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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Man In The Message

This is not intended to be a "Life of the Apostle Paul," but rather to do with the particular significance of this servant of Jesus Christ. While there are those vital and essential factors in his case which must be true of every servant of Christ, and which are basic to every fruitful ministry (as we shall later mention), everything about Paul indicates that he was indeed "a chosen (elect) vessel," foreknown, foreordained and selected. This was true particularly in the nature of the ministry for which he was "apprehended." The same nature of ministry may - in measure - be the "calling" of others, but it was pioneered in Paul. All the Apostles stood on common ground where the fundamentals of the faith were concerned: the Person of Christ; the work of Christ; redemption; justification; sanctification; the world commission to preach salvation in Christ to all the world; the coming again of the Saviour, etc. They had the same foundation. Each one may have had "grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ"; that is, according to their personal gift, whether apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, or teacher, each had "grace" - anointing, enablement - corresponding to the responsibility, but on "fundamentals," i.e. foundation matters, they were agreed and one. Whatever we may say in distinguishing Paul, we would not for a moment take one small fragment from the great ministry of John, or Peter, or James, or others. Never could our New Testament suffer the loss of those ministries, and elsewhere we have gloried in them. When all has been said as to their value - and it would be an immense "all" - we still have to affirm that there was, and is, that which is unique and particular in what came through Paul. Let us hasten to say a very significant and helpful thing before we proceed.

It would never have been possible for Paul to understand his pre-conversion life until he came under the hand of Jesus Christ. That vocation with which he was called when Jesus became his Lord throws so much illumination upon the sovereignty of God in his past history. This is a principle which will help so many people and servants of God, and it shows how immensely important it is that Jesus shall be - not only Saviour - but Lord. We shall see this more fully later. Paul's Jewish birth, upbringing, training, education and deep embeddedness in something from which he would be extricated by the power of God, and something which was going to be shown no longer to be what God needed, is in itself of tremendous educative value. Why God, in His foreknowledge, should put a man deeply into something which does not ultimately represent His mind contains a point to be noted. Many there are who argue that, because they have ample reason to know that God put them into a certain way, work, form, association, there they are to abide for ever, willy nilly. Paul's history says "No" to that argument. God's ways in his case came to show that He may do a thing like that, and all His sovereignty may truly be in it, but only for a purpose, and a temporary purpose; namely, to give a deep and thorough first-hand knowledge of that which is really at best a limitation upon the full purpose of God. it is necessary for an effective servant of God to have personal knowledge of that from which people are to be delivered. Abraham must know Chaldea; Moses must know Egypt; David must know the falsehood of Saul's reign. So Paul must know the proscribed Judaism, so that he can speak with authority, the authority of personal experience. Were we the Psalmist, we should put "Shelah" there. "Think of that!"

But we must underline two aspects of this principle. We are referring to what was definitely within the Divine 'working of all things after the counsel of His own will,' and "according to His purpose." Paul was not changing his God at conversion, Jehovah was his God for ever. The change was in the method of God. It was still God working. We say this because no one can say that, because they were born and brought up in this or that, therefore "Providence" (meaning God) intended that to be their way for always. We must be as we are and where we are by the sovereignty of God, and we must know that any major change is equally definitely of God, and the only alternative to making it is clear disobedience to the presented will of God. It has to be a must, or a missing of the way. It certainly will make demands upon faith's walk with God, because the element of apparent contradiction may be present. We do not know what mental and soul battles Paul had. It is not recorded that in facing the immense revolution he reasoned with the Lord - 'Well, Lord, by Your own sovereignty I was born a Jew, and that with more than general terms; "of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews ... a Pharisee." And now, Lord, you are requiring me to take a course which repudiates all that and contradicts it. It is not like You, Lord, to contradict Yourself; it seems so inconsistent. It is not as though I have not been God-fearing and have been without faith in You.' The change was so revolutionary as to seem to be two contrary ways in the same God. Here was a very big occasion to "trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not upon thine own understanding." We could cite the cases of many servants of God who have been brought to such a crisis between reason and faith when God was demanding a decision which seemed to contradict all His former leading. Some of these have come to be very greatly vindicated by obedience. Some have lived to be examples of having missed the way, or God's best.

All this has to do with God's sovereign preparation and equipment of a servant so that that servant should truly know by deep experience what he is talking about and what the differences are. This then, in brief, as to his Jewish relationship.

~T. Austin-Sparks~

(continued with # 2)

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Near the Journey's End

The last phase of his pilgrimage has arrived. The end of the journey is in sight. The course has been well-nigh run; and what a course it has been! The faithful servant, the war-scarred warrior, the greatest of Christ's missionaries, church builders, and stewards of the heavenly riches, will soon receive "the crown of life" laid up for him. His "journeys oft" are soon to give place to "the rest that remaineth." His "laboring more abundantly" is practically over. He gives expression to a hope that he may yet visit some of his most beloved converts (Philippians 2:24). He is now in imprisonment in Rome, and Luke concludes his record with the period there "in his own hired house." This man, who say the sovereignty of God in every vicissitude of his life, did not fail to do so in this arrival in Rome and sojourn there, so different from what he had hoped for and expected (Romans 1:15).

Disappointment And God's Appointment

Taking stock of his situation, he was not long in arriving at the conclusion that, in that Divine sovereignty, this would make possible the realization of another strong desire that had been in his heart, but which could not be fulfilled while on his many travels. Letters, longer or shorter, he had written, each of which had been written in relation to some particular need and situation. Not one of them went - other than by a passing reference - outside of that special demand. During his long journeys, when plying his trade to support himself and make it impossible for critics to rightly say that he lived on his converts; and by special and extraordinary experiences, such as being "caught up into the third heaven (in a vision or a dream) and hearing unspeakable things" (2 Corinthians 12:1-4); not omitting that two years in the Arabian Desert; several years alone in Tarsus soon after his conversion; and a long imprisonment in Caesarea; all this gave him much time for meditation and for the Lord to speak to him. In this way an immense accumulation of spiritual knowledge became stored up in his heart. Being so sure, as he often said, that this "revelation" was a "stewardship" for "the Body of Christ," he would doubtless be hoping for a time when he would have leisure and detachment enough to unburden his spirit in writing. We now know that such a time and opportunity just had to come, for the fruit of that has been an unspeakable blessing to the Church during these many centuries.

Well, as we have said,strange as the Providence may have seemed when first he looked round his apartment, and, not least, his Roman guard and chain, he soon realized that this could be the great opportunity for which he had been waiting. It would very strongly appear that as this realization came to him, and perhaps in the long nights when visitors had gone, he became almost overwhelmed by the uprush of that store of revelation. We so conclude from the way and manner, as well as the substance of what he then committed to writing. He had those churches in Asia immediately in mind (though the Lord had much greater intentions) and what he wrote was intended to be circulated among them; probably a blank space being left for filling in with the particular name, such as: "to the saints which are at ..." (the name "Ephesus" does not occur in earliest manuscripts.) There is little doubt, however, that this overflow of heart had a special direction for that so great and spiritually influential church at Ephesus. This may be of secondary importance in view of the so-much-greater Divine intention by this inspiration.

The Overflowing Heart

It is his manner that means so much as a first impression. Our sub-title is an example of that manner. The Letter (to the Ephesians, so-called) is written in terms of the superlative. Look at some of these superlatives: "The exceeding greatness of His power" (1:19); "the fullness of Him that filleth all in all" (1:23); "the exceeding riches of His grace" (2:7); "the unsearchable riches of Christ" (3:8); "the breadth and length and height and depth," "the knowledge surpassing love of Christ", "all the fullness of God" (3:18, 19); "exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think" (3:20); "far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things" (4:10); "the fullness of Christ" (4:13); "a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing" (5:27).

Are we not right in saying that the man was just unable to contain his fullness? Then, not only his phrases, but his grammatical form. He will start on a course, and then, when an extra thought comes into his mind, he will diverge and go off at a tangent, not picking up the earlier thread again until some way after. The longest sentence, without a "period" or full stop, in the New Testament occurs in this Letter. He is too full and too eager to stop for literary technicalities. The flood-gates are open, and, like a torrent, he is pouring out this fullness so long pent up. When we come to consider the nature of his revelation we shall understand better why he was so expressive in superlatives. At the moment we are just registering the force of his anxiety to get it out at last.

To dwell a little longer on this Letter.

Some may not agree with us, and some may think that we are exaggerating when we say that this Letter is:

The Greatest Document Ever Penned

We shall have to substantiate that opinion, but we shall not have altogether failed when we have finished.

When we say "greatest," of course we do not mean in length, but in intrinsic value and content.

This is the crown and consummate essence of Paul's ministry. It is the climax of his mission.

Here are a few comments of outstanding Christian scholars:

For one such it is "the consummate and most comprehensive statement which even the New Testament contains of the meaning of the Christian religion, blending as nowhere else its evangelical, spiritual, moral and universal elements."

Or from another:

"The sublimest communication ever made to men was made from a Roman prison by one who in his own esteem was 'the very lest of all the saints.' "

"This Epistle is one of the noblest in the New Testament."

"A divine Epistle glowing with the flame of Christian love, and the splendor of holy light, and flowing with fountains of living water."

"The most heavenly work of one whose very imagination is peopled with things in the heavens."

"In this, the divinest composition of man, is every doctrine of Christianity; first, those doctrines peculiar to Christianity; etc."

"It is emphatically the Epistle of the Ascension. We rise in it, as on wings of inspiration, to the divinest heights. Word after word - and thought after thought - now "the heavenlies," now "spiritual," now "riches," now "glory," now "love," seem, as it were, to leave behind them "a luminous trial" in this deep and shining sky."

"It is the most advanced, the most sublime, the most profound, the most final utterance of Paul's Gospel.

Let us hasten to say that our own appraisal is not the result of reading such estimates as the above, for these are of much later discovery. We have reached our own conclusion after many years of reading and meditating in this Letter, and Paul's ministry in general. But we are so glad to have our judgment confirmed or checked by men of so much greater knowledge than our own.

Thus far we have only introduced the Letter. Its content, teaching and message will occupy the main space, while still remaining so vastly beyond our comprehension. Before we take our plunge into those deeps, and never get much further than the surface, we shall have of necessity to give some attention to the man himself, and to how the man and his ministry are one thing. Before so proceeding, let us remind our readers of one or two obvious, but impressive facts.

When the Apostle Paul set himself to write this Letter, he had no idea that he was writing Holy Scripture - the Bible (in part). His sole thought and desire was to confirm and supplement that "whole counsel of God" which he "had not shunned" to declare to - and through - Ephesus and Asia Minor during the two years that he was there (Acts 19). It was a Letter that - in his own mind - he was writing, and that to a location and a need. It could never have occurred to him that what he was writing would be read by an ever-growing number of people through nearly twenty centuries; that it would go into a world the size of which he knew nothing; that people of every race under heaven would have it translated into their own language or dialect; that it would divide Christiandom world-wide into the largest opposing schools of theology and interpretation; that people of God in every time and realm would feed eagerly upon it; that bookstores in every country would have their shelves growingly bulged with "Expositions," "Commentaries," "Sermons," etc., on this "Letter"; and that, finally, such appraisals as we have given above would be attached to that piece of personal correspondence! He would not only never have imagined this as possible, but would have had a shock of astonishment if he could have foreseen it. What a vindication of his testimony! What a justification of his sufferings! What an unveiling of God's sovereignty and grace! What an inspiration and strength this should be to any who may be suffering in fellowship with Christ, and what a proof of the truth of his own words. "Your labors are not in vain in the Lord!"

~T. Austin-Sparks~

(continued with # 2)

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Rule of the Heavens # 2

Again, this represents the great necessity for everyone who is coming into the things of God essentially. What is the essence of what is from God? That he should come into it from above. You can com to things on the horizontal - through a certain amount of college or other preparation for it - and you can enter into something here on earth which is called "the ministry." You can enter into Bible teaching on the horizontal. You may know the Bible, and you may be able to cite it; you are in all the doctrines of the Scripture. You come into it this way because you have "taken it up." You can come into the church that way. You call it "joining the church," and when you come in that way, you are not in it at all. You are in a false position entirely. The only way to come into the things which are especially of God is that you have come in in the Spirit and by the Spirit and by way of revelation.

Then "the ministry" is no longer a matter of churches and pulpits and congregations, etc. The ministry is not governed by anything outward. It is that God has given you a revelation, and you have a fire burning in your bones; you have a message from God for the hour in which you live. The heavens are ruling. You may come into the Word of God by cleverly apprehending it mentally, but the Holy Spirit has something back of the Scripture. It is not a wonderful presentation of the Bible to people. When that is over, they say, "That was a clever address"; but is there a mighty change? The dynamic impact of God upon their innermost being - what about that? What does it do with reference to their conformity to the image of God's Son?

You come into a ministry from above, not horizontally. No servant of God fulfills the full measure of the Divine purpose except as he comes into it from above. And that represents something in the nature of a terrific upheaval in one's life when he comes in that way. This is why imitation is so fruitless. The imitation of Christ is cold - there is no dynamic in it. It is very beautiful and mystical, but it does not change  the very substrata of your being and conform you to the image of His Son. You cannot put things into scriptural mold and have a life. Everything that is of God has got to be wrought out by the Holy Spirit.

There is a great need today that there should be the rule of the heavens. But the Holy Spirit has got to do it, and we have got to come to recognize the fact that what we see in organized Christianity is not it. The spiritual people of God are more and more feeling separated from the old system of Christianity and churches and ecclesiastical systems. People are recognizing a deep dissatisfaction with what has held the ground so long, and there is a cry for spiritual reality. Many sermons are clever and full of mental ability, but they are starvation to the spirit. There is all the activity, but it is not spiritual life; and I believe the Lord is going to show us the nature of the thing that is in the heavens. The thing that man has brought down on to the earth and taken up and perpetuated is only at best a poor imitation of things in the heavens, but in a very large realm it is a caricature of heavenly things.

Man has taken hold of heavenly things and brought them down to earth and made them earthly things. That is where things all went wrong at the beginning. At the first, things were of the Spirit. The people gathered in their homes or anywhere. It was not the place. It was not the ministry. It was the Lord, and they were circled around Him. But then the day came when they said, "We must have public buildings"; then the architecture became a factor, and so things developed ... and they became something on the earth for men to take note of. They wanted men to be attracted, and that was the first step in one of the greatest perils that have overtaken the Church. Things were done for prestige, for recognition, for the attracting of the world ... with the result that you get the mixed multitudes in the Church. If you can attach some big names to it, you can attract the people; and one of the devil's greatest measures has been the popularizing of the Church. Lost is the preeminent thing - that the Church and Christ are a mystery to the natural man ... and that it is no use to expect the natural man to appreciate it. The Church according to the mind of God is essentially a spiritual thing. What really governs everything is God's conception of things, not ours; and if we are going on with the Lord, there is going to be a whole system of change ... and we are going more and more to view things from the heavenly standpoint. You have got to get into the heavenly system to get heavenly results.

~T. Austin-Sparks~

(the end)


Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Rule of the Heavens

It was the rule of the heavens which Nebuchadnezzar had to come to recognize - the thing to which the Lord brought him in a very severe and drastic way. He said, "Thy kingdom shall be sure unto thee after that thou shalt have known that the heavens do rule."

The significance of that statement is just this: that while you may have presented in the Bible a system of things pertaining unto God - with many phases and aspects, many details, many forms of expression - those are not the things. They are only representations of heavenly, Divine, spiritual laws and principles. The earthly things are made after the pattern of things in the heavens, and the earthly things and the natural world, for the most part, are not the realities. They are only reflections and representations of reality, which is heavenly and spiritual.

The Book of Hebrews states that there was a tabernacle ... but it was not the tabernacle. And all that was related to the tabernacle was but a representation - a system of sensory expressions given to a great, heavenly system; it was the embodiment of spiritual laws and spiritual principles, and the type was destined to pass to make room for the realities.

Here is this fact: There is a heavenly system which is entirely spiritual - which cannot for one moment be apprehended by the natural senses - but God has illustrated it by types and figures and various means, never intending that men should take hold of, and perpetuate, that which is only a type ... but that they should come to recognize that, lying behind all that, there is a spiritual system which God wants them to enter into. We know this in a sense, but we do not recognize it adequately; and because we do not know this adequately, Christendom is astray. It has laid hold on representations and made them realities, so making the earthly thing an end - and failing to see the spiritual principles lying behind everything.

If you are only occupied with the thing, you will find sooner or later that that leads you nowhere. It cannot carry you through, and it simply becomes an end in itself. But immediately you get the spiritual principle back of that and are delivered from the mere thing in itself, then you get right through into what is altogether beyond limit. And God is governing by those spiritual laws. It is the heavenly system that is ordering everything. With God it is what lies behind in the unseen that is final, ultimate.

That being the case, we are able to understand why everything that relates to what is utterly of God demands spiritual revelation. It must and can only be revealed by the Holy Spirit, and that means that there be a spiritual state on the part of the individual. They must be spiritual beings in the truest sense of their nature. That is the statement of Paul with which we are so familiar. He says that the natural man (the soulical man) receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, neither can he know them; they are foolishness unto him. "But he that is spiritual judgeth [discerneth] all things."

To the natural man everything which related utterly to God is a mystery and can only be apprehended by spiritual revelation on the ground of the man's having himself become a spiritual being. It is here, you see, that mere cleverness is already ruled out. It does not stand here. Intellectual development and power, as such, are set aside. Scholarship, as such, has nothing to do with the things of the Spirit. The natural man, good or bad, cannot come in here. Human efficiency cannot come into this realm. The natural man will count on the things of nature, so God must rule him out. The proud cannot enter into the things of the Spirit. 

And yet, we so very often come before men as if we knew something. We have here on the earth certain advantages and abilities, and we display them before men. That is just the terrible danger of the present system, which makes something of man and puts man in a certain place and gives him a position of power over crowds of people.

God beholdest the proud afar off ... and when you want the real essence of spiritual blessing, you have to come to the one who has been broken and shaken and ground to powder - who in himself is absolutely nothing. Then God begins to pour of Himself through that one, and He has what He wants. What God wants is spiritual people in this deepest sense - wholly spiritual - that He might give revelation and show that the heavens do rule.

~T. Austin-Sparks~

(continued with # 2)