Tag: the cross

Crucified to the Religious World – T. A. Sparks

“But far be it from me to glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world hath been crucified unto me, and I unto the world”.

It is interesting to notice the particular way in which the apostle speaks of the world here. That term is a very comprehensive term, and includes a very great deal. Here Paul gets right down to the spirit of the thing. You notice the context. It is well for us to take account of it. “For not even they who receive circumcision do themselves keep the law; but they desire to have you circumcised, that they may glory in your flesh” (verse 13).

What does the apostle mean? They want to say, See how many proselytes we are making! See how many followers and disciples we are getting! See how successful our movement is! See what a power we are becoming in the world! See all the marks of divine blessing resting upon us! The apostle says, That is worldliness in principle and spirit; that is the world. He sets over against this his own clear spiritual position. Do I seek glory of men? Do I seek to be well-pleasing to men? No! The world is crucified to me and I to the world. All that sort of thing does not weigh with me. What weighs with me is not whether my movement is successful, whether I am getting a lot of followers, whether there are all the manifestations outwardly of success; what weighs with me is the measure of Christ in those with whom I have to do. It is wonderful how this at the end of the letter comes right back upon these Galatians, and the whole object of the letter. We recall the words in which that object is summed up. “My little children, for whom I am again in travail, until Christ be formed in you”.

Christ formed in you, that is my concern, he says, that is what weighs with me, not extensiveness, not bigness, not popularity, not keeping in with the world so that it is said that this is a successful ministry, and a successful movement. That is worldliness. I am dead to all that. I am crucified with Christ to all that. The thing that matters is Christ, the measure of Christ in you.

You see how the world can creep in, and how worldly we can become almost imperceptibly by taking account of things outwardly; of how men will think and talk, what they will say, the attitude they will take, of the measure of our popularity, the talk of our success. That is all the world, says the apostle, the spirit of the world, that is how the world talks. Those are values in the eyes of the world, but not in the eyes of the risen Christ. In the new creation, on the resurrection side of the cross, one thing alone determines value, and that is, the measure of Christ in everything. Nothing else is of value at all, however big the thing may be, however popular it may be, however men may talk favourably of it; on the resurrection side that does not count a little bit. What counts is how much of Christ there is.

You and I in the cross of the Lord Jesus must come to the place where we are crucified to all those other elements. Ah, you may be unpopular, and the work be very small; there may be no applause, and the world may despise, but in it all there may be something which is of Christ, and that is the thing upon which our hearts must be set. The Lord give us grace for that crucifixion. There are few things more difficult to bear than being despised; but He was despised and rejected of men. What a thing is in God’s sight must be our standard. That is a resurrection standard. Now that is the victory of the cross. “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ…”

First published in “A Witness and A Testimony” magazine from “Spiritual Maturity – Chapter 8”, May-Jun 1939, Vol. 17-3

T.A. Sparks Byline

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“When You Were Young…” – W.E. Smith

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

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

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

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

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

Yoke

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“TO LIVE IS CHRIST”

And –

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

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

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

T.A. Sparks Byline

Flaming Arrows – W.E. Smith

Precious saints of the Lord, I send out this message, by the Master’s love and patience, that by it you might find grace, encouragement and consolation in this dark hour. Rest assured, all those who find themselves in this lonely wilderness, among His faithful remnant, that you are not alone. I am discovering most painfully actually, as did Jacob, that to enter His Kingdom is to enter as one wounded and bruised. There is no other way, and yet one cannot overestimate the difficulty of this path. If we are to endure at all, then the Lord must be our strength and victory, and He alone can protect us from all of the deadly challenges along the way.

Our theme scripture for this message is found in Ephesians 6, and it should be familiar to all of us –

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand firm therefore, HAVING GIRDED YOUR LOINS WITH TRUTH, and HAVING PUT ON THE BREASTPLATE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS, and having shod YOUR FEET WITH THE PREPARATION OF THE GOSPEL OF PEACE; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take THE HELMET OF SALVATION, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Eph. 6:10-17, emphasis added)

When I read this recently, I was instantly reminded of the Master, as He was tested in the wilderness through great travail and weakness. There He was, barely alive, in absolute submission to His Father’s hand, and then who conveniently appears on the scene?

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry. And the tempter came and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘MAN SHALL NOT LIVE ON BREAD ALONE, BUT ON EVERY WORD THAT PROCEEDS OUT OF THE MOUTH OF GOD.’”

Then the devil took Him into the holy city and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down; for it is written,

‘HE WILL COMMAND HIS ANGELS CONCERNING YOU’;

and

‘ON their HANDS THEY WILL BEAR YOU UP,

SO THAT YOU WILL NOT STRIKE YOUR FOOT AGAINST A STONE.’”

Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory; and he said to Him, “All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go, Satan! For it is written, ‘YOU SHALL WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD, AND SERVE HIM ONLY.’” Then the devil left Him; and behold, angels came and began to minister to Him.

Jesus said to him, “On the other hand, it is written, ‘YOU SHALL NOT PUT THE LORD YOUR GOD TO THE TEST.’” (Matt. 4:1-11)

The enemy is so crafty isn’t he? Always lurking, always skulking in the shadows looking for some juicy opportunity to put a wedge between us and our God. And then at the moment when we are the most weakest, the most vulnerable, the most confused and perplexed by what is happening to us; by what our God is doing –  the adversary lights his dart and empties his quiver. So not only are we under the heavy weight of the Master’s sore discipline and testing, the whispering starts, the subtle questioning begins – “If you are the Son of God…”

If you are really a Christian how could this be happening? If God really loved you how could He allow this? If He really cared for you then why is everything collapsing all around you; why is life becoming so hard? If He promised you abundant life then why does it feel like you are dying? If He said I will never leave you nor forsake you, then why doesn’t He respond when you cry out to Him? If He promised that He would never let anything come upon you that you couldn’t bear, then why does it seem like you are collapsing under the weight of your trials. If He really loves you, then would He really let this happen to you?”

Now perhaps you have heard such whisperings, there in the midst of bitter trials and seemingly impossible burdens. Perhaps you have been struck by these “flaming arrows” that the evil one has targeted directly at your heart, and at your faith, and at everything you think you know about this Christian life, and your God, and all that He has promised. As if the trial wasn’t hard enough, there he is with all of these nagging questions trying to plant seeds of doubt and unbelief.

You know deep down, where spirit-touches bone, that your Heavenly Father and your Savior love you, and that a great part of this love is expressed in discipline and preparation. Yet the fiery darts keep coming; and so often they find us weak or unaware, or just plain fatigued by the conditions or duration of our trial. Often they come in the form of a simple thought, a suggestion, a seemingly honest and innocent consideration of your present situation. Sometimes they come from the lips of the ones you love; a spouse (remember Job’s wife), a friend (remember Job’s friends), a brother or sister  in the Lord even (who mean well but ultimately serve as agents of the enemy instead).

Now you are fairly confident that you know God’s Word even; that you are well acquainted with His promises and assurances. You have read them and claimed them many times; things like –

I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU. (Heb. 13:5)

I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. (Phil. 4:13)

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 8:38-39)

“And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.” (Matt. 21:22)

For as many as are the promises of God, in Him they are yes; therefore also through Him is our Amen to the glory of God through us. 1 Cor 2:20)

In the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us. (Heb. 6:17-18; with emphasis)

Yes we know them so well, yet the darts keep flying don’t they? Most of them fly over our heads or fall at our feet. Still others penetrate through our defenses and find their mark.

“If this is really true, then why can’t you find work; why can’t you ever seem to get a break in this world? If all this be true then why is nothing working in your favor? If all this is true why such extreme and prolonged suffering?  If this is really true then why is cancer eating away at your body? If this is true then why doesn’t He answer your cries for help; would not any loving father do everything He can to help the children he loves? If all this be true, then why does it seem that He is your enemy, that He is against you?”

Dear friends, brothers and sisters in the Lord, I dare say that lately I have felt an all out assault on my faith and I have been fighting almost every day to stay the course and press on. I am not exaggerating when I say that if I do not survive this and gain the victory over this present test then I will probably not recover spiritually. What started out as a simple test of faith and obedience close to two years ago, has developed and persisted to the point where there truly is not much left in me. Part of me wants so much for all of this to end, whatever that means, and I have been so very much tempted to try to end it myself even if I could (I cannot actually; like Peter who merely wanted to “go fishing” –  to return to the way things were). My confidence in myself has been shattered. I second-guess everything I do now. When I look in the mirror all I see is so much failure and poverty. I see dust and ashes and not a man. When I look at my son I feel like a failure, like I have nothing to give him. I feel numb actually, without interest or passion for anything. As I have written very much and shared it with you as openly as I can, I feel like a hypocrite and I don’t want to share anything else ever again.

You see, I am dying and as very unchristian as it sounds, a part of me doesn’t want to die, and something very deep in me is fighting it every step of the way. My soul (self-life) is fighting tooth and nail against forfeiting any ground or dominion to the spirit. Beyond that I am not really sure what is happening. The Lord is so often silent. Everything is just so hard – to pray, to wait, to study, to hope in my God – everything.

Please pray that I will endure despite the constant whisperings and urgings of the enemy and the utter weakness in myself. I need mercy and grace and patience more than ever. Though it feels like it, my Lord is not my enemy; He is not against me. Though I have no definite answers, His wisdom and love cannot fail. Though He bruises and breaks us will He not bind us up again in His Beloved Son?

“Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him” – (Job 13:15, KJV)

This, I believe, is what is inferred by Paul when he exhorts us to take  “up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one”. Oh what kind of faith this is, that though He has laid this test on us, that though He has permitted it – that it seems by all evidence that He is indeed destroying us, that we will trust Him; we will hold on to Him for He is all we have. Oh indeed, what a special kind of faith this is dear brethren, and how we need this faith in this hour!

I then remembered Jeremiah. Oh how can we ever forget this man, this amazing man, this deeply bruised and battered servant of the Lord. How brutally the Lord tested and afflicted him. How low he was taken and how so very much he was asked to lose. How so unimaginably difficult it must have been. Notice how he expresses this in his lamentations –

I am the man who has seen affliction

Because of the rod of His wrath.

He has driven me and made me walk

In darkness and not in light.

Surely against me He has turned His hand

Repeatedly all the day.

He has caused my flesh and my skin to waste away,

He has broken my bones.

He has besieged and encompassed me with bitterness and hardship.

In dark places He has made me dwell,

Like those who have long been dead.

He has walled me in so that I cannot go out;

He has made my chain heavy.

Even when I cry out and call for help,

He shuts out my prayer.

He has blocked my ways with hewn stone;

He has made my paths crooked.

He is to me like a bear lying in wait,

Like a lion in secret places.

He has turned aside my ways and torn me to pieces;

He has made me desolate.

He bent His bow

And set me as a target for the arrow.

He made the arrows of His quiver

To enter into my inward parts.

I have become a laughingstock to all my people,

Their mocking song all the day.

He has filled me with bitterness,

He has made me drunk with wormwood.

He has broken my teeth with gravel;

He has made me cower in the dust.

My soul has been rejected from peace;

I have forgotten happiness.

So I say, “My strength has perished,

And so has my hope from the LORD.” (Lam. 3)

And yes, lest we misunderstand, the “He” here is none other than the Lord His God. Do we ever feel this way my brethren, like the Lord is against us, that He is like a bear or a lion tearing us to pieces, and stripping the very flesh from our bones? That He has shut out our prayers? That He has broken our teeth? That He has walled us in so that we cannot move or find relief? Oh, brethren, I dare say that if we are honest in the spirit with ourselves, we do.

And all the while Jeremiah was wrestling with all of his concepts and assumptions about His God, one can only imagine the fiery arrows flying at him from the real enemy of his soul. Oh dear brethren, this story is played out all throughout the Scriptures, with so many of the Lord’s people – Job, Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, David, Isaiah, Elijah, Ezekiel, etc. To wrestle with the Lord, to struggle with and against Him at times; this is the way of the cross and the path of true faith.

Oh but make no mistake – it is so unimaginably hard at times, so awful, so heavy, so bitter. There is nothing glamorous or easy about death, even the death of the soul for those who are to live anew in the spirit. Death, in any of its forms and applications, is awful and terrible and bitter! Yet it is so necessary that we might enter into life. Life and blessing and renewal is only ever found on the other side of the Jordan, through the depth of the river, through baptism, through the cross, through the fiery darts of the enemy. But yet again we must acknowledge and emphasize just how hard and painful and bitter this actually is. Please don’t let anyone ever try to convince you otherwise, my friends. The Lord has called this the narrow way for good reason –

Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it.“For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it. (Matt. 7:13-14)

And lest we leave Jeremiah there on the other side of his God, we are encouraged that he indeed take up this shield of faith at the end of his confession –

Surely my soul remembers

And is bowed down within me.

This I recall to my mind,

Therefore I have hope.

The LORD’S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease,

For His compassions never fail.

They are new every morning;

Great is Your faithfulness.

“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,

“Therefore I have hope in Him.”

The LORD is good to those who wait for Him,

To the person who seeks Him.

It is good that he waits silently

For the salvation of the LORD.

It is good for a man that he should bear

The yoke in his youth.

Let him sit alone and be silent

Since He has laid it on him.

Let him put his mouth in the dust,

Perhaps there is hope.

Let him give his cheek to the smiter,

Let him be filled with reproach.

For the Lord will not reject forever,For if He causes grief,
Then He will have compassion
According to His abundant lovingkindness. (Lam. 3)

Dear end-time saints, all those who find themselves under the grievous training and discipline of the Lord in this time, I hope and pray that these words might help and encourage you even in some small way. I know, brethren, how hard it is, and how even a word such as this may seem empty and abstract. Yet we are all in this together, as his precious and faithful remnant at the close of this age. We need each other, and I for one am so grateful for all of you who have offered encouragement and prayer on our behalf. This truly is the grace and love of the Lord as it flows though the hearts of his people. If one member of the body is suffering, then we are all afflicted, for we are one in Him. And although our stories and testimonies may be unique, the general pattern will always be the same – from death to life.

That which you sow does not come to life unless it dies. (1 Cor 15:36)

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. (John 12:24)

I also know that there is an instinctive tendency on the part of many (usually those who are not going through severe testing at the time) to  offer good-natured counsel to those who are suffering and confused. I have done this far too often myself. And although we mean well, this counsel can at times do more harm than good. Remember Job’s well-intentioned friends. You see, although we are one in the body, our struggles are very personal, and we each wrestle with our God in very personal and intimate ways. He is testing our love and devotion to Him, as with Peter (“Do you love me” He asked three times), and this is a very personal thing. He is refining our love in the fire, such that all dross will be burned away. He is trying to determine if we will take Him at His word, even when all of our circumstance, experience and reality cry out against it; when the devil himself tries to convince us otherwise. For only a tested love will endure. Rest assured, brethren, that if you are indeed among the saved in this age, He will test this love to the uttermost.

My only encouragement therefore, is that you will seek the Lord for this shield of faith; this faith that trusts Him even when it appears that He has forsaken us; that He has turned His back on the sufferings of His people. Oh dear friends, please pray the same for the one sharing these words, for lately more of these fiery darts are finding their mark than ever before it seems. Now this faith that acts as a shield against the flaming arrows of the destroyer is not merely that faith brought us to the Lord in the beginning. It is not merely that ‘saving faith‘ – it is rather a ‘staying faith‘. It is not the faith that comes; it is the faith that remains and holds on no matter what. It is the faith that is accounted to us as righteousness by our God (Gen. 15:6). And without it, here in the midst of our trials and suffering, we will certainly not endure the strange discipline of the Lord or the attacks of of the evil one.

May the Lord be our Strength and Patience and Victory. Amen.

For the Lord will not reject forever,
For if He causes grief,
Then He will have compassion
According to His abundant lovingkindness. (Lam. 3)

Please feel free to review the following related messages on “Brokenness” – Here

Note to All the Saints –

Dear brethren, as you see and become aware of your fellow saints in the midst of sore trials, loss, confusion and want in this hour, I encourage all of you to pour out not only your thoughts and prayers, but also your provision, as the Spirit and the love of our Lord inspires. We will need each other increasingly as the material conditions around us become more desperate, and as so many of our beloved brothers and sisters lose their livelihoods, their health and their property in this world. Open your hearts, your homes, your businesses, your storehouses, open them wide and let the Lord care for His own in the midst of what, by all accounts, seems to be a looming and great depression coming on  this and so many other formerly rich nations. Give directly where possible, not through agencies or ministries, but give where the Lord can look through your eyes at the needs of His people. If you have a business, consider hiring your fellow saints. If you have work to be done, ask the Lord to make the connection, and He will.

Please consider this very serious word from the Master on this matter –

Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink;I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’“Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’“Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’“These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matt. 25:41-46)