Month: August 2012

Divine Life and Deliverance from Bondage to Sin and Death – T.A. Sparks

Coming Soon - The Prophetic Urgency!Chapter 5 – Divine Life and Deliverance from Bondage to Sin and Death

Reading: John 5:1-18.

We have pointed out that the key to these signs is to be found in the reaction which took place toward them, and that is true in this case. Let us look at a few of the features.

First of all, we must note the Jewish setting of this sign. It was at the “feast of the Jews”, and most likely that was the Feast of the Passover. In that case it would be the greatest of all the Jewish feasts and would account for the multitude being in Jerusalem at that time, for while it was not necessary for the people to go up there for the other feasts, it was imperative that they went up for the Passover. So there was a great multitude in Jerusalem at this time, and this sign was performed there, that is, at the very centre of Israel.

And then it was performed on the Sabbath Day. You will have noticed that the Sabbath is mentioned four times in these few verses. It was that which governed the whole life of Israel, and all the laws of Israel were gathered into it. It represented everything in the life of Israel.

I hope you are collecting all these features, because we are going to find our key to this sign in them.

One more feature. The man upon whom this sign was performed had been in his place of helplessness for thirty-eight years. That prepares our way toward the meaning of things, so we turn to have a look at this man.

He was an earthbound man. His bed was only a very thin mat and there was not an inch between him and the earth. He was well down on the earth, and was a fixture. But he had not accepted that position; he had been struggling with the earth and against his situation for thirty-eight years. It does not need much imagination to visualize him: every so often he made an effort to get up, struggled to get away from his bed. And then he had to fall back again – and he always came back to the place from which he started. Every effort to leave that bed only resulted in his having to fall back on it again. He was a prisoner of his bed. It was his master and he was completely helpless there. The thing which was supposed to give him rest gave him no rest at all. And he was in that position for thirty-eight years. That is long enough to show that the situation was hopeless!

Now we will look at the background. What is it that lies behind this? You will see why I spoke about the Jewish setting, for this is a picture of Israel under the law and Israel in the wilderness for thirty-eight years. The first generation that came out of Egypt reached the border of the land and then, because of unbelief, were turned back into the wilderness for thirty-eight years, and there they struggled under the burden of the law. They wanted to get away from their position but they never could. They wanted to get into the land, but never arrived there. If their own effort could have got them there, they would have been there, but the fact of the matter was that they were going round in a circle and were always coming back to the place from which they started. The bed of the law was only making them know the weakness of the flesh. It gave them no rest – it only showed them how helpless they were.

Of course, those of you who know your New Testament are already thinking of the Letter to the Romans, and especially Romans 7. Do you remember that chapter? Here is the poor man struggling under the law. He says: “The good which I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I practise… O wretched man that I am!” (Romans 7:19,24). That is the man at the Pool of Bethesda: ‘What I want to do I never can do. What I do not want to do (that is, stay here), I am having to do all the time. Oh, wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from this dead body?’

Let us go back to Israel. You remember that the Letter to the Hebrews always speaks of the land of promise as ‘God’s rest’. It says of that first generation that they never entered into ‘His rest’, and that “there remaineth therefore a sabbath rest for the people of God” (Hebrews 4:9). Now the land of promise is shown to be a type of Christ in heaven: Christ risen from the dead. You see, Israel had to go through the Jordan when it overflowed all its banks. The swellings of Jordan were a type of death, and they had to go through death on to resurrection ground. Then the word to Joshua was that he should go up and possess the land. It is resurrection and ascension. It is Christ in heaven, victorious over death, and His people with Him there. As Paul says: “And raised us up with him, and made us to sit with him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:6).

Well, now where are we in our New Testament? It is quite true – we are in the Letter to the Hebrews, but with this man at the Pool of Bethesda we are somewhere else, very distinctly: we are in the Letter to the Galatians, and you have to put the whole of that Letter right into these eighteen verses of John 5. What is the Letter to the Galatians all about? First of all, it is about the bondage of the law and the law making nothing perfect but bringing everybody into bondage. The people who are under the law are in this Letter spoken of as being in bondage. The Apostle says that the Jerusalem which is below, or beneath, “is in bondage with her children” (Galatians 4:25). That is where the poor man was, in Jerusalem, but in bondage in the Jerusalem which is beneath. So Galatians first of all speaks about bondage under the law.

Then the second thing that the Letter to the Galatians speaks about is the spirit of sonship in Christ. You will recall that the great words of this Letter are ‘sons’ and ‘the Spirit’. We are all sons of God by faith in Jesus Christ. It is sonship in Christ, and the spirit of sonship is the Holy Spirit.

Now we come back to John and hear the Lord Jesus saying: “If therefore the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed”(John 8:36); “ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). What is the truth that makes us free from the bondage of the law? It is the great and glorious truth of our sonship in Jesus Christ.

Need I turn you to the Letter to the Galatians? The idea of liberty, ‘liberty in Christ’, is mentioned eleven times in that Letter, and that is more often than in all the other Letters put together. “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage” (Galatians 5:1 – A.V.). And again: “For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty” (Galatians 5:13 – A.V.). It is the liberty of the sons of God through faith in Jesus Christ.

And note again: the name ‘Christ’ is mentioned forty-three times in this little Letter. That is tremendously impressive. If it has a lot to say about the law and about liberty, it has far more to say about Christ. The law is broken in Christ, and all its bondage is destroyed for the sons of God. They are free by grace, and Christ has made them free.

I do not know whether this was in John’s mind, but I do see that he had a great deal in his mind which we do not always notice. What I mean is this: Why was it that when John spoke about the Pool of Bethesda he said that there are five porches there? Was it the artist giving a little touch to the picture? Well, John was an artist in words, but the Holy Spirit was writing this thing through John, and five is the number of grace. Wherever you look in the Bible five is the number of grace. You and I carry that very number on both hands and both feet, if we are normal people; and more than that, we have five physical senses. Why, we are made up of fives! God meant us to be people of grace. This poor man was in bondage to the law, but “the law was given by Moses; grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). And right there, in the presence of the bondage of the law, was this testimony to the grace of God in Jesus Christ.

What is this sign, then? It is a wonderful sign! This man is a true picture and representation of what it means to be under the law. Jesus stood and cried: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden” (Matthew 11:28). What did He mean? The burden of the law was upon the people, indeed, it was a heavy burden for them. The Pharisees gave more than two thousand interpretations to the law of Moses, and said: ‘The law of Moses does not mean that you have only to keep ten commandments; it means that you have to keep two thousand.’ There was not a point in all their human life where this law was not applied and made their lives difficult. And all this was gathered up into the Sabbath: ‘You must not make your bed on the Sabbath! You must not carry your bed on the Sabbath! You must not poke your fire on the Sabbath! You must do nothing on the Sabbath – you may not even walk more than three miles.’ Two thousand regulations for their lives! The one thing that they were meeting every day, and especially on the Sabbath, was ‘You may not’.

“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). What has happened? Jesus has appropriated the Sabbath to Himself. It is no longer a day of the week – it is a divine person. (If the Seventh Day Adventists saw that, the whole of their system would go in five minutes!) No, Jesus is God’s Sabbath. He is the end of God’s works, and in Him God has entered into His rest. This is the ‘rest which remaineth for the children of God’ – not a day of the week or on the calendar, but a divine person, the Son of God. In Him we come to rest, and that which was our bondage is now our servant. In Him that against which we were always struggling is now our victory. Oh yes, Jesus is the Sabbath, and if we live in Him we shall not spoil the Sabbath. Every day should be a day of rest to our souls. Oh, this is a mighty thing that the Lord Jesus has done!

Now note: the Lord Jesus looked upon that which He did for this man as a very great and serious thing. When He found him in the temple He said to him: “Thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing befall thee” (John 5:14). Now back to the Letter to the Galatians: “Ye were running well,” said the Apostle, “who did hinder you?” (Galatians 5:7). ‘You are returning, or are in danger of returning, to the old bondage. You are listening to those Judaizers who want to bring you back under the bondage of the law, and if you go back there the last state will be worse than the first. It is a worse thing to fall away from grace than never to have been in grace.’ That is what the Word says – ‘a worse thing’. Oh, dear friends, we have been liberated from this whole law through faith in Jesus Christ. Let us walk, and continue to walk in our liberty. “Ye were running well” – that is better than walking. Let us not stop running.

 

To return to the Letter to the Hebrews. There are two phrases in that Letter which run right through. One is: ‘Let us’… “Let us press on to full growth”(Hebrews 4:1 – R.V. margin). ‘Let us’, says the writer, ‘go right on in Christ in the new position that grace has brought us to.’

Then there is the other word that is constantly recurring in this Letter: ‘Lest’… “Lest there be any man that falleth short of the grace of God” (Hebrews 12:15): “Lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief”(Hebrews 4:11 – A.V.). It is a word of warning and precaution – the alternative to going on is going back.

Now, you see, all this is an explanation of the life which we have in Christ. It is a life which makes us free, delivers us from bondage, brings us into rest and opens up a grand and glorious prospect before us.

Let us hear the warning: “Sin no more”. It is a sin to turn away from grace and to turn back to law. It is the sin of turning from liberty back into bondage. It says of this first generation of Israel in the wilderness: “And turned back in their hearts unto Egypt” (Acts 7:39). And the Lord says of such people: “My soul hath no pleasure in him” (Hebrews 10:38). It is a terrible thing to lose the pleasure of the Lord! That is sin indeed.

Well, that is the dark side of the sign. But what a lot there is in this incident of the man at the Pool! What I have said about it is not just my own imagination, for all the New Testament afterward proves this to be true. See those disciples again. How defeated they were before the Spirit came on the Day of Pentecost! They were always trying to do the right thing and were always failing. They were always trying not to do the wrong thing and say the wrong thing, but they were always doing it. You are very sorry for them, are you not? You hear poor Peter saying: ‘I will go with Thee, even unto death.’ Well, that is a good resolve, a good intention. He meant well, but when it came to the test, did he do it? Oh no, he was in bondage to his own weakness. But look at that man on the Day of Pentecost! He, with the other eleven, are men who are set free. Oh yes, they are men at liberty. No more bondage! And the New Testament goes on to show this wonderful truth of deliverance in Jesus Christ from all bondage.

John was right in choosing this sign, and the Holy Spirit was right in choosing it. He knew all the wonderful doctrine and reality of grace that was in it. “Wouldest thou be made whole?”This is what it means to be made whole – to be taken out of the kingdom of the bondage of the law and to be put into the kingdom of the grace of the Lord Jesus.

I hope this appeals to your heart and that it is not just some interesting teaching! Oh, I am quite sure that if you were seeing it in the spirit there would be a smile on your face and a song in your heart. You would be singing: ‘Free from the law, O happy condition!’ That is what this man sang. I don’t suppose he knew our hymn, but that was what he was singing – ‘Free from that bed, O happy condition’!

May the Lord bring us into the blessing of the liberty which is in Christ!

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Origin is Everything – W.E. Smith

Jesus’ food was to do the will of His Father – what is our our food?

Jesus did not join himself to any religious or political party or faction – do we?

Jesus was not in any way, manner of form, religious – are we?

Jesus’ zeal was for His Father’s glory and for His house – what is our zeal for?

Although He clearly loved and yearned for Israel, Jesus put His Father’s purposes above that of His nation – do we?

Jesus loved all men – even the filthiest of sinners – do we?

Jesus put His spiritual family ahead of His blood family – do we?

Jesus focus was on true things, spiritual things, eternal things – where is our focus?

Jesus followed His Father not the dictates of the moment – do we?

Jesus was content to be in the very center of the Father’s will and working – are we?

Jesus did not fear any man, or group, but He loved and feared His Father – do we?

The focus of Jesus life was on eternal life, spiritual life – not the life of the flesh – where is our focus?

Jesus hated all things that misrepresented Himself and His Father – do we?

Jesus sought first the Kingdom of God – is this what we seek first?

Jesus looked first at the hearts of men, not their deeds – do we?

Jesus didn’t just say He loved, He demonstrated it by laying down His life – do we?

Jesus didn’t seem bothered or anxious about money, habitation, temporal things – are we?

Jesus spoke the truth, regardless of who might reject or misunderstand Him – do we?

Jesus always did what pleased His Father – do we?

Dear ones – only in Him, as Him, from Him, out of Him, can we say yes to any of these things. Genesis lays down the principle of everything out of its kind. Well, He is our kind, He is the New Man, He is that which we rise up from, to live and walk as new spiritual sons in the Father’s house and heart. It all begins here. From one’s beginning. And He is our Genesis, the Alpha, the First One, a tree of life from which many branches and much fruit must come.

Please, please don’t focus on this list of things above – for that will only lead to failure and frustration – rather focus on the Beginning, from which we all come. He is the Divine Seed planted in the very midst of this tangled garden. He is the originator and progenitor of this new Life. And origin is everything.

So many layers, running so deep in me, my friends. So much of me that remains. Lord, I confess this, I aknowledge this, yet this is not what I am anymore. I am in You Lord, a part of You, and Lord, let that be the only palpable reality of my life in this dark world. Let the world see this light and taste this salt. Lord, let the only shadow cast be Yours Lord, so much bigger and wider than what I am in myself. Let fruit come forth, wonderful, rich, heavenly fruit that puts a smile in Your heart Father. In Christ, always and only in the Anointed One – Amen.

Divine Life, Unlimited by Time and Space – T. A. Sparks

Chapter 4 – Divine Life, Unlimited by Time and Space

 

Before we go on to the next of these signs I just want to put in an important word. This does not mean that anything else that is said is not important, but this must be important as the beginning of anything that we say.When we say so much about this divine life, we are not just thinking about it as some abstract element, but in its true relationship to the Lord Jesus. Jesus Himself is this life and we cannot have the life without having Him. It is not something separate from the person of the Lord Jesus, and I would be very sorry if there should be any thought that we are speaking of some thing called life as apart from the person of Jesus Christ. The life is the way in which the Lord Jesus manifests His person – it is the expression of the divine person.

That is a very important thing, for it would be quite easy for some people who want to find fault to say: ‘You put life in the place of the person.’ Well, we have safeguarded ourselves against that accusation. It is the person of the Lord Jesus who is in view, but we can only know that person by the Spirit of life, and the Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of Jesus, is the Spirit of life. It is not that some abstract element called life is Christ, but Christ personally is the life.

Now, having said that, we can come to the second of the signs chosen by John.

Reading: John 4:45-54.

The key to this incident is in verses 52 and 53: “So he inquired of them the hour when he began to amend. They said therefore unto him, Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him. So the father knew that it was at that hour in which Jesus said unto him, Thy son liveth.”

There are several features to note in this story, and the first is that this man of Capernaum was a king’s officer and was no doubt a Gentile.

Then we note his courtesy toward the Lord Jesus. He called Him ‘Lord’ – “Lord, come down ere my child die” which was a title of honour and courtesy.

Then we notice his refusal to be offended with the way the Lord Jesus answered him. It did seem sometimes that He answered people in a not very kind way. We saw how He answered His mother at the marriage in Cana when He said: “Woman, what have I to do with thee?” (John 2:4). On another occasion, when a Syrophoenician woman came in her trouble He did not seem to answer her very kindly. And here is this man coming in a very courteous way and in great trouble, and Jesus just says: “Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will in no wise believe.” But if you look more deeply into these answers of Jesus you will see why He did it. Sometimes the Lord seems to be very unkind. He is not really so, but He sees that something is very necessary before He can show His kindness, and that is that it is necessary for us to be perfectly clear that it is not just the benefit that we want, but Himself. It is not just faith in what He can do for us, but faith in His own person. Do we want the blessing, or do we want the Lord? The Lord Jesus is always trying to get us to want Him, and that is exactly what happened here. The man said: ‘Lord, come down. It is You I need. I cannot go on without You. This is a matter of life or death.’ The Lord Jesus saw that that was his spirit – that he was not going to argue about motives or discuss signs and wonders, but was saying ‘Lord, it is You I need’ and He always responds to that. Sometimes He seems to be unkind, but it is to find out whether our hearts really want Him or only a blessing. And with this man the result was that “Himself believed, and his whole house”.

You notice that the word ‘believe’ is used twice here. When Jesus said “Go thy way; thy son liveth”, it says that “he believed the word that Jesus spake”, but it is quite clear from the second use of the word ‘believe’ that that was a belief with some reservation, or difficulty, or question. I expect the man stood still for a moment and had to ask himself a question: ‘Now, if I don’t do what He tells me to do, then I am in a desperate situation. I had better believe what He says. I will go, and believe that what He says is all right.’ But he was not wholly committed. There is a kind of belief which is not a wholehearted committal. At the end, however, it says: “Himself believed and his whole house” and this is complete faith, the kind of belief which commits himself with all that he has.

Well, these are things that we take note of as we go on, but we are really dealing with this matter of life and its nature. It will not take us long to get to the heart of this particular sign. It is a very important feature of this divine life, but it is very simple.

Just look carefully at the story again. We have said that the key of this sign is in verses 52 and 53, and it is the time factor. It was one o’clock in the afternoon when Jesus said: “Go thy way; thy son liveth” – and the servant said: “Yesterday at the seventh hour”. The man knew that that was the time when Jesus said those words. The Jewish day began at six o’clock in the morning and ended at six o’clock in the afternoon, so the seventh hour was one o’clock in the afternoon.

You will remember, perhaps, other time marks in the Gospels. When Jesus yielded up His Spirit to the Father on the Cross, it says: “A darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour”(Luke 23:44). That was three o’clock in the afternoon, when the sun ought to have been shining most powerfully.

This time factor is very important, especially in this sign. The Lord Jesus said these words at one o’clock in the afternoon, and the man had to journey, perhaps on foot, all the way from Cana to Capernaum. He started on his long walk. Probably when the sun went down at six o’clock he did not continue his journey, for they did not travel after dark in that country. So he went in somewhere to stay for the night and started again on his journey in the morning. His servants came to meet him. We do not know exactly what the hour was when the servants and the master met, but there was the whole of the rest of the first day, the night, and some of the next morning between his meeting with the Lord Jesus and this meeting. And there were many miles between – a lot of time and a lot of distance; a lot of time and a lot of geography: and the life disposed of all that in an instant. All the time and all the miles disappeared when Jesus spoke His words. The thing happened at the very time Jesus uttered those words away there in Cana – the life came in.

Apparently death had been at work in this child for some time. The Greek word which describes his condition is in the imperfect tense, which means that he had got nearer and nearer to death. It had been coming on for some time. When the man came and said: ‘My child is at the point of death’, it was just about to finish its history in this child. So the time factor is here as well as the geography factor. Jesus spoke the word and time and geography were no more. It would not have mattered if that child had been six thousand miles away, or if he had been on Venus!

This divine life is a timeless life. It is eternal life, because it is in the eternal Son of God.

John has told us, as we have seen, that all this was to prove that Jesus was the Son of God. How do we know that He is the Son of God? Because He gave us eternal life.

Try this out on someone else – on the Hindu Krishna, for instance, or any other god in this world, and see if it will work half a mile away. And see how long it takes to work. It never works, even right on the spot. But we in this place today are in the benefit of prayer hundreds, perhaps thousands, of miles away. If we are knowing something of the presence of the Lord Jesus and His life, it is largely due to prayers many, many miles away. Of course, that is only a human way of putting it. There are no miles nor hours where the Lord Jesus is concerned. His presence means that all those things go. He is God, and one of God’s characteristics is omnipresence. He is everywhere, at the same time.

This is something that we can put to the test. Why do we pray for people on the other side of the world? Because we believe that Jesus is more than time and distance. And His people who are knowing the working of death can receive life by our touching the Lord Jesus here. I feel that we, the Lord’s people, and the Lord’s Church, have not used this great value of life enough. We must believe that people on the other side of the world are as near to Him as we are. And how near to Him are we? He is nearer than hands and closer than breathing.

And He is the same to all His people, wherever they are. I said it would not take long to get to the heart of this sign – but what a wonderful sign it is! Jesus has only to speak a word and all time and distance disappear. This nobleman’s faith touched the Lord Jesus and He drew it out. He put that faith to the test. He really said: ‘Do you mean business? Do you really trust Me? Or is it signs and wonders that you want? Do you really believe who I am?’ All that is in this test, and when this man believed Jesus, even if it was in a weak way, He took that faith, which was only like the grain of mustard seed, and through it the mountain of his trouble disappeared.

The point is that faith always touches the Lord Jesus, and so it touches the eternal Son of God, the universal Son of God, the Son of God who is greater than all time and all distance.

That is the meaning of this sign. You see, when we are really ‘in Christ’, to use Paul’s phrase, we are always regarded as being together, though we may be thousands of miles apart. The Lord Jesus does not look upon us as being in this country, in that country and in another country. He Himself is the only country in this universe, and so we leave our country and our own nationality when we come into Christ. I think perhaps this is found in the fact that this man is a Gentile. The Jews were exclusive and said: ‘We are the only people and our country is the only country.’ Jesus went outside those frontiers and touched the world outside. This man was a representative of all the nations, for he was a Gentile. In the Lord Jesus every earthly division is removed. There are no British, Swiss, German, French or Indian in Christ. He is only one nationality and that is a heavenly one. He is only one language and that is a spiritual one. He is the heavenly country. No matter what we are here, in Him we are all together as one man in Christ. All the earthly distinctions of place and time disappear in Him. It may take us a long time to travel about this world, though men think it is a very wonderful thing to travel at so many hundred or thousand miles a minute and get to the moon in no very great time! But, dear friends, in this very moment in Christ we can touch our brethren six or seven thousand miles away.

That is a miracle. But here is the sign of that miracle. This life is eternal life; it is timeless; it knows no space; everything is present when Jesus is present.

Let us just go back for a moment before we finish. John tells us that Jesus did these signs “in the presence of his disciples”(John 20:30), and we have already pointed out that in Matthew, Mark and Luke the word ‘disciples’ is in Aramaic and means ‘apprentices’. To learn Christ is to learn this great secret. We are apprentices in the School of Eternity and we have to learn what Christ means in this way. Of course, we do know something about it. Some of us have had very real experiences of prayers being made for us many, many hundreds of miles away and being answered for us at the very time they were made. It is a wonderful thing to learn that! That was what Jesus was teaching His apprentices. They were able to say: ‘Well, that is wonderful! Here in one place Jesus speaks a word, and it is discovered the very next day that at that very moment the thing happened many miles away.’

I am quite sure that this is one of the great things that came into the Church at the beginning. You can see it at work in the Book of the Acts. There, up in Caesarea, is a Gentile man who is praying. Down here, on the coast of Palestine, at Joppa, is another man who is praying. The prayers of both are answered at the same time, and the result is that they come together, and Jesus is glorified. Dear friends, what does this mean to us? Surely this is something that the Lord has put into our hands? If He is the carpenter and we are the apprentices, He has put this tool into our hands and is saying: ‘Now go and make things out of this wonderful power of divine life which is ministered through prayer.’

There is much more in this story, but we have just sought to get to the heart of it. I think the Lord has revealed His secret to us, and it is a wonderful secret to possess. We need not be alone, wherever we are. Oh, what some of the dear, suffering servants of God far away are knowing of help from the Lord because we are praying here! Let us believe this and use it. Let us bring glory to Him in this way.

We are going to leave it there, but if these have been only a few words, not taking a long time to say, it is one of the most wonderful things that have been revealed by the Holy Spirit. How great the Lord Jesus is! No time, but from eternity to eternity. No limitation of place, but everywhere.

The Quality of Divine Life – T.A. Sparks

Chapter 3 – The Quality of Divine Life

We have pointed out that the Greek word for disciple means ‘a learner’, but I want to make a correction to that. The Gospels were not all written originally in Greek, but in Aramaic, and in Aramaic the word ‘disciple’ does not mean a student, but an apprentice. So we have to make an adjustment. Disciples are not just students – they are apprentices. Jesus was a carpenter and would not think of His disciples just as students. He was far more likely to think of them as apprentices learning a business. You may be an apprentice to engineering, or to the law, and the idea of an apprentice is something quite practical. The idea of a student is only theoretical, and Jesus never wanted His servants to be merely theoretical. He intended them to be very practical, so His training was not in theory but in practice. He was training His disciples for His work: not just to be preachers, but to work. Jesus was not just a lecturer. He was a demonstrator, and there is a lot of difference between a lecturer and a demonstrator! So Jesus took His disciples into very practical situations.

We have shown how John said that Jesus always did His works in the presence of His disciples. He took them into actual situations and involved them in the situations so that they became a part of them. We must remember that because, as we have already said, we are supposed to be disciples. Perhaps you have not thought of this before – but you are apprentices if you are related to the Lord Jesus. That may be a new idea to you, but the reality is no new idea. You know quite well that the Lord Jesus is taking you into very practical situations, and is involving you in situations where you have to learn something. You have to learn how to be the master of a situation, and that is very practical training. So, whether you take the name or not, the truth remains. If we have come into relationship with the Lord Jesus it means that we at once become apprentices.

In the New Testament there were three phases in discipleship.

First of all , there was the call, and it seems that this was much more general than the call to the twelve. It is put like this: ‘He called unto Him whom He would and He chose twelve.’ The first was a general call. Jesus was calling to people: ‘Come, follow Me.’ A number of people responded, and then from them He chose twelve. It does not mean that all the others were not faithful or that they were not suitable, but it does clearly show that the twelve came into the real business of their calling.

You can see quite clearly how true this is at all times. There are multitudes of people who are just followers of the Lord Jesus. They would take one of the other names and call themselves Christians. If you said: ‘Are you a follower of the Lord Jesus?’ they would say ‘Yes’, but many of these people are not really meaning business with Him. And the Lord must have those who do mean business, so He draws such ones nearer to Himself. It may be one thing to be called, but it may be another thing to be chosen. Youremember that in the Book of the Revelation these words are used when speaking about the followers of the Lamb: “And they that are with him are called, and chosen” (Revelation 17:14 – AV). There is a difference between being chosen and being called.

The third phase was that He put them into His business and gave them the great commission. I am going to leave that there for the moment.

What was the work for which the disciples were chosen? I can put that in the present tense, for we are in the same dispensation: What is the work for which the Lord would choose us? The answer is: the work of His Kingdom. Notice: “And he chose from them twelve” (Luke 6:13). Twelve is the number of the Kingdom. Jesus was following the pattern of the twelve tribes of Israel, who were to be the kingdom of the coming Messiah. Twelve is the Kingdom number. Jesus has come to set up His Kingdom and has chosen disciples, or apprentices, for the work of that Kingdom.

Here is an important thing for us to notice. Jesus knew beforehand how things were going to work out and exactly what would happen in His own lifetime and afterward. He knew that Israel would refuse Him as the Messiah and as the Head of the Kingdom, and would refuse the Kingdom that He had come to set up. He knew all that beforehand, and so He was working with this foreknowledge. He foreknew that the time would come when He would say to Israel: “The kingdom of God shall be taken away from you, and shall be given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof”(Matthew 21:43). He was working with this foreknowledge of the transfer of the Kingdom from Israel to the Church. So He chose twelve. This was the nucleus of His new Kingdom, which, as represented by these, will call Him ‘Lord’. They will go everywhere proclaiming: ‘Jesus Christ is Lord.’ They are the people who have come to see by divine revelation the place of Jesus Christ in the appointment of God. They have come to see “that God hath made him both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36).

So you have the new Kingdom and the new King, but there is a great deal of difference. The old kingdom of Israel was a temporal, earthly kingdom and the new Kingdom is a spiritual, heavenly Kingdom. I am not going to dwell on the Kingdom just now, but we are moving toward something. He chose, and He chooses, for the work of His Kingdom. He puts us into His school as apprentices to learn the nature of the Kingdom, and what the Kingdom of Heaven really is.

The last thing, and where we start again, is the basis of this new Kingdom. What is the basis of this new spiritual and heavenly Kingdom? It is heavenly life, divine life… and now we are back again where we were in the last message. John, introducing the Lord Jesus, said: “In him, was life” (John 1:4). Right in the middle of the Gospel he put the words of Jesus: “I came that they might have life”(John 10:10). And he summed up the whole of his Gospel with: “That believing ye may have life”(John 20:31).

John, as we have said, gathered the whole of his Gospel, his spiritual Gospel of the Kingdom, around seven signs, and those signs are a setting forth of the meaning of this life of the Kingdom. You remember that John said he selected these signs out of a great many more. I like to think of John doing this. He said that the signs which Jesus did were so many that “if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that should be written”(John 21:25). And so you can think of John, with this great mass of material, saying to himself. ‘Now I want to convey to those who are going to read this the real nature and meaning of this divine life. I have to select the best illustrations out of this great mass of material.’ And so he went through it and said: ‘That is the first one, that is the second’, and so on, and then ‘Those seven will do’, and he put these seven signs into his book, which is the Gospel of eternal life. Remember, he called them signs, not miracles, although they were miracles. He did not call them wonders, although they were wonders, nor did he call them powers, although they were powers. He left Matthew, Mark and Luke to call them by those names. He called them signs, which meant that they pointed to something more than themselves. There was the work that Jesus did, which was one thing, but the meaning was another thing. John said: ‘I want to get at the meaning through the work.’

You know what the seven signs are in the Gospel by John, but let us just run through them to refresh our memories:

(1) The Turning of the Water into Wine:
(2) The Healing of the Nobleman’s Son:
(3) The Raising of the Impotent Man at the Pool of Bethesda:
(4) The Feeding of the Five Thousand:
(5) The Walking on the Water:
(6) The Giving of Sight to the Man born blind:
(7) The Raising of Lazarus from the Dead.

John said: ‘That is quite enough. If only I can get the meaning of those things over, then people will know the meaning of life.’

Now we are going to consider these seven signs, the first of which is the Turning of the Water into Wine.

Reading: John 2:1-11.

Of course, there are many lessons in this incident, but I am going to leave them in order to come to the one main point. We are dealing with the matter of divine life, which Jesus came to give, and we are seeking to understand the nature of that life. I trust it is true of all of us that we have received what the New Testament calls eternal life! But it is important for us to know what it is we have received, that is, what it means to have eternal life, the life which Jesus has brought to us in His own Person. And here you have the first characteristic of that life.

The key to this sign is the verdict of the master of the feast. You can take it that this man knew all about wine, whether it was good or bad. He was an authority on wine. He would not have been responsible for the feast if he did not know what wine was. Therefore, this authority on wine gives us the secret of the whole thing in his verdict. What was that? “Thou hast kept the good wine until now.” If this wine was intended by John and by Jesus to illustrate eternal life, then there is a quality about that life which is different from every other kind of life. Every other kind of life is what this man called ‘poor wine’, but you never know how poor the other wine is until you have tasted the better. The point is that this life which Jesus gives has a quality in it.

Let us look again at this story and remember that the heart of the incident is the training of disciples. It says: “And the third day there was a marriage in Cana”. It is not quite easy to understand why John said ‘the third day’ here. If you read what goes before you say: ‘Well, evidently that incident was on the first day, that one was on the second day and this was on the third day’ – but it does not say so. All that it says is: ‘On the third day’. Does that strike a note? “He hath been raised on the third day” (1Corinthians 15:4). The third day is the day of resurrection, the day when divine life triumphs over death, the day of life. “And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee.” John knew what was in his mind when he was writing, for he had one thought running all the way through: ‘I am working on the line of resurrection life’, and he brought that into everything in his Gospel. And so this verdict of the master of the feast gives us the key to divine life. It is a quality in that life which is quite different from everything else. You can see, as we say, ‘by reading between the lines’ what the quality of this life is.

This was the reversing of human failure. Someone had failed, had made a terrible mistake: they had not provided enough wine – it says: “When the wine failed”. That was a terrible thing for a marriage feast, for the wine was everything, and if that failed the whole feast broke down. And what happened? Everybody looked at the master of the feast, and looked on him with reproach: ‘Oh, you terrible man! You have spoiled everything. You ought to be ashamed of yourself!’ And the poor man bowed his head in shame. He was altogether dishonoured as the master of the feast. Jesus, in bringing in the new wine, removed the human failure and took away all the human shame. He made it possible for this poor man to lift up his head and to feel that the feast was a great success and not a great failure.

Dear friends, that is exactly what divine life does – it takes the failure and shame out of life. It makes it possible for us to lift up our heads and say: ‘Life is not a failure, not something to be ashamed of.’ We need not hang down our heads in dishonour. We can lift them up and rejoice. Is that not true of the life which the Lord gives? There is a quality about this life which is different – it gives character to the people who receive it. If you think that I am just reading into this something out of my own imagination, I can prove to you that what I have said is true.

I want you to notice the change which came about in these disciples with the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Look at them when the wine failed – when Jesus was crucified! It was as though they had lost everything. They were wondering if they had made a great mistake in trusting Him, and were going about with their heads hanging down. They were afraid to meet the people who knew they were His disciples. When Peter, the leader of them, was down in that room warming himself by the fire, a little serving-maid came in and said: “This man also was with him” (Luke 22:56), but Peter said: “Woman, I know him not”(Luke 22:57). What shame! What dishonour! Yes, they were men going about with their heads hanging down because they thought the wine had failed.

Look at these men not many days afterward! Their heads are up. They can look the whole world in the face and there is not the slightest sign of any shame about them. They are boasting in their faith in the Lord Jesus. What a difference the life has made! Before, they were cowards, afraid even of a little servant maid. Now look at their courage! It is said of the rulers: ‘When they beheld the boldness of Peter and John’ (Acts 14:13). From being cowards they became men of courage. From being men who were ashamed to be in the world they became men of dignity – they are standing upright before everybody. From men who were always thinking about themselves and trying to draw everything to themselves – such as the first places in the Kingdom – they are men who have forgotten themselves and are altogether selfless, thinking only of the Lord’s interests and not their own.

They had been men who had very little sympathy in their hearts for other people. The poor Canaanitish woman came crying after the Lord to help her daughter and the disciples said: “Send her away; for she crieth after us” (Matthew 14:23). When He entered into a certain city the people did not receive Him, so the disciples said: “Lord, wilt thou that we bid fire to come down from heaven, and consume them?” (Luke 9:54). Mothers brought their little children to Him to get a blessing, and the disciples drove them away. There was not much sympathy in their hearts for other people.

Now look at them! After the resurrection and the life had come into them the whole world is in their hearts, and their hearts have become as large as the whole world. They go everywhere in this great sympathy for sinful men.

In the old days they could not stand up to any kind of difficulty. They began to give up altogether as soon as things went wrong. “This is a hard saying”(John 6:60) …”Upon this many of his disciples went back and walked no more with him” (John 6:66). These twelve were all too ready to give up too soon when things became difficult.

Now look at them! What about difficulties? Why, they are greater than anything they had known before! All the rulers, all the world, all the circumstances and the devil himself are against them, but they are going on: they are not giving up. This life has brought into them a new stamina, the power to endure.

All that is in this new wine. There is a quality about this life. It makes us different people from what we are naturally. It puts into us that which was in Christ Himself, and we are better able to understand the words: “Christ in you the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). There is not much hope of glory in the old wine, dear friends. There is not much hope of glory in that old, natural life, but it does come with the life which Christ brings. This life is the very character of the Lord Himself.

You see, there was something about Him that was different. The rulers looked at Him and there was a big question on their faces. They were really perplexed and did not know how to explain Him. They saw His life, His work, and the wonderful fact of His life and His work. They heard His teaching and saw how it met the need of the people. And they said: “Is not this the carpenter?”(Mark 6:3). But there is something different about this carpenter, something more than just an ordinary carpenter. See His dignity as He walked amongst them – and what dignity there was when He was before Pilate! They tried to make Him look very small, but all that they did to Him did not take away His dignity. What endurance there was in Him! He endured ‘to the end’. What a different quality there was in Jesus from other men! It was the quality of the life that was in Him, the very life of God, divine life, eternal life, that explained everything as to His character.

Dear friends, you and I are supposed to have that same life. It was released from Him at the Cross and has been brought to us by the Holy Spirit. Now do we see what it means? There ought to be something about us that is different. Anybody who has any intelligence, like the master of the feast, ought to be able to say: ‘These people are different. They have something that we have not. There is character about them.’ We as Christians ought to be marked by a spiritual dignity. We ought not to be going about with our heads hanging down, ashamed to be alive! We ought to have our heads up in a right sense. There ought to be real courage about us and endurance of suffering in us. Yes, there is a quality about this life.

I wonder what the verdict of this world is upon us! Does it say – is it able to say: ‘Well, our kind of life is poor stuff in comparison with theirs. Their life is different, and it is better. You have kept the best wine till now’?

That is sign Number One. How rich, how challenging it is! It comes home to our hearts with a big question. But, dear friends, if we have the life, and if we allow the life to have its way in us, that is what it will do. We may naturally be poor wine, but when the Lord Jesus comes in with His life, it will be the best wine.

The Nature of Divine Life – T. A. Sparks

Chapter 2 – The Nature of Divine Life

 

“I came that they might have life” (John 10:10).

We come back to the Gospel by John, for we have seen that this is the Gospel of spiritual education. The others are largely a matter of history – the history of the earthly life, work and teaching of the Lord Jesus, but the Gospel by John is the spiritual life and interpretation of Christ in Person. Do you notice how the Gospel begins? It begins with these words: “In him was life; and the life was the light of men” (John 1:4). The main part of the Gospel ends with these words: “Many other signs therefore did Jesus in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written, that ye may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye may have life in his name” (John 20:30,31). (Notice that chapter 21 is something added on afterward – it is quite clear that John intended to finish with what is chapter 20, and he really finished with these words.) The Gospel begins with: ‘In Him was life’. It ends with: ‘That ye may have life’. The main Gospel comprises twenty chapters, and halfway through twenty is ten. In chapter 10, verse 10, we have: “I came that they might have life”.

The beginning: ‘In Him was life’; the middle: ‘I came that they might have life’; the end: ‘Believing, ye may have life’. In that one word ‘life’ we have the full answer to our question: ‘Why did Jesus Christ come into this world?’

Note one or two things: All the teaching and works of the Lord Jesus related to this thing that He called life. All His teaching and all His works were in relation to life.

The second thing to notice is this: Jesus demonstrated that to possess this life is a miracle, and showed that it is impossible to have it without a miracle. To come to be possessed by this life is something super-natural.

And the third thing we have to notice is: It is revealed by the Word of God that the possessing of this life is the basis of all God’s works. He can do nothing in us until we have this life. He has to stand back and say: ‘I can do nothing until I have My life in you.’ His life in us is the basis of all His work.

So now we are going to look at this Gospel by John to instruct us in this matter of life.

Notice again what it says in chapter 20: “Many other signs therefore did Jesus in the presence of his disciples”. Note – ‘in the presence of His disciples’. John said, in effect: ‘All these signs that Jesus did He did in the presence of His disciples.’ That was because it was His disciples whom He was teaching. They were the ones who had to learn the meaning of these things because they had to carry on His work. So we can take it that Jesus never performed a miracle unless His disciples were there. If there was some great work to be done, He looked round to see if the disciples were there. He was not just doing these things for the benefit of the multitude, though they may have had some benefit, as in the case of the feeding of the five thousand, but these things were for the education of the disciples. Jesus was most careful that they came to understand the meaning of what He was doing. We are going to see how important that is.

I do hope that when I use that word ‘disciple’ you are not thinking back two thousand years! I think the majority of the people here, if not all, are disciples: those who are learning Christ. Just as the chief business of the disciples in those days was to learn Christ, so it is our chief business today. The most important thing for Christians is to learn Christ.

We turn once more to those two verses at the end of chapter 20, and I want you to underIine three words: In “Many other signs did Jesus” underline the word ‘signs’. In “These are written that ye may believe” underline the word ‘believe’. And in “that believing ye may have life in his name” underline the word ‘life’. Signs – believe – life. The whole of this Gospel is summed up in those three words, and we are going to look at them for a few minutes

Firstly: signs. The whole of the teaching of the Gospel by John is gathered around seven signs, and they were seven especially selected signs. John says: ‘Many other signs did Jesus’, and that if they were all written “even the world itself would not contain the books” (John 21:25). There must have been many more signs, but John has selected seven and has gathered the whole of this matter of learning Christ into them.

There are four words used for ‘miracles’ in the New Testament. In some places they are called ‘wonders’, and that conveys the idea of something quite unusual, extraordinary, a wonderful thing. In other places they are called ‘powers’, which conveys the idea of spiritual, super-natural energy. In other places they are called ‘paradoxes’, which, as you know, is a contradiction. They were called ‘paradoxes’ because they were something which contradicted the natural order of things. But the fourth word for ‘miracles’ is this one which John always chose and is his favourite word for them. He always called them ‘signs’, which meant that these works indicated something more than themselves. The work was not just something in itself: there was a meaning behind it. It signified something. There was the actual work, but it had a spiritual meaning and was a sign of something more. That is John’s word for ‘miracle’.

We leave that for the moment – we are going to take it up again.

The second word: believe. Thisis the key word to the whole of the Gospel by John and occurs ninety-eight times in it. Everything in this Gospel gathers around that word: “That ye may believe”. But what does the word ‘believe’ mean? It means two things, which are in the word itself. It means an acknowledgment of the truth, that is, the reaction which says: ‘That is true’, or ‘He is true’, ‘I believe He is true’. But it means more than that. The word in the Greek means: ‘Believing that it is true, you commit yourself to the one who says it.’ John puts that in another way in one place: “As many as received him” (John 1:12). That is only another way of saying ‘They committed themselves to Him’. Believing is not only a mental thing: it is the committing of the life to the one whom you believe. I once heard Dr. Billy Graham put it in a very simple way. I was sitting on the platform just behind him, and, as you know, he is quite a big man physically. He could put his weight on to the platform where he stood. He said: ‘Now, when I come on to this platform I do not stand on the steps and say: I wonder if the platform will hold me or whether, if I get on to it, it will collapse and let me down. I have such confidence in this platform that I walk right on to it and commit myself to it. I have no question about the platform. I put my full weight on to it.’ He went on to say: ‘That is what the New Testament means by believing on the Lord Jesus Christ.’ ‘That believing’… thatis, committing yourself to the Lord Jesus.

Now our third word – life, and this brings us to the main object of our consideration. The signs were the instruments used by the Lord Jesus; the believing was the reaction of men to the signs, and the life was the result of their reaction. They committed themselves and they received life.

Let us look at this life. What is it? What is its nature and what does it mean? I do not think it is necessary to remind you that this is a kind of life that no one has who does not possess the Lord Jesus. The very word that is used for life here is different from other words for life. This is not animal or human life, but divine life, the life which is in God alone. It is a life which is different from every other kind of life because it has a different nature in it. Every kind of life has its own nature, and divine life has divine nature in it. Peter speaks about being made “partakers of the divine nature”(2Peter 1:4), and with this life the very nature of God is implanted in us. It is a different nature from our own nature. We are going also to see how that is.

But, remember – “In him was life” (John 1:4). Is He different in nature from other men? Everyone can see that He is different from other men in His very nature, and the difference is made by this life that is in Him. This life brings with it a new and different consciousness. Look at the Lord Jesus! What was His real consciousness? This was a thing about which He was always speaking, and it was so very evident in His case. He said: “I and the Father are one”(John 10:30); “I do always the things that are pleasing to him” (the Father) (John 8:29); “The works that I do in my Father’s name”(John 10:25). Oh, this word ‘Father’ in John’s Gospel! The consciousness of Jesus Christ every day was of His union with His Father, the oneness that existed between them: “As thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee” (John 17:21). The consciousness of the Lord Jesus was of the very closest union with God as His Father, and that was because the very life of God was in Him. His life was a God-conscious life; but God-consciousness in the sense of perfect oneness. And that is what it means to have this life. Man never had that. Jesus came to bring it in His own person: not to talk about union with God, but to live out a life of union with God and to bring His disciples into the same union. “I came that they might have life” – in other words: ‘I am come that they may have the same consciousness of God as Father that I have and that they may have the same divine nature in them as I have.’ (Not deity, but nature.)

This life means another thing. Life must always grow. You know that very well! Whatever kind of life it is, if it is really life it must grow. You know that in your garden, and it is true in human beings. The law of life is constant development. This was true of the Lord Jesus. It is said of Him that He was made “perfect through sufferings” (Hebrews 2:10) and that word ‘perfect’ means ‘complete’. He was made complete, full-grown, through sufferings – “Though he was a Son, yet learned obedience by the things which he suffered” (Hebrews 5:8). Jesus was growing by the power of this life in Him, and if we possess this life we should grow. Paul says: “That we may be no longer children… but may grow up in all things” (Ephesians 4:14,15)… “Till we all attain… unto a fullgrown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13). So, to possess this life really means that we ought to be growing, and if we are not there is something wrong with us.

Now notice these things: a different nature – a different consciousness – a different relationship – and a constant growth.

You see how these things are illustrated in this Gospel. Nicodemus came to Jesus by night. Let us think of Nicodemus as being a perfectly honest man. A great many things have been said about him which are not to his credit, but I believe that he was a very sincere man. He came and he called Jesus ‘Teacher’ – “We know that thou art a teacher come from God” (John 3:2). What did he come to Jesus about? Evidently he had come to talk about the Kingdom of God, because the Lord Jesus read his thoughts. He knew that Nicodemus was interested in the Kingdom of God, but He said to him, in other words: ‘You will never get into the Kingdom of God unless you have God’s life. You and I cannot even talk about the Kingdom of God because we have not the same life. How do you get this life? You must be born again, and if you have never been born you are not alive.’ So it is quite clear that Nicodemus had not the nature of the Kingdom of God because he had not the life. For any of us to get into the Kingdom of God we have to receive the life of God, which is His very nature.

Then we said it is a different consciousness. How beautifully this is illustrated by the woman of Samaria! Poor woman, she wanted to know the secret of life. She had missed it, had tried to find it but had never done so. Hers was only a poor existence! Jesus began to speak to her about life and said, in effect: ‘The water that I give you will be living water in you, springing up into eternal life. When you have the life that I can give you, or that is in Me, then you will find the secret of life.’ What about this matter of a new consciousness? A whole section of John’s Gospel is taken up with this. On one side stands Jesus alone: on the other are the Jewish leaders. They are in two different worlds and do not understand one another – at least, the Jewish leaders do not understand Jesus. How different they are! Jesus puts His finger upon the very point of the difference – He speaks of God as His Father. He says to them: ‘You just do not know the Father’… “Ye are of your father the devil” (John 8:44) ‘I came from above – God is My Father.’ He had the consciousness of God as His Father and they had no such consciousness, and the reason was that they had not this life in them.

Then what about this matter of constant development? There is a very beautiful illustration of this in John’s Gospel, in chapter 12, where Jesus says: “Except a grain of wheat fall into the earth and die, it abideth by itself alone:” …By itself alone… “But if it die, it beareth much fruit” (John 12:24).The new life that comes in resurrection means that that seed is multiplied a hundredfold. There is no end to the development of it once resurrection life comes into it. There is constant development by the power of this new life, and that is a law of life.

Dear friends, all these things are meant to be true of you and of me, for this is what it means to have this new life. I trust that what we have been able to say makes very real this wonderful thing that Jesus Christ came into the world to give to us. In his Letter John said: “He that hath the Son hath the life” (1 John 5:12). If we have the Lord Jesus then we have this life, and what this life is in all these respects is supposed to be true of us. That is the miracle of eternal life. May it be true of every one of us! We have the Son and we have the life; we know that we have the life and that, as we said, we are having it more abundantly, meaning that the life has to grow forever.

The Chief Occupation of a Disciple – T.A. Sparks

Dear saints of the Lord: unlike so many these days, who spend so much time focusing on so many other things – church, human gratification, faith, love, morality, doing things, theology, doctrine, etc, Brother Sparks focused throughout the full course of His life and ministry on one thing, the only thing, the One True Thing – Jesus Christ. On knowing Jesus Christ. On learning Jesus Christ. On seeing and tasting Jesus Christ. On becoming one with Jesus Christ, as an extension and expression of His very life.

And so it is with this consideration, that I feel led to post some writings from Bro. Sparks monumentally clear and wonderful book – Discipleship in the School of Christ.

Beloved, I dare say would readily trade everything written in the past 100 years for this one book, for herein lies the great mystery, the secret if you will, the one thing we must understand in the Spirit – that everything begins and moves and ends with the Father’s Beloved Son. And He is nothing like most supposed adherents present him today. He is nothing like the one they sing about, and claim they love. Now I know this is a bold statement, but I stand by it, for in my spirit, in that deep abiding place at the very center of my being, I feel that He is so very much unknown in this world. So much is merely a fleshly misrepresentation of him, a theological profile, a whimsical portrait. Ask the Lord if He might speak to you from the words that follow, by His grace,. Ask that you might unlearn everything you think you know about the Anointed One come down, and then lay it all down that you might come to see Him and know Him and love Him as He really is.

Chapter 1 – The Chief Occupation of a Disciple

In this initial chapter we shall be laying the foundation for what is to follow. Later we shall be breaking up the whole ground that we shall be covering now, and we shall get to the real application of the Lord’s Word, but this chapter will be of a general character, but quite important.

You will know that in the New Testament the Lord’s people were called by various names, and these were the names by which Christians came to be known. Most of the names were given to them by themselves, but there were two exceptions. The name ‘Christian’ was someone’s joke. The inhabitants of Antioch, who loved to tack a name on to everyone, found this a very suitable title for these people and so they called them Christians. And then there was another word which was taken over from more common use, and, whilst not particularly their own choice for themselves, it became the name by which they were more usually known than any other.

The various names, as you will remember, were: Disciples; Believers; Saints; Brethren; People of the Way; and Jesus called them ‘My Friends’.

There you have six different titles for the Lord’s people, and every one of them was intended to embody and convey some special idea. Put the Lord Jesus in the centre, and all these titles indicate that His people are gathered around Him. Around Him are the disciples, the believers, the saints, the brethren, the people of the Way, and those of whom He speaks as ‘My Friends’.

It is the first of these titles that is going to occupy us mainly, and it is possible that we will not be able to go beyond this one.

The first title, then, is ‘Disciples’. That name had a double implication. There was that which it implied where people were concerned and that which it implied where the Lord was concerned. As to those who were called disciples, it simply meant that they were learners. The title came from a Greek word which just meant ‘to learn’, but it had an active element in it and signified something more than just learning in the head: it meant putting into practice what was learnt. So disciples were people who learned and then put into practice what they learned.

It is interesting to notice that this name for the Lord’s people occurs thirty times in the Book of “the Acts of the Apostles”. That means that it was a name which continued after Jesus had gone and indicated that they were still learning and putting into practice what they were learning. We usually think of the disciples as related to the Lord Jesus when He was here, but the name ‘disciple’ goes on a long time after Jesus went from this world. Indeed, it continues until today, and I do want you to realize that we are here at this time as disciples: those who are learning from the Lord Jesus in order to put into practice what we learn. That is what the name means where we are concerned. We are meant to be the disciples of Christ now.

Then the name carried with it an implication where the Lord Jesus was concerned. Of course, it just meant, and still means, that He is the Teacher, the One from whom we have to learn everything. That name was often used about Him when He was here, and in that capacity He had four names: Teacher; Rabbi; Rabboni; and Master. You will remember that He was called by all those four titles. They addressed Him as ‘Teacher’ – Nicodemus said: “We know that thou art a teacher come from God” (John 3:2). But He was a different kind of teacher from all other teachers. He was not a teacher of the schools, for His teaching was spiritual, not academic. But this name ‘Teacher’ carried with it something very important and very rich. We are going at this time to be very much occupied with the Gospel by John, because it is there that we learn more deeply of the meaning of the Lord Jesus. The little phrase ‘to know’ occurs fifty-five times in that Gospel, and that very phrase belongs to the teacher and to the disciples. It is perfectly clear in the Gospel that the subject is ‘To know’, for it is all about knowing, and Jesus is the spiritual Teacher.

And then the phrase ‘The Truth’ occurs twenty-five times in that Gospel. To what does ‘To know’ relate? “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). So ‘the truth’ mentioned twenty-five times is linked with ‘to know’ occurring fifty-five times.

Then another phrase is linked with those two: ‘The Light’, which occurs twenty-three times. ‘To know the Truth by the Light’ is the subject of John’s Gospel, and, indeed, describes the school of the disciples.

All that is connected with the title ‘Teacher’.

The name ‘Rabbi’ is used separately of the Lord Jesus. In the Gospel by Mark He is called ‘Rabbi’ three times, and in Matthew four times, but this title is not used once in the Gospel by Luke. You will see why in a moment. In John Jesus is called ‘Rabbi’ eight times – more than in all the other three Gospels put together. It is quite clear from that what John is really seeking.

‘Rabboni’ does not occur often. It is an intensified form of ‘Rabbi’. You will remember that Mary Magdalene cried ‘Rabboni’ in the garden on the resurrection morning, when Jesus turned to her and said ‘Mary’. It simply means ‘the great Teacher’ and it only comes in John’s Gospel.

But why did Luke leave out this title of ‘Rabbi’? In his Gospel the Lord Jesus is called by a fourth title more than He is in any of the others. Luke’s favourite title for Him in this capacity is ‘Master’, and when you remember the object of his Gospel, which was to set forth Jesus as the very perfect Man, then you understand why he preferred this title. Jesus is the Master Man, and Luke meant to say: ‘We are all the servants of that Man.’

I have said all that just to introduce this matter of discipleship and to show that the great business of Christians is to learn Christ. This is not just a subject to study. I want to ask you: What is the greatest desire in your life? I wonder if it is the same as mine! The greatest desire in my heart – and the longer I live the stronger it grows – is to understand the Lord Jesus. There is so much that I do not understand about Him. I am always coming up against problems about Him, and they are not intellectual problems at all, but spiritual ones: problems of the heart. Why did the Lord Jesus say and do certain things? Why is He dealing with me as He is? He is always too deep for me, and I want to understand Him. It is the most important thing in life to understand the Lord Jesus. Well, we are here that He may bring us to some better understanding of Himself. The material of the word will not be new – it will be old and well-known Scripture. Perhaps we think that we know the Gospel by John very well. Well, you may, but I do not. I am discovering that this Gospel contains deeper truth and value than I know anything about, and I trust the Lord will make us all see that as we go on.

That has to do with the disciples, who are learners, but what about the Teacher Himself? What is His subject? Every teacher has his subject. Some teach theology, and others teach science, or philosophy, or art, or engineering, or various other things. What is the subject of the Lord Jesus?

(I would like to send you to your rooms to put your answer down on a piece of paper, and I think it would be very interesting if I were to read out all the answers later on!)

However, the answer is: Himself. He is His own subject. Jesus was always the subject of His own teaching. He related everything to Himself. He said: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6): “I am the good shepherd”(John 10:14): “I am the bread of life” (John 6:48): “I am the door” (John 10:9): “I am the resurrection, and the life” (John 11:25). He is His own subject. He spoke about many things, but He always related them to Himself. He said very much about His Father, and we may come to see something of what He taught about Him, but He always related the Father to Himself and Himself to the Father. He said: “I and the Father are one”(John 14:9). He spoke much about the Holy Spirit, but He always related Him to Himself. He said much about man, but He always related man to Himself. His own favourite title for Himself was ‘Son of man’. He said much about life, but He always related it to Himself and never thought of life apart from Himself. He said much about light, about truth and about power, but always in relation to Himself. He was His own subject of teaching.

But we are going to see that Jesus brought in a complete revolution in this way of teaching Himself. There is no doubt whatever that Jesus created a revolution. Of course, some people would not have it, for it was too revolutionary for them. But others said: “Never man spake like this man” (John 7:46 – A.V.). And it is said of Him that “He taught them as having authority, and not as the scribes” (Mark 1:22). He brought in a complete revolution, but He did itby bringing Himself into view by what He said about Himself. He was always talking about Himself, and He is the only one in this world who has a right to do that. We are here today because He had a right to talk about Himself.

So the one business of disciples is to know Him, and to do what He called His disciples to do: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me” (Matthew 11:29). Jesus came to bring heavenly knowledge in His own person, and in His person we come into heavenly knowledge. It is not just what He says: it is what He says He is.

Every true teacher is not one who says a lot of things, but one who, when he says things, gives something of himself. You have had teachers at school, and I had many during my school years. Some taught me, or tried to teach me, this and that and something else – it might be arithmetic, or English language, or one of the many subjects. I hope I learned something from what those teachers said to me, but of them all one stands out in my memory. He said all the things, but he also gave me something of himself. I could say of him: ‘He did not only talk; he made an impression. He left something with me. I remember him, not for his subject, but for himself. He made a difference in my life.’ And that is the kind of teacher Jesus is. He did not just say things, or teach subjects only. His subjects were very wonderful, as we have seen: the Father, the Spirit, life, and so on, but Jesus gave more than words. When people listened to Him they said: “Never man spake like this man.” He made an impression on their lives and they carried something away. Afterwards, it says, “they remembered his words” (Luke 24:8). Something had entered right into the deep places of their lives and they were able to say: ‘I not only learned certain truths from Jesus, but I have got something in my life from my Teacher. I have been influenced by Him.’ Jesus said: “The words that I have spoken unto you are spirit, and are life” (John 6:63). That is something more than words.

The question which covers and governs all learning is this: Why did the Lord Jesus Christ come into this world? Of course, you might answer that in simple fragments of Scripture. You might say: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15). That is the Scripture and is quite true. Or you might say: “The Son of man came to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10), which is also quite true. There are many other things like that which seem to answer the question, but you need to put them all together – and even then you do not have the full answer. It has many more aspects than those! We have to approach it by two steps, and the first is a very big step indeed.

The birth of Jesus at Bethlehem was not the birth of the Son of God. He did not begin His existence when He came into this world: He was with the Father before ever this world was. He said: “O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was”(John 17:5). We do not know when He began to have His being, but it was somewhere, if at any time at all, before time began. He was with the Father from everlasting. If you can fix the date of the first words in the Bible, then you know the answer. Perhaps you are wondering why I am saying this? Because this is where the Gospel by John begins, and you can never understand the Lord Jesus until you begin back there: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). That is where the teaching begins. Oh, we have come into a very big school! It is the School of Eternity. We are going to see later on how that applies to us. It is one of the things that I hope we are going to learn, but for the moment we just have to note this: that it was not the beginning of Jesus when He came into this world.

The other step is this: His coming into this world in human form definitely related to mankind. He did not completely break with His deity, but He came in the form of humanity, and that means that His coming had something vitally connected with human life. ‘It is not unto angels: it is unto men.’ He came as Man to men in order to teach men. God was in Christ, but in human form in order to do something in man: not only for man, but in man. God could have done everything for man without coming in human form, but in order to do something in man he had to come in the form of a man.

The full answer to our question, then, is this: Jesus came to bring in His own person all that which man was intended to have, but never had. Man was intended by God to have something that he has never yet had. He missed it by his disobedience and has never possessed what God intended him to possess. And man as he was never could possess it, so there had to be another kind of Man to bring it to man.

And we repeat: the answer to our main question is just this. Jesus came to bring in His own person all that which God meant man to have, but which he had never had. That is why the teaching of Jesus was always united with His acts. Do you notice that? After Jesus said something He did something to prove it, and He never said anything about Himself without doing something to prove it. Did He say: “I am the light of the world” (John 9:5)? Then He opened the eyes of a man born blind. Did He say: “I am the resurrection, and the life”(John 11:25)? Then He raised Lazarus from the dead. And so He was always uniting His words with acts, His works with His teaching. He was not just saying things, but with the saying He was doing. That still continues to be His method, and is what you and I have to understand. I hope we are going to learn that in these days, and that it will not just be only words, but the works of the Lord Jesus accompanying the words.

There is something that we could just put in at this point which is very helpful. There is something very unusual about this great Teacher. Have you noticed the kind of disciples that He chose? Why did the Lord choose that kind of disciple? What kind of people were they? They were not the great scholars of the day, nor men with university degrees. I think we could say that on the whole they were a poor lot and seemed to have poor brains. They were always misunderstanding what He said, or failing to grasp the point. They were always forgetting things He had said to them and He had to remind them later on, or bring these things back to them by the Holy Spirit. Paul’s description of the Christians at Corinth fitted these disciples well: “Not many wise after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble… God chose the foolish things of the world… God chose the weak things of the world…” (1 Corinthians 1:26,27). Now, that is not the way in which the world goes to work. You would not stand a chance today if you were a Peter, or a James, or a John, in any high position in this world. Why did He choose those men? Because there was plenty of room in them for what He had come to bring. They were not already full or strong. In a sense they gave Him a very good opportunity for putting into them what they did not have. The people in Christ’s day who had it all never got anything. You know how true that was! The full went away empty and the empty went away full. That is something for us to learn!

One of the things that we have to leave down in the valley when we come up on to the mountain is our ignorance. You will say: ‘Ignorance means “I don’t know”‘, but just think again. What is the hallmark of ignorance? It is: ‘I know it all.’ Is that not true? The really ignorant people are those who think that they know everything.

I remember a certain lady some years ago. I do not profess to be a great teacher, but to every sentence that I uttered she said: ‘I know it! I know it!’ That would have been all right if her life had proved that she did know it, but it proved that she did not know it, and you could get nowhere with that dear soul because of: ‘I know it! I know it!’ The mark of ignorance is knowing it all, and that is one of the things to leave down there when we come up on to the mountain.* We must be teachable, empty, weak, foolish in our own eyes, just nobody. The School of Jesus Christ is filled with people like that – and that is why He chose the men that He did.

Let us remember that we are His disciples and still have everything to learn. We really understand the Lord Jesus very little, but He is amongst us as Rabboni, our great Teacher, and I believe that He will reveal Himself to us if our hearts are open to Him.

* Spoken at the Conference among the mountains in Switzerland.

A Man After God’s Heart – T. Austin-Sparks

Reading: Ps. 89:19,20; Acts 13:22; Heb. 1:9; 1 Sam. 13:14.


The Bible abounds with men. It abounds with many other things; with doctrine, with principles; but more than anything else it abounds with men. That is God’s method, His chosen method, His primary method of making Himself known. These men who were in relationship with God, with whom God was associated, bring distinctive features into view. Not in any one man is the whole man acceptable, every feature to be praised, but in every man there are one or more features that stand out and distinguish him from all others, and abide as the conspicuous features of that man’s life. Those outstanding distinctive features represent God’s thought, the features which God Himself has taken pains to develop, for which God laid His hand upon such men, that throughout history they should be the expression of certain particular traits.

Thus we speak of Abraham’s faith, of Moses’ meekness. Every man is representative of some feature wrought into him, developed in him, and when you think of the man the feature is always uppermost in your mind. Our attention is drawn, not to the man as a whole, but to that which marks him in particular. So by one Apostle we are called to recollect the faith of Abraham, while another will bid us remember the patience of Job. These features are God’s thoughts, and when all the features of all the men are gathered up and combined, they represent Christ. It is as though God had scattered one Man over the generations, and in a multitude of men under His hand had shown some aspect, some feature, some facet of that one Man, and that one Man is able to say, “Ye search the scriptures, because ye think that in them ye have eternal life; and these are they which bear witness of Me…” (John 5:39). There is a Man spread over the Bible, and all who have come under God’s hand, have been apprehended for the purpose of showing something of His thought, which in its fulness is expressed in His Son, the Lord Jesus. Recognizing that, we are better able to appreciate the words we have just read, which in the first instance related to David, but are clearly seen to reach beyond to a greater than David. Read again Psalm eighty-nine and you cannot fail to see that two things merge into one another: “I have laid help upon one that is mighty; I have exalted one chosen out of the people.” You have to look for a greater than David for the complete expression of that. In the words “I have laid help upon one that is mighty…” we have one of the great foundations of our redemption. A greater than David is here. David in those principal features of his life under God’s hand was an expression of God’s thought concerning Christ. You cannot say that of David’s life as a whole. You cannot carry the statement, “I have found… a man after My heart…” through the whole of David’s life, and say that when David was guilty of this and that particular thing which marred his life this was after God’s heart. We have to see exactly what it was, in and about David, which made it possible for God to say that he was a man after His own heart. It was just that which indicated Christ, pointed to Christ. It is only that which is Christ which is after God’s heart.

The Divine Purpose from Eternity

“The Lord hath sought him a man after His own heart…” (1 Sam. 12:14). Remembering our previous meditations, we shall find a large setting for a statement like that. It speaks of the creation of man, of the Lord seeking to have a man-race, a corporate man in whom His own thoughts and features are reproduced in a moral way. The Lord has ever sought Him that man. It was the seeking of such a man that led to the creation. It was the seeking of such a man that led to the Incarnation. It is that seeking of a man which has led to the Church, the “one new man.” God is all the time in quest of a man to fill His universe; not one man as a unity, but a collective man gathered up into His Son. Paul speaks of this man as “…the Church, which is His body, the fulness of Him…” That is the fulness, the measure of the stature of a man in Christ. It is the Church, which is there spoken of, not any one individual. God has ever been in quest of a man to fill His universe.

The Likeness is Moral and Spiritual

God thinks thoughts, desires desires, and wills wills, and those thoughts, and desires, and wills are the very essence of His moral being, and when He has thus reproduced Himself in this sense, He has a being constituted according to His own moral nature; the man becomes an embodiment and personification of the very moral nature of God; not of the Deity of God, but the moral nature. You know what it is in life to say that anything or anyone is after your own heart. You mean they are just exactly what you think they are and what you want them to be for your own complete satisfaction. The man after God’s heart is like that to Him.

Devoted to the Will of God

There is a third thing which defines that to some degree, which puts its finger upon the root of the matter. What is the man after God’s heart? What is it that God has sought in man? The verse in Acts tell us: “…who shall do all My will” (Acts 13:22). If you look at the margin you will see that “will” is plural: “…all My wills”— everything that God desires, everything that God wills, the will of God in all its forms, in all its ways, in all its quests and objectives. The man who will do all His wills is the man after God’s heart, whom God has sought. The words are spoken, in the first place, of David. There are several ways in which David as a man after God’s heart is brought out into clear relief.

Firstly, David is set in striking contrast with Saul. When God had deposed and set aside Saul, He raised up David. Those two stand opposite to one another and can never occupy the throne together. If David is to come, then Saul must go. If Saul is there, David cannot come. That is seen very clearly in the history, but let us note that in this we are confronted with basic principles, not merely with what is historic and to do with persons of bygone days. Before God there are two moral states, two spiritual conditions, two hearts, and these two hearts can never be in the throne together, can never occupy the princely position at the same time. If one is to be prince, or in the place of ascendency, of honour, of God’s appointment, the other heart has to be completely put away. It is remarkable that even after David was anointed king there was a considerable lapse of time before he came to the throne, during which Saul continued to occupy that position. David had to keep back until that régime had run its course, until it was completely exhausted, finished, and then put aside.

It would be a long, though profitable study, to go over Saul’s inner life as shown by his outward behaviour. Saul was governed by his own judgments in the things of God. That is one thing. When God commanded Saul to slay Amalek—man, woman, beast, and child; to destroy Amalek root and branch, it was a big test of Saul’s faith in God’s judgment, God’s wisdom, God’s knowing of what He was doing, God’s honour. If God commands us to do something which on the face of it would seem to deny something in God’s own nature of kindness, and goodness, and mercy, and we begin to allow our own judgment to take hold upon God’s command and to give another complexion to the matter, to take obedience out of our hearts, we have set our judgment against God’s command. In effect we have said: The Lord surely does not know what He is doing! Surely the Lord is not alive to the way His reputation will suffer if this is done, the way people will speak of His very morality! It is a dangerous thing to bring our own moral judgment to bear upon an implicit command of the Lord. Saul’s responsibility was not to question why, but to obey. We recall Samuel’s word to Saul: “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams” (1 Sam. 15:22). The man after God’s heart does all His wills, and does not say: Lord, this will bring You into reproach! This will bring You into dishonour! This will raise serious difficulties for You! On the contrary, he replies at once: Lord, You have said this; I leave the responsibility for the consequences with You, and obey. The Lord Jesus always acted so. He was misunderstood for it, but He did it.

Saul was influenced in his conduct by his own feelings, his own likes and dislikes, and preferences. He blamed the people, it is true, but it was he himself who was at fault after all. It was his judgment working through his sentiments. In effect he said: It is a great pity to destroy that! Here is something that looks so good, that according to all standards of sound judgment is good, and the Lord says destroy! What a pity! Why not give it to God in sacrifice? Now we know that it is true of the natural man that there are these two aspects, a good side and a bad. Are we not, on our part, often found saying, in effect, Let us hand the good to God! We are quite prepared for the very sinful side to go, but let us give the good that is in us to the Lord! All our righteousnesses are in His sight as filthy rags. God’s new creation is not a patchwork of the old; it is an entirely new thing, and the old has to go. Saul defaulted upon that very thing. He reasoned that the best should be given to God, when God had said, “Utterly destroy.”

The man after God’s own heart does not make blunders like that. His interrogation of himself is: What has the Lord said? No place is given to any other enquiry: What do I feel about it? How does it seem to me? He does not say: It is a great pity from my standpoint. No! The Lord has said it, and that is enough. God has sought Him a man who will do all His wills.

So we could pursue the contrast between Saul and David along many lines. We are led to one issue every time. It all points in one direction. Will this man surrender his own judgments, his own feelings, his own standards, his entire being to the will of God, or will he have reservations because of the way in which he views things and questions God?

An Utter Rejection of the Flesh

There is another way in which David stands out as the man after God’s own heart, and it is this with which we are especially concerned, and with which we will conclude this meditation. It is that which is to be noted in the first public action of David in the valley of Elah. We refer, of course, to his contest with Goliath. This first public action of David was a representative and inclusive one, just as the conquest of Jericho was with Israel. Jericho, as we know, was representative and inclusive of the conquest of the whole land. There were seven nations to be deposed. They marched round Jericho seven times. Jericho, in spiritual and moral principle, was the embodiment of the whole land. God intended that what was true of Jericho should be true of every other conquest, that the basis should be one of sheer faith; victory through faith, possession through faith.

David’s contest with Goliath was like that. It gathered up in a full way everything that David’s life was to express. It was the comprehensive disclosure or unveiling of the heart of David. He was a man after God’s own heart. God’s ground of approval in His choice of men is shown to us in His words to Samuel with reference to another of Jesse’s sons: “Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature… the Lord looketh on the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7). In the case of David, the heart that God had seen is disclosed in the contest with Goliath, and it was that heart which made David the man after God’s own heart all the rest of his life. What is Goliath? Who is he? He is a gigantic figure behind whom all the Philistines hide. He is a comprehensive one, an inclusive one; in effect, the whole Philistine force; for when they saw that their champion was dead they fled. The nation is bound up with, and represented by, the man. Typically what are the Philistines? They represent that which is very near to what is of God, always in close proximity, always seeking to impinge upon the things of God; to get a grip, to look into, to pry, to discover the secret things of God. You will recall their attitude toward the Ark when it came into their hands. They were ever seeking to pry into the secrets of God, but always in a natural way. They are called “uncircumcised.” That is what David said about Goliath: “this uncircumcised Philistine.” We know from Paul’s interpretation that typically that means this uncrucified natural life, this natural life which is always seeking to get a grip on the things of God apart from the work of the Cross; which does not recognize the Cross; which sets the Cross aside, and thinks that it can proceed without the Cross into the things of God; which ignores the fact that there is no way into the things of the Spirit of God except through the Cross as an experienced thing, as a power breaking down the natural life and opening a way for the Spirit. There is no possibility whatever of our knowing the secrets of God except by the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit “was not” (we use the word in the particular meaning of John 7:39) until Calvary was accomplished. That must be personal in application, not merely historic. The uncircumcised Philistines simply speak of a natural life which comes alongside the things of God, and is always interfering with them, touching them, looking into them, wanting to get hold of them; a menace to that which is spiritual. Goliath embodies all that. All the Philistines are gathered up into him. David meets him, and the issue, in spiritual interpretation, is this, that David’s heart is going to have nothing of that. He sets himself that all things shall be of God, and nothing of man. There shall be no place for nature here in the things of God, but this natural strength must be destroyed. The Philistines become David’s lifelong enemies, and he theirs.

Do you see the man after God’s heart? Who is he? What is he? He is a man who, though the odds against him be tremendous, sets himself with all his being against that which interferes with the things of God in an “uncircumcised” way. That which contradicts the Cross of the Lord Jesus, that which seeks to force its way into the realm of God other than by the gate-way of the Cross is represented by the Philistine. Who is this uncircumcised Philistine? David’s heart was roused with a mighty indignation against all that was represented by this man.

That constitutes a very big issue indeed. It has not merely to do with a sinful world. There is that in the world which is opposed to God, positively set against God, a sinful state that is recognized and acknowledged by most people. That is all against God, but that is not what we have here. This is something else that is to be found even amongst the Lord’s people, and which regards nothing as too sacred to be exploited. It will get into an assembly of saints in Corinth and call for a tremendous letter of the Apostle about natural wisdom, the wisdom of this world expressing itself as the mentality even of believers, and thus making the Gospel of none effect. This spirit that is not subject to the Cross creeps in and associates itself with the things of God, and takes a purchase upon them. It is not so much that which is blatantly, obviously, and conspicuously sinful, as the natural life which is accounted so fine according to human standards. The Lord’s people have always had to meet that in one form or another. Ezra had to meet it. Men came and proffered their help to build the House of God: and how the Church has succumbed to that sort of thing! If anybody offers their help for the work of the Lord, the attitude at once taken is: Oh, well, it is help, which is what we want; let us have all the help we can get! There is no discrimination. Nehemiah had to meet it. There is some help that we are better without. The Church is far better without Philistine association. That is the sort of thing that has assailed the Church all the way through. John, the last surviving Apostle, in his old age writes: “…but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the pre-eminence… receiveth us not…” (3 John 9). You see the significance of that. John was the man of the testimony of Jesus: “I John, …was in the Isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.” The great word of John’s writings is “life”: “In Him was life…” (John 1:4); “…this life is in His Son” (1 John 5:11). Diotrephes could not bear with that. If Christ is coming in, Diotrephes, who loveth to have the pre-eminence, must go out; if he that loveth to have the pre-eminence is coming in, then Christ is kept out.

The man after God’s own heart is the man who will have no compromise with the natural mind; not only with what is called sin in its more positive forms, but all that natural life which tries to get hold of the work of God and the interests of God, to handle and to govern them. This has been the thing that has crippled and paralyzed the Church through the centuries; men insinuating themselves into the place of God in His Church.

You see what David stands for. He will take the head off that giant. There has to be no compromise with this thing; it must go down in the name of the Lord.

The Price of Loyalty

Now notice this, that for his devotion David had to suffer. This man, who alone saw the significance of that with which he had to do, this man who alone had the thoughts of God in his heart, the conceptions of God, the feelings of God, the insight of God; this man who alone amongst all the people of Israel in that dark day of spiritual weakness and declension was on the side of God, seeing things in a true way, has to suffer for it. As he came upon the scene, and, with his perception and insight into what was at stake betraying itself in his indignation, his wrath, his zeal for the Lord, began to challenge this thing, his own brethren turned upon him. How? In the cruellest way for any such man, the way most calculated to take the heart out of any true servant of God. They imputed wrong motives. They said in effect: You are trying to make a way for yourself; trying to get recognition for yourself; trying to be conspicuous! You are prompted only by personal interests, personal ambitions! That is a cruel blow. Every man who has come out against that which has usurped God’s place in any way, and stood alone for God against the forces that prevail, has come under that lash. To Nehemiah it was said: You are trying to make a name for yourself, to get prophets to set you on high and proclaim through the country that there is a great man called Nehemiah in Jerusalem! Similar things were said to Paul. Misrepresentation is a part of the price. David’s heart was as free from any such thing as any heart could be. He was set upon the Lord, the Lord’s glory, the Lord’s satisfaction, but even so, men will say: It is all for himself, his own name, his own reputation, his own position. That is more calculated to take the heart out of a man than a good deal of open opposition. If only they would come out and fight fairly and squarely in the open! But David did not succumb; the giant did! May the Lord give us a heart like David’s, for that is a heart like His own.

We see in David a reflection of the Lord Jesus, Who was eaten up by zeal for the Lord’s House, Who paid the price for His zeal, and Who was, in a sense above all others, the Man after God’s own heart.

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An excerpt from the book – The Stewardship of the Mystery linked here – http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/books/stewardship_of_the_mystery_volume_1_the.html