practical issue bound up with that Word. If you wait until tomorrow you will get into that vicious course that there will be another message presented and the last one has simply gone past, and so you go on. 

Each message is intended to have an issue, but it becomes an accumulation of messages, of words, with the weeks and months and years, and the great responsibility being piled up inasmuch as we are going to be judged by the Word. “The word that I have spoken unto you, it shall judge you” (John 12:48). The piling up of a great responsibility, because for some reason or other – not deliberately, not intentionally – we never square immediately to the practical issue bound up with the Word. If you will at once give yourself wholly for an application to the Word as well as of the Word, your progress will be seen of all. Here is a man or a woman who deals with God at once upon any issue raised by His Word. God takes that one on wonderfully; it is honest thoroughgoing dealing with the Lord immediately. The Lord is a Lord who requires prompt response. If you like to go through the Word, you will see what is bound up with a prompt response to the Lord. The blessing of the Lord is there. You will see the trouble that is bound up with the postponement, the increased difficulty, and you will see the loss that eventually comes when the thing is passed: “Because I called and ye did not answer”. “Behold… I knock, if any man will hear My voice” – what the Spirit says. That is speaking to the Church, as you know, not to the unsaved; it may be true there, but this word was a word to the Church.

It is only my purpose to help towards the end which I am always trying to keep in view for myself and for you: how can we come to that maturity, to that growth, to that enlargement? The Lord puts His finger upon this point and just hedges it about and says, “Now I want immediate and definite response in action, a transaction with Me on the issue that is raised by this word”. If we would do that every time instead of letting it go, and would beware of all those things which are ever waiting to dissipate God’s Word when He has drawn near in His Word, we should grow. You need not move out of your seat before someone will talk to you about something of tomorrow or the past, something which has nothing whatever to do with what the Lord has just been saying. You have only to get to the door and find yourself in general conversation. That kind of fellowship may be good and I am not in any way against the real fellowship of the Lord’s people, for it is a great help to be able to meet and talk; but beware because no sooner is the Word spoken than it is snatched away and for all practical purposes it might be as though it had never been spoken. That could never be if we immediately got down before the Lord and said, “Now Lord, there is a practical issue bound up with this and that issue has got to be possessed!” That is the way of growth. Bear the Word. As I say, it is only to help towards the end which we have in view. 

There is a great value in immediacy, and that response of course will call for utterness for the Lord. Such a response will test our utterness. If anybody really does have the Word of the Lord, seriously and immediately we must get before the Lord about it, meaning business; not just attending meetings and listening to addresses, but out for the Lord, bringing up this question: “What is it that the Lord has said? How does that apply to me? What is the Lord after in me concerning that? I may see it or I may not, but that is not the point. The point is, Lord is there something there that I do not see? Is there something You are trying to say to me and I am not yet alive to it?” How often, sometimes afterwards, we have seen that the Lord said something at a certain time and really it touched upon something in our lives, but at the time we did not see it. Now we see how that was fitted for our case. If we had gone to the Lord, might we not have seen it? That is utterness for the Lord in our response to His Word. There must be a taking hold and a keeping hold until the thing is settled, until it is established, because it is possible even to have exercise over a Word, to follow the point of the Word, to feel the weight of it and feel it getting into us and touching us and then for it to fade. We felt it and we always look back and say, “Yes that was a word that came to us; we felt something in that word; it moved us!” But we have to say that it fell short of the actual issue. What we have to do is to take hold and to keep hold. Has the Lord said something to us? Are we holding on to that until the matter is secured and established and the Lord has got that in us?

Note that word in Hebrews 2: “Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we heard, lest haply we drift away from them.” I have often pointed out that that word has behind it the picture of a man in the boat taking up his moorings. There is a current running and he comes up on his moorings, reaches out with his boat hook, takes his moorings on his boat hook, but he does it carelessly; he does it without all his attention bent upon it. The tide is running fast, the current is strong, and he has not given the more earnest heed and before he knows what has happened, he has slipped his moorings inadvertently and is drifting away. He had them, he came into touch with them, they were on his hook, and he lost them. It is so often like that. The Word of the Lord comes; we make contact, we even would say we have got it, but where is it after a bit? After a while, what about it? “Therefore… give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest haply we drift away from them.” That is the kind of response that the Lord is seeking all the time.

Now, it would never be right to leave things there without another word. Such a response to the Lord which He is seeking will always be costly. The Lord will see to that. The things of the Lord are not had cheaply; God’s purpose is a costly purpose and any fresh movement in relation thereto will be costly. You know that Hebrews 13:13 is the summary of the practical issues of going on. The exhortation throughout the letter is “Go on”. The summary is this: “Let us therefore go to Him without the camp, bearing His reproach.” That is what we are going to get for going on. Down here that is just what you are going to get if you go on. It all looks so glorious to go on, all that we are going on to is wonderful. We can romance about the eternal purpose and reigning and having dominion. Yes, but the present side of that is outside the camp bearing His reproach. There is a cost attached to going on with the Lord. There will be a cost bound up with every step. It will make demands; it will only be men of faith who will go on. That is what drives it in. It is that which makes it ours and makes it a part of us.

The Lord comes looking for response; the Word demands it and everything hangs upon it. There is nothing so established that it cannot be set aside by God if it ceases to respond to His purpose. “I… will remove thy lampstand out of its place, except…” (Rev. 2:5). God planted those churches in Asia, those lampstands; He blessed them, He used them; they were vessels of testimony; and then there came the crisis in which God said, “That which I have planted, that which I have blessed, that which was the work of My Spirit, and had My Spirit in it, I will move it out of its place”. There is a sense in which we are always on trial for our life and the nature of the trial is this: immediate response to every visitation of the Lord in His Word. “If any man will hear…”.

Edited and supplied by the Golden Candlestick Trust.

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What is Meant by Wholly Following the Lord

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Now, on the other hand, the words which Joshua and Caleb uttered seem to me to indicate another kind of history altogether. When they came back from the land, you remember the majority of the spies brought up their evil report, but Joshua and Caleb said, “If the Lord delight in us, then He will bring us into this land” (Num. 14:8). You know that in the letter to the Hebrews, the whole question of the Sabbath rest that remains for the people of God is brought up in connection with Joshua bringing the people over into the land. The land was intended to be a type of the rest that remains for the people of God, and when Joshua said that, he was already in the rest of the land. He was in rest. His attitude was this, his state of heart was this: “If the Lord wants us to have this, it is all right, we need not worry, strain, strive, fight, or be concerned about it; if the Lord wants it, it is all right, we will come in and possess. If the Lord delight in us, we do not need to worry about anything – giants, difficulties, walled cities; if the Lord wants it, we will have it; all we have to do is to go on wholly with the Lord, trust Him, and it is all right!” Joshua was in the rest of the land in his heart already because he had no personal thing to which he was clinging which complicated his relationship with the Lord, but his heart was on what the Lord wanted and he was in this position – “If the Lord wants us to have that, if the Lord wants me to have that or wants to bring me into that, I trust Him, it will be all right. I need not scheme, devise or worry, I need not be anxious, I will just go on with the Lord and He will bring it to pass. If the Lord does not want it, then I do not want it!” Joshua was in that position and was at heart rest. It was not just passivity, it was the rest of faith, and you have no rest of faith until the self-element is put out. It is that which complicates our spiritual heart rest all the time. That is simply wholly following the Lord and that discriminated Joshua and Caleb and all the rest. It was the nature of things.  

T. Austin Sparks

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Today If You Hear His Voice

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“Today if Ye Hear His Voice” 
by T. Austin-Sparks

Reading: Heb. 3.

“Today if ye shall hear His voice, harden not your hearts… Take heed, brethren, lest haply there shall be in any one of you an evil heart of unbelief, in falling away from the living God: but exhort one another day by day, so long as it is called Today; lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin: for we are become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our confidence firm unto the end” Heb. 3:7,12-14.

“Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it.” Heb. 4:1.

Everything in God’s purpose is bound up with our hearing His voice. I want to point out that the translation needs to be kept very accurate here. Unfortunately the Revised Version does not maintain its tradition of improvement at this point, and it should not be: “If ye shall hear His voice”, it should be: “If ye will hear His voice”. If you look at that very carefully you will immediately detect the difference. If we say: “If ye shall hear His voice” we put the onus on God, when really the onus is not upon God. The context makes it perfectly clear about having heard the Good News, and it is: “If ye will hear His voice”. God has spoken, the voice of God has sounded, and it is sounding today, and it is a matter of whether we will hear.

The force of that “will” is suggested by the earlier part of chapter 4. “Let us fear therefore, lest haply, a promise being left of entering into His rest, any one of you should be deemed to come short of it.” There is a tremendous emphasis upon our responsibility in relation to the voice of God. It is not that God will not speak, but that, God speaking, we shall not hear.

The word “consider” in the first verse of chapter 3 is a very strong word. Our simple English word there does not convey the force of the original language. The word really means “attentively consider”. It implies giving a fixed and prolonged attention to the matter. So you see that the atmosphere of this part of God’s Word is all that which suggests to our heart the necessity for attention.

In such an atmosphere there is this word: “If ye will hear His voice”. That means that we have to apply ourselves to hearing what the Lord is saying. It is a matter of application, of will, to hear His voice. Everything hangs upon that, as the whole context shows. All the promises of the land, all that which was presented to Israel as God’s great and glorious purpose to which they were called, were lost to that generation; and the implication is that they missed it all because they would not hear His voice.

That carries us to a very serious consideration. What was the voice to be heard? What was the voice saying? What was it that the voice was carrying with it? What was it that they would not hear? What was it they did not earnestly apply themselves to hear? If you look closely into the forty years’ history in the wilderness, you will see that everything called for application of heart, of mind, of will to understand. It called for close attention, because that which the Lord was doing with them had a meaning which was not too obvious, did not lie on the surface, could not be grasped instantly by any superficial glance. The dealings of God with them, the ways of God with them, contained a voice, a call, a message, a meaning, and it therefore required that they should earnestly attend to and apply the will, to say, in effect: “This means something more than we can see at a glance; we want to know what God means by this! There is a voice in this that is deeper than can be discerned by the outward ear; there is an inward ear required for this: there is something here to be seen which cannot be seen by the natural eye! The inner eye needs to be opened to see what God means by this!” And because they would not take that attitude and adjust themselves in that way, they missed everything. They simply took things as they saw them, and allowed them to become mere happenings, mere events, and judged by how those things affected their own personal interests and natural, earthly good. Chapter 3, verse 1 is the key to the whole thing. “Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling” – “Today, if ye will hear…” 

A heavenly calling! That puts a new complexion upon everything. What is the heavenly calling? A calling from above to glory and honour. How does the letter begin: “For not unto angels did He subject the inhabited earth to come, whereof we speak. But one hath somewhere testified, saying, What is man, that thou makest mention of him?” “But we behold Jesus… crowned with glory and honour.” “Thou dost make mention of him… wherefore, holy brethren, partners in a heavenly calling…” a calling from heaven, of glory and honour in association with the Son of Man, in relation to the inhabited earth to come. It is dominion with Christ that is in view. And today God is dealing with us in relation to that, and there is a heavenly meaning in God’s dealings with us.

Now go through Israel’s history. Not long after they had come into the wilderness they found themselves short of water, and they murmured against Moses and against the Lord. In effect they said, “We have been brought out here to perish!” That is taking the earthly point of view. There are two ways of viewing that. They could look at it like this, and say, “At least we had water to drink in Egypt, but here we are with no water to drink, and if we were going to perish we might as well have perished in Egypt!” They could have taken another view, and said, “Well, the Lord marvellously delivered us from Egypt; marvellously brought us through the Red Sea when it stood up like walls on either side; marvellously overwhelmed our enemies before our eyes, and wiped them out. He can surely provide water in a wilderness!” It depends whether you look up or down, whether you murmur, or whether you triumph.

Later they found themselves without anything to eat. Here was another chance for them to take one of two attitudes. They could take the downward attitude and say, “Now we are going to perish in the wilderness; we are going to die of starvation out here. We have been brought into a trap, all resources have been kept from us, and now this is the end of everything!” They could take the upward look and say, “God, who provided water, will surely provide bread in the wilderness!” Deliverance would have come from heaven, if they had seen the heavenly aspect of things.

In the lack of water, and in the lack of bread, and in every circumstance, no matter what it was – and the circumstances were numerous: adversity, want, hardship, weariness – there was a heavenly resource, but it required a heavenly faith, a heavenly aspect, a heavenly look. God was speaking in it all. What was He saying? In the absence of water, in the absence of bread, in these various and numerous situations, where nature and the world could make no provision, God was speaking, and He was saying continually through the forty years: “I am your resource! I am your portion! I am your life! I am your strength! I am thy sufficiency! I have brought you out here, not to let you perish, not to make you the victim of circumstances, but to teach you that for you earthly things at best could never be satisfying. And finally, your life; but in Me you have that which will not only maintain you here from stage to stage, but will be your everlasting portion, and bring you at last into My whole fulness.” God was seeking to say, “Here is another circumstance in which you can make a new discovery of Me, but if you look at the circumstance itself, you will go down! If you listen to My voice in the circumstance you will make a discovery, and that discovery will become your deliverance, your life.”

In His mercy they did make discoveries, but they never allowed the discoveries which they made to be permanent lessons. When every fresh trial came they forgot the Lord, because they were so centred upon their own interests. They could not, they would not, escape from themselves. As a thing came up before them, they immediately regarded it in the light of their own present personal interest: “Here is a bit more trial! That is a new blow! That is one more trouble to add to all my troubles!” That is one way of viewing things. There is another view. They could have said, “This is another lesson the Lord is trying to teach! What is the measure of the Lord that this trial will lead into if taken hold rightly, if viewed rightly?”

That land to which they were going was a great type of Christ in heaven, over the other side on resurrection ground, and they were brought through these trials in order that they might learn how now to live a heavenly life on the earth, by heavenly resources, here in the wilderness. But so set were they upon their own comfort, their own enjoyment, their own pleasure and satisfaction, that they could not detach themselves to listen to the voice; and because things were always regarded in a personal light, from the standpoint of personal interest, when troubles came they hardened their hearts against the inner voice.

It was, “Today”! What a tremendously impressive word that is, viewed in this light. Today! What does that mean? That text has been almost always used for Gospel sermons, and we do not do wrong in making an appeal by it to the unsaved, because the truth applies that there is a “Today!” when God’s voice is sounding to the unsaved, and God does not offer a tomorrow. This word is: “Today if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts!” His voice heard in your heart will not give you a tomorrow. Let this day go, and you have no tomorrow for responding to His voice and doing what you have failed to do now in the presence of the voice with the heavenly calling. That is quite true.

But this text was never written for the unsaved, with all its value and application to them. It was written to the Lord’s own people, and it is tremendous when you hear such a word to the Lord’s people. That says to us that today God is speaking; in adversity, in trial, in suffering, in affliction, in all manner of difficulties into which He Himself has allowed us to come. He has brought us out into a place where all nature is cut off from us, where we are helpless in ourselves, and He allows us to come into the fires of trial and difficulty, and in them all He says, “My voice is the voice of a heavenly calling, the voice which is calling you up, ever higher, to know your heavenly resources, to know what there is for you in Christ even here, in order to prepare you for that dominion over the inhabited earth to come, for glory and honour with Him Who is now crowned with glory and honour.” We are become partners with Christ, if we hold fast.

“Today, if ye will…” What does that say to me and to you? It says, “Here is a trial, a difficulty; here is an adversity, a sorrow, a suffering. How am I going to view it? Am I going to say, Oh, more trouble! One thing after another! Or am I going to say, Yes, more trial – we feel it – and yet always there’s some new knowledge of the Lord, some new discovery, I must hear the voice in this! It is going to lead into some greater fulness, where we have never been before.” Harden not your heart. In other words, do not become bitter because of the trial, the difficulty, the suffering, but listen! The Lord is speaking, this is a great ‘Today’! I venture to say that when this ‘Today’ is past, and all that it was intended to mean to us, and we see its meaning, we shall be sorry that we did not adjust ourselves more wholeheartedly to what the Lord was saying to us here in the very difficulties into which He brought us. We shall say, “Oh, if only I had been more attentive and less self-occupied, I should have seen that in that particular experience the Lord was speaking to me, but it came and it went, and I regarded it as a bit of suffering and no more, and it led to nothing. It may be even that I became bitter, I rebelled and I hardened my heart because of the suffering.”

God forbid! “Today, if ye will hear… Wherefore, holy brethren, partners in a heavenly calling, today if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts.”

Edited and supplied by the Golden Candlestick Trust.

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The Man Must Become the Message

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1 Peter 4: 12 “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.”

 

The Persistent Purpose of God

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 7 – The Messenger Must be the Embodiment of His Message

Now we come back again to the prophecies of Ezekiel. There is a large section of this book with which we shall not be able to deal in detail, so we must find some comprehensive way of dealing with it simply. I think that way will be by looking at the three different titles by which Ezekiel was called. Perhaps you have noticed that in these prophecies Ezekiel has three different titles, and these three titles gather into themselves this large section of the book – (1) “Son of man,” (2) “a watchman,” (3) “I am your sign.”

“Son Of Man.”

The first of these three titles is “Son of man.” Look at chapters two and three:

And He said unto me, Son of man… (2:1);
And He said unto me, Son of man… (2:3);
And He said unto me, Son of man… (3:1);
And He said unto me, Son of man… (3:3).

And so it goes on right through the book. That is one of the main titles of the prophet. Perhaps you would like to go right through the book and note how many times “Son of man” occurs.

We note then, at the beginning, that this title was peculiar to the Prophet Ezekiel. No other prophet is called by this name in the same way. It marks out Ezekiel in a special way. Now we know that the Lord Jesus chose as His favorite title for Himself, “The Son of Man,” but we must not think of Ezekiel in the same way. Ezekiel was unique among the prophets in this title, but Jesus as The Son of Man was unique among all men. So let us be careful not to confuse the two titles “Son of man” and “THE SON OF MAN.” If there is any relationship or similarity, it is in the function, and not in the person. That is the matter that we shall now consider.

We have seen that on the Throne above it there was the likeness as of a man, and we have seen that the predominant feature of the cherubims was the man. Therefore, we take note of this place of man in this book; it is a special idea. We also know that man means representation and speech for God. Man is not only a person, he is a Divine idea. There is a man upon the Throne, and while that man is a person, he is not only a person, he is a Divine idea. The idea in God’s Mind in creating man was that he should represent God. “Let Us make man after Our Own image, in Our Own likeness.” Man is God’s fullest thought, and God’s final thought.

In the creation God ended with man, and He headed all things up into man. When God has reached such a man, He pronounces His verdict and takes His rest. When He has the man according to His intentions, then He says about everything, “It is very good”; and then God takes His rest. God finds His rest when He has His man according to His Mind.

However, that is not the end of everything. At that point God looks for reproduction. He says to that man: “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth.” And the law of creation was that everything should reproduce “after its own kind.” Things were never intended to change their form, but everything was given a definite and distinct form. It was a kind of creation, and everything was to reproduce after its kind.

You see, God has made man, and before man has fallen, God says, “Be fruitful, and multiply.” God’s idea was that unfallen man should multiply, and that unfallen man should fill the earth. But we know that man fell, and the earth was filled with a kind of man that God never intended. Therefore, God put a limit to his life; He fixed the number of his years so that man should not go on indefinitely. I think you see from this that God’s idea is a man according to His Own Mind. In a full way, the Lord Jesus was that; therefore, He is “The Son Of Man,” and in a sense we can say He was the ONLYSon of Man.

So, the principle of manhood is taken up for the people of God, and that is where Ezekiel comes in. It is not the person, but the function; it is the principle, so that “Son of man” speaks of two things. It means bringing into view God’s original thought and pattern. That was a principle that the Lord was wanting to have realized in Israel. Israel is a man in God’s eyes, but in this book of Ezekiel Israel is not the man that God intended. In this book Israel is a man which has been marred, and God is moving along the principle of manhood to recover that idea in Israel. Later we shall find that He was unable to do it in Israel as a whole, and He therefore sought to realize it in the remnant. However, the Old Testament closes with this idea as a complete failure in Israel.

When we move into the New Testament, we find ourselves in the presence of the one new man, that is, the corporate man which is the Church. But we are not going on to that this morning, we are just with the principle. In principle, “Son of man” means speaking in relation to an original thought and pattern of God. You have got to recognize that as the key to the whole of these prophecies. What is it all about? What does this whole book mean in all its parts? Well, this title “Son of man” is scattered right over the whole book, and it means that the governing thought of God is this conception of man according to God’s Mind. If God sends this collective man into captivity, it means that that man cannot stand before Him any longer. God must have another kind of man. The great illustration of that, of course, is the valley of dry bones – bringing up out of the grave of Babylon a new man with a new heart, and a new spirit.

Now I think that is enough to indicate the meaning of this title. God is moving for the recovery of His original thought. That thought has been lost. This is what Paul meant in speaking to Timothy as the “man of God.” His appeal to Timothy was, “O man of God”; that is, God’s man – that is what God is after.

We must take this up as to our ministry, and that brings us to this: What are we here for? What is the meaning of our ministry and our work? It is that God may have this corporate man according to His Own Mind. That is the meaning of Ephesians, chapter four:

Until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.

God is working towards this corporate man. We must remember that God’s idea is man. I would emphasize that because so many seem to think that God’s idea is some organization, some institution, some thing that is called the Church, a way of doing things, a certain teaching – a whole system – and God is not after that. God is not after the Church just as the Church. The object of the Church in God’s Mind is that it should be an expression of Christ! The Church is the Body of Christ. It is not a system of teaching. It is not a special form of practice. It is a Man, and it is Christ in corporate expression! We shall come to that later in this book of Ezekiel, but we take up this principle. It is a very important thing for us to recognize the corporate Man!

So this man-principle speaks of three things. First of all, a presentation – God presents His idea, and then a representation of something that expresses that which is presented, and then a declaration, a preaching concerning that. The thing is presented as a Divine thought, and then the thing is represented in a Body, and out of that comes the message.

Now, brethren, have you got those three things? First there is the vision, the Man is presented. You see the Man in the Throne. You get God’s idea. God’s idea is manhood, manhood of a certain character. From that God has a representation of this something which embodies the idea, and then when God has got that which embodies the idea, there is a message. We must not put it in the other order, preaching it first. We must first of all have seen it, and then there must be an expression of it. There must be that to which we can point and say, “This is it.” The message must come out of something that actually exists according to God’s Mind.

I think I need not stay with that any longer, but, you see, that applies firstly to Christ. You must first of all have seen the Lord, and then that must have produced something in you so that it is not only objective and abstract, but the Lord has done something in you as you have seen. And then out of that comes your ministry.

The same applies to the Church. First there must be a revealing of the Church, and then there must be a representation of the Church, and out of that exists a definite expression of the Church – the message goes out. It is almost impossible to preach the truth unless there is something behind it. It is essential that we are able to say, “This thing works, and I can show you where it works.” That will become very clear when we come to our next consideration in Ezekiel, but I do hope that you have got hold of this first idea, the principle in this first title, “Son of man.” There is a very great deal of the Mind of God in that title.

“A Watchman”

Now we go to the second title of Ezekiel. In chapter three, at verse seventeen, it says, “Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel.

“And the word of the Lord came to me saying, Son of man, speak to the sons of your people, and say to them, ‘If I bring a sword upon a land, and the people of the land take one man from among them and make him their watchman; and he sees the sword coming upon the land, and he blows on the trumpet and warns the people, then he who hears the sound of the trumpet and does not take warning, and a sword comes and takes him away, his blood will be on his own head. He heard the sound of the trumpet, but did not take warning; his blood will be on himself. But had he taken warning, he would have delivered his life. But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, and the people are not warned, and a sword comes and takes a person from them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood I will require from the watchman’s hand’ Now as for you, son of man, I have appointed you a watchman for the house of Israel; so you will hear a message from My mouth, and give them warning from Me” (Eze. 33:1-7).

The second title of Ezekiel is “a watchman.” This idea is not peculiar to Ezekiel. We have the watchman in other prophets, or, shall we say, we have the function of the watchman in other prophets. Habakkuk 2:1 says, “I will stand upon my watch”: that is a function of the watchman. In Isaiah 21:11 we have, “Watchman, what of the night?” So again we have the function, but no one else was exactly called a watchman except Ezekiel. And as you have noticed, that title was applied to him at the beginning of his ministry, and later at his recommission.

Now this title and this function need not keep us very long. We just ask ourselves the question, “What is the function of a watchman?” First of all, the function of the watchman is to know and to declare the time. That was always an idea associated with the watchman. Right down to modern times that is true. I do not know whether it is true in China, or in other parts of the world, but until quite recently it was true in Great Britain. In the country places, the watchman went around at certain times of the night and blew his trumpet or rang his bell and shouted the time. He would ring his bell and shout, “It is five o’clock of the morning.” That idea is in Isaiah, chapter 21. Someone is asking the time, “Watchman, what is the time?” And the watchman answers, “The morning cometh, and also the night.” The first thing about a watchman is that he must know the time – he must know what time it is in the purpose and work of God.

You know there are a lot of people who are very mixed-up on this matter. They are trying to do a lot of things out of time. There are some people who are confused in the dispensations over this. In this dispensation, God is doing a special thing. There is one particular thing that marks this dispensation in the purpose of God, and it is of the greatest importance that you and I know what it is that belongs to this dispensation.

There are all sorts of systems of teaching which have nothing to do with the purpose of this dispensation. They are very interesting, there may be some truth in them, but they are not right in line with God’s specific purpose for this dispensation. I am not going to take your time this morning to illustrate what I mean, even though I could tell you of different systems of truth which have taken people right off the line of God’s specific purpose for now. It is not always a question of how much truth or how much error there is in it. The real question is, “Is that what God is seeking now, in this dispensation?” Now you can usually detect the fault by one thing – has that something to do with this earth now? If it has, then that is not what God is doing in this dispensation. God is not concerned with doing something on this earth, in this dispensation, but He is taking out of the nations a people for His Name. He is building something in heaven in this dispensation. Whether it is Israel, or anything else, that is not God’s concern in this dispensation; and anything which has wholly to do with this earth does not belong to this dispensation. That is why the Lord Jesus left this earth and went to heaven. This dispensation is characterized by a Heavenly thing, and not an earthly thing. That is a major test of everything.

Now, of course, I could spend a lot of time in speaking about what God is seeking in this dispensation. That will come later in the Book of Ezekiel. This morning we are just underlining this truth: a watchman’s first business is to know the time, and then to give a very clear message as to what the time is. If his note is not clear and distinct, people will not know what the hour is. I do ask you, brethren, to go and think much about that. The whole matter of how much the Lord is with you will depend upon how much you are with the Lord in the purpose of the hour. If you are trying to do something that God does not want done at this time, you are wasting your time, and you are wasting your strength. So, then, the function of the watchman is to be eyes for the people of God.

And then the second thing is to discern what the situation is and what it will lead to. All this is contained in this description of the watchman’s word which the Lord gave to Ezekiel. The watchman is looking out, he sees certain things, and he discerns what those things imply. He sees that those certain things mean something evil for the Lord’s people – these are signs that there is evil coming. If these things are not guarded against, the result will be death. That is what is here in the description of what the watchman saw. And then on the other side, he sees the Way of Life; and he is able to say, “Now that is the way of death, and that is the Way of Life.” But the watchman has to be familiar with what is in the Way of Life and what is in the way of death. So he has to discern the situation and recognize the way in which things are going. It is a very big responsibility. We are all called to be watchmen, and we must have an unmistakable message. We must understand the things that mean death for the Church.

“I Am Your Sign”

This brings us to our third and final title of Ezekiel: “I am your sign.” In the Book of Ezekiel, all the things that the Lord commanded the prophet to do are gathered into that title. You look at chapter four, and you see the strange things that the Lord commanded Ezekiel to do.

HE commanded him to take a tile and to draw on it a picture of Jerusalem, a picture of Jerusalem as in siege. And then Ezekiel was told to lie on his left side for 390 days, and then to lie on his right side for 40 days, and then to uncover his arm before all the people, and then the Lord said that HE would put bands upon him so that he could not move, and HEwould make his tongue cleave to the roof of his mouth so that he could not speak, and then Ezekiel was told that he must become a baker and he must make enough bread to last 390 days. And then Ezekiel was told to take a sharp razor, to shave his head of all his hair, and then to weigh the hair in balances.

These are all strange things, and Ezekiel was to do all these things in the sight of all the people.

Then when you get well on into the book, you come to that very sad thing. In chapter 24 Ezekiel’s wife dies, and he is not allowed to mourn for her. He is to just go on as though nothing had happened, and everybody would look at him and would say, “This is a scandalous thing; the fellow does not care, although his wife has died.” Ezekiel goes on just as though nothing had happened.

What is all the meaning of this? It is all gathered into this title: “I am your sign.” We will just gather it up in this way: it means that the message of Ezekiel was first of all wrought into his own experience. He was taken through the message before he gave it. The things that he was to say were already wrought in his own life. I do not say we are to have Ezekiel’s experience literally, but the whole point is this: the messenger must be a personal embodiment of his message! It must not just be things that we say, it must be things that have been wrought into our own life. Ezekiel did not just give a message, Ezekiel was the message; and when the people looked at him, they SAW the message.

Now see what a big principle that introduces. John put it in this way: “We speak that we do know and testify that which we have seen and that which our hands have handled.” There must not be any gap between the teacher and his message. The teacher and the message must be one thing. Our position must not be one of just doctrine or theory, our teaching must be ourselves. The message must be seen in our history, it must be seen in our experience. This will, of course, explain a lot as to the Lord’s dealings with us. If the Lord really gets hold of us, HE will not let us just give out theories. The message will be born out of DEEP experience.

We take three illustrations. Peter’s commission was “to shepherd the flock,” and in his letters he speaks much about that. He speaks of “The Shepherd”; and he speaks of the elders and says, “…shepherd the flock over which the Lord has given you responsibility.” What is the key feature of a true shepherd? If we take the Lord as the Example, the key feature of a true shepherd is that he lays down his own soul for the sheep. Notice, I have chosen the word soul. That is the word that the Lord Jesus used. HE spoke about the disciples laying down their souls. Now Peter had a very strong and big soul. You know what the soul is, and Peter had a big one of those, and Peter’s great life lesson was how to lay down his own soul. If the soul is the mind and the feelings and the will, we can see what a big one Peter had. Peter had a mind of his own; he had a will of his own; and he had feelings of his own; and he was always pushing these things to the forefront. Peter’s life was in the hard school of having to learn how to lay down his soul. You know enough about the whole life of Peter as we have it in the New Testament to show you how true that was. Peter was not a professional shepherd – he had had the principle of the shepherd wrought right into his very being.

Pass on to the Apostle Paul. Paul’s great ministry was concerning the Church as the Body of Christ. The principles of the Body of Christ are relatedness, dependence, interdependence, heavenliness, spirituality. Now did not Paul have to have those things wrought into him?! When you remember Saul of Tarsus, you have the very embodiment of independence, personal action, and earthliness, and unspirituality. Saul of Tarsus had no sense of dependence, of relatedness, but see how the Lord took him in hand, and right from the point on the Damascus Road, all the way through, he was having to learn these lessons.

Now Paul was a sign for the dispensation. You think about that! We know the purpose of this dispensation: it is the Church which is His Body. That is not just an idea or a teaching, that is a practical reality. That revelation came to the dispensation through the Apostle Paul, and, therefore, it had to be wrought right into the very constitution of Paul. ALLindependence had to be destroyed, ALL unrelatedness had to be removed, ALL earthly expectations had to be taken away. Paul had to have his whole life constituted on the basis of the message that was given to him. He was a sign to the dispensation. That is why we make so much of Paul.

And now, what about John? What was John’s particular message? The ministry of John particularly related to life. That is the big word of John through all his writings. John became the embodiment of that principle of life triumphant over death. When all of the apostles had long been gone to the Lord, John is still going on. He outlived all the others, not because he had an easier time than the others. John suffered with the others, and at last John died as others had died; but here is a testimony to Divine Life in spirit, mind, and body. The point is that John really, personally represented the message that he gave. Peter, Paul, and John could also say: “I am your sign.”

Brothers and sisters, you and I have got to be able to say the same. People must be seeing in us the message and not only hearing it from our lips. They must be seeing that the message is true in our history and experience.

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Faith Unto Enlargement Through Adversity Part 1

Faith Unto Enlargement Through Adversity
by T. Austin-Sparks

Psalms_118-6

Chapter 1 – Introductory

Reading: Psalm 118.

The real title of this Psalm is the ‘Passover Hosanna Psalm’, and its theme is faith unto enlargement through adversity. Martin Luther called this Psalm his Psalm, and I think his life is a very good commentary upon it. We know why he made it his Psalm. He might well have been the originator of it, so true was his life to all that is here. It is just an explanation and a summing-up of all his experience. ‘This is my Psalm’, he said.

This Psalm was really born out of experience, and it is that that makes it live. There lies behind it very deep history, especially in two particular connections.

The Background Of The Psalm

In the first place, this Psalm, whose composer no one seems to know, was at least adapted to, if not composed for, the Passover after the dedication of the second Temple. You are probably acquainted with the history of the second Temple. You have to turn, of course, to the Book of Ezra, and alongside of it to the Book of Nehemiah, and then to the prophecies of Haggai and Zechariah; and when you have read those four books, you have the setting of Psalm 118. Read again verses 5 to 16 of the Psalm in the light of that, and you will see what light is thrown upon these verses. Or take a fragment – verse 10: “All nations compassed me about: in the name of the Lord I will cut them off. They compassed me about…” And turn to the Book of Ezra, chapter 4, verses 9 and 10. Here you have a whole host of nations all gathered against Ezra and the building of the second Temple. They compassed him about – all these nations compassed him about – they compassed him about like stinging bees. Thus this description of adversity, of opposition, gives this Psalm a very real, practical application: for the remnant which had escaped from captivity had returned to the land with the building and dedication of the Temple in view, and if this Psalm is a description of things as they were then, it is indeed the story of life out of death.

Life Out Of Death

We must remember that the ‘I’ and the ‘me’ repeated in this Psalm represent the personification of the remnant or of the nation. It is as though the nation were speaking as an individual; it is a collective ‘I’. The nation is here saying: “The Lord hath chastened me sore” – how true that was for the seventy years in captivity – “but He hath not given me over unto death” (v. 18); “I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord” (v. 17): so that the remnant speaking in these words does really embody this great truth of life out of death and life triumphant over death.

The Lord had promised His people, when they were in that far-off exile and captivity, that He would ‘open their graves’ and bring them out (Ezekiel 37:12-14), and here it is. They are out – out of that grave of captivity; and a grave it was. There is no singing in the grave. “The dead praise not the Lord” (Psalm 115:17) is a phrase of Scripture, and how true it was away there. “Upon the willows… we hanged up our harps… how shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” (Psalm 137:2-4). ‘The dead praise Thee not.’ But listen! “O give thanks unto the Lord; for He is good; for His lovingkindness endureth for ever” – four times repeated at the very beginning of the Psalm, and then added as the crown at the end. It is a new Psalm on resurrection ground. So the Psalm, to begin with, is one of life out of death.

Release From Bondage

And then quite clearly it is one of release from bondage. These people are so rejoicing in this aspect of their position by the lovingkindness of the Lord, that they are reminded of their earliest great deliverance, and you will see here in the Psalm a reference to the great deliverance from Egypt, and a quotation from the Book of Exodus. They bring the two together – deliverance from Egypt and deliverance from Babylon – and the deliverance from Egypt is always, in the Scripture, termed deliverance “out of the house of bondage”. The Psalm, then, is the Psalm of release from bondage.

Now, bringing that into the rebuilding of the second Temple, you can see how the remnant were straitened, were pressed, by the nations represented by these people who had been brought into Samaria. What a time Nehemiah had from these people in building the wall! He was pressed on every side. What a time Ezra had! How those prophets suffered! The work was held up for more than a decade by reason of this opposition and adversity all around. But the point is that the Temple was built and finished and dedicated, and this Psalm was sung at the Passover which followed the dedication. It says: ‘Let men do their worst, let them oppress from every side, let them oppose as they will. The thing is done: the Lord has done it in spite of everything, and we are out.’

From Limitation To Enlargement

So “the Lord answered me and set me in a large place” (v. 5). From death to life, from bondage to liberty, from limitation to enlargement – into a “large place” – and this represented a very great thing on the Lord’s part. Consider all that the Lord had to cope with – though of course it is putting it in a wrong way to say the Lord ever has to ‘cope with’ anything, for He is so supremely superior to every situation. Yet what was against His people was no small thing. To bring them out into this enlargement meant the overcoming of tremendous difficulties. “The Lord answered me and set me in a large place.” We are reminded of another word, so familiar to us: “Thou broughtest us into the net… Thou didst cause men to ride over our heads. We went through fire and through water; but Thou broughtest us out into a wealthy place” (Psalm 66:11-12). It is a Psalm of triumph over limitation, bringing into enlargement.

God’s Faithfulness Over His People’s Unfaithfulness

The version from which I have quoted uses the word ‘lovingkindness’. The version which is perhaps more familiar has the word ‘mercy’ – “His mercy endureth for ever”. I think there is a note about ‘lovingkindness’ – God’s lovingkindness’ – that touches the heart, when you think of the failure and the unfaithfulness of His own people. What a story it is all the way along, right through the lives of the major and the minor prophets. It would seem that if ever the mercy of God, the lovingkindness of God, could have been exhausted, it would have been so with these people, so terrible were their reactions to the mercy of God. How far they went against the Lord! But here in the end – and with Nehemiah we are in the last Book of the Old Testament in historical order, we are at the end of a dispensation – the great note is: “His lovingkindness endureth for ever”. When they used that language, these people knew what they were talking about. It was not just poetry or sentiment.

It is, therefore, a Psalm of tremendous consolation. We know our weakness, we know our unfaithfulness, we know how we have failed and do fail. The end of the story is – “His lovingkindness endureth for ever”. You see, this is the experience – and, out of the experience, the testimony – of a people who have proved the Lord to be faithful over against all that men could do against them. It is a Psalm worth having. No wonder Luther said, ‘That is my Psalm!’

Sung By The Lord Before Gethsemane

But there is something even more than that. The second thing about this Psalm is that it is believed to have been the Psalm sung by the Lord Himself and by His disciples on the Passover night. Before I knew this, I used to say, ‘I wish I knew what it was they sang when it says that after the supper, “when they had sung a hymn, they went out”‘ (Matt. 26:30). I have discovered that, on very good grounds, it is strongly believed that this was the Psalm that they sang. The Lord Jesus actually sang this Psalm! And His disciples sang it with Him – I wonder if they really knew what they were singing? Let us look at it.

There is no doubt that this Psalm is very largely, if not altogether, related to the Lord Jesus, because it is quoted in immediate connection with Him in several places in the New Testament. For instance: “Blessed be he that cometh in the name of the Lord: we have blessed you out of the house of the Lord” (v. 26). But the titles of the Psalm, the ‘Passover Hosanna Psalm’, is not based upon that incident of the Lord’s entry into Jerusalem, when they cut down palm branches and went before Him singing out of this Psalm: “Hosanna to the Son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord”, but upon other grounds. And then you know that on several occasions in the New Testament the words are quoted: “The stone which the builders rejected is become the head of the corner” (v. 22). The Lord Jesus used them concerning Himself (Matt. 21:42), and Peter used them concerning Christ (1 Pet. 2:7). So this is in a large sense what is called a ‘Messianic’ Psalm. It is related to the Lord Jesus.

The Triumph Of Faith

Now, if the Lord did sing this Psalm on that dark night of the Passover and betrayal, what a triumph of faith it was! “I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord” (v. 17). Going straightway to Gethsemane, the trial and the Cross – “I shall not die, but live”. In faith He has leapt the garden, He has leapt the trial, He has leapt the Cross, right over into the resurrection. “I shall not die, but live.” What a triumph of faith through adversity, through suffering! But oh, what a meaning this gives to Gethsemane. Look at the Passover. “This is My body, which is for you” (1 Cor. 11:24). “This is My blood… which is shed for many unto remission of sins” (Matt. 26:28). And they sang a hymn; and after the hymn, the next thing – Gethsemane. Look – “Bind the sacrifice with cords, even unto the horns of the altar” (v. 27). What was Gethsemane? They bound Him and led Him away from the garden, but His interpretation of that binding was of “a sacrifice… even unto the horns of the altar”; not tied to the horns of the altar, but bound with a view to being led toward the altar. That is the meaning here: ‘Bind and lead to the altar.’

This puts a new light upon Gethsemane, upon the bonds, the captivity, does it not? This is not man’s prevailing, this is not man overcoming, this is not man’s triumph. This is the Lamb of God allowing Himself to be led to the altar. For that is the next thing after the singing. He has sung: “Bind the sacrifice… even unto the horns of the altar”; and forthwith He goes. He goes to Gethsemane, then to the betrayal, then to the judgment hall, and then to the Cross. There is the Divine side of all that, but here you see faith taking hold of this human side, as men regard and interpret it, and turning it into the redemption of the world.

The Lord’s Enlargement Through The Cross

In verse 5 again – “Out of my distress I called upon the Lord: the Lord answered me and set me in a large place.” Are these words of the Lord Jesus? Yes: out of His distress He cried: “O My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass away from Me”. “And being in an agony He prayed more earnestly…” “Father, if this cannot pass away, except I drink it, Thy will be done” (Matt. 26:39, 42; Luke 22:44). “Out of my distress I cried…”; and, although it does not seem that the Lord answered and delivered, an Apostle says that Hewas heard (Heb. 5:7). And how was He heard? Have we the proof that He was heard and answered? “The Lord answered me and set me in a large place.” A large place? Yes, a very large place He is in. How enlarged was our Lord through His Cross! “How am I straitened”, He said–“how am I straitened till it be accomplished!” (Luke 12:50). This was enlargement through suffering: His passion meant enlargement, release from limitation. But it is the voice of faith. As He goes to the Cross, faith goes beyond the Cross and claims the answer of life, not death; enlargement, not limitation. We could dwell quite a long time upon the enlargement that has come to the Lord Jesus through suffering by faith, and this we hope to do in later messages.

Life, Liberty And Enlargement For Us In Christ

But what a testimony this is to the mercy of God. This is the point. I said a little earlier that this ‘I’ of the Psalm is an inclusive and collective ‘I’. In the first place, it is the nation speaking in this personal way, using this personal pronoun “I”. Now it is taken up in relation to the Lord Jesus – “I shall not die”. But, you see, it is not just personal. We know that the Lord Jesus had no need to go to the Cross for Himself. It has often been pointed out that those words used much later by an Apostle – “Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and hath sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2) – should be translated: “Who, instead of the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despised shame, and sat down…”, and it takes you to the mount of transfiguration.

The mount of transfiguration was the seal to the perfection of His moral character. There is no transfiguration or glorification apart from moral perfection, and so God gave Him the great witness that He was perfect, that He saw no fault in Him, that He had passed the scrutiny of the eyes of Divine holiness, and there was not a flaw or a blemish in Him: He was perfect. Therefore He had a right to go from the mount of transfiguration right through to the glory for aye. The glory was His: it was declared His, it was shown to be His, it was His. But instead of the joy that was set in front of Him, He turned round and came down and endured the Cross, and if you will look at the context of these words in Hebrews, you will find that it was all because of ourselves – that He was not going to glory without us. Bringing many sons to glory necessitated His coming down, foregoing for the time being His right, His immediate right, to the glory, and enduring the Cross. You remember how, in that same letter to the Hebrews, it is put into the mouth of the Lord Himself: “I and the children whom God hath given Me” (Heb. 2:13). “He is not ashamed to call them brethren” (2:11).

So this glorious Psalm, with its wonderful background in the life of the Lord Jesus and by the Cross of the Lord Jesus, gathers us in. We are in this collective ‘I’. We come into the good of this. “I shall not die, but live.” “The Lord answered me and set me in a large place.” It is true, is it not? It is true. We have that life triumphant over death. He has given that life to us; it is ours. It is not only ours in that general way – “the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23) – but it is a testimony for all our life, something for now. It is a life which has come out of His death, and has overcome death in Him. It is for us. Do not let us lose the force of that by familiarity. It is to be a testimony every day. What we have in Christ is to be experienced and manifested every day, and it can be.

But then – and upon this we shall dwell very much more fully – what enlargement we have in Christ from our limitation! How infinitely great is the place into which we have been brought, how immeasurable are the resources, how vast are the ranges, how potent are the forces into which we have come in Christ through His death!

I close by reminding you of this – that while it is all concluded in Him, that where He is concerned there is nothing more to be done in this matter: it is full and it is final, and He has entered into His rest, has sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in the heavens; nothing through which we go can add to that, nothing which we experience can take from it; nevertheless, in a sense – not vicariously, not atoningly, not in the sense of His great redemptive work – but in a sense of fellowship with Him while He is still rejected in this world, and of humiliation in fellowship with Him, the principle still remains: that is, that life and enlargement come through adversity and faith’s triumph therein. It is the law of life. Faith’s triumph in adversity issues in life and enlargement.

We shall see more fully how true that is. The Bible is just full of it. Given a real test of faith, much adversity and opposition, everything hemming in, circling round – ‘all nations compassed me about, they compassed me about, they compassed me about’ – you see, it is reiterated, it is very real – nevertheless, nevertheless, that only constitutes the challenge to faith. Faith looks upon that as its opportunity, and when faith comes out in its declaration over against all that, and says, “I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord”, that is the highway to a new experience of life and a new range of fullness – to enlargement by way of faith’s challenge and faith’s victory.

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God’s New Israel

heart-circumcised

God’s New Israel
by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 3 – The Foundation Law of God’s New Israel

“And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be thou perfect. And I will make my covenant between me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly. And Abram fell on his face: and God talked with him, saying, As for me, behold, my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be the father of a multitude of nations. Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for the father of a multitude of nations have I made thee. And I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee. And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee and to thy seed after thee. And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land of thy sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God. And God said unto Abraham, And as for thee, thou shalt keep my covenant, thou, and thy seed after thee throughout their generation. This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; every male among you shall be circumcised” (Genesis 17:1-10).

“For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God” (Romans 2:28,29).

“In whom ye were also circumcised with a circumcision not made with hands, in the putting off of the body of the flesh, in the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with him in baptism, wherein ye were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead” (Colossians 2:11,12).

“For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that one died for all, therefore all died; and he died for all, that they which live should no longer live unto themselves, but unto him who for their sakes died and rose again” (2 Corinthians 5:14,15).

“For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God, and glory in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh” (Philippians 3:3).

The Covenant of Separation and DistinctivenessWe ought to add Scriptures to those, for there are many more which are of the same nature, but these are sufficient to bring us to the point of our consideration, which is the foundation law of God’s Israel, the law of God’s covenant, and that covenant is symbolized in circumcision. The sign of the covenant with Abraham was circumcision. In the Old Testament it was literal and material. In the New Testament it is spiritual, but the meaning is the same. It is a spiritual law of God’s Israel and that law is separation and distinctiveness. It lays down the law that God’s Israel is a separate people; separate from all other people, and different from all other people – clearly distinguished from all other people. Did you notice, as we read those Scriptures, that God said to Abraham that He would make many nations out of his seed? Now God is taking out of the nations a people for His Name, something in the nations, but separate from the nations, and that law of separation and difference is the foundation of God’s Israel.

We can see God keeping to that law in the Old Testament. It is written that “the God of glory appeared unto… Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Haran, and said unto him, Get thee out!” (Acts 7:2). Later, Moses was in Egypt, and God just sovereignly took him out before He did anything else. Moses had to be out of Egypt first, and that was a very thorough thing, as you would think if you were out in a wilderness for forty years! Then the Lord sent Moses back into Egypt to get the people out, and the Word is: “Out of Egypt did I call my son” (Matthew 2:15). God could not proceed with His purpose until He had got His people out, for there is a place where God will fulfil His purpose, and He will not fulfil it anywhere else. I would like you to put a lot of lines under that statement, for I think it is the key to everything. Let me say it again: there is a place where God will fulfil His purpose, and He will do it nowhere else. God means business. He is a God of purpose, and He is very serious about His purpose, which is a purpose of blessing. To Abram He said: “I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee… and in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 12:2,3). God’s purpose is a purpose of blessing; blessing to the instrument that He will use and to the people to whom He uses that instrument. “I will bless thee… and thou shalt be a blessing”. That is the purpose of God, and I say it with a strong voice, because I know that some will say: ‘If we are going this way it is going to be a very difficult way. We are going to have to give up everything!’ Well, wait a little while – we have not finished yet!

We make this statement: God’s purpose is to bless and to make a blessing, but it demands a position. The blessing and the vocation depend upon where we are. Of course, in the Old Testament it was literal. Abraham was in Ur of the Chaldees, and God said: ‘You must get out of this city. I am not going to do anything here! I must have you somewhere else.’ In the New Testament it is spiritual. Where do you live? In Bern, in Zurich, in New York, in London, in Paris, or in some other city? God is not saying to you: ‘Get out of Paris!’ or any of these cities, but He is saying, just as forcefully: ‘Get out!’ You may be living in your body in a city, but you may not find your life there. You may have been born there, physically, but now, as a true Israelite, you were never born there. You were born from above.

God’s covenant is bound up with this spiritual position, and we must really take serious notice of this. God has made a covenant with His Israel, but that covenant demands that they are out of somewhere and in somewhere else, and for us that means a different spiritual position. God’s covenant is a covenant of blessing, of life, of service – that is, Divine vocation – but all that blessing, that life and that vocation are bound up with this matter of spiritual position. Spiritually we are out and we are different. That first Israel is not now in blessing, nor in life, nor is it in the Divine vocation. It is where the Lord Jesus said it would be if it rejected Him – in outer darkness, where there would be weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth, and for these many centuries the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem has fulfilled that prophecy! Why is that? There is one little fragment of Scripture which is tremendous but it has a terrible statement in it: “The covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt;which my covenant they brake” (Jeremiah 31:32). Israel broke the covenant of separation and distinctiveness.

A Circumcised HeartNow we come to this matter of circumcision. I can only touch it very lightly, for it is a very delicate matter.

We have seen that in the Old Testament circumcision is a type, or symbol, for in the New Testament it is stated that circumcision of the heart – not in the flesh, but in the spirit – and it just means this: a heart that is wholly devoted to the Lord. By that symbol the seed of Abraham became God’s exclusive people for the time being, and everything that we have in the Old Testament about God’s wish for this people shows us how jealous He was over those people. God called Himself their husband (Jeremiah 31:32), and there was never a more jealous husband than He! Let Israel have anything to do with any other husband and you will hear the thunder, and the weeping, of the Prophets, God was so jealous for Israel.

Now see what Paul says about the covenant seed of Abraham. He heads this whole thing up into Christ: “Now to Abraham were the promises spoken, and to his seed. He saith not, And to seeds as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ” (Galatians 3:16). “He is not a Jew which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew (or an Israelite), which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit.” So Jesus Christ is the seed of Abraham, and Paul speaks of the circumcision of Christ.

Let me ask you a question: Has there ever lived on this earth a person more utterlycommitted to God than the Lord Jesus? He was indeed separated unto God, and different from all others. No one has ever borne the marks of spiritual circumcision more than the Lord Jesus. He was the Man of the undivided heart.

Let us go back into the Old Testament to that great Messianic chapter, Isaiah 53: “He shall see his seed… He shall see of the travail of his soul.” Well, we know more than the Prophet Isaiah knew about that! We have been with Him in Gethsemane in the time of the travail of His soul, and we are with Him, on the other side of the travail. How many are the seed of Christ since then! Dear friends, if ever you are tempted to think that Christians are few, and that we are only a very small people in the millions of this world – open the windows! Look into the book of the Revelation: “A great multitude, which no man could number… ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands.” The number cannot be expressed in human language – and they have been gathered since the travail of the Lord Jesus. He is indeed seeing His seed! Gethsemane has been the most fruitful garden in all history – and you and I are of His seed! We are born out of His travail and are in the covenant made with the new Israel.

But do remember that the meaning and the value of the covenant depend upon our devotion to the Lord! This is a thing which is so evident: the greatest fruitfulness has always come from the lives most devoted to the Lord, the people of the undivided heart. This covenant has two sides. As we have already said, the New Testament takes many warnings from the history of Israel, and we may fail of all that that covenant means if our hearts are divided and we try to live life in two worlds. Let us look at a little incident in the life of Abraham.

It is in chapter 15, when God came to make His covenant with Abraham and his seed, and something happened which many people have not been able to understand. The Lord commanded Abraham to bring certain things for a sacrifice either to a large altar, or to two altars, for the Lord told him to divide the sacrifices in two and to put one half on one side and the other half on the other side. Now notice that these are two sides of the covenant. On the one side is Abraham and his seed and on the other side is God. God is about to enter into a covenant with Abraham and his seed, but the covenant has two sides. Now notice what happens! The vultures came down to try and steal the sacrifices. How greatly significant this is! All the powers of darkness are against this covenant, and all those evil fowls of the air are out to rob God and His people of this covenant. It says that Abraham beat them off. His rod was busy that day, and the vultures said: ‘It is no good. We had better give up and get away from here.’ Then Abraham went to sleep and “an horror of great darkness fell upon him”. My point, and, I believe, the point of the Scripture is this: there is always a terrible battle with hell to secure a life utterly committed to God. No one who is going to be utterly for Him is easily won.

It may be that battle is going on in this very room. If the devil can prevent you from being utterly for God he is going to make a great big fight for it. Is that battle going on? The battle of the very covenant, the covenant in heart circumcision, a heart wholly for the Lord, a heart that is right out for God. If Satan can prevent that he will put up a good fight. What is your attitude to this? Are you careless about it? God alone knows how much is involved in it. Oh, take the rod of God and lay about these evil forces! Stand for the covenant! And when you have made that stand the evil forces will withdraw, the darkness will go.

There is a change of atmosphere in this story. At first the atmosphere is full of conflict and fear, for it is “an horror of great darkness”. There is a battle in the very atmosphere over this matter, but when Abraham has fought the battle for the covenant the whole atmosphere changes and becomes one of victory. If we put the history of many consecrated believers into this story, there would be many testimonies like this: ‘My, there was a tremendous battle over this matter! I was full of fears, but I took a stand, and with God’s help I came to a decision. I stepped over on to God’s side of the covenant and said: “Lord, I am Yours! I am with You!” then peace came, the peace of His victory. I went to bed that night feeling as though I had come out of a great battle, but it was into great peace.’

That is all in this little story in Genesis 15. It may be your story! This is something of what it means to have a heart that is circumcised, for the circumcised heart is a heart set free from all self-interest. Was that true of Abraham? After many years what had seemed impossible came to pass and God gave him a son; and that son was God’s miracle. You would expect Abraham to say: ‘God gave me that son and I am going to hold on to him. I will never let him go, because God gave him to me.’ There was a little boy once, and a baby came into the home. One day the mother said to the little boy: ‘We are going to take Baby to the meeting and give him to the Lord.’ The little boy’s face fell, and he said: ‘Mummy, you can lend him to the Lord, but we must have him back again.’ You know, that is the kind of consecration that a lot of Christians make; they have some personal interest in their consecration. But about that God-given gift to Abraham God said: ‘Take him and offer him!’ Friends, learn this lesson! Do not think that because God has given you something by a miracle you can take it for yourself. I will not try to say what it might be. It might be your very ministry, for there is always a peril of taking our ministry and using it for ourselves. But Abraham was truly circumcised in heart, and the same was true of Hannah. How long she waited for that child Samuel, and how much she suffered! How earnestly she prayed! And then, at last, God gave her the child. What did she say? ‘Thank you, Lord. I will never let this child go now!’? No, she said: ‘For this child I prayed and the Lord has given me my request. Therefore I have given him to the Lord for as long as he lives.’ She, too, was circumcised in heart.

From some of his Psalms we know that the one great ambition of David’s life was to build the temple, and he worked and sacrificed for that temple. He said: “I will not come into the tabernacle of my house, nor go up into my bed; I will not give sleep to mine eyes, or slumber to mine eyelids until I find out a place for the Lord, a tabernacle for the Mighty One of Jacob.” (Psalm 132:3-5). He was collecting private money, as well as materials for the temple, for he said: “I have a treasure of mine own of gold and silver” (1 Chronicles 29:3). Then he received the pattern of the temple from the Lord, and said: ‘The time has come, and my life’s ambition is about to be realized. The one thing for which I have lived is now going to be mine – but what is that? Someone is at the door. Come in! Oh, it is a Prophet. Yes, my friend, what have you come to say?’ ‘I have come to tell you from the Lord, David, that you shall not build the house. Thy son shall build it.’ What did David do? What would you do? Well, what did David do? He said: ‘It does not matter about my disappointment! The thing is that the Lord must have what He wants. My interests are nothing beside His interests.’ So he gave everything to Solomon. Perhaps he had seen something more: “And I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever” (Psalm 23:6), and that is better than any earthly house!

We never lose anything when the Lord has everything, and that is what it means to have a circumcised heart. May that be true of everyone!

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When You Pass Through The Waters

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Editor’s Letters
by T. Austin-Sparks

September 1926

 

“When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.”

Gracious promise! But given to the redeemed: those who have accomplished the “exodus”; who are “out.”

The witness to a Redeeming God always brings tribulation. The Blood while it saves and speaks to us the continually better things is also uttering its loud challenge of God’s wrath and judgment against principalities and powers, which in turn stir up in hellish rage and opposition the carnal mind of this world.

The moment God’s “Now” has been fulfilled in your heart, and through the Cross of Jesus, the Christ of God, you have passed out of death into life, you are a living factor for God in an actively hostile world. Do not think for a single instant that you will escape the malignity of this Egypt. The prince of this world held you in bondage as long as he could, and now that through the Blood you are out of that captivity, he pursues you yet with all the forces at his command to prevent you reaching that Mount Zion.

What then? It is still the Blood of the Lamb that shall be his destruction and your salvation! The deep is cleft for you because of the Blood; you shall pass through rage and tempest inviolate.

There is nearly always manifest immediately after some escape from the snare of evil the sudden and well-nigh overwhelming rage and activity of the enemy: the waters, the rivers, the fire, and the flame. New births enrage Herods and Pharaohs. The sword of the destroyer is immediately athirst. You may expect “liveliness” when through the Blood you have made some further step in the pilgrimage of your faith. At such moments the newly released spirit that had commenced its song of deliverance is threatened with the reactions of dismay at the fury of the oppressor, and the song is suddenly hushed in the face of the apparent turning of the battle against one. Steady! Listen to the Voice of Thy Beloved. “Fear not, for I have redeemed thee. I have called thee by thy name; thou art Mine.” The Blood of the Eternal Covenant would again speak its blessed message to our hearts. We are to go forward unflinchingly through the deep, through the floods; and through the fire and the flame. This is the way of His Cross.

It needs this faith in the faithfulness of our God if we are to go through. To commence to run is good. That first leap of faith is joyous. But there is the long race, the patient continuance, the meeting of lions in the path, the fiery trials.

The apostle gloried in these. The activities of adversaries were to him the evidence of strategic positions to be won. The rage of the enemy an indication that sword thrusts were taking effect. And so the word to many a warrior who stands in a field of dire conflict and fierce oppression is “Stand fast! Stand fast!” “Fear not… redeemed… The Blood… Thou art MINE.”

Strike hard with the “spoken word” of the Testimony, and stand firmly upon the ground you have taken.

Yours in His courage,
T. AUSTIN-SPARKS,
T. MADOC-JEFFREYS.

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