Tag: Austin-Sparks

Are You Risen With Christ? – T. A. Sparks

LivingWalk Note:

Dear saints of God, disciples, precious to the Beloved, our Master when He bids us to follow Him bids us to follow Him completely, into the wilderness, into the place of testing and serpents, into rejection and ignominy, up to the cross and down into the grave. Yet it doesn’t end there, for He also bids us to come up. To rise up with Him into a blessed state of risen-ness. Raised up above everything, all that we are in ourselves, this stinking, rotting world, all of the old things, the pain, the failure, the heavy labor. Oh if we, if I could only grasp this in the spirit, so much would be as it should be, as He intended it to be.

Dear ones, why do we so often feel so flesh-bound, so earth-bound when our living reality in Christ Jesus is that we are raised up? Oh that we might enter into this truth as a living, breathing, piercing reality, not just as dead and dry doctrine, not mere words on a page. Lord, may it be so. Breathe on these words Lord, breathe on them, send them down deep into us, as life and meat and the power to be. Oh Lord, we are indeed raised up in You Lord, let us all live and walk in this blessed state of risen-ness today, where nothing below can touch us or change us or turn us away from You and Your purpose. Amen and amen.

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Will you please turn to the Letter to the Colossians, chapter three, verses one through four. “If ye then be risen with Christ.” That is how our translation puts it. But, literally, it ought to be in the form of a question. The question is: Have ye been risen with Christ? Have ye really risen with Christ? The apostle says that when Christ died, we all died in Him. Before God, in the death of the Lord Jesus, all have died. And before God, the only ones who are really alive are those who have risen with Christ. What was history in the case of the Lord Jesus has to be experienced in the case of men. It is an historic fact that Jesus died and rose again. That is history. What is history in the case of Jesus must become experience in the case of believers. Notice the change in the way in which the apostle puts this. He does not ask any question as to the death side. He states that as a fact. He simply says, “You died.” But he puts a question on the other side, and he says, “Have you been raised with Christ? Before God, you are really dead by the death of Christ, but are you sure that you are raised in the resurrection of Christ?”

Well, he puts that in the form of a question, and then he goes on to answer the question, and what follows in this chapter is the answer. He is talking now about “Risen-ones,” and he is stating what Risen-ones do, what their position is. In the first place: RISEN-ONES ARE ON THE OTHER SIDE OF CONDEMNATION, JUDGMENT, AND DEATH. Condemnation, judgment, and death lie behind the Risen-ones. “There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus. The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus had made me free from the law of sin and death” (Rom. 8:1,2; ASV). That is the position of Risen-ones. Well, we can bring the question alongside of that. In view of condemnation, judgment, death, have you been “raised together with Christ?” That is the first blessing of Risen-ones. The question is: Are you enjoying that blessing, the blessing of condemnation, judgment, and death BEING BEHIND YOU, no longer in front of you? That is the position of Risen-ones.

The next thing that the apostle says about RISEN-ONES IS THAT CHRIST IS THEIR LIFE.“When Christ, Who is our life, shall be manifested, then shall ye also with Him be manifested in glory” (Col. 3:4; ASV). Christ, our Life! The Risen-ones are those who have Christ as their Life. What was history with Him has to be experienced in believers in the matter of Life! Christ is the Life of our inner man. We know that Christ is Life within us. He is the very Life of our spirit. He is the Life of our mind. This apostle speaks much about the renewed mind. Christ as the Life of our new minds gives us ability to understand what we could never understand before. The mind has been enlightened, and we now have spiritual understanding. We have a new mind. Christ is the Life of our mind.

Not only is He our Life for our spirit, and our mind, HE IS LIFE FOR OUR BODIES. “If the Spirit of Him That raised up Jesus from the dead be in you, He That raised up Christ Jesus from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies” (Rom. 8:11). There is such a thing as Divine Life for our bodies now, and not only in the great resurrection from the dead. The Word is Christ Who is our Life, and not Christ Who is going to be our Life some day – Christ is our Life now. There is such a thing as Christ being our Life in these mortal bodies now.

That does not mean that we never know anything about sickness, it does not mean that He always miraculously heals us of our sickness. But in these mortal bodies, He is Life to help us go on. We come back from many of our sicknesses because the Life of the Lord is in us, and we go on in spite of our own physical weakness by the strength of His Life. This is the heritage of Risen-ones. And the apostle asks the question again against that: ‘Are you risen with Christ? Do you know Christ as the Life of your inward man? Do you know Christ as the Life of your new mind? And do you know Christ as the energy even of your dying body?’ This is what Risen-ones ought to know.

Then the apostle goes on to speak about THE CONDUCT OF RISEN-ONES:- Firstly, the position of Risen-ones, and then the life of Risen-ones, and then the conduct of Risen-ones. What do Risen-ones do? Verse five says this: “Put to death therefore your members which are upon the earth.” And what does he mean by that? He uses a lot of words to explain that. The first word is “Fornication.” Risen-ones put to death fornication. A Risen-one does not live in fornication. The second word is “Uncleanness.” A Risen-one does not live in uncleanness. The third word is “Passion.” A Risen-one does not live in passion. The next thing is “Evil Desire.” A Risen-one does not live in evil desire. And, then, the last word is “Covetousness.” And the apostle says, ‘Covetousness is idolatry, that is, a life of wanting everything for yourself.’ A Risen-one does not live in these things.

Then he gives us another list of why THE RISEN-ONES ARE VERY DIFFERENT PEOPLE. Verse eight: “Put ye away also all these things,” put away “Anger.” Risen-ones do not live in anger. Put away “Wrath,” put away “Malice,” Put away “Railing,” put away “Shameful Speaking out of your mouth: lie not one to another.” Why? Because “You have put off the old man.” All that belongs to the old man went into the grave with the Lord Jesus. And Risen-ones leave the old man just where the Lord has put him: IN THE GRAVE.

Then the apostle says: “You have put on the new man.” And the new man is the Risen-man. This is the conduct of Risen-ones. I want you to notice, especially, verse eleven. In this new man, the apostle says, “There cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bondman, freeman; but Christ is all, and in all”(ASV). You notice the different classes that the apostle mentions? There are national differences – Greek, Jew, Barbarian, Scythian. These are different nationalities. Of course, we could add a lot more to that and we could say, British, Chinese, Indian, African, American. And the apostle says, in Risen-ones, there are none of these. If you are taking account of national differences, you belong to the other side of the grave. If you say, ‘Well, you see, he’s only an Englishman.’ Or if you say, ‘Well, he’s only an African.’ ‘Well, you see, he’s only an American’ – you are contradicting the fundamental reality of the Risen-ones. Paul says there can be none of this in Risen-ones.

First of all, CHRIST IS ALL FOR RISEN-ONES. Christ is all and the only One. And then he says, “And Christ is in all.” Oh, what does that mean? A Jew, a Greek, a Barbarian, a Scythian, an American, a Chinese, an Englishman, if they belong to the Lord, Christ is in every one of them. If they are Risen-ones, Christ is in all. And we are not to know them on national grounds: We are only to know them on Christ ground.

Then the apostle marks another distinction. He says, “bondman, freeman.” These are the people who are of a high social standard and others of a low social standard. These are the masters and these are the servants. Paul says, “In the Risen-ones, there is no such distinction.” Risen-ones are not governed by social distinction. The superior ones do not look down upon the inferior ones in Christ, and the inferior ones do not hate the superior ones. We are all one man in Christ Jesus. Christ is all, and in all.

Now we must close with just one more thing. WHAT IS THE LIFE OBJECT OF RISEN-ONES? The answer comes right at the beginning of the chapter. Are you risen with Christ? You will prove that you are by this! – you will seek those things which are above, where Christ is. You will not set your minds on things on the earth. All your interests will be centered in Christ in heaven. Of course, you will have business interests, but you will make your business serve Christ. You will say about your business, ‘This is not to be my slave, this has got to serve the Lord Jesus.’ You will have family interests, but you will say, ‘My family interests have got to serve the Lord Jesus.’ You will have social interests, that is, you will have friends, but your friends must come along the way of the LordJesus. Those with whom you make your friends, must be the friends of Jesus. So Risen-ones will have everything centered in Christ.

Sooner or later, dear friends, you and I will leave this earth. With some of us, it looks as though it is going to be later. We are getting old, but we are certainly going to leave this earth. The youngest one here cannot say that he or she is going to get old. By some sickness, or by some accident, you may leave this earth early in life. But whether it be sooner or a little later, or quite late, we are all going to leave this earth. Then what matters? What is the thing that matters when that comes about? The thing that is going to matter for all eternity is how much of Christ was there in us while we were here? The young ones must say, ‘As a Risen-one with Christ, I am going to have as much of Christ as possible.’ And they must say, ‘Christ is going to have as much of me as possible.’ Christ must be all, and that applies to the middle-age, and it applies to the old-age. The big question in eternity will be: ‘How much of Christ was there in us while we were in this world?’ Paul says, ‘It is not this or that, but Christ is all, and in all.’ That is what it means to be Risen-ones.

Over against all that, he says, ‘Are you risen with Christ? Are there all these evidences in your life that you have been raised together with Christ? Is Christ your Life? Is your heart set upon things of Christ? Are you behaving like Risen-ones? Is Christ all, and in all?’ These are the evidences of our being risen together with Christ.

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Divine Life: Overcoming Death in its Fullness – T.A. Sparks

Chapter 9 – Divine Life: Overcoming Death in its Fullness

Reading: John 10:40-11:57.

Chai – Hebrew word for “life”

You will recognize that with this story, or incident, we are at the last stage in the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus. He had left Judaea because the Jewish rulers were planning to kill Him, but now He boldly returned to that district, and the result of this last sign will be that they definitely take counsel to kill Him. The disciples knew quite well that for Him to return to Judaea meant death: “The disciples say unto him, Teacher, the Jews were but now seeking to stone thee; and goest thou thither again?”Jesus knew, and the disciples knew quite well, that Judaea meant death.

We have been seeing that Jesus had been meeting the meaning of death in many forms, and had overcome every form of it with life.

Firstly, at the marriage in Cana of Galilee, where the wine faded, He met that aspect of death which is disappointment and failure – and death always means that. He overcame it with life.

Then, later, He was back in Cana again and the nobleman of Capernaum met Him because his little child was sick unto death. Jesus just spoke the word where He was, and at that very moment, away in Capernaum, the child was healed. Death always speaks of time – it is a time matter. The time we die is the end of our time on this earth. But in one moment Jesus spoke and many miles away the child was healed. It would have taken Jesus many hours to have gone from Cana to Capernaum. It took the nobleman from one o’clock in the afternoon until the sun went down, and then he had to start again the next morning. But Jesus spoke the word and in that moment all time was dismissed. The time factor in death was overcome in His life.

Then we had Him at the Pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem with the poor man bound to his bed for thirty-eight years. His bed had tied him to the earth all his life and, as we saw, he was a picture of Israel under the bondage of the law. And the Lord Jesus lifted that man out of his whole bondage in a moment with His life. Death is bondage. The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews speaks of those who “through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Hebrews 2:15). Death in the form of bondage to the law was overcome by the life of Christ.

Then we went back to Galilee with Him and saw Him feeding the five thousand, and those few little loaves and fishes were multiplied till everybody was filled, and there was much left over. Death always means limitation – it puts a limit to everything. But Jesus, by life, overcame all limitation there in Galilee. We could say that there was no end to this life that He gave in that bread. If there had been twenty thousand people, or fifty thousand, it would have been just the same. Death is limitation, and that is more true spiritually even than physically. Spiritual death is a great limitation, but the life which Jesus gives removes all limitation.

We went on to see Him walking on the sea, and we saw His ascendancy over natural laws. Now the most natural law is death. It is certainly something very unnatural if you never die! But on the lake in that storm Jesus triumphed over all natural laws. Where the disciples were threatened with death by the power of nature Jesus by life set aside the natural forces.

And then we came to the sixth sign, the giving of sight to the man born blind. Death is always blindness – and that is more true spiritually even than physically. Spiritual death is spiritual blindness, and in this matter we are all born dead, because we are spiritually blind from birth. But Jesus gave sight to the man born blind, and the sign was that the life that is in Jesus sets aside the blindness of spiritual death.

So we have seen Jesus meeting the meaning of death in all these different forms. Every one of these incidents sets forth as a sign, or as a type, some form of death, and Jesus, by the power of His divine life, the life that was in Him. met all these forms of death. And He changed death into life with His life.

Now we come to the seventh sign, and in this one all those six are brought together. This is the way in which to read the story of the raising of Lazarus. It is all-inclusive – all the forms of death are gathered together and dealt with fully and finally by Jesus Christ. This is why the Holy Spirit of Wisdom led John to conclude all his signs with this one. True to spiritual principle, seven includes all the others, for, if you know anything about Bible numbers, you know that seven is the number of spiritual fullness. You reach spiritual finality when you come to seven. We have only to turn to the last book of the Bible, for that is the book of the final things. Everything there is coming to finality and to fullness. And the number which is most prominent in that book is number seven. There are the seven churches, the seven lampstands, the seven spirits of God, the seven last plagues, the seven last trumpets – and so you go on through the book with number seven, because in it everything is brought to fullness and finality. All the Bible is gathered into the last book. It begins with the book of Genesis – “the tree of life, which is in the Paradise of God”(Revelation 2:7) – the river of life flowing out.

So number seven is the number of spiritual fullness. And, true to that principle, the Holy Spirit led John to put this sign of the raising of Lazarus right at the end, because in this sign we have death in its fullness overcome by Jesus Christ, the Resurrection and the Life. Jesus was moving in an environment of death in its fullness. Everybody knew that His coming back into the vicinity of Jerusalem meant death for Him. He knew it; the disciples knew it; other people knew it; and the rulers were waiting for Him to come back to put it into effect. The whole atmosphere was full of death. And here, just a little way out of Jerusalem, was Lazarus dying and dead.

But look at Jesus! His attitude toward the death of Lazarus signified His own attitude toward death. He was told that Lazarus was dying; and then He knew in His spirit that Lazarus was dead. He also knew in His spirit that He, too, would be dead before long. How did He face this situation? Look at the quiet way in which He met it all. There was no panic, no sense of emergency, no fear, no despair and no hurry. He was completely master of the situation, and as He was master of the situation with Lazarus, so He was master of His own death. There is no suggestion here in the case of Lazarus that death was a victory, nor that death was the master. Jesus was not worried about it for one moment. He could just move serenely in the midst of it and toward it.

That is very impressive. You see what it means? Let us just go over it again. Jesus knew that in a few days the Council in Jerusalem would have decided to destroy Him there and then, and He knew that coming back near Jerusalem meant that for Him, but He just came back quietly, without any fear. He was completely master of the whole situation – and that is in the sign of Lazarus.

Oh, everybody was trying to make Him hurry up! They were looking upon this situation as a terrible tragedy, as something terribly serious, and they could not understand why Jesus was not taking it more seriously. He was such a master of the situation that it was almost as though it was nothing to Him.

But we have said that there are one or two things that we must notice. While that is all true where Jesus was concerned, He must let people know that death is death, and death means that everything is put beyond any kind of human ability. When we are dead that is the end of all our ability to do anything. Jesus had to let it be known that death really is death, and means that the situation is beyond man’s resource to do anything. It is altogether beyond natural power and natural hope. Jesus took very great care to see that that was how things were and that people knew it. That is why He stayed two days where He was, and then took another two days before He got near the place at all. He let this whole situation go beyond human hope, and He did that quite deliberately because He was teaching the disciples a spiritual lesson: that death is death and only God Almighty can do anything when it is like that. No one but the Lord can do anything. Now, while this was a sign in the case of Lazarus physically, behind the sign there is a great spiritual meaning.

Presently Jesus will be dead, and when that happens only God Almighty can do anything about it. There is no more future unless He comes into the situation. No natural power can do anything at all.

That, dear friends, is what union with Christ in His death means. You know from Romans 6 that we have been “united with him in the likeness of his death” (verse 5), and Paul said elsewhere: “I have been crucified with Christ”(Galatians 2:20). What does it mean to be united with Christ in His death? It means to be put into the position where there is no hope whatsoever for anything unless the Lord does it. When Paul said: “I have been crucified with Christ” he added: “No longer I, but Christ”. No longer ‘I’! What a big ‘I’ that was with Saul of Tarsus! He was just one big ‘I’ – ‘I’ in natural strength. See him in his persecuting of the church! He put forth all his mighty strength. And we all know about the great ‘I’ of his wisdom. Saul of Tarsus was a man of considerable natural wisdom and he had much natural knowledge. He was a man of mighty zeal and enthusiasm – a very big ‘I’. Now that very big ‘I’ says “I have been crucified and it is no longer I”. It is no longer natural strength, natural wisdom and understanding, nor natural zeal and enthusiasm, and whatever more there was of ‘I’. It is no longer ‘I’ – ‘I have been crucified with Christ, and there is nothing more possible unless it is the Lord’.

Oh, the Church has not learnt this lesson yet! We can read the Letters to the Romans and to the Galatians, but it is as it was with Israel. It is said that they read the Scriptures every Sabbath, but they were perfectly blind to what they were reading. Look at the tremendous lot of ‘I’ there is in Christianity, although we have Romans 6 and Galatians 2:20 in our hands!

We were saying that when Jesus died that was the end of all natural hope; the only hope was that God came in and raised Him from the dead. That is the sign of the raising of Lazarus.

First of all, Jesus had to make everybody know that death is death, and the end of all hope so far as man is concerned. No one could do anything about it. These poor sisters struggled with the situation and tried to find some hope, but they were defeated in every attempt, and they had to accept the situation. Lazarus was dead, and there was no doubt about it. He had died four days before. That is the first thing that Jesus had to teach.

But I hope that you are thinking in spiritual terms and not just natural. Spiritual death is real spiritual death, and to be spiritually dead means that there is no natural hope whatsoever. When Jesus had established that fact, then He went over to the other side and showed that He, and He alone, was the Resurrection and the Life. The situation was not hopeless when He was on the scene. The life that was in Him was superior to the whole situation – and that is true spiritually as it is naturally.

Now we have to run over the six signs again, because we have said that they are all gathered up into number seven.

The marriage at Cana in Galilee: We said that the wine that Jesus made had about it a new and different quality from the old wine, an altogether better quality. The master of the feast said: “Thou hast kept the good wine until now” (John 2:10). And the life that Jesus gives has about it a quality that is altogether different. Of course, this does not appear on the surface in the sign of Lazarus, but it does not want much imagination. If Lazarus had been your beloved brother and you had lost him in death, and for so long as to mean that there was no hope whatever (in that country four days of death was a very utter thing: they said “Lord, by this time he stinketh, for he hath been dead four days”),and then he had been raised from the dead and given back to you, would you not find something more in having him in resurrection than you had before? Remember Mary Magdalene. She lost her Master, and then in the garden she found Him again. When He said to her ‘Mary’, she turned and said ‘Rabboni’ – ‘My great Master’. She used to call Him ‘Rabbi’, that is, just ‘Master’, but now she said ‘Rabboni’, and tried to take Him by the feet. She said: ‘I lost You once, but I am never going to lose You again. You are more dear to me today than ever before.’ And I believe that is how it was at Bethany. There was a new quality in resurrection, an altogether different kind of life, more precious than ever before. So Lazarus took up sign number one, the marriage in Cana.

And then this seventh sign took up this matter of the nobleman’s son being healed. We pointed out that in this sign all time and all distance were dismissed by the word of Jesus. All the miles and all the hours were simply dismissed in a moment of time. Now look at this story of Lazarus. Oh, what an important thing time was with these people! Why does He not hurry and come? Why does He stay away for so long? And now the brother has been dead for four days. What a factor time was! And what a factor distance was! And the best that a sister can say is: “I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day” – and only the Lord knows when that will be! Jesus came on the scene and with a word all time and all distance were dismissed. The life that is in Christ destroys time – it is eternal life. So Lazarus took up the second sign.

And then, what about the poor man at the Pool of Bethesda? He was bound to the earth by his bed and his infirmity for thirty-eight years. That was a living death – bound by the law. And Jesus, by life, released that man. Lazarus took that up: “Lazarus, come forth” – and the grave had no power to hold him. ‘Loose him and let him go.’ Here is the liberating power of the life which Jesus gives. So the man at the Pool of Bethesda is included in the sign of Lazarus.

Is it necessary to go on with the rest? We saw in the feeding of the five thousand how limitless is the life which Jesus gives. It can just go on, and on, and on. And how long will it go on? As long as Jesus lives! Just that long and no longer – but what do you believe about that? ‘He ever liveth’ (Hebrews 7:25)… “I am… the Living one; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive unto the ages of the ages”(Revelation 1:18 – R.V. margin). And the life that Jesus gives will go on just as long as Jesus does. “I am the resurrection, and the life”. And that is taken up in this sign of Lazarus.

As to the walking on the sea: we saw in Him the power which transcends all natural forces. Well, that is so obvious in Lazarus! What were the natural laws in his case? Well, death, corruption and all that that means. That is the natural law, and Jesus put His feet on top of that. He walked on those waters; He had that under Him, and He brought Lazarus up in spite of all natural laws.

And as to the man who was born blind: we saw that he was a man who was born with a great handicap, and Jesus took hold of that very handicap and made it the instrument of His glory. Here Lazarus has a handicap. You may take it that the sisters did everything they could to stop Lazarus from dying. They evidently were people who had money, and we can be quite sure that they had the best medical advice. They did everything that Lazarus should get well, but he was born with the handicap that he must die some time or other, and now his handicap was at work. And, like the man who was born without sight, it was a hopeless situation naturally. What did Jesus say about it? “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified thereby.” Although death may come in, it has not the last word. The last word is with Jesus, and so He turned the handicap into His own glory.

We have to note, as we close, that all this became true in the experience of the disciples. You must go over the seven signs again and see them in a spiritual way in the after life of the disciples. This is what Jesus came to bring us in His own person, for He said: “I am the resurrection, and the life”.

Now, dear friends, if we are disciples, and every Christian ought to be, these are the things that we ought to be learning in our own spiritual experience. You go away and sit down quietly with these seven things, and you will see every one of them in the Epistles of the New Testament which were written after Jesus had gone to heaven. The New Testament is full of these things. We are told that we are to have ‘the eyes of our hearts enlightened’, that ‘we can know Him and the power of His resurrection’, and that we can be ‘set free from the bondage of the law’.

All these are the things which make up the true Christian life. All we have to ask ourselves is: ‘Am I learning this in the School of Christ? What do I know about this in my spiritual experience?’ I am happy to think that many of you know quite a lot about it. We are not just doing Bible Study or giving addresses on subjects in the Bible. We are speaking of spiritual experience. We can say with John: “That which we have seen with our eyes… and our hands handled, concerning the Word of Life” (1 John 1:1).

Now this is what we all have to know, for it is the very essence of the life in Christ.

We must leave it there, but we must, every one, ask the Lord to teach us what this means and to bring us into the reality of this great life.

Divine Life by Spiritual Sight – T.A. Sparks

Chapter 8 – Divine Life by Spiritual Sight

Reading: John 9.

We have pointed out that with the sign of the feeding of the five thousand Jesus entered upon a new phase of His ministry, that is, upon the phase of conflict. There arose a great deal of conflict out of that work, and from that time He was in an atmosphere of controversy.

When we come to this incident we see how the conflict is intensifying and the division is widening, and the end of this incident is complete division. The emphatic statement concerning this man is: “And they cast him out”, and that made the division complete.

The two sides were becoming increasingly distinct and definite. On the one side there was religion, and over against that was spiritual sight. On the one side there was tradition, and on the other side there was revelation. On the one side there was the historic system, and on the other side was spirituality. On the one side there were disciples of “Moses” – you notice what they said in verse 28: “Thou art his disciples; but we are disciples of Moses” – and on the other side there were the disciples of Christ. And these two sides were getting further and further apart – the distinction between these things was becoming more manifest. On the one side religion, tradition, historic system, “Moses”: on the other spiritual sight, revelation, a spiritual state and disciples of Christ.

The whole of this conflict and division focused upon one thing. John had opened his Gospel with these words: “In him was life: and the life was the light of men” (John 1:4), and that was the focal point of all this controversy: Light through life. And you see the difference in the prospect or outlook of these two sides. So far as the opposition was concerned the situation had become quite hopeless. You have only to read the whole of this story and you will see how hopeless was the Jewish situation. The words at the end of the chapter we have just read indicate that quite clearly. The verdict of the Lord Jesus upon that whole side was: “Your sin remaineth”. It is a great thing to say that religion, tradition, historic system and disciples of “Moses” create a hopeless situation, but that is not my verdict: it is the verdict of the Lord Jesus. And you have only to read through these chapters of controversy and come to that which we shall be considering in the next chapter, and you will agree that that whole situation was a hopeless one.

On the other side was this man, the representative of another class. I trust that we all belong to this man’s class – the class which is able to say: “One thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see.” Over against this hopeless situation was this wonderful hopefulness. A new hope had come into this man’s life, and he had come into a new hope.

We were saying that the whole conflict focused upon this one thing: light through life. Jesus said that they were all blind, and to begin with there was no difference between this man and all the others. Of course, his was physical blindness, but it is quite evident that that was only a sign of spiritual blindness. All these others were just as blind as he was in a spiritual way. But the thing which made the difference between hope and hopelessness was just this: he knew he was blind and they did not, and hope or hopelessness turned upon that. There is no doubt about it – this man knew he was blind: “One thing I know… whereas I was blind”. There is no question about that. However, these people were just as blind, but they did not know it. The difference was this: that there was in this man a terrible natural limitation of which he was conscious. He knew all about his limitation. Every day that he lived he was made aware of it. He had to be led by the hand and put in the same place every day to beg for his living. The picture of this man is of one who is every day aware of his dependence.

Over against that were these other people, and they lived every day in their own sense of self-sufficiency. Natural limitation and natural self-sufficiency were in conflict, just look at this man again.

The disciples asked a mysterious question, and we are not going to try to explain it: “Who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he should be born blind?” That only means they had the idea, which was a common one, of the pre-existence of spirits, and that people had a history before they came into this world. That may have been pure superstition, but we are not going to try to wrestle with that one, as it does not concern us very much. They asked the Lord that question and He just disposed of it: “Neither did this man sin, nor his parents”. All it amounts to is that the man was born with a handicap, and, of course, that is true of everybody. It is just as true of us as it was of this man – the handicap with which we are all born is spiritual blindness.

Whatever form our handicap may take, it is meant to be an opportunity for the sovereignty of God. Here it is spiritual blindness, but we all have various kinds of handicaps with which we are born. What has been one of your greatest problems in life? Is it not that you feel yourself to be quite unfit for that to which the Lord calls you? You find that the Lord makes demands upon you and are conscious that it is not in you to meet them.

You remember Moses. When the Lord met Moses and gave him the command to go into Egypt for the deliverance of Israel, he tried to get out of it, and at last he resorted to his handicap. Perhaps he thought: ‘This will beat the Lord, anyway!’ He said: ‘I cannot speak. This job needs an orator, a man who can preach. I am not the man for the job. Lord, You have chosen the wrong person for this. Lord, You don’t know what You are doing.’ And you can carry it on and on like that. ‘The fact is, Lord, that I am not just fitted for the thing for which You have called me.’ What did the Lord say to Moses? ‘Who made man’s mouth? If I made your mouth I know what kind of a mouth I made. And if I made your mouth so that you cannot speak, that will provide all the greater opportunity for Me to do it through you. Have I not taken forty years to empty you of your own ability? And all that I may have glory and you have none.’

These people said: “We are disciples of Moses” – but how false to Moses they were! They would have said: ‘Oh, we can do it!’ No, they were not true disciples of Moses.

You remember Jeremiah. The Lord called Jeremiah and gave him a great commission to Israel – and he did exactly the same thing that Moses had done. He tried to get out of it and his argument was: “I cannot speak: for I am a child.” The Lord said: “Say not, I am a child: for to whomsoever I shall send thee thou shalt go, and whatsoever I shall command thee thou shalt speak” (Jeremiah 1:6,7).

These are examples of men born with a handicap but providing the Lord with a great opportunity to show what He can do. If the Lord requires of us that we should be righteous, we will at once say: “In me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing” (Romans 7:18). And how often we turn to that side: ‘Oh, I am no good. There is no good in me. In this matter of goodness I am perfectly hopeless.’

Well, the Lord has given us quite a lot in His Word about that. We have had the Letter to the Romans for so long! “The righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ” (Romans 3:22). We know all about the doctrine, and yet so often we just come down under this natural handicap. I could go on speaking about many handicaps with which we are born – most of us do truly know that we in ourselves are not fit for the thing the Lord requires of us. We have discovered that we were born that way and it is not in us naturally. We have this handicap. Well, the Lord Jesus has much comfort for us in this sign.

This man had a terrible handicap – he was born blind. He had never seen and did not know what it was to see. He had to have everything explained to him, having no faculty of his own. And Jesus said over against that: ‘This is just the greatest opportunity for the glory of God.’

Now, dear friends, look at this in the training of disciples. It will not be long – only a few days – before these disciples discover that side of the meaning of this sign. Peter will say: ‘Though all men forsake Thee, yet will I not forsake Thee. I will go with Thee even unto death.’ And it says: “Likewise also said all the disciples” (Matthew 26:35) – already, ‘We can do it.’ Can you? Let us put it to the test – and you know what happened when the test was applied. Those two poor disciples on the road to Emmaus give us a very good idea of their disillusionment. Everything had gone for them, and all they could say was: “We hoped that it was he which should redeem Israel”(Luke 24:21), meaning to say: ‘All our hopes are gone.’ Oh, these disciples were a very sad picture. And they had to discover their handicap – they had to be brought there. It was necessary that they made this discovery that it was not in them at all, but that discovery was the ground of subsequent glory. We have seen the tremendous change in those men on the Day of Pentecost. Glory had just come down upon all their handicap and covered it. The life of the Lord Jesus had provided new capacities. This mighty life in Christ had taken possession of them by the Holy Spirit, and they were men who could do what they were never able to do before. All the spiritual blindness of those three years had gone. They were men with their spiritual eyes wide open. Read what they said on the Day of Pentecost… “Peter, standing up with the eleven” (Acts 2:14). I do not know whether the whole eleven were speaking at the same time! If not, Peter was speaking for them all. And that discourse is a discourse of wonderful revelation. They were now seeing what they had never seen before as to the Lord Jesus.

Many years ago I made an analysis of that address of Peter’s, just to see how many subjects he touched upon. If you do that you will be surprised at the large number of subjects included in that sermon. Indeed, his eyes had been opened! Not only were the disciples seeing, but they were able to do what they could never do before, and the life of the Lord Jesus had effected this.

This is the kind of training that disciples need. The disciples of Christ are like this, but not the disciples of Moses. They are under the law and have always to say ‘I cannot’. The true disciples of Christ can say: “I can do all things in him that strengtheneth me”(Philippians 4:13). It is the power of His life within and means that we have gifts and abilities that we never have by nature. This is the beginning of the Gospel. I do not want anyone to think that this is something advanced in the Christian life. It is the very beginning of everything. The commission to the Apostle Paul was in these terms. The Lord said: “Unto whom I send thee, to open their eyes, that they may turn from darkness to light” (Acts 26:17,18). That is the beginning of the Gospel, and this sign ought to have been fulfilled in us right at the beginning of our Christian life. The very first thing that a true Christian and disciple ought to be able to say is: ‘I was blind, but now I see. The Lord has opened my spiritual eyes and has removed my natural handicap.’

But while it is the beginning, it is only the beginning. Everyone has noticed the progressive feature in this man’s case. They asked him: ‘Who opened thine eyes?’ In verse 11 he says: “The man that is called Jesus”. That is a very simple and elementary beginning. Later on they said: ‘What have you to say about Him?’ In verse 17 he says: “He is a prophet.” That is quite a long way on from ‘a man’. But in the end, when Jesus met him – or shall I put it in another way, for this is what it really means – when Jesus knew that they had cast him out and went to find him and said: “Dost thou believe on the Son of God?” he answered: “Who is he, Lord, that I may believe on him?”Jesus replied: “He it is that speaketh with thee. And he said, Lord, I believe. And he worshipped him.” Worshipping Him as God is a long way beyond calling Him just a man.

You see, this is all in the sign: it is in the meaning of things. This life which we receive in Christ has a simple beginning, but it is a progressive life, and the progressive nature of that life is a fuller and fuller discovery of the Lord Jesus. We “grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2Peter 3:18 – A.V.). We just detach words like this and separate them from their context. Of course it is quite true, but where do those words come from? Oh, Peter has told us – “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to his great mercy begat us again unto a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3). How shall we grow in grace and in knowledge? By the power of resurrection life in us. This life is a life of spiritual progress.

Now we must come back to where we started. Have you recognized one thing that is so important? We have spoken of the great division, of how things were dividing into two classes, and that division was because a man had received spiritual illumination. That is the factor which always causes the trouble. Dear friends, we can divide professing Christians into two classes. The one class may believe all the Scriptures as being inspired by God; they may believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God; they may believe in the deity of Christ and all the fundamentals of the Christian religion; and they may still be people without spiritual revelation – they may still be unspiritual people. Is that true? Yes, the division there was just as distinct as between believers and unbelievers. And if the Lord really does open someone’s eyes and give them spiritual revelation, they are in for trouble – and their trouble will come from the religious world.

Well, here were these orthodox Jews. They believed in the Bible and in all that the Bible taught so far as the words were concerned. But when one man in their midst received spiritual sight they cast him out. Spiritual revelation always provokes hostility – tradition never does. Orthodox religion never does cause trouble, but if you are a man or a woman living in the power of resurrection life, with your eyes wide open, you will meet trouble, and, as I have said, that trouble will come from the religious people.

What are you going to do about it? Well, we have already pointed out that many of the Lord’s disciples said: “This is a hard saying; who can hear it?” and “Many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him” (John 6:60,66)… ‘This way of spiritual illumination is too hard. We are not prepared to pay the price for it. We are not going that way.’

And so the Lord sifts out on this one thing, and the true disciples are those who have really had their eyes opened. The Lord make us true disciples!

It is a costly way and it does provoke a lot of opposition, but it is a very precious thing to have had our eyes opened – just to be able to see because the Lord has made us see. Those who have counted most for the Lord have been men and women who have come to see with spiritual eyes.

So here in the training of disciples is the sign of the opened eye. May we be able to learn the meaning of this sign!

Divine Life: Triumphant Over Natural Forces – T. A. Sparks

Chapter 7 – Divine Life: Triumphant Over Natural Forces

Chai – Hebrew word for “life”

The matter with which we are occupied in these days is the training of disciples. One of the passages which was at the foundation was: “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).

Jesus did many signs in the presence of His disciples, and John says that out of those many he selected a few, that they might lead the disciples into faith through which they would receive life. So the training of disciples is unto life. We have been seeing something of these seven signs that John chose for that purpose: seven signs given by Jesus in the presence of His disciples and intended to result in life.

We are the Lord’s disciples also, and He would train us in the same way, so that the result of His training of us might be His own life in us.

We now come to the fifth of these signs.

Reading: John 6:16-21.

This is not a very long story, but it is very full. It is one sign which John selected out of the many, and if he decided, out of so many, to include this one in his seven, he must have regarded it as being very important.

You will have noticed that this was something for the disciples alone. The multitude had gone away, and Jesus was going to deal with the disciples alone. It was therefore something very important as to their training.

Both Matthew and Mark record this incident, and they have more to say about it than John has, which means that John had just his one object and was reducing this whole thing to one purpose. But in Matthew and Mark it says that Jesus constrained the disciples to enter into the boat, and that word ‘constrain’ is a very strong word. It means ‘to make necessary’ – Jesus made it necessary for them to get into that boat. That word ‘constrain’ is translated in several other ways in the New Testament, and they will give you some idea of how strong the word is.

You will remember the incident when the woman with her infirmity pressed through the multitude and touched the hem of the Lord’s garment, and Jesus knew that virtue had gone out of Him. He looked round and said: ‘Who touched Me?’ The disciples said: “Master, the multitude throng thee and press thee, and sayest thou, Who touched me?” (Luke 8:45 – A.V.). That word ‘throng thee’ is the same word in the Greek as this word ‘constrain’. Have you ever been in a multitude? How helpless you are when you get into a great crowd of people! If they are all moving in one direction, it is no use trying to go in the other. They constrain you to go their way. As you see, it is a strong word.

Then, when Jesus was arrested to stand His trial, it says: “And the men that held Jesus” (Luke 22:63). That word is the same as is here translated ‘constrained’. I hope that no one here has ever been arrested by a strong policeman! But if that has ever been your experience, you know it is no use trying to get away. He just takes hold of you and says: ‘Come with me’, and it is no use resisting him. He constrains you to go – and that is the word. Jesus constrained His disciples to get into that boat. It was not just a request – He did not say: ‘Now, I would like you to get into that boat.’ He said: ‘I want you to get into that boat and go over to the other side.’

You may think that is just a lot of words, but you will see before we have finished that it is very important to this sign.

Now if Jesus knew what He would do about feeding the five thousand when He asked Philip: “Whence are we to buy bread, that these may eat? And this he said to prove him: for he himself knew what he would do”(John 6:5), He knew quite well what He was doing when He constrained the disciples to get into that boat. That is, He had a plan and a purpose already in His mind – it was a deliberate part of their training. Jesus was always putting these disciples into situations which would make it necessary for them to make a new discovery of Himself. We saw how true that was in the case of the feeding of the five thousand. He deliberately put His disciples into a situation which made it absolutely necessary for them to discover something new of Him. And that is exactly what He was doing on this occasion. The storm that took place on the lake was no surprise to Jesus – He knew all about it before it happened. He knew it was going to happen – and He constrained them to get into the boat.

So we come from the story to the sign. I think there are four signs inside this one sign, but let us remind ourselves of this – that a sign is something more than an actual event. It implies that the event has a deeper meaning than itself. John does not call this a miracle: he calls it a sign. He says that there is a meaning hidden inside this event, and we are going to see what a very great meaning there was in it. For we must remember that Jesus knew all things. He was always teaching and working in the light of the future, and the whole future was inside this sign.

Now look at the details. Jesus at this time was up in the mountain praying, making intercession, and you know that mountains in the Bible always have a spiritual significance. They speak of the high places. So the first thing we have inside this sign is Jesus exalted to “the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Hebrews 1:3). The Psalmist, in prophesying about Jesus, said: “Thou hast ascended on high, thou hast led thy captivity captive”(Psalm 68:18). “He raised him from the dead, and made him to sit at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all” (Ephesians 1:20). And what is He doing up there? The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews tells us: “He ever liveth to make intercession” (Hebrews 7:25). He is praying, making intercession for the saints, up in the heavenly mountain. “Thou hast ascended on high” – ‘Thou art making intercession.’ That is in this sign. Jesus was working with the future in mind and was foreseeing the time when it would be true that ‘all authority had been given unto Him in heaven and on earth’ – and, we may say, on the sea as well.

That is the sign in general. Jesus is up on high making intercession, and He was already, by this sign, telling the disciples something about what it would be like in the future.

Then, next, note the sign of the sea. I expect you know that the sea is often used in the Bible as a type of the world and the nations of this world. When Jesus called Simon, the fisherman, from the sea He said: “I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19) – in other words: ‘I will send you into the nations to be fishers.’ The Sea of Galilee was only a type of the world and its people. And Peter did get a great multitude of fishes on the Day of Pentecost. Read again the description of the people who were in Jerusalem on that day. It mentions a whole list of nationalities represented there, and sums it all up: “Every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5). And this great spiritual fisherman let down his net on the Day of Pentecost and got a draught of fishes. The sea is quite clearly a type of the nations of the world.

But how restless the nations are! The sea is a very restless thing. It is always changing, and you can never be sure of it. Sometimes it is in a tempest, and then sometimes it seems to be quiet and placid, but it is a very uncertain thing. When the disciples set out that evening the sea seemed to be quite quiet, but it was not long before it changed its face. You will remember, on Paul’s last journey to Rome by ship, the sea was very calm when they set sail, but it was not long before the whole situation changed. How quickly the sea can change! How restless the nations are, and how uncertain are the situations in this world! Perhaps that was never more true than it is today – the nations are in a tumult!

Now Jesus deliberately sent these men into the sea, and that is the sign of the sea, or the meaning of the sea.

What about the storm? What is the sign of the storm? It says that a great wind was blowing – ‘there arose a strong wind’. There are evil forces at work over and around the nations of this world – the very atmosphere is full of them, and these forces, like the wind, are stirring up things against the people of God. That was never more true than it is today. What a mighty wind is blowing against the people of God! In so many nations, in Russia, in China, in Congo, and in many other places, the evil forces are against the Lord’s people, stirring things up against them. But we do not have to go to those countries to prove it. If we are the Lord’s people we are all conscious that there are evil forces against us. There is a strong wind blowing and it is contrary – it is hard work to row against it. The Lord had told His disciples that it would be like that, and that the time was coming when ‘they would be hated of all men for His sake’. He said: “In the world ye have tribulation” (John 16:33). Yes, He had told them that it would be like this – that, as they went into the nations, they would find everything against them. He knew all about it a long time before… but He sent them into it.

Next, the sign of His walking on the sea. We note here in this story that although Jesus was away up on the mountain, and they were away down on the sea, He knew all about their situation. He was not out of touch with them. He knew exactly what was happening. That is, of course, simple, but it is very comforting. If He is in Heaven (and I do not know where that is), and we are down here on this earth, even if there is a long way between the two, He knows all about our situation. He is closely in touch with the position that we are in.

The natural thing was that they would be overpowered and forced under by this sea. There was an occasion, you remember, when they were on the same sea and the same kind of storm arose. That time they awoke the Lord Jesus, saying: “Master, we perish” (Luke 8:24). This was another experience like that, and it was quite the natural thing that these adverse forces should drown them, should prove to be too strong for them. Naturally they would go under. And Jesus came to them walking on the water.

What did the disciples learn that night? That if Jesus is present all the natural course of things is reversed. Natural laws are just turned round the other way. He has ascendancy over all the natural forces. His life is more powerful than all the forces which are against it. And that is what He was trying to teach these disciples.

Now, of course, we can interpret this in our own experience, for we know something about adversity in this world and the tremendous spiritual forces that are against us. But perhaps many of us know the other side of the story – that naturally we should many times have gone under and these other forces would have proved to be far too powerful for us. The natural forces in our own selves are far too strong for us. It is not difficult for us to go down under the natural forces in our own make-up, in our circumstances, in other people, and, yes, even in other Christians – Paul had a real battle with the natural forces in the believers at Corinth. And then there are the natural forces in this world – but all these natural forces are reinforced by super-natural evil forces. There is something more than ourselves and other people – there is the devil working in and through us, working through other people and creating circumstances. I confess to you that one of the problems in the New Testament which I have never solved is something that Paul said: “We would fain have come unto you, I Paul once and again; and Satan hindered us” (1 Thessalonians 2:18). I have never been able to explain that! But, you see, the enemy is right up against what is of the Lord in this world, and his power reinforcing the natural things is far too much for you and for me. Surely we have all proved that! We do not have to go outside ourselves. Do we not know that there are forces inside us which are too strong for us? If we were left to ourselves they would overpower us and put us under.

Yes, this storm on the lake has a very real counterpart in the spiritual life of the Lord’s people. But what I began to say was this: that we have not yet gone under. We who are the Lord’s people are not under yet! The enemy has had a good try to put us under; people have had a good try to put us under; and the world has had a good try to put us under – but so far we are not under. Why is that? Because we are so strong? Oh no, never that! Because we have such a determined will? Because we say: ‘I am not going under!’? That is a challenge to the devil which he will quickly take up. Oh no, it is nothing like that. It is because this same Jesus is inside, this One who can walk upon the water. He is not struggling with the water or the Wind – He has them under His feet: “All authority hath been given unto me in heaven and on earth. Go ye therefore and make disciples of all the nations” (Matthew 28:18,19). ‘You will find plenty of storms there, but “lo, I am with you all the days”(Matthew 28:19).’ It is the power of His life that is stronger than all the storms.

Jesus taught the disciples this in His act, and they lived to prove it in their own experience and history.

Note this last thing. When our life is committed to Christ we are not always kept from trouble. He very often deliberately leads us into it. He constrains us to get into that boat. Of course, we do not know what is going to happen, but we do know that the Lord is making us go in a certain direction – and then we meet trouble. We have to say: ‘Well, the Lord has brought us into this trouble. He is responsible for our being in this situation.’ We may be wholly committed to the Lord, but that does not mean that we are going to be kept free from trouble. If you think that by being thoroughly devoted to the Lord you are going to be saved from trouble, you are going to find that that is not true. A lot of young Christians think like that. When I was a young Christian I used to think: ‘If only I am out and out for the Lord, He will be out and out for me and I will never have any trouble.’ I have lived to see that that is a mistake. No, wholly committed people are not saved from trouble, but they are made ascendant over it, or they are kept through it by His power. The trouble does not destroy them. It becomes the means in the Lord’s hands of teaching them some very valuable lessons, and afterward they say: ‘It was worth all the trouble.’ “All chastening seemeth for the present to be not joyous, but grievous: yet afterward it yieldeth peaceable fruit… of righteousness”(Hebrews 12:11).

I wonder what these disciples said when they reached the other side! I expect, if they had an opportunity to talk together, they said: ‘Well, that was a terrible experience! I really wondered what was going to happen – but I have learnt a mighty lesson of Christ’s power and I would not be without the experience for anything.’

So, you see, our spiritual education rests upon this word ‘necessity’, for that is the real word for ‘constrain’. He made it necessary for the disciples to get into the boat, and it is necessary for us to have experiences like this, because it is only by such experiences that we discover what a Christ we have, and what a wonderful thing is this eternal life.

Divine Life: All-Sufficient and Inexhaustible – T. A. Sparks

Chapter 6 – Divine Life: All-Sufficient and Inexhaustible

 

Jesus said: “I came that they might have life” (John 10:10). Paul said: “That life which I now live in the flesh I live in faith, the faith which is in the Son of God”(Galatians 2:20). “It is no longer I that live, but Christ liveth in me” (Galatians 2:20 – R.V. margin).

We put the emphasis upon the word ‘liveth’ – ‘Christ liveth in me’.

And so we are occupied with Christ living in us as the Life; and we are seeking to understand something of the meaning and nature of that life. For that purpose we are looking into the seven signs which the Apostle John chose. He called them signs, because they were works with a meaning, and it is the meaning which is the important thing. I trust that we are seeing that these things have a deeper meaning than we had thought. We can take these miracles of Jesus and just conclude that He worked miracles, or we can go further and say that He still does work miracles, and then we can take these different miracles and say: ‘This is what Jesus can do.’

Well, that is all quite true, but there is very much more in it than that – there is a whole life education in every one of these signs. Each of them contains a secret for the whole life.

We have already considered three of these signs in the Gospel by John, and perhaps you have noticed the progressive nature of the signs.

The turning of water into wine at Galilee set forth the different nature of this life. The wine that Jesus produced was altogether different from and better than the other wine, and the life which comes in Christ is of a different quality altogether.

Then we went on to the healing of the nobleman’s son, and we saw that this life which comes from Jesus is an eternal life, over which time and distance have no power. He spoke in one place and many miles away, at that very moment, something happened. Time and miles were set aside. it was timeless life, and that is the nature of this life. Dear friends, that is not only a statement of truth. It ought to be very comforting to old people. We get old – our bodies and minds get old, but the life of Christ in us never gets old. Oh, this life has a wonderful power of overcoming time!

Then we went on to the healing of the lame man at the Pool of Bethesda, and we saw the power of this life to set a man free from bondage. This life is a life of glorious liberty. I think Paul’s word describes that man’s experience perfectly: “I have been crucified with Christ: yet I live: and yet no longer I, but Christ liveth in me”(Galatians 2:20). That just fits into the man at Bethesda – there is a great power of liberation in this life.

There is just a further word to say before we come to the next sign. It is only a technical word, yet it must be noted. It is important to remember that in John’s Gospel we do not have an ordered arrangement of the works of Jesus, nor of His teaching. There are many things in the other three Gospels which are not mentioned by John, both as to His teaching and His works, and as to the places where He went. Therefore, a great deal of time has to be fitted in between the things which John does record. As you read this Gospel, it looks as though things follow closely, the one upon another, but that is not true. Take, for instance, the beginning of chapter 5 and the beginning of chapter 6: “After these things there was a feast of the Jews; and Jesus went up to Jerusalem”(5:1). And: “Now the passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand” (6:4). These were two different feasts, and very likely both were the Feast of the Passover. If that were so, then there would be a whole year between, and a lot of things would have happened in that year which John does not mention. You just have to remember that when you are studying this Gospel.

Well, having prepared the way, we can come to the fourth of the signs chosen by John.

Reading: John 6.

(You notice that Philip had said: “that every one may take a little” – and the end was that they all had as much as they wanted!)

To arrive at the meaning of this sign it is necessary for us to know the time and setting of it. At this point Jesus had reached the highest peak of His popularity. You notice that verse 15 says: “Jesus therefore perceiving that they were about to come and take him by force, to make him king”. As far as the multitudes were concerned, He had reached a point of very great popularity.

Next, He had entered upon the second phase of His ministry, which was a time of controversy, with increasing antagonism so far as the rulers were concerned. Popularity with the people: unpopularity with the rulers. And immediately after this sign that antagonism sprang into life and He found Himself in an atmosphere of positive controversy. This had two causes: one was the claims which He made for Himself, for they would not accept His testimony concerning Himself, and the other was this very popularity. Later it is said that “for envy the chief priests had delivered him up” (Mark 15:10). It was the jealousy of the rulers which provoked them to this antagonism.

The third thing to notice: It is quite evident from this story that there was a large group of those who went by the name of ‘disciples’. Look at verse 60in this chapter: “Many therefore of his disciples, when they heard this, said, This is a hard saying; who can hear it?” And verse 66: “Upon this many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.” So it is evident that there was a large group of people who went by the name of ‘disciples’.

We find ourselves, then, in the presence of three groups of people. Firstly, there were the twelve disciples, then there was this much larger group of disciples called ‘many’, and then there was the great multitude of people.

That is the setting of this sign, and you have to take all that into account in order to understand the meaning of it. It is quite clear that it was intended to do three things.

First of all, it was intended to be a test of everybody. It was not just something done, but something projected to test everybody. Everybody was going to be challenged by this, and there had to be some kind of reaction to it. Jesus meant it to be that.

In the second place, it was intended to sift out all these people. You notice that when Jesus perceived that they would come and take Him by force to be king, He “withdrew again into the mountain himself alone”. He is not taking all this at its face value – He has seen through it all. Presently He will say: “Ye seek me, not because ye saw signs, but because ye ate of the loaves”.Oh no, this whole crowd, all these people, have to be sifted out.

The third thing is that it was intended to confirm those who really did mean business. Like Gideon’s great army of twenty-two thousand, He was bringing it down to a very small company of people who really did mean business.

Now note: the means that He employed for this threefold purpose was life in the form of bread. The mind of Jesus ran far ahead of His acts and beyond what He did to what He meant by what He did. Of course, there is abundant evidence that that was true: you have already seen it in this story – “Whence are we to buy bread, that these may eat? And this he said to prove him: for he himself knew what he would do.” Already He had thought this whole thing out: it had a meaning that was more than the act, and by the act He was moving toward that meaning.

What was the test by which they were going to be sifted out? You have the answer in this chapter. Jesus only wants those as His disciples to whom He is as necessary as their daily bread. If it should come to the choice between daily bread and the Lord Jesus, He wants the people who say ‘the Lord Jesus’. That is why He said: “I am the bread of life”. This is a matter of living or dying: ‘Whether you have Me is a matter of life or death. The people that I want for disciples are those who know that their only life is to have Me.’ You see, He was sifting out. Notice this: “Except ye eat of the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, ye have not life in yourselves…. Many therefore of his disciples, when they heard this, said, This is a hard saying; who can hear it? …Upon this many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.” This is the ultimate issue, and that is exactly why Jesus performed this sign. He tested the multitude. He said: “Work not for the meat which perisheth, but for the meat which abideth unto eternal life”. Tothe professing disciples He said: “Except ye eat of the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, ye have not life in yourselves.” Presently that great multitude which would have taken Him by force and made Him king will cry: ‘Crucify Him!’ Where was the voice of the multitude when Jesus was on trial? It was quite silent. No, they had not come to see that He was necessary to their life.

So He sifted out the many disciples, drawing a broad line between professing disciples and real disciples. And when they answered Him: “To whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life”, He had got where He wanted to get with this sign.

You notice that there were three things here. One was that it was a matter of their perception as to who He really was. Did they really see that He was the Bread of God come down from Heaven? It was because the majority did not see that that they went away. How important it is for our very life that we should have an inward revelation of Jesus Christ! That was the very thing that kept the Apostle Paul going right to the very end. Oh, what a lot of trouble that dear man went through! Think of all his sufferings, all his persecutions and all that he had to meet of opposition! Think of him at the end of his life saying: “All that are in Asia turned away from me” (2 Timothy 1:15). What was it that kept that man in victory right to the end? The answer is in his own words: “It was the good pleasure of God… to reveal his Son in me” (Galatians 1:15,16). It was the inward revelation of Jesus Christ that became the life of that man.

I think we can say that that was true of Peter and John, and of many others. It may be true of some of us here today. We have seen who Jesus is by revelation of the Holy Spirit. He is the very Bread of God come down from Heaven and is as necessary to our inward man as natural food is to our outward man. That is so often proved by our choices. If, on the one hand, there is an opportunity for some spiritual food, and on the other hand there is an opportunity or invitation for some natural enjoyment, the true disciple always says: ‘I am for the spiritual food! That is more important to me than all natural pleasures.’ This is the kind of disciple that Jesus must have: those to whom He is the only life. That is gathered into this word which He used: ‘Except’… ‘Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man… Except ye drink His blood ye have not life.’ There are no alternatives to this. There is nothing that you can put into the place of this. It is this, or nothing – or, it is this or spiritual death.

Yes, He wants disciples to whom He is the only life, not just life and something else. There are whole multitudes of disciples who want Christ and something else, to whom Christ is not all-sufficient, the only life, and the Lord is going to sift out this large body who carry the name of ‘disciples’. He has always done it. He did it in New Testament times. The mighty persecutions which came upon the early Church were His means of sifting out, and through the ages He has done this thing by many means. He is doing it in the world today. Oh, what a tremendous sifting is going on amongst Christians! It is already beginning in the east and is going to develop in the west – the western world is not going to escape this. The great multitudes who may call themselves by the name of Christ’s disciples are going to be found out. Let us be quite clear and certain on this point. If Christ is not our only life we are going out, for sooner or later we shall not be able to stand up to the test.

But we come to a happier note to finish with, and that is the wonder of this sign. He began with everything very small. In our translation it says: “There is a lad here”, but in the Greek it is: “There is a little child here”. The probability is that this lad had been sent out by his mother with a basket of loaves and fishes to sell for her support, and that the multitude away from home presented to him a good opportunity for business. So he got as near to the front as possible, offering his wares, and at the same time, like all boys, full of curiosity as to what was happening. He got a big surprise! When I was sitting downstairs yesterday I saw someone come in with a huge basket in which there were loaves about a metre long. Now, don’t think of loaves like that with this boy. They were probably just little round pieces of baked dough, and only a few of them. And the fishes were very small. And Jesus took that into His hands, and after He had prayed He began to give to the disciples. He gave, and gave and gave, and still He went on giving until every one of the five thousand people had had all that they could eat and were filled. And then there was a lot over afterward. How inexhaustible is the life that Jesus gives! There is no end and no limitation to it.

Dear friends, this is not just something that we are saying. It is very true. Again and again we have been the doubtful optimists like Andrew. We have faced a situation and said: ‘Well, whence will there be bread enough for this?’ But the Lord has met the need and there has always been something over. We need never, never come to an end when we have this life, for it is an inexhaustible life. There is always something more. We may be filled today, but there is more for tomorrow.

Now that is very practical. If you go back to your own life, you know that every day will make demands upon you, and sometimes the demands may seem too big for you, and you may say: ‘I wonder how I am going to get through! I wonder how I am going to meet this situation!’ Remember, you have the Lord of Life in you, and He is inexhaustible in His life. You may have fullness for today and then for tomorrow when it comes, and right to the end.

I am asking that at the end the Lord Jesus will be glorified in this way – that I have more than when I started. That is the kind of life that has come to us in the person of Jesus Christ.

May we learn to live by Him! And when I say ‘live’, I do not mean just exist. I mean live, in a way that naturally we could never live.

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.

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.