Category: Reward

“When You Were Young…” – W.E. Smith

Dear ones, few saints of recent generations have seen what T. A. Sparks was allowed to see. The place, the principle, the way of the cross of Christ, in bringing forth divine life into a flesh and blood and soul-driven man. Please read the following very slowly in the Spirit, if you will –

When you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted. (John 21:18 ESV)

The “eyes which are as a flame of fire” are looking for reality. They pierce through many things. In the first place, they pierce through traditional and formal religion or “Christianity.” Their interrogation is – Is your religion a matter of attachment or adherence to a system, a historical tradition, a family inheritance; and so on? Or is it born – is it a birth in you; is it something that has happened to you; is it your very life, your very being? Secondly – and I concentrate more especially upon this for the moment – they pierce through temperament and disposition. They demand to know whether the reason why you are where you are, are concerned for what you are concerned for, are connected with what you are connected with, and are disposed as you are, is because your particular temperament leans that way. You are artistic and mystical in your tastes and constitution: therefore you choose or ma ke your religion after your own image. Your temperament is melancholic, and so the more abstract, profound, serious, intense, introspective, and speculative, appeals to you and finds a natural response in you. You make God, Christianity, Christ, the Bible, after your image.

Or again, you are of the practical temperament. To you everything is only of value as it is “practical.” You have no patience with these contemplative people. You are irritated by the “Marys,” for “many dishes” are your concern. To you, how the end is reached is of much less importance than the end itself. You are not bothered much with imagination, and you would put all the value on things done – how much there is actually to show for your day. Your God and your Christianity are entirely, or almost entirely, of the practical kind, after your own image. And so we could go on with all the other temperaments. But this will not do, for Christ is not any one of these; He is different. He may combine the good in all, but that does not wholly mean Divine nature. He is different. All this is the human soul, but the essential nature of Christ and true Christianity is of the Divine Spirit – it is heavenly! If new birth means anything, it means this, that another nature and disposition is born into the believer, so that he or she is “carried whither they (naturally) would not.”

Oh saints of God, Oh the divine constraint that is so foreign, so alien to us modern believers. “When you were young…”

Yoke

But now your very life has been secured in My yoke, and you will only go where I go, when I go, at the speed I go. Here is, must we say, the bound and tethered existence of a bond slave, with no rights, no claims, no interest in himself. He is a bought man. There is no longer any self – no longer “I will go, I will do this, or that, I will….”

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Cor 6:19-20)

Personality, disposition, predilection, proclivity – these are all the virtues and prerogatives of a free man. But we are no longer free in that sense. No longer our own. No longer living out of ourselves, for ourselves, to gratify ourselvesJames, also reminded us –

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin. (James 4:13 -)

Is this exceptional? A fair question. Is this the life of a John the Baptist, a prophet, a Paul only?

No, no, beloved, this is in fact the normative, intended path for all – for He is the Way for all of us, not just for a few.

And here is the exquisite mystery that makes even the angels to shutter – in this ever-increasing constraint, in this heaven-imposed straightness, in this narrowness, there – if only we have eyes to see, and a faith and love to endure through it all – is freedom, there are wings, there is air to be breathed, and deep paths to follow, and heavenly heights to be attained. Oh yes, at first we groan, we feel hemmed in, so useless, so impaired – but then we begin to settle in, we let go, we acquiesce, we surrender, we submit.

Then here, here in this blood-streaked, tear-drenched shadow of the cross, here in that hellish twilight of confusion in the very presence of all the demons (the very ones who tried to destroy us forever) – we are reborn, we begin to breathe and grow, and walk, and to ultimately delight in Him as our all in all. Here, at the colossal end of ourselves, we begin to live, to breathe, to walk, then run, then leap over a hedge (as David). Here is where we finally realize what Paul meant when he said –

“TO LIVE IS CHRIST”

And –

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Here, there is peace and rest and a settling in to what He has ordained for us. Here, and only here (for no mere religious experience will accomplish this) is where we become sons in His household, disciples in His school, and friends in His heart. The burden becomes light for it is His to bear, and the fetters, whatever they are, become our greatest blessing – for they make way for Him to find glory in a man, glory out of dust, glory out of flesh and blood and bone.

Oh Lord, You will make all things beautiful in its time. You will make it good Lord, you will speak life out of death, and this life will be the very Light of the World! Make it so oh Lord, In Your Precious Name, we pray. amen

T.A. Sparks Byline

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The Reward of His Suffering – W.E. Smith

The disciples came to Him and asked, “Do You realize You offended the Pharisees by what You just said?” Jesus replied, “Every plant not planted by My heavenly Father will be uprooted.” (Matthew 15)


He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’” (Matt 13)

“I told you that I am he,” Jesus answered. “If you are looking for me, then let these men go.” This happened so that the words he had spoken would be fulfilled: “I have not lost one of those you gave me.” (John 18)

Dear saints, the Father is the sower and He knows what He has planted and where. All that He has not planted will be uprooted and burned. This is a most solemn reality that comes under the sovereign lordship of our Great and Wise God. We must therefore not concern ourselves with doing what the Word says only the Lord will do in time. He knows what He has planted and what He has not planted. He knows precisely where His plants are, for He is the sower. We are merely the seed, or better yet, the product of the Seed, which is His Son, sown in the world.
 
Yes, with the clear and searching eyes of the spirit, we may conclude that all is leavened, and even perhaps that all is without hope. Yet this is not what He declares. He will lose none of those that the Father has given Him. None! We must therefore conclude that the many are those not given to Him by His Father. Do you see this? That which an enemy has done, God has not. He has no part in it.“Many are called”, yes, but “few are chosen”. And of those He has chosen, He will lose none.
 
Are you therefore chosen? Have you been planted by the Father in the field of this world, while an enemy looks on? Are you one of the few, or one of the many? You all know in your own heart the answer to such questions.
 
The kingdom of god comes not but by force. It is a violent and costly thing. There are many forces attempting in one way or another to prevent it, to keep us out, to keep us from entering, and then entering still deeper into the life of Christ that is the life of His Kingdom. And the Word is clear, that such violence comes from the many, not so much initially from the world, but from satanic energies operating in the false religious sphere, from strongholds of falseness and anti-christinfused counterfeits. It has always been thus, it seems, from Cain, to the false temple life, to the sects of the Jews, and even down to our day, to all of these self-named groups and factions falsely representing our Lord. 
 
They grow up together, side by side, until a day of reckoning, until the sower stands up and identifies all that He has planted, and burns all that He has not. This is a serious business my friends, a serious business indeed. Yet He has declared it, and He will lose none of the few whom He has hidden away. He has, after all, purchased the entire field (the world), remember, with His blood, with His life, just so He could redeem His hidden treasure. He has sold all that He had, for that single pearl of great worth.
 

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. So it will be at the close of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matt 13)

Dear saints, are we close? Is the day near? I do believe in my heart that it is? Are we at the close of the age, when the angels themselves are stirring in preparation for their solemn work of separation? Are you hearing the flutter of angels wings deep down where spirit touches bone, when all that is real and genuine is proven and tried?

Is our Lord and Redeemer ready to claim the full reward of His suffering? Will He be satisfied with all that the Father has given Him for His faithfulness and loving devotion?

Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. (Isa 53:11)

Dear ones, it is all about Him now? All about what He has every right to claim for Himself! All about His Father granting to Him the unfathomable blessings He deserves. We are merely part of the reward, and that we are so highly and wonderfully esteemed is to His credit and worthiness alone; not ours. Let our thoughts turn now to the King! To He who holds the Scepter and will soon stand to claim all that is rightly His own. All that He has won, and purchased at so great a price! His Mighty Hand is not shortened, nor is there anything He does not see or know. Let us all bow our knees to the Righteous King, the Lamb slain, who now reigns over all that His Father has given Him. Let us rejoice and remain true to the One who alone is Truth, and Righteousness, and Faithfulness and Wisdom!

Let all our thoughts and attention turn to learning Him in Life, as He intended, to laying down our old life that He may rise up, and become that precious pearl of great price in each of us, as one body. 

Life out of death, beauty out of ashes, a breath breathed into clay. Oh Lord, breathe on us now, and claim the full and much-deserved reward of Your Suffering! Amen.

The Touch of Life – W.E. Smith

And He stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing; be cleansed.” And immediately the leprosy left him. (Luke 5:13)

And a woman who had a hemorrhage for twelve years, and could not be healed by anyone, came up behind Him and touched the fringe of His cloak, and immediately her hemorrhage stopped. And Jesus said, “Who is the one who touched Me?” (Luke 8:43)

When they came to the crowd, a man approached Jesus and knelt before him. “Lord, have mercy on my son,” he said. “He has seizures and is suffering greatly. He often falls into the fire or into the water. I brought him to your disciples, but they could not heal him.”

“O unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.” Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy, and he was healed from that moment. (Matt 17)

Dear saints – leprosy, cancer, disease, demonism – it is all death. It is this fallen world dying. It is the life of Adam that remains – the grim legacy of sin and curse and death. It is in the very cells and molecules of all of us. We pass it on to our precious children, all the while the god of death wrings his hands and smiles.

Yet there is one, and only one who touches death. He reaches out and touches it, for He is willing and He alone is able. He touched death in the leper and His life flowed out of Him. The woman with internal bleeding touched Him and the life flowed out of Him. He rebuked the demons and they came out.

Rejoice Ye His saints – for Life has come amongst us in this cursed graveyard we call this world.

Where, where I say is the power and the life in His people? Why are we so dead and listless. Why do we not send the demons and death running by the very life that is in us? His life!

“O unbelieving and perverse generation,”

Spoken to his own, dear saints – spoken to His own – to you and to me.

Has He changed? Does He not want to manifest His power and life in the darkness and death of this world?

Where is the light and power and life in His people while all the world sinks into even greater death and depravity. Did He not say after He ascended that we would do greater things than He did? Then where, I submit, are they? What on earth happened? He changes not and remains faithful, so it must be us. IT MUST BE US!

Let me declare ever-so plainly that if so many of us did not actually love this putrid and death-filled world more than we love the Lord then things might not be so deplorable. We embrace death rather than life. We shrink back from, and even enjoy the darkness. We are riddled with unbelief, and our puny lives are merely evidence of our puny faith. All we have is a wispy religion propped up with programs and strings.

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. (2 Cor. 3:17)

It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. (John 6:63)

Oh dear ones, where then is the spirit and the life; where is this freedom promised?

Let us repent dear saints and pray for a quickening of our hearts unto the Lord. Let us turn to the Living One who holds the keys to death and Hades –

I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters.  In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades. (Rev 1)

… and so how great is our God? – Oh that we would see Him personally, and be forever changed by what we see. John fell to the ground as though dead, yet today we seem not to have any fear of Him at all. We sings love songs to Him but we don’t tremble in His presence. We don’t seem to care that these same eyes of fire are now measuring each and every one of us.

Dear saints – I will start with myself, and end with myself – pray that I would fear this Lord, and tremble in His presence, and walk only in the life that He gives. Pray that all that resists Him in me will be burned away, by whatever it takes, whatever loss or pain or affliction. For I am the least and the last, and He deserves so much better than I.

Oh Lord – touch us with Your Life Oh Lord – touch us like you touched so many things that are dead or dying. Reach out and touch us that we will never be the same again. And show us Thyself Oh King! Show us Thy majesty and glory, and may we shudder in Your Holy Presence! Show us Thyself lifted up above this dying realm, above all that the stink and filth and rot of men and devils and this cursed world.

Oh Lord, we are dirty, so dirty Lord, so much in need of Thy cleansing blood. Purge us Oh Lord of all that isn’t Thee Oh Lord, all that is less than Thee.

Show us Thy need Oh Lord, how utterly empty we are without Thee. Whatever it takes Oh Lord – let us lay down our lives unto death, even the death and mortification of Thy cross oh Lord. Shake this world out of us, Shake it all Lord, shake it with Thy mighty thunders Oh Lord so that our only ground is Thee!

Saints of the Lord – hear me please – if you are not willing to go all the way with Jesus the Christ, then go back now. If you have never been taught what the cost is for following Him, that it is in fact your very life – then now you know. Count the cost then decide. Just decide deep in the very bowels of your being – make a decision. And then never turn back. never even look back – at all that you will lose for Him.

For dear ones – to gain this Christ is everything. He is everything! The pearl, the treasure, the gold and the glory.

Oh we believe Oh Lord, help our unbelief. Yes we are a perverse and unbelieving generation, but help us Oh Lord.

Go out saints of God, for the bread is on the ground – He is waiting. He is new every morning! Take Him into your mouth and live. Drink deep from the fountain that is our Savior and our King!

For to live is Christ and to die is gain!

Jealousy for God – T. Austin-Sparks

“And it came to pass, when Ahab saw Elijah, that Ahab said unto him, Is it thou, thou troubler of Israel? And he answered, I have not troubled Israel; but thou, and thy father’s house” (1 Kings 18:17,18).

“And he said, I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts” (1 Kings 19:10).

When we bring together those two fragments – “I have been very jealous for the Lord”; “Is it thou, thou troubler of Israel?” – we find two strangely contrasting and conflicting points of view. On the one side, the claim – truly supported, and undoubtedly true – to have been very jealous for the Lord. And on the other side, this term, this description, used of that same person: “thou troubler of Israel”. But the juxtaposition brings out something very significant. To be very jealous for the Lord may inevitably mean that you are a troubler of Israel. Indeed, it usually works out like that. You will give nobody any trouble – I mean spiritual trouble – if you are not jealous for the Lord. But if you are, make no mistake about it, this is how it will come back at you: ‘Thou troubler of Israel!’

THE PROPHET AS ‘TROUBLE MAKER’

Now, although Elijah seems to have repudiated the charge, and there was truth and right in his so doing, nevertheless the charge was true. Ahab, for once in his life, was telling the truth, but telling the truth in a way of which he was not aware. It is essentially a part of the ministry of a prophetic instrument, to cause trouble. It is inevitable; it is in the very nature of things. For the very function of the prophet came into view when things were not right. If things had never gone wrong, had never needed adjusting, correcting, or bringing to some greater measure of spiritual fullness, there would have been no need of prophets. We should know very very little about prophets, if things had gone right on as they should have done. The function of the prophets was to keep and hold before the people of God, God’s full thought concerning them, especially in the face of certain things that worked very definitely against it. And it is just because of that clash and conflict that the trouble arises.

Elijah’s charge against Ahab was a real one; but the ‘trouble’ to which Ahab referred was not in Elijah – it was deeply inherent in the spiritual condition of the time. Its real root and cause lay there. There would have been no ‘trouble’, but for people like Elijah; everything would have remained quiescent. When Elijah was there in the country, Ahab knew of it, and searched for him high and low. He was the great irritating, aggravating factor. Though for a long time hidden, nevertheless his very presence in the country was having the effect of dragging this thing out – this spiritual apostasy and corruption, which was, after all, the root of the trouble. It could not go on unchallenged, while such people as Elijah were there. I am not at this moment so much concerned with Elijah himself, as with what he represents: the presence of some living spiritual testimony, embodied; an annoying, inconvenient, aggravating thing, always somewhere about. As you notice in the chapter, Ahab sent throughout the length and breadth of the land, to try to discover Elijah. If only he could get hold of THIS, and destroy THIS, he thought, he could get rid of the ‘trouble’.

This leads us to some very definite conclusions. If there is a clash, a collision, between two irreconcilables, there will always be trouble. Given the incorrigible downgrade trend of human nature, and, wherever that is challenged, you will have trouble. That there is such a thing in human nature needs no argument. We know quite well that any kind of turning of that trend upward, no matter in what realm, is always fraught with hard work, with conflict. It is the nature of things to decline. Leave anything in this creation to itself, and it degenerates; we know that to be true. Every attempt, every effort to improve things, in every realm, is fraught with conflict. That is clearly true of human nature. It hates to be bothered, troubled or disturbed; it wants to have its own way. Morally and spiritually, the trend is always downward; if that is challenged, there is going to be trouble.

ISRAEL EXEMPLIFIES THE DOWNGRADE TREND IN MAN

How terribly true is the working of that principle and law in Israel! Never in the history of mankind has such an experiment been carried out, as that which God carried out with Israel. God did everything that could be done to make possible an upward trend in the life of a nation. He gave it the very best system of laws and regulations, for every department of its life – physical, moral, spiritual. He gave it the very best conditions, in a land flowing with milk and honey; a land that simply leapt to respond to any little effort to make it fruitful. God showed infinite patience and longsuffering with that people. Never was such an experiment carried out in human history, as was carried out with Israel.

They had only to answer to God in any little way, and immediately He blessed. If they did this, in the temporal realm, at once they received blessing for it; at once they were rewarded. They had only got to ask, and He gave. They had only to do, and He came out to them. We often wish (secretly) that we lived in those days, when the temporal responses of God were so wonderful! Yes, even when they were not right with Him, if, in the midst of their criminal attitude toward God, they humbled themselves and prayed, God seemed to forget it all, and to come right out to them. God was carrying out an experiment. Right at the centre of His universe, He was giving an object lesson for all ages, for all intelligences to observe, to read. He put this people there under the most favourable conditions – physically, geographically, morally and spiritually – that He could provide. His attitude was: If you will, I will, and there will be no delay about it.

What is the sum of the whole thing? What is the story when you read it? An amazing story! It is that, in spite of everything, the course is always downgrade, downgrade, downgrade. This is something

incorrigible, inveterate. God has shown for all time, for all times, that there is something in man, IN man, that is deeper and stronger than all the upward advantages that God can give him. Put him in a paradise, and he will turn it into a slum! Give him all the best conditions, and, in the long run, the condition will be one of disgrace. And, somehow, strangely enough, man loves to have it so. If you try to interfere with it, you see what you meet. The dentist and the doctor can be the most hated persons in the world! Is it because they are so evil? Oh, no; there is something irrational about it, utterly irrational. The value is altogether overlooked – simply because it goes against the grain! And what is the ‘grain’? How many people would sooner suffer, suffer, suffer, than endure perhaps a few moments’ pain, to have the suffering cleared up! You see what I mean – it is a strange thing, this human nature. But that is really at the root of this whole thing.

Is it not strange, that that which can be, or could be, the answer to all need, the solving of every problem, the clearing up of every evil situation, the bringing in of conditions so much more favourable, can become the most hated thing? Is it not strange? Look at the Lord Jesus: look at all that God has given in Him; look at all that He was, all that He came to bring, all that He came to do! He is a challenge, an abiding challenge. Can you find evil in Him? “What evil hath this man done?”, asked another man once – a man who knew something about evil, wrong and sin; perhaps few knew more about it than Pilate did. Yet, knowing it all, he had to say: ‘I find no fault in this Man’ (Luke 23:22,14). And yet this One is the object of malice and hatred, unto murder. Strange, isn’t it? He could clear up all the situations, solve all the problems, meet all the needs; and yet – and yet – ‘Away with Him!’ Anything that stands in the way of man’s own disposition, or predisposition, or predilection, having its own way, will be a ‘trouble maker’.

Now that touches a principle. You and I, on the broadest basis of the Christian life, are here in this world in this very capacity, to straddle the path of iniquity, of sin – of the very course of man – and to represent a check; and because we are here for that, we shall be called ‘trouble makers’. In a very real sense we shall BE trouble makers. The trouble will focus itself upon us, and we shall have to suffer for it. The very fact that you are jealous for the Lord will bring you into conflict with that trend that there is in this world, in man. It is going to be a really gruelling business for any testimony for God in this world, because, in the very nature of things, it counters the whole course of this world, which is downhill.

THE SPIRITUAL VERSUS THE ‘NATURAL’

That is, as I have said, the broad line of the principle. Let us get nearer to the heart of things, so far as what is represented by this chapter is concerned. When the SPIRITUAL stands to confront the merely formal, traditional, nominal and ‘natural’, then there is going to be trouble. This is not now merely the reaction from the world: it is the reaction from religion. I would go further, and say it may be the reaction from Christianity. There is a very great difference between formal, traditional, nominal, ‘natural’ Christianity, on the one side, and spiritual Christianity, on the other; a great deal of difference. So much so, that this also becomes a battlefield – the battlefield of a lot of trouble.

Leave formalism alone, and everything will go on quite quietly. Leave traditionalism alone – that is, the set order of things as it has always been; that framework of things as it has been constituted and set up and established by man; that Christianity which is the fixed, accepted system of things – and you will escape a great deal of trouble. But seek to bring in a truly spiritual order of things, and trouble arises at once. And YOU are the trouble maker! The truth is that the trouble lies in the existing condition, the situation, the state; but it is only brought out by your action. And so spiritual men and women, and spiritual ministry, are called ‘trouble makers’, because the two things cannot go on together.

That is where Israel was. They had the traditions, they had the oracles, they had the ordinances, they had the testimonies; they had the forms, they had the system – they had it all; BUT, in the days of the prophets, there was ever this vast gap between the ‘externals’ and ‘internals’ of life in relation with God. The heart is far removed from the lips. The spiritual reality is not found in the formal. You may have it all – but then bring in the truly spiritual meaning of things, and trouble begins in that very realm. It is the trouble which arises when what is external and traditional comes into conflict with something which is truly spiritual.

I used the word ‘natural’ a few moments ago – of course in quotation marks, taking it out of the New Testament: it means, literally, that which is merely ‘soulish’, ‘of the soul’. It is important to realise how very soulish a thing can be, even in Christianity. There can be tremendous passion, tremendous earnestness, tremendous enthusiasm, tremendous arguments and conviction; and yet the thing may be far, far removed from what is spiritual. It may be another world altogether. The conflict arises between those two things. When the natural mind is manipulating Divine things; when the natural reason has taken hold of the Word of God and the things of God; when man’s own passions and interests are being served through the work and service of God: that can become the ground of a great deal of spiritual conflict and trouble.

Trouble will arise in the realm of religion, and in ‘Christian religion’, as such, when what is purely spiritual comes up against the fixed system and tradition of men. It can happen as truly within Christianity, as it did between Christ and Paul, and Judaism. There was the tradition, and, in itself, there was nothing wrong with it; there was nothing wrong with what God had given, with the oracles and the testimony, nothing spiritually or morally wrong. But they had become ends in themselves, things in themselves; and the real meaning, significance and interpretation of them was lost; THEY were the things. The temple was the thing: with God it was not the thing; it was only a sign of something else. With them the sacrifices were the things: with God they were not the thing at all; there was only one Sacrifice that was true with God. And so we might go over the whole gamut. The THINGS – the forms and the means – were everything, and it was criminal in their eyes to say otherwise, to give any other interpretation than the historical and traditional. That is where they fell out with Paul. He had come to see the meaning of things, he had advanced from the things to the meaning; and they had not. Therein lay the conflict and the trouble.

‘SOUL’ IS THE GROUND OF SATAN’S KINGDOM

But now, let us come to the very heart of it. There is the wide circle of the world, of mankind and of human nature; and, within that, the smaller circle of religion, whatever the religion may be. These are realms of conflict when God’s full mind is present. But right at the heart of both of those, there is something else, something that is easily discernible right through the Bible: there is the Satanic. Now, if Satan is alive to anything, sensitive to anything, touchy about anything, it is on this matter of the place that the Lord Jesus is to have – and to have, not formally, but vitally; not just historically, but spiritually: so that the Lord Jesus becomes not merely a name in history, not merely a figure in history, not merely a teacher in history, not merely a historic factor, but a vital, potent force in this universe, right up to date. That is the point upon which Satan and his kingdom are most sensitive. They are alive to any little thing that points in that direction, and they recognise immediately a potential menace to their kingdom.

Human nature is a good playground for that. Hence the story of missionary martyrs: those who have touched the raw material of human nature with the testimony of Jesus, with all the terrible conflict, suffering and cost. The natural man – the natural mind, the natural will; that which is merely the soul of man – in moving and working, exercising itself, asserting itself and drawing to itself, in the realm of the things of God, is a splendid playground for the evil forces. You assert any little bit of your soul life, and see what the Devil will do with it! You uncover any little bit of your soul life, and see what a wreck Satan will make of you! It is the whole story of the devastation that results when self-occupation, introspection and self-pity – all the forms of self-life – assert themselves and become accentuated. Does not the evil one just play havoc with people like that! They have opened the door, and he is not slow to present himself there for access.

Now, set over against all that – the natural man brought into the spiritual world (if that is a possibility), or into the realm of God’s things – is that which is purely and truly spiritual, that which is of the Spirit. And when those two things come into collision, there is trouble – for they are both great systems – simply because, in the realm which is truly of the Spirit, Satan has no place at all! ‘The prince of this world cometh’, said Jesus, ‘and hath nothing in Me’ – the Man who lived in and walked by the Spirit. In all things, in ALL things, He referred and deferred to the Spirit of the Anointing which was upon Him. The prince of this world had NOTHING in Him.

Poor Peter was just at the mercy of the Devil, because, with all his sincerity, with all his well-meaning enthusiasm, he moved in his own soul. His relationship to Christ was one purely of the soul. When Peter came to be a man under the government of the Holy Spirit, that matter underwent immediate adjustment, and you can almost watch the process of that soul-life of his being brought more and more under control.

Perhaps I should pause to safeguard this, by saying very emphatically that it is not wrong to have a soul. No, God has given us a soul, and it is our soul which has got to be saved. But the point is – what is the base upon which and from which we operate, the instrument that we are using, the ground of our living? Either it is the soul, which is the seat of our SELF-life, in every sense; or it is the spirit, which is the seat of the DIVINE life.

Here, then, is the explanation of the conflict. Satan works hard to get hold of ‘soul’. He can lead everything out on to a false stream in that way. A thing that may start in the Spirit, can at some point, without sufficient watchfulness and prayerfulness, be led right out on to a false trail, and end up as something altogether different from what it was at the beginning.

But, to return to this eighteenth chapter of First Kings – Baal and all the rest of it – the heart of the thing is this. It is not Baal, it is not Ahab, it is not Jezebel: it is the evil powers; and THEY are after this man Elijah. Behind Jezebel, there are evil forces set upon the destruction of this man, because his very presence means a breach in their kingdom. He is the man in touch with God, in touch with the Throne. In him and by him, THAT throne becomes imminent – that throne is present. And these two thrones, these two kingdoms, are against one another.

‘TROUBLE’ INEVITABLE WITH SPIRITUAL SIGHT

When, therefore, there is the purest testimony, the fullest expression of what is of God, the heavenly over against the earthly, the spiritual over against the carnal or the natural, the enemy gives a turn to things, a twist to things, and lays the responsibility at the door of a spiritual and a heavenly ministry. He says: ‘You are the cause of all the trouble – you are the troubler!’ But no. The trouble lies deeper than that, and in another realm. The truth is, there is something here that, in its very nature, MUST create trouble, MUST be a source of trouble, so long as God’s known will, His revealed mind, is being violated; while the full expression of God’s purpose is being withstood. To bring in something that stands for that, there is going to be trouble.

It is a costly thing to have seen God’s full purpose and thought concerning His people. It is always a costly thing. The Lord Jesus set a very vivid example and object lesson of this truth right in the foreground, in the incident of the man born blind (John 9). There is no doubt that the Lord intended that man to represent Israel and Israel’s condition at the time. He gave that man sight – and what happened to the man? “They cast him out”, that is all; they cast him out, they excommunicated him (v. 34). That is an object lesson, an instance of this very thing.

If eyes have been opened; if, in any sense – not officially – you have become a ‘seer’ – one who sees: it is going to cost you a lot, it will involve you in a lot of trouble. This matter of ‘seeing’ does that. It was Elijah the SEER, over against the BLINDNESS of Israel. It is a costly thing to be a spiritual man or a spiritual woman in this universe. It is a costly thing, yes, very costly, to hold to a heavenly and spiritual position. It is a costly thing to hold for Christ’s full place; it involves you in trouble. It is a costly thing to have light – if it is true light, God-given light. It is a costly thing to have life.

But remember, it is here, in this, that the power is resident. It is with this that God is found ultimately to be committed. You know the story again. God will have no compromise with the thing that lies behind. ‘Take the prophets of Baal!’ They were all slain. There is no compromise with that spiritual thing. But God is shown as to where He stands, to what He is committed, and where the power is.

For I suppose that, if Elijah represents one thing more than another, he does represent spiritual power. When we think of spiritual power we always refer to Elijah – ‘in the power of Elijah’. It is proverbial. Why? Not because of anything that he was in himself; no, not because of the man. He was a man in touch with the Throne; he was a man who had seen; a man who was committed, of whom it was true that he was “very jealous for the Lord”. God was with Elijah.

John came ‘in the power of Elijah’ (Luke 1:17); he was the Elijah of his time. The Lord Jesus said of him: “If ye are willing to receive it, this is Elijah” (Matt. 11:14), though John himself denied this (John 1:21). Elijah is a sort of phantom in a certain realm. Poor Herod was scared of his life – he began to see things, to get strange ideas – when he heard about Jesus: some suggested to him that this was Elijah returned to life, but he thought it was John the Baptist risen from the dead (Matt. 14:2; Mark 6:14-16). The fellow just lost his mental grasp of things. This Elijah man counts for something. Power is with him; the verdict is with him.

And – let there be no mistake about it – in the end it will be found that God IS committed to that which is utterly committed to Him for His full purposes. It is costly; it causes much trouble; BUT – the issue is with Him, and He will look after His own interests.

He Who Has an Ear… (The Letters to the Churches)

Message to Ephesus

“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:

The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands, says this:

‘ I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent. Yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God.’

Message to Smyrna

“And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write:

The first and the last, who was dead, and has come to life, says this:

‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich), and the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death.’

Message to Pergamum

“And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write:

The One who has the sharp two-edged sword says this:

‘I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is; and you hold fast My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days of Antipas, My witness, My faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. But I have a few things against you, because you have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality. So you also have some who in the same way hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Therefore repent; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it.’

Message to Thyatira

“And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write:

The Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet are like burnished bronze, says this:

‘ I know your deeds, and your love and faith and service and perseverance, and that your deeds of late are greater than at first. But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. I gave her time to repent, and she does not want to repent of her immorality. Behold, I will throw her on a bed of sickness, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her deeds. And I will kill her children with pestilence, and all the churches will know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts; and I will give to each one of you according to your deeds. But I say to you, the rest who are in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not known the deep things of Satan, as they call them—I place no other burden on you. Nevertheless what you have, hold fast until I come. He who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations; and he shall rule them with a rod of iron, as the vessels of the potter are broken to pieces, as I also have received authority from My Father; and I will give him the morning star. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’

Message to Sardis

“To the angel of the church in Sardis write:

He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars, says this: ‘ I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God. So remember what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent. Therefore if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you. But you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their garments; and they will walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’

Message to Philadelphia

“And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write:

He who is holy, who is true, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, and who shuts and no one opens, says this:

‘ I know your deeds. Behold, I have put before you an open door which no one can shut, because you have a little power, and have kept My word, and have not denied My name. Behold, I will cause those of the synagogue of Satan, who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie—I will make them come and bow down at your feet, and make them know that I have loved you. Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. I am coming quickly; hold fast what you have, so that no one will take your crown. He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he will not go out from it anymore; and I will write on him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God, and My new name. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’

Message to Laodicea

“To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:

The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says this:

‘ I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. Because you say, “ I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me. He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’”

A Circumcised Heart – T. Austin-Sparks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Excerpted from God’s New Israel.