Month: October 2011

An Unreachable Standard… W.E. Smith

… a Tremendous Gift

While revisiting the Sermon on the Mount recently, the Spirit impressed upon me some things that were quite unexpected. I suppose the bridge between the Old and New Testaments has always been more than a little fuzzy to me, and to be honest most of what is taught on this subject by contemporary teachers has been of little help in clarifying the matter. My friends, it is vital that we understand why Jesus Christ came, what He brought in terms of God’s requirements for man, and what He represents to us in meeting them.

Now these passages – starting in Matthew 5 – are quite familiar to most Christians, and have generally been the focus of many sermons and studies for the last 2,000 years. Herein lies the heart and pulse of our faith. Many of you are probably convinced that you have gotten the message. Well then, I hope I don’t upset too many apple carts by what I am about to share, but there you have it – what we hear in the dark, we are to share in the light.

To begin with, none of what our Lord says here makes a lick of sense to our human reasoning, intuition or experience. Everything man has ever desired is summed up here in what he is offering – comfort, belonging, fullness of life, mercy and forgiveness, consciousness of and fellowship with the divine, peace, etc – yet the path to these ideals defies everything our Adamic experience presents to us.

We can be happy and blessed when we mourn? When there is bitter loss and grief in our lives? When all that we love and are attached to is wrenched violently away from us? When the pain in our heart threatens to consume every thought and impulse? When the world and its murderous god revile and persecute us, and accuse us of being the opposite of what we truly are, we are to rejoice and be exceedingly glad? Exceedingly glad? Does this make any sense to you?

How many Christians do you know out there who are mourning some recent loss, or suffering under the weight of this evil world who would admit to being exceedingly glad? Is this how you respond to such torment in this life? When a loved one dies unexpectedly? When your business runs dry and you see no possible way to provide for your family? Is this normative for most church people? What is our Lord asking of us here? What can it possibly mean? Is this what Jesus was feeling on that final agonizing evening in the garden, with drops of blood spilling from His body? Was he happy? Did He feel blessed as the very sense of the Father’s presence and abiding was slipping away from Him?

Matt 26:38 Then He said to them, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me.”

39 He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.”

40 Then He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “What! Could you not watch with Me one hour? 41 Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

42 Again, a second time, He went away and prayed, saying, “O My Father, *if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done.” 43 And He came and found them asleep again, for their eyes were heavy.

44 So He left them, went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words. 45 Then He came to His disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Rise, let us be going. See, My betrayer is at hand.”

Betrayal, loss, mourning, impending death – and what does the Scripture say about what He was feeling? Read it again: “My soul is exceedingly glad, even to death”. But that’s not what it says is it – “exceedingly sorrowful”! Hmmm. Could this be the same Jesus who earlier in His ministry spoke the sermon on the mount, telling us that blessing and happiness will come to us out of every manner of pain, loss and betrayal?

Was not our Lord the pinnacle of humility, meekness, mercy, peace, purity of heart while on the earth? Did He not hunger and thirst for righteousness, more than even bodily food? Was He not a peacemaker, and did He not show mercy to all the many that came to Him, even those who reviled and cursed Him? If this be so, then where then is the gladness and blessing He promises. If even He – having attained every one of the divine attributes – did not attain these things on this earth, how then are we to read this?

Perhaps some of you are at this moment jumping in your seat, screaming – “go to verse 12, go to verse 12, which reads…

Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great [is] your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you. (Matt 5:12)

Ah – so all of these rewards – the peace, fullness, the comfort, the belonging, the promise of being a child of God – these come later; this is what He is getting at. They are not earthly fulfillments at all but heavenly. Is this what you believe my brother? That after a lifetime of bitterness, mourning, loss, persecution, betrayal – we ultimately and finally get rewarded in heaven with blessing beyond our wildest dreams? That all His provision and promise is delayed?

Let me ask you some questions. Here goes… are your ready?

Until our Lord was falsely accused, betrayed, crucified, then resurrected to sit at the right hand of the Father, as our Intercessor and Priestly Advocate, how could we possibly inherit the earth, for prior to that does not the scripture indicate that the devil rules the earth as the god of this world? Again, until all of the above, and the promise from on high came, how could we possibly be filled with righteousness? Does not the revelation of God indicate that He alone represents our righteousness?

1 Cor 1:30 – But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God-and righteousness and sanctification and redemption.

Still further, could we actually see the kingdom of heaven until the Glorious One had been installed as King? I think you see what I am getting at. It is not so much a heaven versus earth consideration, but rather a ‘this side of the cross versus that side of the cross’ distinction. Yes, certainly the ultimate fulfillment of these blessings will be realized beyond our bodily existence, in that place where spirit touches spirit, and our fellowship in the household of God will be unconstrained by unlikeness of any kind.

But it would be untrue and unfair to our Lord to suggest, for example that here and now we cannot be filled spiritually, obtain mercy, or relate to and fellowship with God as His children. There are also episodes of tremendous comfort mixed in with all of the earthly bitterness and suffering in the Book of Acts and elsewhere in the New Testament.

2 Cor 1:3 – Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 5 For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ. 6 Now if we are afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effective for enduring the same sufferings which we also suffer. Or if we are comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation. 7 And our hope for you is steadfast, because we know that as you are partakers of the sufferings, so also you will partake of the consolation.

My brethren – none of that which is promised in Matthew 5 is in any manner accessible apart from the risen and indwelling Christ within us. What we see being offered and available here is in fact what we see throughout His earthly ministry – what He was promising was only available once He had returned to the Father, and the promise of the Holy Spirit was available to mankind. This is what dumbfounded the Jews, and what dumfounds so many Christians today – that He alone is the path, that He and He alone makes all of this tenable.

As Christians we come to Matthew 5 hoping to be encouraged by all of these promises of blessings and happiness. Yet we must come to Him, and He must enter into us, in order for us to apprehend and affirm all that is available here. To the hard-hearted and unbelieving Jews of His day, these were merely “hard sayings”, inaccessible to their carnal human reasoning and experience. It is the same for us today, if we have not yet received the Lord into our hearts, and His revealing and quickening Spirit.

The disciples too were mostly bewildered by this wisdom that defied all that nature and human experience revealed as true. It was only after He left them, and after they had received the promise of His indwelling Spirit, that so much of what He taught them started to become clear. All of the truth of God, and the wisdom of God, and the righteousness of God amount to nothing outside of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the One who actualizes and embodies this. If we come to Matthew 5 as philosophy, or poetry or saintly religious sentiment, then we will be sadly disappointed, for it none of those things. It is the life of Jesus Christ that gives them wings, and lifts them from the page and into our lives and experience. It is He alone that makes the Book of Acts so much more than a testimony of bloody persecution. Only in Him do we see the blessing, the comfort, the mercy, the face of God in the testimony of the early apostles, most of whom were cruelly and viscously martyred.

Again, returning to this ideal of exceeding gladness – how are we to understand this? Surely this cannot be some kind of emotional joy, something swelling up from the nature of man. No, my friends, this gladness is nothing like that at all. Rather it runs far deeper, flowing out of the Father’s magnanimous and gigantic heart. It is rooted in the hope of something so much bigger and better than any good or evil this world has to offer. It is indeed big enough and deep enough to redeem and swallow up all of the pain, all of the abandonment and loss suffered in this life at the hands of the devil, fallen man and our own carnal nature. It is a gladness intrinsically rooted in a promise and a person. We can be exceedingly glad now, my friends, because in Jesus Christ – the Sure and Faithful One – we …

– will receive His mercy by the blood of His Cross

– are comforted by God Himself

– are citizens in the Kingdom of our God and children in His Eternal Household

– will one day soon inherit all of the earth

– will be filled with His Righteousness and See Him as He truly is

For, as Isaiah 61 affirms, this is why our Lord came after all –

“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me,
Because the LORD has anointed Me
To preach good tidings to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives,
And the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD,
And the day of vengeance of our God;
To comfort all who mourn,
To console those who mourn in Zion,
To give them beauty for ashes,
The oil of joy for mourning,
The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;
That they may be called trees of righteousness,
The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified.”

Moving beyond the assurance of blessings in Matthew 5, the Lord begins to advocate for a righteousness that any honest person would reckon as inaccessible beyond any measure: The reconciling quickly with our enemy, the plucking out of the lusting eye, the turning the other cheek, the giving of even more to him who would sue you, the blessing of those that curse you, the surpassing of even the painstaking righteousness of the Pharisees, and so on.

He ends the section on outward behavior in verse 48 with perhaps the height of all audacity and impossibility, by saying…

Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

Talk about asking the impossible! What kind of unreachable standard is this? Who could possibly attain it? Not even Noah or Abraham or Samuel or any of the prophets certainly. Not you or I my friend. Indeed, only the new Adam, the Holy One of Israel, the Bright and Morning Star, the Dayspring and Desire of all Nations, the One who is the Heir of all things, this One who is the Express Image of God and the only Pure Thing that the Holy Father in Heaven beholds on this earth.

Our Lord then turns in His message to the root and source of all that is wrong with man -going back to that dark and defiant day in Eden. What we see here my brothers, in nothing like the syrupy sermon language of our day, is life and death set before us in the most unqualified of terms. Oh that our preachers today would stop feathering their messages with insipid and powerless ideas that are absolutely impotent against the powers of darkness in man and the world.

“Hell fire”! I dare say. What kind of Jesus is this? Certainly not the smiley-faced, Sunday School Jesus we foist upon our children each week. Here is the real Christ, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah in full roar, in all of His anointed and prophetic veracity, telling us that we will most certainly die and burn in the fires of Hell. Here He is promising us unquenchable fire!

My friends – could it be that we have managed to get Him and His first coming all wrong? Wasn’t He supposed to soften the edges of the Old Covenant, and present a happier, easy-going God to mortal man? Wasn’t he supposed to make things easier and more accessible to us?

Here in His very first message to the people, our Lord, in all prophetic power and witness, comes out with all barrels firing, presenting a ‘no holds barred’ standard of holiness to which no man alive could possibly attain. All surface religion and outward “doing” is herein reduced to an ash heap, as He lays down an unapproachable standard of acceptance with the most unthinkable consequences for failure.

“Therefore you shall be perfect just as your Father in Heaven is perfect.”

What? Perfect? Certainly this isn’t what my pastor taught last week in our “Finding your Ultimate Potential” workshop. This must be Step #8 in our “Seven Steps to Personal Gratification” program?

My friends – if you cannot see here that all shallow, earth-bound, man-gratifying religion is emasculated by our Lord, then I’m sorry I have nothing else for you.

Rather than lowering God so that we can reach Him by ourselves, our Lord most emphatically affirms the High and Holy Character and Righteousness and Requirement of God that runs all through His Bible and universe. There is clearly no stooping here, no holiness light, with fewer calories and substance – no relaxing of the message or lowering of the bar. In fact, the Prophet Jesus (I believe that the Church and Judaism have largely missed the fact that our Lord came first as God’s Ultimate Prophet, before He ever became our Savior – perhaps we shall say more on this at a later time) seems to be going out of His way here to suggest that God is beyond the reach of man. Further, to fail by even the smallest degree, results in unspeakable torment.

So where does this leave us? What about this exceeding gladness He mentioned earlier? It almost doesn’t make sense, does it?

Well, my friends, it in fact makes perfect and heavenly sense if we can only grasp what He is laying down in the Sermon on the Mount. First He lays down a life and death standard of righteousness that no mortal man has or could possibly attain. He starts with our behavior, then digs deeper in to the heart, from which all that we are ebbs and flows. Not only are we to behave as God acts, we are to “be” as God is, deep down in the bowels of what we are. If this isn’t debilitating enough, He then assures us that failure to attain the target perfectly will result in hell fire.

To paraphrase – You will be perfect as God is perfect or you will be consigned to Hell! Period! Any questions?

How many of you have skipped through Matthew 5-7 with a grin on your face and lightness in your heart, praising Jesus for how happy and hopeful it makes you feel. Read it again, my brother – He is setting you up to fail and if you can’t see that then I am sorry brethren you have never heard the true gospel.

I get a kick out of those Christians altogether caught up with man-enabled works. Got to do the works, they say! Can’t forget the works. All right then, my brother, go to it. Oh and by the way, while you are at it, you must do them all and all the time, and if you don’t then our Lord has a one-way ticket to eternal torment with your name on it!

As we come to our Lord’s message and meaning here and throughout the Scriptures, it becomes clear that He first set the standard for acceptance before a Perfect and Holy God, which amounted to nothing short of Himself, and only Himself. No other man qualifies, or could. He then sets out to show a fallen humanity that we can indeed find this acceptance “in Him” – that He is the Father’s good gift for His children (Math 7:7, Romans 6:23), and that there is a way back to the heart of God. He is both the way (John 14:6) and the narrow gate (Matt 7:13) through which we can hope to return. His ministry begins by affirming what God expects (the what) and continues and ends with our Lord revealing aspects of Himself as the means to meeting this expectation (the how). By eliminating any other possible means at the beginning, He narrows our options so that all that stands before us is Himself. Eternal life then hinges on a singular decision whether we will believe on and receive Him or not.

Understanding this goes a long way in helping us to comprehend the unity and correlation between the Old and New Covenants, between the God of Mount Sinai and Jesus on the mount. God’s high and holy standards haven’t changed one bit from Eden to Sinai to today. How could they, for He is the same yesterday, today and forever? It would be unthinkable that our High and Holy and Perfect God would diminish Himself in any measure in order to have fellowship with His creation.

My brethren – flowing out of this is the heart and soul of the Christian faith – that in Christ alone we derive all that is required for blessing and fullness of life in God. Yes, from our perspective God is asking the impossible of us – to be absolutely perfect. Yet in His grace and love He also provides the one and only thing that makes this possible – His Perfect and Beloved Son, in whom He is well pleased. Here lies the majesty and splendor of the Christian gospel – the good news that yes, there is hope for us, and this hope has a name…

Acts 4:8-12 – Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders of Israel: If we this day are judged for a good deed done to a helpless man, by what means he has been made well, let it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole. This is the ‘stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone.’ Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

“Not I but Christ”, passively proclaimed the Apostle Paul, affirming that any righteousness we claim can only ever be an attributed righteousness, not inherited or acquired. Understanding this places Jesus Christ up where He belongs, on God’s pedestal. He is thereby enlarged and we, with all of our religious and moral effort, reduced. He alone represents our only hope of being restored to fellowship with our God and Father. He is the Way because a Holy God demands of us something that we cannot, under any circumstances, deliver. Have you accepted this truth, my friend, because until you do, you will never enter into His rest – you will never on your own, of and by yourself, be acceptable to the Father.

Father – Holy and Righteous Father, we thank Thee that you are in no manner diminished in your glory by your offer of salvation and righteousness to us – that in your Pure and Worthy Son, we attain the divine likeness with Thee and are able to enter into your fellowship and family. We praise Thee that you see the life of your Son when you behold us, in our ups and downs, in our stops and starts and inconsistent ways. O Father, let us exalt Him as He is in Heaven, above all the heavenly hosts, above any created thing. In Him we pray, Amen.

Please pray for us here at Living-Walk, that we would watch and see the Master at work, and understand what He would have us do.

Your friend in Christ Jesus,

Wayne

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Utterly For the Lord – W.E. Smith

How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, then follow him. (1 Kings 18:21 ESV)

“If therefore ye have been raised with the Christ, seek the things which are above, where the Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God: have your mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are on the earth; for ye have died, and your life is hid with the Christ in God. When the Christ is manifested who is our life, then shall ye also be manifested with him in glory.” (Colossians 3:1-4)

Dear beloved, if we have at any time gone to the Lord asking for more, for the real thing, for that fuller and deeper experience of the life of the Lord through His Spirit (however you wish to express this idea), and if you are sincere; if this is indeed rising up out of some deep and unsettled place in your heart – then you can expect that everything around you will begin to change, to take on a new color, to be revealed for what it is. Then you will inevitably ‘sense’ the Spirit prompting you to come out or to separate yourself from certain things.

Out from what you ask?

In short, out from anything and everything that is not of the Lord, that is less than His fullest desire. This could encompass relationships, associations, activities, ideas – quite generally, anything at all.

And although there are general principles involved, this coming out, this separation, as it plays out in each of our lives, is a very personal and pressing matter. To follow the Lord, to be utterly for the Lord, is to expect that everything in your heart and life will be turned upside down and inside out. You will be asked to give up things (even normal and good things) that are perhaps unthinkable and impossible.

The Lord, over time, will begin to show us where we are are mixed up and mixed in with things that can no longer be – quite usually religious things, christian things, church things, civil things, things having to do with who we are and where we came from and so forth. It is a very personal and cutting experience, and the Holy Spirit, with great gentleness and patience will undertake this like no teacher can. Typically, when the Lord prompts us to come out of something, to detach ourselves from something, it is at precisely the right time for us in our walk in Him. Sometimes things will be forcibly taken from us, and this is no doubt the hardest way this separation occurs. There is a shaking, there is violence and abruptness. The ground may seem to be shifting from under our feet. Yet even then the Lord knows what He is doing. This is by no means a strange thing, but merely an answer for our heart’s cry to be utterly for the Lord.

I will give a personal example, and please do not interpret this as an injunction being laid on anyone else 

Many years ago, the Spirit very gently conveyed to me that it was inappropriate for me to vote in civil elections or to support political parties of any kind. This took some time, as He started to show me the larger Kingdom principles involved. After I set this down, I felt this wonderful release, as I no longer felt compelled to take sides in political debates with friends and family. I remember the first time I expressed to someone that My Lord never chose the lesser of two evils, and I am darn sure He wouldn’t want me to either. (again – please do not reply responding to this issue, as it is only an example that I am using to illustrate a larger more important principle). Compromise, expediency, pragmatism – these are all very practical and important concepts in this fallen world of men and human government. Yet they have no place in the Kingdom of our Lord.

Other separations where there is mixture and compromise are not so easy to detach ourselves from, and so we forestall, we resist, we begin to rationalize that it isn’t really that dangerous. The Lord then steps in and removes us (we get fired, we are falsely accused, we are betrayed, or we are dis-fellowshipped). There is confusion, regret, frustration on our part. We grow bitter perhaps, but again the general principle remains, that if we are to be utterly for the Lord, then we cannot be mixed in with anything else that He finds objectionable or contrary to His Nature and His Kingdom.

When the Word enjoins us to “seek first the Kingdom of God” or the things that are above, we should expect that everything else that is not part of His Kingdom, must come under the dominion of His Spirit within us. The Lord may permit us to straddle two worlds for many years in fact, until He then asks us or forces us to choose one side or the other. My sense in the Spirit is that we are so very close to the culmination of this age, that this imperative will intensify in all of the lives of those who are truly seeking His heart in this time. We must be very sensitive to matters of conscience and spiritual prompting, and then we must obey. Pure and simple.

The word from T. Austin-Sparks below (with emphasis added) compliments what is being expressed here. Be blessed my brethren. Pray for one another. Love the saints and all the brethren. Keep the faith. Hear Him and Follow Him alone in this dark hour!

You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people. (1 Peter 2:9)

“You are a holy nation,” a nation separated from this world unto God. New birth means that, oh, that that was made clear to all right there at the beginning how utter this thing is. The Lord Jesus left people in no doubt about this; a cleavage utter and absolute. He would take risks with people, you would probably say: “Oh, why put them off, why run the risk of offending them, why discourage them saying ‘except, except, except’ all the time?” Ah, He was taking all the risks necessary about this because the reality, the awful reality of this: you CANNOT, you cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven while you cling to this kingdom inimical to God, in any way…. How much the New Testament has to say about this, a walk in holiness that is separate unto God in heart, in spirit, in life, from this world. And if we knew it, a very large degree of our education, our spiritual education and our discipline in the Christian life under the hand of the HOLY Spirit, has to do with those things in us which are mixed up….

The Lord calls for distinctiveness of life and testimony, real distinctiveness of life and testimony. Is our life, dear friends, is your life and my life in this world in our connections and associations and so on, quite distinct, no mistaking to what realm we belong, to Whom we belong? No mistaking it? Or are we mixed in, compromising, keeping on good terms with this world and its people under the devil’s hand? If so, we stand to lose terribly.... Is there something quite distinctive about our lives that says that man, that woman, that young man, that young woman is utter for God, there’s no doubt about it, you see it all the time, they are utter for God; they are not playing at things, there’s no compromise with them. Now this sounds hard, but it’s necessary. Do you see what’s involved? Dear friends, the secret of power is holiness! It is. The secret of power is holiness. If our lives are powerless it may be due to this lack somewhere, somehow, of this utterness for God, this separation unto God, of some kind of compromise somehow, somewhere, with the prince of this world who’s robbing us of our spiritual power and vitality on his own ground. The secret of power is holiness; whatever you forget, remember that! (TAS)

How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, then follow him. (1 Kings 18:21 ESV)

That word was never addressed to the unsaved. It was never intended for them. It is only rarely that the unsaved are in the position of two opinions. More often than not they are of no opinion. This is what the prophet really said to the people: “How long limp ye from one side to another?” He viewed them as lame, and lamed by uncertainty, lamed by indecision, paralyzed by an unsettled issue. Oh, how an unsettled issue does paralyze the life. Have a controversy with the Lord, an unsettled issue with the Lord, and your whole life is lamed, is paralyzed; you are limping first one way and then the other; there is no sense of stability about your way.

So the prophet called for the issue to be settled. How long limp ye from one side to the other? Settle this issue one way or the other. If Jehovah be God, let Him have His place, His full rights; settle it once and for all. If Baal is god, well then let us be settled. But until that is done you are crippled, you are paralyzed, and the whole secret of your being in that weak, indefinite, unstable, uncertain place is that God is not having His full rights; there is a dividedness in your life, a dividedness in your own soul, because other interests and considerations are in view. The dividedness may be in your home life, where you have power, authority and influence, and you are not standing one hundred percent for the Lord’s interests there. It may be working in other directions, but wherever it is present the result is that deep down in your being you are not satisfied, you are not at rest. You may be busy, you may be occupied, you may be rushing hither and thither in the Lord’s name, but you know that deep down there is a lack, an uncertainty, an unsettled state; your spiritual life is limited and paralyzed. It will always be so until the issue is settled and God has His place in fullness in every part and relationship of your life. It is a question of zeal for the Lord, jealousy for the Lord.

By T. Austin-Sparks from: The Zeal of the Lord – Chapter 2

The Burden of the Valley of Vision by T. Austin-Sparks


Reading: (Isaiah 22:1)

The word ”burden” here just does mean a load or weight, as much as a man can carry. Thus the Prophets felt what the Lord had shown them to be something that weighed heavily upon them and often overwhelmed them.

Why do You show me iniquity, and cause me to see trouble? (Habakkuk 1:3)

The prophetic function is brought into operation at a time when things are not well with the people and work of God, when declension has set in; when things have lost their distinctive Divine character; when there is a falling short or an accretion of features which were never intended by God. The Prophet in principle is one who represents, in himself and his vision, God’s reaction to either a dangerous tendency or a positive deviation. He stands on God’s full ground and the trend breaks on him. That which constitutes this prophetic function is spiritual perception, discernment, and insight. The Prophet sees, and he sees what others are not seeing. It is vision, and this vision is not just of an enterprise, a ”work,” a venture; it is a state, a condition. It is not for the work as such that he is concerned, but for the spiritual state that dishonors and grieves the Lord.

This faculty of spiritual discernment makes the Prophet a very lonely man, and brings upon him all the charges of being singular, extreme, idealistic, unbalanced, spiritually proud, and even schismatic. He makes many enemies for himself. Sometimes he is not vindicated until after he has left the earthly scene of his testimony. Nevertheless, the Prophet is the instrument of keeping the Lord’s full thought alive, and of maintaining vision without which the people are doomed to disintegration.

While it has so often been an individual with whom the Lord has deposited His fuller thought and made His prophetic vessel, it has also very frequently been a company of His people in which He has been more utterly represented. Such companies are seen scattered down the ages. They were the Lord’s reactionary vessels. Such, surely, are the ”Overcomers” of every ”end-time.” The mass of Christians may be too taken up with the externals and accepted ways of Christianity; too spiritually satisfied with the lesser; too bound by tradition and fettered by the established order. The Lord cannot do His full thing with them because He does not put His new wine into old wineskins; the skins would burst and the life be wasted, not conserved to definite purpose. He finds Himself limited by an order which, while it may have been right at a certain time and for a certain period to carry His testimony up to a certain point, yet now remains as the fixed bound, and for want of an essential adjustableness His fuller purposes are impossible of realization. So it was with Judaism, so it has become with Christianity, and so it is with many an instrumentality which has been greatly used by Him. There is no finality with us here, and it is dangerous to the Lord’s interest to conclude that, because the Lord led and gave a pattern at a certain time, that was full and final and must remain. Every bit of new revelation will call for adjustment, but revelation waits for such a sense of need as to at least make for willingness to adjust.

The Lord needs that which really does represent His fullest possible thought, and not those who are just doing a good work. But it costs; and this is the ”burden of the valley of vision.”

Where Are You Looking? – T. Austin-Sparks


T. Austin-Sparks and Watchman Nee

Let thine eyes look right on, and let thine eyelids look straight before thee.
Make level the paths of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established.
Turn not to the right hand nor to the left.
(Proverbs 4:25-27)

Looking unto Jesus…” (Hebrews 12:2)

For the man in Christ life has a clear and definite objective. The Spirit has seen good to fill the whole Bible with that truth, continually urging the believer to realise that his life is set in the context of divine purpose. The letter to the Hebrews not only appeals to us to press on to this goal, but it portrays Christ as the great example and proof that the goal can be reached. Jesus has gone this way; He has gone the whole way, and He has arrived at the destination. More-over He has done it all for us, and by His accomplishment has given us the ground of confidence that the goal can be attained and the prize received. He took upon Himself our humanity, accepted the challenge of our circumstances and experiences, never faltering until the divine end was reached. We are reminded that He has triumphantly fulfilled God’s purpose, and that by His present position He offers us the assurance that we too can share in His triumph. We must keep looking unto Jesus. More correctly this should be stated as: ‘looking off unto Jesus’. This matter of the direction of our spiritual gaze is of the utmost importance. The wise man equated a straight and established path with the straight look ahead and with no turning aside to the right or to the left. The Word of God gives clear warning about getting off the road of His will, for God knows the hazards involved in so doing and wishes to save us from the hindrance to progress which can result when we look or face in the wrong direction. In this article we shall consider some of these looks which must be avoided by those who wish to make spiritual progress.

The Backward Look

The Lord Jesus was most emphatic about this matter when He stated that the one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is not fit for the kingdom of God. This backward look can lead to grave tragedies. In the wilderness this is what Israel did. Egypt lay behind them and should always have been turned away from, but in the difficulties of the way they called one another to look back. “They turned again and tempted God, and provoked the holy one of Israel” (Psalm 78:41). They spoiled their whole course by this action, and for many years they made no progress at all but went round and round in circles; and all because of the backward look. That generation failed to enter into what God had prepared for them, simply because they yielded to the temptation to look back, which was – and always is – the wrong direction.

Similar perils beset God’s people in New Testament times. The Galatian believers were unsettled by the voice of the Judaizers, calling them to look back, not to the world with its ungodliness, not altogether to forsake Christ, but to face towards a religious procedure which was not the spiritual life to which they had been called in Christ. They had already half looked back, and had come to a standstill because of this. Previously they had been making good progress, as we always do when we keep our eyes on Christ, but now they had stopped and were raising the question as to whether they would in fact go on any more, or whether they would go back to the beggarly elements which should have been left behind. The letter was meant to warn them of the dangers of the backward look. The letter to the Hebrews was written for the same purpose. Those concerned could easily be made to feel the emotional nostalgia of the system from which they had been delivered, so they had to be reminded that they would forfeit God’s pleasure if they drew back, and urged rather to press on, looking away from the past and focussing their gaze on the exalted Christ. However advanced we may be in our Christian experience, there seems to be no point when we can afford to take our eyes off the goal set before us and indulge in the follies of the backward look.

The Look Around

When the spies brought back the wrong report concerning the promised land, they did so because they had only looked around them, and never measured what they saw with the reality of an all-powerful God. They did not just imagine the difficulties; they did not need to do so for the cities and giants were real enough. But they kept their gaze down to the things around them, never lifting up their eyes to the one from whom help comes, and so they were discouraged themselves and they discouraged God’s people with what was called an evil report. The trouble was that they only looked on their visible surroundings and took their eyes off the Lord. There were only two of them who kept their gaze in the right direction, and they were the ones who eventually went through to the end. Their eyes looked right on, and so their ways were established.

In the New Testament Peter is the great example of the peril which comes to those who look around. So long as he kept his eyes on Christ he could actually walk on the water, but he began to sink as soon as he turned them away, changed the direction of his attention and began to look at circumstances – “When he saw the wind…” (Matthew 14:30). Once again let it be said that he had plenty of reason for his fear. Indeed there are ancient manuscripts which read, ‘the strong wind’. However it was his foolishness in letting outward circumstances distract his attention from his Lord which earned him a wetting, even though the hand of Jesus so graciously rescued him from anything worse. At all costs we must beware of looking around in unbelief when we should be looking off and up in faith.

The Short-sighted Look

Paul had to blame the Corinthians for limiting their vision to the things immediately before their eyes: “You look at the things which are before your face” (2 Corinthians 10:7). To be spiritually short-sighted, focussing only on what is near at hand, is to become too easily satisfied and contented in the realm of things spiritual; to have a small and narrow horizon and to fail to appreciate the much more which God has in mind. It is so easy to settle into a limited and very circumscribed area, thinking only of the spiritual things with which we are familiar and which seem so important to us, while we fail to take note of the much more which lies beyond us and to which we are being called. There are few things more stultifying in the Christian life than an assumption that there is nothing beyond the small sphere of our experience. It is possible to get so shut-in, so near-sighted, that we go round and round in circles, never looking out to the new dimensions of spiritual experience to which God is calling us, and almost imagining that we know all there is to know about God’s Word and His purposes in Christ. The Corinthians seem to have done this, so to have focussed down on their own affairs, even their own spiritual gifts, that they were almost at a standstill spiritually. They were looking at themselves, full of concern for their own assembly, which was right enough, but apparently not able to appreciate the large purposes of God as represented by Paul’s ministry. Even the matters which have been clearly shown of God and blessed by Him can become a hindrance when they arrest and hold the attention as things in themselves. These are the things before our face, but we were intended always to look beyond them to the Lord, and always beyond the immediate factors to the eternal values in Christ. We can be short-sighted even with the Word of God, if we concentrate only on what we have already known of Christ and fail to appreciate that God has much more light and truth to break forth from His Word.

The Downward Look

To the Philippians Paul wrote: “…not looking each of you to his own things…” (Philippians 2:4). He was urging them not always to be governed by how things affected them personally, not to measure every matter as to whether they stood to gain or lose by what was happening. Self-forgetfulness is one of the secrets of spiritual progress. When, in His talk with the needy Samaritan woman at Sychar’s well, Jesus had demonstrated this gracious turning aside from personal concerns to care for others, He followed up His example by exhorting His disciples to lift up their eyes and look upon the fields. A selfish look is a downward look, and as such is to be avoided by those who wish to make level the paths of their feet. Paul’s concern was not only with the spiritual good of the individual believers but with the onward march of the fellowship of God’s people, and he knew that this would be seriously impaired if each one became preoccupied with his own affairs, even though it was in the realm of spiritual things.

The Inward Look

The last of these mis-directed looks is perhaps the commonest in the case of those who wish to follow the Lord. How much of the Scriptures seems to be concerned with getting God’s people to stop looking inwards. Perhaps there is nothing more calculated to arrest spiritual progress than the inward look. What are we looking for? Something good in ourselves? We will never find that, as Paul makes quite clear when he affirms: “I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing” (Romans 7:18). Introspection is the very opposite of faith, for it searches for some evidence of God’s holiness and power in ourselves, instead of rejoicing in the perfection of the Saviour. It has a spurious appearance of humility and piety, but in fact it leads to self-preoccupation, instead of preoccupation with Christ. We need to be sensitive so that the Holy Spirit can lead us ever continuingly to the appropriation of the cleansing power of Christ’s blood, but we must never keep gazing inwards when we should be looking off and up to our Substitute and Saviour. It is not a healthy person but a sick one who is always feeling his own pulse and taking his own temperature. Salvation is health; the health of those who know that their righteousness is in heaven. We do right to let the Lord search us, but we will have nothing but trouble if we persist in looking within. If we think that it is necessary to keep looking in to avoid falling into Satan’s snares, the psalmist will assure us that the Lord will watch our feet if we keep our eyes on Him: “My eyes are ever toward the Lord, for He will pluck my feet out of the net” (Psalm 25:15). This is one more argument for the upward look.

The Upward Look

It is becoming apparent that a great deal depends on our looking, so we are not surprised that towards the end of the letter to the Hebrews which reminds us that we are called to partnership with Christ and urges us to press on towards fullness in Him, there should be this call to look off unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. We are to look off from what is behind, from what is round about, from what is near at hand and what is essentially selfish; to look off from ourselves to Jesus. Abraham, the great man of faith, looked for a heavenly city and a heavenly country, and so was saved from looking back or settling down. Much was bound up with this sustained look of his. So often he was tempted to seek more immediate benefits, some middle ground which was less than God’s best, and the Lord had constantly to call him to take his eyes off earth’s distractions and rewards so that he could look away to the essentially spiritual and heavenly goal of his calling.

The passage in Proverbs stresses the close relationship between looking straight ahead and having a clear and direct path of progress. Abraham found that this looking away from the things of earth kept him constantly on the move. From time to time he could have settled down in satisfaction with his own position, but “he looked for a city”, and he was saved from stagnation by keeping his eyes on God’s promised goal. A very relevant passage in this connection is: “Our light affliction, which is for the moment, worketh for us more and more exceedingly an eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18). It is the eternal which is in view, and this calls for adjustment in many respects of our affairs, so that our lives can be directed towards the permanent glory of God’s purpose for us. Our procedure should always have eternity in view. When we are considering a relationship, we should see it in the light of God’s end. If we have to decide where to live or what work to take up, we should let our eyes look right on, not choosing what seems good just at the moment, but making sure that eternal values are also considered. Just as Satan tempted Christ by offering Him the kingdoms of this world and their glory, so he will try to distract our attention from the will of God by offering seeming advantages now. We shall always be saved by the upward look.