THE WILL OF GOD IN RELATION TO HIS PEOPLE
BY: T. AUSTIN-SPARKS
TITLE and SUBTITLES
OBEDIENCE TO THE WORK OF GOD
God Moving According To Purpose
“I Am The Way:”
“I Am The Truth”
“I Am The Life”
The Divine Law of Realizing the Divine Purpose
The Results of Failure to Obey God’s Word
The Trustee of the Word
THE LAW OF RENUNCIATION
The Great Renunciation
The Distortion o Good into Evil
What Is It For?
God’s Vindication in the Creation of Man
The Law of Enlargement
SEEING THE LORD JESUS
Caught Up in the Goings Of God
The Sin That Doth So Easily Beset Us
Vision Essential to Progress
Vision Essential for Unity
Vision an Emancipating Power
Vision the Great Battleground
These writings are from the 1970 July-December “A Witness and a Testimony” magazines. They are based upon a message given in March 1969.
In order to retain the emphasis of certain statements and words, italics have been substituted with CAPITALS for publishing on the Internet.
OBEDIENCE TO THE WORD OF GOD
These messages and this ministry are based upon a three-fold supposition, or assumption:
1. That you have a very real concern to know the will of God.
2. That you are quite prepared to consider anything that may be a help to you in that direction.
3. That you are of a mind to obey any light that the Lord may give as to His will.
Given that foundation, I think the Lord will find a clear way of meeting us and speaking to us.
The business of any servant of the Lord is, perhaps in many ways, to bring His people to know what is His will concerning them, and it is on the heart of this servant of the Lord, if He will help, to give you a fuller understanding of what that good and perfect will of God is. We will come back to that more specifically as we go on.
The Bible, which is the charter of the Christian faith, is altogether occupied with that one thing. You can read through your Bible, and perhaps you will find some of it rather tedious, and other things you might not understand, but the whole Bible, altogether, is concerned with that one thing – the will of God. So it is as well to read the Bible everywhere in that relationship: What has this to do with the will of God?
GOD MOVING ACCORDING TO PURPOSE
In other words, the Bible is a revelation of God moving according to purpose. That is only another way of speaking about the will of God. God is seen, from the first words in the Bible to the last, moving according to purpose, moving IN and WITH purpose. He is a God who is motivated by one final and all-inclusive object, which we understand in New Testament language as God’s eternal purpose.
The first section of the Bible, which consists of the first five Books, shows us, clearly, fully and meticulously, God moving according to purpose. It is a section of movement forward, and although in the fifth book, the Book of Deuteronomy, there is a retrospective aspect, a looking back with this word: “Thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord thy God hath led thee” (8:2) even that retrospective aspect has a forward aspect connected with it, for the remembering is related to what is yet to be. As you know, it is the book of people between a past history and a new history of the future, and it is looking back to pick up the lessons of the past in order to carry them into the future. So we move into the Book of Joshua with all that the past history has taught as the foundation, and how meticulous the Lord is in that book of Deuteronomy! He is reiterating and re-emphasizing, and laying a very sound and very particular foundation for the future. It is important to note that in the light of what we are going to say, for we are going to be occupied with the laws of God by which His will – which is His purpose – is realized, fulfilled and accomplished in His people. So all this first section has the future in view, with the will of God governing.
The last section of the Old Testament, the Prophets, is occupied with the tragedy of lost purpose. The cry of the Prophets is that God’s will has not been realized and fulfilled. It is a tragic cry of failure and disappointment, and you must listen to it, for as you listen to these Prophets and hear their anguished cry over these people, you are hearing just this: ‘What God meant has not been realized, and that is a terrible thing!’ The Prophets have a voice of tragedy, pathos and anguish, because God has been disappointed over His purpose in these people, and they have missed what He intended for them.
So we have the first and last sections of the Old Testament. We are not here occupied with the whole of the Old Testament, but just notice these in connection with the will of God. Of course, I am talking about the big, comprehensive will of God, not about what we might call the little wills of God with which we are occupied every day when we say: ‘What is the Lord’s will for me in this, or that?’ No, that is not what I am talking about but, mark you, all those expressions of the Divine will in the particular matters and situations are gathered into the big will, and until you get into that big will, you really do not have the ground for the little wills of God, the particular application of that will.
Turn over to the New Testament, and in the first section God is taking up His purpose again. Now He is taking it up in the Person of His Son, and in Him the purpose and will of God is embodied and personified. Now it is all gathered into a PERSON. It has been expressed, as the writer of the Hebrew Letter says, in many different ways and “by divers portions” at different times. Now the whole thing is summed up in the Person of Jesus Christ, who says: “I am come… to do thy will O God” (Hebrews 10:7) This whole will and purpose of God, therefore, is personified, or incarnated, in Jesus Christ, God’s Son; and although you have heard that a thousand times and have listened to many, many messages about it, it may not have occurred to you that there is one statement by the Lord Jesus which comprehends all this: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.“ (John 14:6) That is a comprehensive statement as to the whole will of God.
“I AM THE WAY”
What do you have a way for? To get somewhere! A way implies a goal, a moving toward an object. ‘I am the way of this eternal purpose of God. I am the way of its realization. I am the way, the embodiment of the will of God.’ “I am come to do thy will, O my God.” The way is a Person.
“I AM THE TRUTH”
That simple clause, or definition, is so immense that it needs many hours! Men have been preaching on it for centuries. In effect the Lord Jesus is saying: ‘I am set in a realm which has been deceived and led away from the will of God, from the Divine purpose. I am in a world that is now a lie in its constitution. I am the truth over against all that which is false in the human race, in the creation, in this universe.’ If the will of God is all-comprehending, vast, and great, the lie of the devil is an immense thing, and it is something that has to be overcome in you, in me, and in the whole race. Truth has to be put into our constitution to destroy the lie that is there.
I dare not dwell upon that, but just indicate it in the connection with which we are concerned – the will of God. “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.“ (John 8:32) We talk about ‘conversion,’ and, you know, a fundamental factor in conversion, in turning round in the opposite way, is turning from what is false to what is true, coming INTO the truth of God, as to why we have a being in His purpose, why He is dealing with us as He is according to His great will, and what it all means. Do you and I not need every day to know the good of that conversion, the real and true meaning of God in Christ for us?
“I AM THE LIFE”
We have far too small an idea of that! There is a marvelous statement in the Letter of Paul to the Colossians, where he speaks of the life, which God foreordained unto His glory. Before ever the world was created and man upon it, God’s thought was centered in this thing called ‘life’. It was in His eternal counsels. That is the battleground of the ages, and is the key to so much – what God means by life, the life of God’s eternal purpose, the life of His all-captivating will, the life which the Lord Jesus is.
This is the day which is called ‘Good Friday’ and we were reading this morning of the Lord Jesus, having received the sentence of crucifixion, walking toward the Hill with Simon carrying His Cross, and the women of Jerusalem weeping and wailing for Him. I was impressed again with the way in which He turned to them and said: ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for Me. There is no need to weep for Me. You weep for yourselves and for your children, but not for Me!’ What does that mean? That this Cross, toward which He was going, on which He was going so soon to be impaled, and all that was going to fall upon Him there, was not the end. The women may have thought so, but He knew that it was not. Even then tears for Him were not justified: .”.. who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross…” (Hebrews 12:2) The way of the Cross was life, not death. This was how He was going to secure that for which He had come, and which God had intended for man all down the ages, and from before the world was.
“I AM the way, the truth, and the life.” Dear friends, we cannot get outside of that! If we comprehended what those three terms mean, that would be all that we need. They compass everything.
The New Testament, then, introduces this eternal will and purpose of God in a Person; but what is the rest of the New Testament about after the Gospels? It is simply the working out of these three things. All the rest of the New Testament is gathered into the way that Christ is, the truth that is in Jesus, and the life that is by His death and resurrection.
Having said that, we can come to our particular message for this time.
THE DIVINE LAWS OF REALIZING THE DIVINE PURPOSE
We must read some Scriptures to get to this: “This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth, but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.“ (or, as the margin says, “deal wisely”) – (Joshua 1:8)
“And now, O Israel, hearken unto the statutes and unto the judgement, which I teach you, for to do them; that ye may live, and go in and possess the land which the Lord, the God of your fathers, giveth you. Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you.“ (Deuteronomy 4:1, 2)
“These words, which I command thee this day, shall be upon thine heart: and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shall talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be for frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the door posts of thy house, and upon thy gates.“ (Deuteronomy 6:6-9)
“He answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.“ (Matthew 4:4)
The Divine laws of realizing the Divine purpose of knowing, of doing the will of God, which is the ultimate thing in Christianity. Here it is perfectly clear that it is the law of the absolute government of the Word of God.
We have read from Joshua, and we have intimated already that the Book of Joshua is the resumption, after a nation’s failure and perishing in the wilderness, of the Divine will and purpose, and moving forward now under that government. Right there at the beginning, the foundation of this new movement and all that is involved in it, all that it means against a repetition of the failure and tragedy that has been, is the meticulous observance of the Word of God. The Word and the will of God go together, and there is no progress in this great calling into which you and I are called in the mind, the purpose and the will of God except by the Word of God. There must be obedience to the Word, the cherishing of the Word, the binding of the Word upon our lives in all matters. I have said how meticulous the Lord was in that Book of Deuteronomy because, on the one side, there was the terrible tragedy which had taken place and, on the other side, the tremendous prospect. There, in chapter after chapter, He is saying: ‘Remember what I said? Remember what I said! Call to remembrance all that I have said to you.’ The law of prospect is the government of God’s Word. The people had been forty years on probation in the wilderness, and the one thing that stood over that forty years was a testing of the heart as to the Word of God. Remember Deuteronomy 8:2: “And thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord thy God hath led thee these forty years in the wilderness, that He might humble thee, to PROVE thee, to know what was in thine heart, WHETHER THOU WOULDEST KEEP HIS COMMANDMENTS, OR NO.” In other words: ‘Whether thou wouldest obey His Word, and what place His Word had in thy heart.’
The probation of life is always the testing of a wilderness experience. The trials of the journey and of the experiences are, in God’s mind, to see what is in our hearts, whether we really have a heart for the Lord and whether, after all our professions and protestations, the will of God is really THE thing which governs our whole life. The Lord is trying us out on that – “Whether thou wouldest keep his commandments or no.” The testing is by the Word of God, and perhaps we know something of that daily?
So we come to Joshua, and a new phase begins on the other side of Jordan with a reaffirmation that the Word of God is to be kept always before the face, on their arms, on their foreheads, on the thresholds of their homes. The Word is always there to govern them. They were a called people, called by God out of Egypt, and called by His name, but the calling is not enough. We have all been called, but, after the call, comes the testing; then, when the testing has been proved, we are chosen.
THE RESULTS OF FAILURE TO OBEY GOD’S WORD
Everything in the Word of God turns upon this one thing: the government of God’s Word. Where the Word of God was not honored there was disaster, and because of failure to do what God had made known as to His will there was calamity. Again and again in the Old Testament we find disaster as the result of a failure to keep the Word of God always before them. Even Moses, who had sacrificed and suffered so much for those people, was at the last forbidden by the Lord to ask any more that he might go into the land. Why? Because the Lord had said something and Moses had not meticulously observed what He had said. ‘Well,’ you say, ‘that is terrible! He is a hard God.’ Ah! but you must remember that it was not just Moses – Moses has attained and obtained now, for he was with Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration – but it was the people for ever afterwards who had to learn this lesson: you cannot violate anything that the Lord has said without forfeiting and losing something.
Then we remember David bringing the ark up to Jerusalem and making a new cart on which to carry it. But there was a disaster on the way. The whole thing, about which they seemed to be having such a good time and feeling that they were being prospered and blessed of the Lord – turned into that threshing-floor calamity. Uzzah died before the Lord, and David was angry with Him that day. He turned the ark aside and went and sulked, nursing his grievance with the Lord. But he got over that, and we do get over these things! We have those bad times with the Lord, but when we get over them He is able to show us the meaning of what He has done. David went back to the Word of the Lord and found the Lord’s instructions about the carrying of the ark. He had not said: ‘Thou shalt make a new cart’. That was not in the Word at all, indeed, it was another heathen idea. Then David saw and said: ‘Oh, it is written that the Levites shall carry the ark.’ The tragedy of that day, with the all good intentions, was because the Word of God was overlooked and missed, but the Lord never overlooks His Word.
There may be many secret tragedies in our lives, many arrests in our spiritual progress, not because our motives were not good, but the best motives may just miss the particular thought of God, and He does not substitute a good motive for something that He has laid down as law.
This all sounds very terrible, but we must take it further, and this is where our hearts are really going to be touched. The answer to these failures was not just a sort of legal, mechanical way of observing some statement in the Bible. The issue was very much bigger than that! If you will look at every such instance in the Old Testament, the big and the small, you will see that it was always a matter of the Lord’s presence. Do you remember Ai? What had the Lord said about the principles of spiritual progress? You know what He had said! The people came to Ai, and you know what Achan did. He violated the Word of God, and the whole of Israel was arrested in their progress, brought to a standstill and there was a scene of tragedy. But what was the real tragedy? The manifest presence of the Lord had departed! Is not the manifest presence of the Lord everything? Oh, we do not want anything greater than that! Surely there is no heart here which is interested in anything in this life and all this world apart from the presence of the Lord! If only we know that the Lord is with us, what a lot of difference that makes! There may be a lot of victories, a lot of strength, yes, there may be conflicts, as there were with Joshua afterwards, there may be many problems and many difficulties in life, but if only we are assured that the Lord is with us, that is everything, is it not? I tell you that is my battleground all the way along. The devil is so cruel, using the very discipline of God meant to bring us into His greater fullness, using those trials as accusations against God, and making us feel that because of this situation and circumstance, this trial, this difficulty, this thing that is so hard, the Lord is not with us. Don’t you listen to that lie! You will be absolutely worsted, ruled out of all the conflict and the possession if you take on that lie of the devil.
The presence of the Lord is the battleground. What can we do without His presence? How can we get on without it? What would our meetings be but for His presence? If only we are able to say after our prayer-meetings: ‘The LORD was with us. He was there and we knew His presence.’ That is life, and that is strength.
Now all that in the Bible, as you see, hung upon this Word of God. He is with us according to His Word, on the basis of His Word and He is only with us as His Word is in our hearts. So the Apostle says: “Let the word of God dwell in you richly in all wisdom.“ (Colossians 3:16) and that is the Presence of the Lord. He stood back at Ai and in the incident in David’s life because of the defaulting over His Word. And it is always like that.
THE TRUSTEE OF THE WORD
The Holy Spirit! You see, He is present as a jealous Trustee of the Word, will and purpose of God. I thank God for that! You are probably thinking: ‘This is rather oppressive, rather heavy, exacting, demanding and rather hard!’ Oh, yes, that is true and right, BUT the Holy Spirit…! For what has He come? Why is He here? Why is He in us? He is, as I have said, the jealous custodian of the Word of God. He is very watchful. He is referred to as the “seven Spirits of God” (Revelation 3:1), which means complete spiritual knowledge, discernment and perception. If I may put it in this way, the Holy Spirit is here in trust with the will of God, in trust with the purpose of God, and, therefore, in trust with the Word of God, for these things all go together. The known presence of the Holy Spirit, and the working of the energy of the Holy Spirit are all in this connection – to bring us, by way of the Word of God, to the end to which we have been called. The Word of God is the ground of the Holy Spirit’s activity. You see that illustrated here in the Old Testament. The Spirit of God is in charge. He is the Captain of the hosts of the Lord. In the New Testament the Holy Spirit has come to dwell within in order to keep us on the line of the Word of God, and if we are sensitive to Him, without perhaps knowing the particular Scripture that applies, we shall know that something is not right. We are just out of adjustment with the Lord. There is something that does not say: ‘That is right and good and proper.’ There is a sort of pause in us. The Holy Spirit knows why that is, and if we will seek the Lord about it and turn to His Word, He will just put His finger on something; and we say: ‘Why, that has been there all the time, but here my situation just contradicts it.’ So we are tested by the Word as to the heart, and the Holy Spirit has come for that. It is the ground for His working.
Let me say to young Christians, out of a long experience, that, although you may not understand a great deal of the Bible, and you may not seem to enjoy it, READ it! Even if it is labor, read it, work at it, get down to it. You know, you have a tape recorder inside you! We have a lot of tapes in the office of messages spread over many years. Sometimes one is asked for and we look it out, and just occasionally I want to hear a bit of it. Then I say: ‘Did I say that? Oh, yes, it is coming back to me now from somewhere far away. Yes, I did say it.’ Have you tried to remember something, someone’s name, some person or some particular thing, but it has gone? ‘What WAS that person’s name? When was it that THAT happened? Where was it? Oh, I give it up!’ Do you? If you understand anything about psychology, you won’t give it up. When it happens with me my folk say: ‘He has gone away!’ I cannot let go of that thing until I have remembered it! I am not looking anywhere for it, but I set my mind to recover it, and then the point comes where I feel utterly defeated. But I have learnt something, and I let go. Later on, the thing just comes floating into my mind. Where has it come from? My tape recorder, speaking back after perhaps many years. Have you had that experience?
The Word of God is like that. I am so glad that in my early Christian life I set myself to a systematic study of the Bible, book by book. I did not understand it all, indeed, there are many things today that I do not understand, but in those days I could often have closed the book because it did not seem to mean anything. But I worked at it; I analyzed the books without spiritual understanding, but I worked – and am I not glad today! If I have any spiritual ministry today it is the Holy Spirit working upon what is there. The Word is there, and the Spirit works upon it. In times of need it becomes more than the Word – it becomes the life.
Young Christians, do not give up the Bible because it is difficult. Work at it, and the time will come when you will say: ‘Thank God for that hard labor over the Bible!’ One of the greatest, if not the greatest, Bible expositors of this last century said to me once: ‘Sometimes it is such a weariness in my work with the Bible that I almost wish there was no Bible there!’ Well, he labored at it, but the fruit of his ministry is all over the world.
The Spirit works upon the Word. Give Him His ground. It is the ground of spiritual progress by the Holy Spirit. There may be an unconscious control of the Word in the sense that you may not know exactly what a Scripture is, but you know there is something that has got hold of you. That is the Spirit working. The thing is written inside you by the Spirit. The new covenant is written upon the heart.
That is the beginning; but what does this mean after all? It may still seem objective to you, just things said, but spiritual progress in the will of God unto the full purpose of God in our calling means that demands will not be made without a very meticulous observance of what is in the Bible.
Why this word today? Oh, it is born out of a tremendous amount of exercise over recent years! Why the weakness of Christianity today? Why the weakness of so many Christians? Why the slowness of their spiritual progress? Why the failure of so many? I put my finger upon a large number of things that are here in the Word of God, as clearly to be seen as anything can be, and I look at those Christians and find that in their behavior, in their appearance, in their conduct and way of going on, in their relationships there is just as clear and definite a contradiction of what is here in the Bible as anything could be. The Bible has something to say about anything that you can think of. If I mentioned some of the things that the Bible speaks of, you would be surprised: ‘The Bible says something about THAT?’ Yes, it does! What is the meaning of the tragedy of so many marriages? That is a practical point! Then you go behind and ask: ‘Why did the marriage take place at all? On what ground? A fascination? An infatuation? An emotion? An impulse? A desire to be married anyhow?’ It is a tragedy, because that marriage was not based upon a real spiritual relatedness. The first thing was not given its place, because there were other interests. The Word says precisely: “Be not unequally yoked with unbelievers.” (2 Corinthians 6:14) Are you going to make spiritual progress if you violate that? No! There will certainly be tragedy sooner or later. I take that as an example, but I could mention many other things that I am seeing in Christianity today.
I am trying to be faithful with you young Christians, because I am deeply concerned for you that you do not miss God’s best, God’s fullest, and so I say that that depends upon your having the Word of God in you, so that the Holy Spirit can touch something and say: ‘Now, what about this?’ I want to be serious on this matter, because it is a pressing issue in Christianity today. The Christianity that is being produced now is a terrible caricature of Christ. Young Christians, having God’s fullest and best depends upon your being serious about the Word of God.
There is the other side, of course, and what a blessed thing it is to feel that there is no impediment, no restraint with the Lord, that there is a clear way, and that the presence of the Lord is very real! Heaven is opened! I know of nothing more blessed in all life than those times when there is no cloud between the Lord and myself, and His presence is so real and so wonderful. I wish it were always like that! We sing the hymn:
“These were but seasons, beautiful and rare;
Abide with me, and they shall ever be.”
Well, that is the wrong way of putting it! It should be:
“Let me abide with Thee, and they shall ever be.”
Deviations bring a cloud, but there is nothing more precious in all human history than this joy of the Lord, this peace of God, this sense that the Lord is for you, not against you. You have days, hours, weeks of spiritual ecstasy, and so it is worth it to be obedient and let the Lord’s Word rule in your heart, as the Scripture says.
When the Lord Jesus was dealing with the devil in the wilderness, He was dealing with an evil person, but He was dealing with very much more than that – He was dealing with the whole issue of life and death. The devil was trying to get Him, coerce Him, tempt Him, constrain Him, compel Him to take a way which was out of the will of God and would mean premature death, a death which would be death and not victory. The Lord Jesus was dealing with this whole issue of life and death, so underline and encircle the word: “It is WRITTEN, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” Put that in the positive way, ruling out the negative clause: ‘Man shall LIVE by every word that cometh out of the mouth of God’ – and that is God’s thought.
Suffer this personal word: I was very near to despair a little while ago, especially in the realm of ministry. I went to the Lord, and He turned me to a Scripture which hit me like a sledgehammer: “Preach the word, be instant in season (that is very easy!), out of season (when everything says: ‘This is not the time’), but preach to reprove, rebuke, exhort” – and here we are!
If you have had too much reproof, too much rebuke, well, I exhort you: Give the word its place. The Holy Spirit will do the rest and you will go on the way with unimpeded progress.
THE LAW OF RENUNCIATION
“Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, counted it not a prize to be on an equality with God, but emptied himself, taking the form of a bondservant, being made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death yea, the death of the cross. Wherefore also God highly exalted him, and gave unto him the name which is above every name; that in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven and things on earth and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.“ (Philippians 2:5-11)
“Yea verily, and I count all things to be loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but refuse, that I may gain Christ, and be found in him, not having a righteousness of mine own, even that which is of the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.“ (Philippians 3:8-9)
“By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; choosing rather to be evil entreated with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; accounting the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt.“ (Hebrews 11:24-26)
In this message we shall be occupied with the realization of the Lord’s full will, unto which He has called us. We have already considered that great law of realization and fulfillment, the law of the government of the Word of God. We were able only just to touch the very fringe of that matter, and I can only trust that it at least introduced you to a new consideration, and that, because of that emphasis, you will have a much closer and more devoted regard for the Word of God in every matter of your life. All those who have been of service to the Lord to others have been people of the Word, and not just of the letter of the Word, but of heart relationship with the Word of God. All who have in any way fulfilled the function of spiritual leadership, like Joshua, have, as we saw, been based so strongly and utterly upon the Word of God. It has been like that all the way through, but the greatest Servant of all, the Lord Jesus, was meticulously careful that in everything He moved according to the Word. The Scriptures had such a place in His whole life, conduct, teaching and work, that He became known as “the Word of God.” The Word is not only something written in a book. It has to become personal, personified in life, in character, and in every way if we are going to be of use to others, to be able to fulfill any responsibility at all like those men in the beginning of the Church in Jerusalem and in Antioch, who were men who waited on God for His Word. They did not organize the Church, nor did they decide upon programs, plans and schemes. They never introduced anything until they had waited upon the Lord for His Word about it, asking: ‘Is this according to what is revealed?’ That is the only way of the growth of the Church and its building up.
Well, as you see, that opens a very large door, but we are not going any further with that matter. I just re-emphasize that a binding law of spiritual progress in the individual life, in the church life, local and universal, is the absolute government of the Word of God, to the law and to the testimony. If it is not according thereto, then there will be a hidden peril in it.
So we go on now to another law of this progress in the will of God unto its ultimate realization. We must remember that we are called unto this. It is inherent in our calling, and not something extra to the Christian life, nor something optional in the Christian life. It is fundamental, intrinsic, in the Christian life. So is what we are going to say now about another law of the will and purpose of God in our calling, and it is what is presented to us in the Scriptures which we selected for this purpose out of many others and what I am going to call ‘the law of renunciation.’
THE GREAT RENUNCIATION
In Philippians 2 the Lord Jesus is presented to us in terms of the great renunciation. He was equal with God, but, as the margin says, He regarded that not as something to be grasped, or held on to, tenaciously gripped, but He “emptied himself.” He made the great renunciation in heaven.
The Apostle Paul has caught that mind, which he exhorts Christians to have. He has seen the point! It came to him in the great encounter with the Lord at the beginning of his Christian life. He saw, and then all the other things, however great they were – and they were many and they were great, as he tells us in that Letter to the Philippians – lost their grip on him, because something else had a grip on him, and he says that he made the great renunciation, perhaps not in the same dimension as the Lord Jesus, but for him it was everything, as it was for the Lord. Our everything may not be as great as was the Lord’s everything, but if it is everything, well, that is full and final. Paul says that he counted all these things, this catalogue of advantages, which were his by birth, by upbringing, by training and by acquirement, as refuse. He renounced them all. And by the great renunciation of his Master and of himself the Church has benefited through all these generations – and that is the point we have to come to before long.
Then we read of Moses, though we could have mentioned many others in that chapter 11 of Hebrews. We picked out Moses, who renounced all that he had in Egypt, the learning of the Egyptians, the court of Pharaoh, and all the advantages that were there. He made the great renunciation. Why? Again, because of the people of God.
THE DISTORTION OF GOOD INTO EVIL
Now, that is the point, but before we come to its application, let me remind you that one of the clear marks and traces of the devil and his handiwork is the distortion of good into evil, of good things made into bad things. Satan CREATES nothing, for he is not a creator, but he attempts to turn what has been made for good into bad. Hence you have a whole list of paradoxes in the Bible, and it is fascinating to follow them through, but I am not going to do so. I will just give you a hint. There is a whole list of paradoxes, of seeming contradictions, and they are in this realm of good things in Divine intention turned into bad things.
Take the matter of ambition. Ambition indeed is the parent of many evils. Look at what ambition in the world leads to! There are so many ambitious men and women who, to realize their ambition, will tread upon all principles and will ride roughshod over all sensibilities. Ambition is a driving force to get, to be, to master, to dominate, to rule, and have we not in our lifetime seen something of that? My, these ambitious people whose names we could mention, who have thrown the world into the most distressing and awful state! Literally multitudes have been murdered for one man’s ambition! We need not dwell upon it, but that is what ambition can be, and it has come into the Church of God. Men, as Peter calls it, “lording it” over God’s heritage, wanting to be something in the Church, and to have power. They are just fulfilling some secret ambition, and perhaps do not mean it or realize it, but others do.
Well, here is something that is evil, BUT God created ambition! It is a Divine thing. Our translations do not help us too much in this, but Paul said: “We make it OUR AMBITION… to be well-pleasing unto Him” (2 Corinthians 5:9 – R.V. margin). Paul, you have redeemed a bad word! You have salvaged something that has gone astray, that the devil has captured and turned to his own use, for it was ambition in Satan before his fall that led to that fall, and he, like a serpent, has injected that poison into human nature. Surely we should keep that word ‘ambition’ out of the sacred language? No! It is something Divine.
We could go on with a whole lot of paradoxes and contradictions like that. Paul gave us a list in one place: “As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing all things.“ (2 Corinthians 6:10) Those are paradoxes, are they not?
Here, in this very chapter, Philippians 2, and in this very consideration of the great renunciation, we are in the presence of one of these things, which have been distorted. Satan has taken hold of something that God created and put into man and into His universe. What is it? The desire to acquire, to possess, to have. It is not wrong in itself to have, to acquire, to possess. Do you not have many battles over this very matter, whether you ought to have this, and whether it is right to possess that? In your very nature there are the traces of this Divine thing, this acquisitiveness. Yes, God put that in. The Bible is full of it. We were looking at Israel earlier, and what a lot the Lord said to them about ‘having’! ‘I will bring you into a land flowing with milk and honey, and this is for you to HAVE. I mean you to have it, to be a wealthy people. It is all for you. Every place that the sole of your foot shall tread upon I have given to you.’
Over against that there is the great renunciation. Is that a contradiction? Renunciation is a law of having – the Lord Jesus let go, and He was given. He renounced, and was endowed with all the fullness of heaven.
Satan, then, uses this Divine thing, twists something which is of God and is quite right in its own nature, and gives it this distortion to make it an evil thing, so that in this world now we have this terrible assertiveness, this wanting to get control, to possess, to have.
WHAT IS IT FOR?
The answer to that question is the answer to the paradox. What do you want it for? And, you see, it is just there that the enemy has done his work by introducing the selfhood power, this drawing to self, having for self, holding for self, prizing it for self. So when we read: “He emptied HIMSELF,” there is the whole story of redemption in the emptying of self, and of the wonderful issue in this universe along the line of the redemption – what man is going to have by God’s gift and what we may have now by His gift in a spiritual way. Every blessing of the spirit in the heavenlies in Christ and the fullness into which we are called in the will of God comes along the line of the conversion of self, this turning round from self to God.
Now please do not let that principle work wrongly! This is where Peter slipped up, because he was not converted at the time. I know I am going to be challenged on this, for I have been, but there is a real sense in which Peter was not converted until the Day of Pentecost. We will not argue that out, and you can say what you like about it, but when the Lord came with the basin of water and the towel to Peter in order to wash his feet, Peter said: “Thou shalt never wash my feet!” Then the Lord said: “If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.“ (John 13:8) ‘Oh, well’, said Peter, ‘I want the part.’ Do you see the point? In a very few hours after that it was proved that it was really Peter who was in view, who wanted all that he could get, even of Divine things. And when I say that you will get a great fullness if only you will learn the lesson of renunciation, be careful as to your ambition for fullness! WHO is it for? WHAT is it for? Is it for self, or is it for the Lord?
GOD’S VINDICATION IN THE CREATION OF MAN
The principle lying behind Philippians 2 is just this: The Lord Jesus let go of all that He had of heavenly glory and equality with God, not for Himself, for it was His already and there was nothing whatever that He need do to enhance His own position and rights, but for the vindication of God in the creation of man. God created man and took a tremendous responsibility in doing so. Have you not often felt bad about this? Oh, some of your natures are better than mine, but sometimes I have been tempted to think: ‘Was God justified in creating man, collectively as he is today?’ I think of the history of man, and, really, it hardly bears thinking about! But God did it. He took the risk and the responsibility of making you and making me. I have to turn that back on the Lord sometimes and say: ‘Lord, You made me! You gave me a being! It was by Your law that I came into being! It was Your responsibility!’ Well, that is helpful sometimes, but we will leave it.
God had got to be vindicated in His creative responsibility, and, therefore, He had to save this man that He had made. Further, He had to be glorified in this man, and there is no salvation and no glorification while man is a selfish creature. Selfishness spoils everything and robs of all glory everywhere. Therefore that deep thing had to be touched and dealt with, not theoretically, not doctrinally, not theologically, but actually, and there is no way of dealing with anything ACTUALLY except by taking it and destroying it in your own person and work, and being the opposite yourself by a mighty, deep work of God. So the motive that led the Lord Jesus to the great renunciation, the letting go, was the vindication of God, the justification of creation and the making possible of man coming to that glory in fellowship with the Father in heaven forever. It was outward, first for His Father’s vindication, and secondly for man’s redemption from that twist that the devil had brought in and by which so much mischief had been made. It was your salvation and mine from some THING that the devil had planted in the race, which was a contradiction to what God meant. All that was outward, and not for the Lord Jesus Himself.
Now read His life again. All that is included in this description in Philippians 2: ‘He emptied Himself… He humbled Himself… He took the form of a bondslave… He was found in fashion as a man… He became obedient unto death’ – and the most shameful and ignominious form of death that the world has ever known! It has always been known that crucifixion is the worst form of death possible. But He went right down to that! That is letting go of self and all self-interest, is it not? That is renunciation! And all that was for the Father first, and was why He was always speaking on this earth of ‘My Father… My Father.’ It was for the vindication of the Father, and for the redemption of man unto glory, the transformation and transfiguration of humanity.
Now, dear friends, you and I are in the way of this. Have you not noticed that the Lord’s dealings with us when He gets us in hand, when He really does get a purchase upon us, are along this line? Again and again in the course of our Christian experience we come up against a situation where it is: ‘Are we going to hold on or let go?’ Are we going to let go? Can we let go? Can we really renounce? We are stuck until that is settled! We just cannot get past it. It may be an incident in our life, or it may be what we might call a small thing in comparison with other things, but there it is. ‘Must I let go? Shall I keep hold? Shall I get this bone between my teeth and worry it to death, and not let it go?’ I must repeat: there is no way on until that thing is settled.
Have you not, on the other hand, experienced what it means when at last, having sought the grace of God, you let go and say to Him: ‘All right, Lord, my hands are off. I am not just resigning.’ Be careful about becoming resigned to your fate! That is not the will of God. There must not be a negative or passive attitude, but a positive one: ‘Lord, if this is what You want, You have it, and I believe You have a purpose in bringing me to this position of letting go, of renouncing.’ When we get there something breaks in, and all that we had been wanting we get! It is strange that it works like that, but what about Abraham and Isaac? Could Abraham not have held on? Could he not have argued with God? Could he not have supported his tenacity about Isaac by reminding the Lord of what He had said? Oh, yes, he could have built up a tremendous argument against offering Isaac, but he came to the point of the great renunciation. He let go to God, and what did he get? He not only got Isaac back, but he got a nation! “In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” (Genesis 22:18) It was from inward to outward.
You see the range, the tremendous potential of renunciation? We have picked Moses out from all those mentioned in Hebrews 11, and he could have argued with the Lord on the ground of sovereignty: ‘Well, Lord, Your sovereignty ordered that when all the babes were being slaughtered I was spared, and that girl of Pharaoh’s came along that day. It was in Your sovereignty that I was rescued and taken right INTO the palace and brought up in Pharaoh’s house, educated according to the wisdom of the Egyptians. Your sovereignty was in this!’ But the point was – he left it all, and it was a big ‘all.’ He renounced it all. Why? Because he had become converted, not in the New Testament sense, perhaps, but converted. He turned round, inward, to people. His race, the people of God, were, as we know, on his heart: “Choosing rather to be evil entreated with the people of God” – and there you have his motive: the people of God. ‘What I may lose does not matter so long as the people of God get the benefit and the blessing.’
Do you see the point? Christ was repeating Himself in these men’s lives on the one principle of renunciation; and because He, the Son of God, made the great renunciation, “wherefore” – and what a ‘wherefore’ – “God highly exalted him, and gave unto him the name which is above every name; that in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things on the earth” – and here is a peculiarity – “and things under the earth.” You know, things like that are said quite often in the Bible, but the third dimension, “things under the earth”, is left out on other occasions when the heavens and the earth are mentioned. I will leave that for you to think about! But in THIS case the underworld is also going to bow to Him! His renunciation means that the full dimensions of the universe are affected. What a range is affected by the ability to let go unto God!
I think I hardly need say more than that. To let go is one of the most difficult things that you and I have to learn! The Lord Jesus was “meek and lowly in heart,” and meekness is just selflessness, the outward aspect of life. Not having things for ourselves, but thinking how much others can gain if we have to lose them, and if by OUR loss the Father can gain what He ought to have and the people whom He has created may be benefited.
THE LAW OF ENLARGEMENT
That is the law of enlargement. You noticed that I stopped short in the reading from Hebrews 11 about Moses at a certain point, because I am always afraid of this wretched self-interest of ours! It is always there, and ready to pounce upon anything. I did not read: “He looked unto the recompense of reward.” The Lord has promised enlargement along the line of renunciation and loss, but we should not be motivated by reward, should we? No servant of the Lord should be motivated by what he is going to get out of his service. “When ye shall have done all the things that are commanded you, say, we are unprofitable servants.” Nevertheless, we can put a right and proper emphasis upon it because of where we started. Are you following the train of thought? It is God’s will for you, for me, for mankind, to be enlarged with all His fullness, to have ALL that He can give, but not selfishly, not for our own use, but for His glory, His vindication, and if you and I get to glory and He is able to give us then of His fullness, endow us with heavenly riches, I am quite sure that we will have found in the discipline of renunciation the right ground upon which to be rewarded. You see, anyone who has really been through this, has been right in that deep and desperate reality of facing the loss of some THING, some possession, something which meant very much to them, indeed, it might be everything to them, might have made or marred their lives, for they have been faced with the question of willingness to let go unto the Lord. It has meant devastation to selfhood, to ambition, but when that devastation has taken place and we come out on the other side, it is all right. There is no battle now, for it is done, and then the Lord has His ground for rewarding, for giving. It is safe for Him to do it.
I wonder how many of you, especially you servants of the Lord, whoever you are, have sometimes said to the Lord: ‘Lord, can You trust me with this? Can You trust me with that blessing? Can You really trust me to do this for You? I know my own heart. I know its pride, its acquisitiveness, its love of place, position, influence, and so on, and I’m afraid that if You do bless, I may, all subtly, take some gratification to myself. Can You trust me?’
The Lord is working to get us to the place, dear Friends, where He can trust us with eternal, heavenly responsibility, and He knows when that deep, evil thing in our nature has been dealt with by the discipline of renunciation. It is very true to spiritual life, is it not?
There are so many tensions! Are we not suffering in this life from nervous tensions and strains? Yes! but what is many a nervous breakdown and a lot of this wrong kind of intensity that does us so much harm, nervously and physically, due to? Not getting what we want! We are not having what we have set our heart upon! God is not giving it to us, or doing it for us, and so we get into this state of tension, strain, in life. Life becomes a strain, and even the Christian life becomes a terrible strain. If you do not know anything about that you are a very fortunate person, but it is true for us all. We meet people everywhere who are under strain. You can see it in their faces. And what is the matter? They have not learnt to let go to God. We know, by experiences that we have had, that when we have come to the place where we let go to the Lord (and I am very particular about saying ‘letting go TO THE LORD!’), a wonderful calm comes, wonderful rest and wonderful peace. The battle is over and the strain has gone. That is very true.
The great renunciation made by the Lord Jesus was that He identified Himself with fallen man. Temptation has no meaning at all if there is not something to work upon, and so when the devil came to Him in the wilderness and offered Him the kingdoms of the world, it was no temptation if He had no heart for the kingdoms of the world and could say: ‘You can have them. I am not interested in them. The kingdoms of the world do not matter to me at all.’ There would be no temptation, would there? But if the kingdoms of this world were the very object for which He had come, there is a temptation, and a subtle one, appealing to the soul life. The Son of Man became identified with man, knowing quite well the temptations of man and man’s natural ambition. He was tempted in ALL points as we are, sin apart, but He conquered. How? Not by saying: ‘I am not a bit interested in that. That is no temptation to Me!’ But by saying: ‘I am going to have the kingdoms of this world, but not at your hands, Satan! Not by your gift, and not along your line. I am going to the Cross, and there I will destroy you and get the kingdoms on a proper ground.’ So He came in the likeness of man, knowing man’s temptations, without the sinful nature, yet with a human soul which can have ambition for itself or for God. In that temptation, then, it was the Father and every word that the Father had spoken, which came first. The battleground was: ‘Not for Me, but for the Father and for others.’
I wonder if you have followed me? I think we are touching things that are very real in the spiritual life! This whole matter of the Lord’s identification with us was in order to save us, and to save us from our selfhood, our self-towardness, by conversion turning God-ward. The life of a Christian, then, is simply the life, which is for God. We are tested on that so often, and when we get through we come to rest, to peace, to quietness. The battle is over – until the next time! But that is the way we grow. The next time will be more severe, I am sorry to say, but when you go into it you have learnt something. You do not go into the more severe without the knowledge of what it means, and you are able to say: ‘Oh, well, I had something like this before, and I have learned how to get through by the grace of God. This is a bit more difficult, but it is the same principle. I am not going to fight for my own way, nor for my own interests. I am not going to exercise this bulldog disposition of mine to get hold of this and not let go, but I am going to be ready to put it on the altar for God.’ The solution comes that way. It is the law of renunciation in progress toward Divine fullness. The Lord give us understanding and help from His Word!
SEEING THE LORD JESUS
“Therefore… let us run… looking off unto Jesus the author (or captain, or file-leader) and perfecter of our faith.“ (Hebrews 12:1-2)
I want to try to gather up and focus the ministry of these messages, taking you back to the beginning and reminding you that we pointed out that the whole Bible, in every part, is concerned with the will of God; which means that, as the Bible is the Word of God, the will of God is only to be found in the Word of God. Then we pointed out that the Bible introduces God to us as a ‘going’ God, a God moving IN and WITH purpose. He is in action from the first verse: “In the beginning God created.“ (Genesis 1:1) and all the way through the Bible He is seen to be pressing onward in purpose and revealing Himself, and that purpose, in His Word. So the Word of God has to govern everything if the purpose of God is to be fulfilled and completed.
We moved on to see that, in order to be in that full, comprehensive will of God with purpose, it is necessary for us to have no purpose of our own, and so we dwelt upon the great law of spiritual progress – the law of letting go; the law of renunciation of all unto God. We mentioned three factors for a true beginning:
(1) That we are supremely concerned to know the will of God;
(2) That we are quite prepared at least to listen to and consider anything that might help us to know the will of God, being open-hearted and open-minded
(3) That we are committed to do what the Lord shows us as to that will.
That is the point at which we have now arrived, and, as I have said, I want to gather all that up with one other great essential to going on with God.
CAUGHT UP IN THE GOINGS OF GOD
Let me say this. In the presence of such a great deal of misapprehension and inadequate understanding in the world as to what Christianity is, I would say that Christianity really is that persons are caught up in the goings of God. The Apostle Paul used the word “apprehended”, and this is what he meant. He had been apprehended of Christ, and Christ was going on, moving forward – and how true that was at that time! In the early days of the Book of the Acts it is so evident that He was a forward-moving Christ. There was a great forward movement from heaven, and this man was caught up, and carried on in that going as one under arrest.
That is what Christianity is. It is not just a little thing. It contains many things, but what it really amounts to is that you and I have been caught up in something; we have been taken hold of. There is a very interesting word in the New Testament, which is just this very thing. It comes in the betrayal of Jesus, when the band of people came out to arrest Him, and there is a clause which says: “And they that had laid hold of Jesus led him away.“ (Matthew 26:57) You can see what kind of men they were! They were pretty tough, and to be in their grasp and grip would certainly be something that was not easy to resist. Again, it is the same word as the Apostle Paul used when he said: “The love of Christ CONSTRAINETH us” (2 Corinthians 5:14) and the word just means that we are taken hold of and irresistibly carried on. There was the woman who touched the hem of Jesus’ garment for healing, and He said: “Who is it that touched me?” The disciples said: “Master, the multitudes PRESS thee.“ (Luke 8:45) That, again, is the same word. Have you ever been in a mob, a crowd, a multitude that is GOING? There is plenty of that sort of thing today! There is a rushing multitude, and when you get in what can you do but go? It is no use trying to resist. And Christianity is just being caught up in the eternal going of the eternal God, in Christ, by the Holy Spirit, and being mastered and irresistibly carried on.
I am very careful that you should get the point, for this is a law of progress. That may seem very obvious, but we need to see the principle of it.
You know the content of this Letter to the Hebrews. What does it do right at the beginning? It gathers up everything of all the goings of God. It gathers up all the previous movements and goings of God – “God, having of old time spoken unto the fathers in the prophets by divers portions and in divers manners” – and focuses them in His Son, Jesus Christ – “hath at the end of these days spoken,” not by bits and pieces, not here and there, by divers portions and manners, but focused, concentrated, consummated, fully and finally, “IN HIS SON.” Then the writer goes on to tell us what Jesus Christ is, and Who He is. This wonderful Christ that is being presented is greater than all the angels, greater than the law, greater than Moses, and greater than everything. Then the writer uses the metaphor of a race, a going. We are caught up in something as in a race, and what is it that is governing this movement, this race, all this energy? “Looking unto JESUS” – it is this wonderful Jesus about whom he has been writing. He is the full and consummate embodiment of Divine purpose into which we are called and caught up.
What does this say to us? We have used a lot of words, but what does it all mean?
Dear friends, it is a law, amongst the others, of GOING. This Letter is full of phrases such as: ‘Let us go on,’ ‘let us leave the beginning and go on,‘ ‘let us… let us… let us be caught up in something that makes us shed every impeding, arresting and hindering thing.’ What is it that carries us on? We have seen the Lord Jesus! We have had a vision, not objectively, perhaps, but something has happened in our hearts and Jesus Christ has become the all-mastering, all-controlling and all-absorbing object of our existence. We have SEEN Jesus, and that vision carries us on. What we have seen about Him, what God’s purpose is in Him, what we have seen in Jesus has become a dynamic in our life, and such a dynamic that nothing else matters. ‘Let us lay aside this’, for this does not matter. ‘Let us lay side that… and that… and THAT,’ for they are not THE thing. THIS is it – what we have seen of God’s will, in its fullness, as comprehended in His Son for us. All that He is, is for us.
THE SIN THAT DOTH SO EASILY BESET US
You know, we have not yet really grasped the Lord Jesus. I say that meaningly and knowingly. Oh, how many of our worries would go if only we had seen the Lord Jesus! How many of those delaying, arresting things in our life would go if only we had seen the Lord Jesus! What is it that is holding us back? What is “the sin that doth so easily beset us”? What is it that is slowing us in the race, or even holding us up? ‘Oh, this terrible sinful thing that I am! This wretched man that I am! This poor thing, so weak, sinful and faulty. I think about this, I dwell upon that, and what happens? I stop running! All the “go” goes out of my being!’
You stop and think about yourself for five minutes, and see how fast you will run forward in the Lord! Oh, yes, we all do it. We are overwhelmingly obsessed with this terrible, poor, miserable thing that we are! We dwell upon it, and then we flop down – and the race is at an end for us while we are there. We have not seen the Lord Jesus!
In Him we have been dismissed. In His death we have been put out of sight. In Him risen we no longer appear before God, for He appears for us as us. He is us. THAT is seeing Jesus! If only we could get hold of that! If only we could get hold of Him! If only our eyes really did see what God has made Him to be for us – “Of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who is made unto us wisdom from God.“ (1 Corinthians 1:30) Not dwelling upon our own foolishness and folly, but “unto us wisdom from God, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.” What more do you want? That comprehends everything in redemption and unto glory! “Looking OFF unto Jesus.”
Do you see what I am trying to say? The writer of this Letter to the Hebrews sees us as in a race and he says that if we are going on in this we have to see Jesus, and keep Him always in view; not by seeing ourselves and other people all the time, but keeping our eye on Him. Then we will keep going, but if we do not keep Him in view, then we will stop going.
That is very plain, very simple, but it is the Gospel concerning God’s Son, Jesus Christ.
VISION ESSENTIAL TO PROGRESS
You and I, dear friends, individually, and if we belong to a company of the Lord’s people, that company, will only make progress toward that full, ultimate end of God in Christ if we have a spiritual vision of Jesus Christ. Vision is essential to progress. Is it necessary for me to stay with the word ‘vision?’ I am not thinking about something objective that you see with your eyes of flesh. It is something that has happened inside of you, and your inner spiritual eyes have been opened. You can say: ‘I have SEEN, and that has revolutionized my life. That has put me on my feet. That has set me on a course. That has become a dynamic in my life which, IN SPITE OF MYSELF, keeps me going.’ Yes, thank God, it works like that. I know the aspect, the factor, of our responsibility, but God help you and me if it is all going to be left to our responsibility and what we do! I tell you – and this may have been your experience, or it may interpret your present experience – many, many times I would have given up the race. That is an awful confession! Indeed many times I have given it up in my heart. It became so difficult that I could go no further, so I gave up. It was not, therefore, my persistence that enabled me to go on, but what the Apostle calls “the power that worketh in us.” What is that? The Holy Spirit has put a dynamic in us and we have seen. We cannot un-see! We cannot go back. The seeing may fade, and it may even be eclipsed by days of darkness and trouble. We may know what Paul meant when he said: “We were pressed out of measure, beyond our strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life.” (2 Corinthians 1:8) That was a terrible thing for the greatest of all apostles to say! What happened? Did Paul give up and say: ‘Well, I cannot go on!’ No, not at all! “The power that worketh in us” got him on his feet again and again. Let Elijah seek out his juniper tree and say: ‘Take away my life!,’ but the Lord does not agree. He has given Elijah a part in his great, eternal purpose, and so he will come up again.
Be encouraged! Are you down? Are you despondent? Are you despairing? Are you feeling you cannot go on? You still come up again, for something has taken place. I am calling it ‘vision’, but that may be misleading. What I mean is that something has come into our life, which is a spiritual knowledge and has become a spiritual dynamic, giving us a sense of purpose, God’s purpose. It is something that God has done, and that is going to be the secret of our survival, at least. But for that we will not survive. We will not get through on any resource of our own, but we will go on in the going as the eternal goings of God if there has been this initial seeing of God’s purpose in Jesus Christ.
Oh, I do wish with all my heart that in the preaching of the Gospel to the unsaved the note of eternal purpose was more often struck! The Gospel is generally presented from the point of view of what WE are going to get. The appeal is to our souls, that we will have something that will make us happy. That is the whole set-up: being happy! Oh, you will not get much of a Christian by that means, but you will if those who have come to the Lord have come because they have seen something of the greatness of Jesus Christ, and of their calling in Him; if they have had this vision which has produced a sense of vocation, a sense of mastering purpose. Without that we will not get very far in the race! It is that which the Apostle means, though he speaks in symbolic language. Do not just dwell upon the literal idea. The spiritual motivation is “looking off unto Jesus,” who started it and will finish it. He is the author, the file-leader, and the perfecter. It did not begin with us, thank God! How many times we have been rescued by that word of the Lord Jesus: ‘You did not choose Me. I chose you. I initiated this thing and I will complete it, if you will let Me, if you will fall into this going, if you will keep your eye on Me, and off the things that delay and arrest this vision’ – or whatever word you may use for the idea, the principle, the law, this something that has taken hold of you, and you know it is that which is carrying you on.
Have you got that? Are you a Christian of that sort? I am not asking you if you had a Damascus Road experience, when the whole thing was visual, ocular and sensational, but whether something has happened so that, if you wanted to put it into words, you would say: ‘Well, I have come to see Jesus Christ, and in Him my eternal destiny has been bound up.’ Do you see what I mean, what I am trying to say? A mastering motivation has been brought into us, and upon us, by Jesus Christ at the beginning that will make us Christians that go on in this race with patience. Have you got a mighty, Divine imperative in your life?
I wish I could get this home! After all your troubles, trials, temptations and difficulties, are you prepared to give up, to abandon everything and say: ‘I am not going on with this any longer!’ Well, sit down and try! I venture to say that you will not get very far with that! You may have two or three miserable days over it, but sooner or later you will say: ‘It is no use; I have to go on!’ That is what I mean by vision – this sense of a God of purpose having laid hold of us to carry us on.
This is exactly what is meant by inspiration. The Lord’s people ought to be inspired people, which is only another way of saying ‘inspirited’. And, because of that, they ought to be an inspiration to others. Oh, if we are not an inspiration to others there is something seriously lacking in the very nature of our Christianity! If we cannot inspire others, if we cannot bring in inspiration in our ministry and our contacts, in our leadership, then that is a contradiction in terms, because the idea in the Bible of leadership is inspiration, inspiring people. If you are leading a meeting you ought to inspire people, in whatever kind of meeting it is.
And what should be true of the individual should also be true of every company. They should be a company of people who are being carried on by this mighty Divine dynamic of purpose, or vision. ‘We KNOW where we stand. We KNOW where we are going, and what we are after.’ Many of the Lord’s people today do not seem to know where they are going, or where they are. No assembly ought to be like that! They ought to be a ‘going’ company and everybody ought to know that those people have seen something and are mastered by something that is carrying them on, something that is a real force in their being.
VISION ESSENTIAL FOR UNITY
Such a vision has many side-effects and values, one of which is the resolving of the whole question of unity. And what a question that is! I hardly know what to say and what not to say, for there is so much. Take up the first Letter to the Corinthians and what have you there? People with internal dissensions, divisions and quarrellings, and anything but unity and oneness. Paul knew it well before he went to them, and so he said: “I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.“ (1 Corinthians 2:2) To him that was the one all-unifying thing – a focused vision of Jesus Christ and His Cross.
If you have this what I am calling ‘vision,’ this dominating sense of purpose and meaning given by the Lord, it will resolve so much of this trouble manifested in divisions and lack of real fellowship. A vision of Jesus Christ is a unifying dynamic.
We go to the Old Testament for an illustration. Take the case of Nehemiah. Well, Nehemiah had a vision. He was a man of vision. He saw Jerusalem rebuilt, with the wall reconstructed and made complete. He had a vision of this new Jerusalem on the earth for that time, and he was a man who was tremendously mastered by his vision. Then all these poor people – and they were a bedraggled remnant! – came back, with all the possibilities of more disintegration, murmurings and quarrellings to hinder the realization of this thing that had mastered this man. But what? They shared his vision! They were gathered up into it. They met persecution, opposition, and everything that could deter them, but the verdict was: “The wall was finished… in fifty and two days.“ (Nehemiah 6:15) Why? Because the people had a mind to work. And what was that mind? Well, it was this vision of the purpose which had been put into the heart of this man and which unified the people. Let the devil come alone and do everything that he can to discourage and make difficulty! He even tried the subtle ruse of trying to get Nehemiah to come and have a conference in order to discuss things. ‘No!’ said Nehemiah, ‘Not on your life! I am doing a great work and I will not come down there.’ You see the power of a mighty objective, a vision, to unify, to energize, to keep going? Do we not need that? Does not Christianity need that? Do we not need it in our assemblies? We do indeed need something like that, so we must have this new apprehension of God’s purpose and will as centered in His Son concerning us, a mighty, animating power in life that is (as I have said and want to say again) more powerful than all our capacity for giving up and being discouraged and resigning. It is more powerful than all the weaknesses of our own souls.
Oh, I do thank God for survival! That is a weak word, I know. It is not enough to say that we survive, for we are doing more than surviving, but in order to survive all this that is against us, there must be something more than ourselves. The Word says: “God is greater than our heart” (1 John 3:20), and we have proved that many times. Our hearts have fainted and well-nigh given up the struggle, but He is greater than our hearts.
VISION AN EMANCIPATING POWER
This thing, call it vision or what you will – you know what it means now! – is a mighty emancipating power. I use that word in this sense: it is a great power for lifting us out of our smallness, our narrowness, our littleness.
In illustrating this we will take up our good friend who supplies us with so much instruction in this matter in his own history, the Apostle Paul. You know, dear friends that the cause of the old Israel‘s calamity, first of all of being sent into Babylon and captivity for seventy years, and then eventually being dismissed by God, was because of exclusiveness. There is no other answer. ‘We are THE people. The truth will die with us. No one else has any place at all. We are it, and only we are it. These nations, the Gentiles, are mere dogs. There is no place for them in the Divine economy! We are the chosen people, God’s elect, and no one else.’ This was in spite of all the prophecies of what they were meant by God to be to the Gentiles, to the nations. They were to be the seed in which all the nations were to be blessed, but in spite of that covenant with Abraham, they had closed in on themselves until they were the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end. It was exclusiveness, and Paul the Apostle was a representative of that. He was born and brought up in that, trained in it, imbibing it from his childhood. He was an embodiment of that pharisaic exclusiveness. What are you going to do with a man like that? Try argument, and see how far you will get. He will out-argue you! Try persuasion. No, not a bit of it! He is not the kind to be persuaded. He is a bigot in this! Try persecutions. It makes no difference. You will not move that man! He is shut in to this exclusive position – but the thing is done. [Now] He is emancipated, and the old Israel is no longer his parish. The WORLD is his parish. How vast is the range of his vision now! You cannot cope with his language about this! He leaps over all language barriers because of what? HE HAS SEEN JESUS CHRIST! He had a vision, and not only has he seen Him in the incident of the vision of a Person, but he has seen the significance. He has seen what Jesus Christ means in God’s universe, in God’s economy, in God’s goings from eternity to eternity. You cannot be exclusive if you have seen Jesus Christ! That would dissipate and ruin all exclusiveness. You cannot be mean, contemptible and small if you have seen Jesus Christ!
Do you not agree with me when I say that this presentation of Christ in His infinite greatness is the only way to emancipate people from their littleness in their spiritual life? Is that not needed today? Oh, indeed it is! It is unifying, because we have one central Object which draws us together and makes us say to about one-thousand-and-one things that would hinder: ‘You get out of the way! We are set upon this purpose of God, and we are going on.’ It is unifying, emancipating and enlarging. Oh, that the Lord would give us this emancipation again, and enlarge us! The Psalmist says: “I will run the way of thy commandments when thou shalt enlarge my heart” (Psalm 119:32), and enlargement of heart will make you fleet of foot in the ways of the Lord.
VISION THE GREAT BATTLEGROUND
Vision is the great battleground of all time. Oh, if you have seen you will be a marked person. If your eyes have been opened you will know something of what that fellow knew when the Lord opened those eyes that had been blind from his birth. It is all so true to life! He had his eyes opened and said: “Whereas I was blind, now I see” (John 9:25) ‘This one thing I know, and you cannot rob me of that!’ But it was not long before he was excommunicated from the synagogue. He was cut off and made an object of the Pharisees’ spite.
That is true to spiritual experience. If you have seen you are in the battle. You will not be troubled very much by the devil if you have not got this dynamic in you, because it is this dynamic which spells his final overthrow. You have to count for God, and you only do so by having seen; and when you have seen you are marked, and there is a battle on. Anything to destroy you, to get you out of the race and out of the battle will ensue!
How are we going to end? What are you praying? I will tell you what I am praying! After all these years I am praying with all my heart: ‘Lord, reveal Thy Son in me more than ever. Give me yet a larger apprehension and comprehension of the meaning of Jesus Christ!’ Will you go and pray that? Will you seek the Lord continually that He will enlarge and strengthen your apprehension of Jesus Christ so that, figurative language or not, this is what it is in actuality: ‘Looking off unto Jesus, all that He means, all that He contains, all that He represents of God concerning us, the File-leader, the Perfecter, the Completer, the Beginning and the End.’ Pray that Christ seen in the heart becomes this dominating power in our lives which saves us from all that would bring us into despair.
“I have seen the face of Jesus,
Tell me not of aught beside!”
In keeping with T. Austin-Sparks’ wishes that what was freely received should be freely given, his writings are not copyrighted. Therefore you are free to use these writings as you are led, however we ask if you choose to share these writings with others, please offer them freely – free of changes, free of charge and free of copyright.
WILL OF GOD IN RELATION TO HIS PEOPLE, Chapters 1-3 [T. Austin Sparks] ~ BOOK 1