The Cross and the Way of Life
by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 1 - The Way of Release

"I came to cast fire upon the earth; and what do I desire, if it is already kindled? But I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!" (Luke 12:49-50).

"But Jesus said unto them, Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink the cup that I drink? Or to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?" (Mark 10:38).

"Or are ye ignorant that all we who were baptized into Christ were baptized into his death?" (Rom. 6:3).

Turning back to the first passage in Luke 12:49-50, it is necessary to say a very brief word about the translation of this statement of the Lord, for as it stands, it is not quite clear and there is a diversity of interpretation. "I came to cast fire upon the earth" - the better rendering would be - "and how I wish that it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to be baptized with." You see, there is a strange break here in the narrative. The Lord Jesus has been saying a number of things very largely in the form of parable and interpretation and explanation. So suddenly at this point, it is as though He checked Himself, paused and looked right on. His heart grew large and suddenly burst forth in these words which seem to have no connection with what He had been saying: "I came to cast fire upon the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled, but I have a baptism to be baptized with", inferring that there was something through which He was to pass before the desire of His heart and the purpose of His coming could be realized.

His statement falls quite simply into its own parts. "I came to cast fire" - the purpose of His coming. "I have a baptism to be baptised with" - the passion related to the purpose. "How am I straitened till it be accomplished!" - the way of His release or the release of the fire.

We will now look at those parts of the statement briefly.

The Purpose of Christ's Coming

The purpose - "I came to cast fire upon the earth." At different times our Lord made some statement as to the purpose of His coming. "The Son of man came to seek and to save that which was lost" (Luke 19:10). "I came that they may have life, and may have it abundantly" (John 10:10), and so on. Here is one of those declarations as to purpose in His coming, 'I came, with all the other things for which I came, I came to cast fire on the earth.' I think the best explanation of what He meant by casting fire on the earth is to be found in what did actually happen. We follow through to the afterward of His passion when the fire most certainly was scattered on the earth, and we look to see exactly how that worked out and what that meant, and it is quite clear in the first place that it was the fire of an irrepressible, irresistible expansion of His Kingdom. Fire has a way like that, you know, if it really gets a hold it takes a lot of stopping. It is irresistible and irrepressible. It is a feature and a characteristic of fire when it is scattered on the earth, especially if the earth is as it was in those days and still is - very dry and very flammable. And so we see that when the fire came down from heaven on the day of Pentecost, and was scattered on the earth through those in whose hearts it was kindled, it spread with this irresistible expansion. The Lord Jesus said, 'I came for that.'

I always feel that these statements are really challenges; that is, they find us out. Let us put it quite simply, that, if the purpose for which Christ came is having a clear way by the Holy Spirit doing His work unhindered, there must be this something which is irresistible and irrepressible. There is something which goes on, extends and expands. This thing cannot be shut up; it cannot be straitened. It is something released in the earth. That is what the Lord meant by the full statement - something released - release this fire and things will happen.

I remember a man went to see Mr. Spurgeon on one occasion as the representative of the "Defence of the Bible", and asked him if he would become a vice-president of a Society for the Defence of the Bible. Mr. Spurgeon looked at him in the way in which he did look at people sometimes, especially those people, and he said, "My dear brother, does a lion need defending? Just loose him, and that is all that is necessary." I think that is capable of transference to this. Give the Holy Spirit a way, and see what happens! Allow the release of the Lord, and things will be irresistible and irrepressible. Indeed, they will get beyond us and beyond us. We will not be able to cope with them.

There are various figures of speech and metaphors used in connection with the Holy Spirit. He is not only spoken of as fire, or symbolised by fire. On the day of Pentecost He was symbolised by a mighty rushing wind. You get in a mighty rushing wind and you just know that you cannot cope with that; that is beyond you.

There is a word here used later by the Lord, to which we will come presently, but it is appropriate to note it now. "How am I straitened till it be accomplished!" That word 'straitened' is very interesting in the New Testament. It is given to us in various forms. It means 'constrained', and that word is found in the gospels when the woman, pressing through the crowd with her infirmity, stretched forth her hand and touched the Lord and He turned and said, "Who touched Me?" His disciples said, "Master, the throng press Thee, how sayest Thou, Who touched Me?" And that word 'press' is exactly the same Greek word as 'straitened'. You know what it is to get in a crowd. Perhaps you have had some experience recently. Get in a mighty crowd, and see just whether you can resist it, whether you can hold it. No, it is like that; get in a crowd, and you have got to go with the crowd. It is no use, you have just got to go.

The same word is used about those who took charge of Jesus in the day of His passion and delivering up. It says that the men that held Jesus mocked Him. The men that held Jesus; it is our word again: straitened, constrained. And you know the type of men that they were; not very much use trying to resist those men. They were of the toughest type. They would not brook any resistance. The only thing to do with such men is to yield to them, let them have their way. The men that held, the men that straitened, constrained, or pent up. It is the same word that Paul used when he said, "The love of Christ constraineth us" (2 Cor. 5:14). This is the word, this word which means just holding in, obtaining possession and mastery. That is what it meant here. "I came to cast fire", and it takes possession, and there is no resisting when that fire really gets a hold and gets its way.

The Fire of Discrimination

It was the fire of unerring and avoidable discrimination. Fire always finds things out. As it creeps and encroaches and overtakes, it makes one discrimination between things that it can devour and things over which it has no power. It puts them into those categories; the finding out, the classifying, the deciding. Look at the context, Luke 12:51 - "Think ye that I am come to give peace in the earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division." He goes on - "There shall be from henceforth five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three. They shall be divided, father against son, and son against father; mother against daughter, and daughter against her mother; mother in law against her daughter in law, and daughter in law against her mother in law..." - discriminating, setting things in the category to which they belong.

One category is that which can go on and abide and endure because it is of God. The other will be licked up by the fire, and simply pass out of existence. "The fire shall try every man's work", said Paul (1 Cor. 3:13). The fire of unavoidable and unerring discrimination. That has ever been the effect of a work of the Holy Spirit; to put us into the place to which we belong. It is a kind of dividing thing all the time. Are you for or are you against? Are you with or are you not with the Lord? Are you going on with the Lord, or are you not going on with the Lord? The Holy Spirit is pursuing that course all the time to find us out and to just classify us like this, so that when the Holy Spirit has worked we are in definite categories. Division has come, and it is unavoidable.

It is no use, dear friends, our trying to avoid this. You see, here is a terrible statement. "I came not to send peace, but a sword" (Matt. 10:34), dividing even families and households. You cannot avoid it; it is no use trying to. If you are going on with the Lord, this sort of thing is going to happen, and in the world it is going to become perfectly clear and pronounced where we are. It is of no use just trying to keep and avoid, you have got to yield to the work of the Spirit, and it is costly in your own home with the clear division on the ground of whether the Lord is having His way or not - clear division in the family anywhere, everywhere - you just cannot avoid it. It is a part of what we are going to say in a minute about the cost.

The Fire of Provocation

It was the fire of inevitable provocation. No sooner had the Spirit come, the fire fallen and begun to move over the earth, than there was tremendous and terrific uprising of antagonism. It is inevitable. If you and I are going to be men and women of the Spirit, we are not going to have an easy time. Hell will see to that. At once the clash arises and it is true that the more the Holy Spirit is able to have His way in us and to lead us into all the will of God, the more we find this opposition, this antagonism. And it not only comes between us and the world, it sometimes comes in the circle of the Lord's own people. It is inevitable provocation. You wonder why, sometimes. As you read the New Testament you wonder, 'What is the matter with these people? Why should they be so upset and so annoyed? And why should it be so spontaneous, this thing? And persistent; so unreasonable?', but there it is. There is the fact. It is inevitable.

You see, this thing that the Lord came to do and is doing, will not allow for any neutrality. It is going to be one thing or the other. It is going to be for or against. The eyes of flame (here the fire comes in again) the eyes of flame will not allow lukewarmness or anything that is of the Laodicean character. The fire is a positive element always, and it will create positive situations. If everything is all just nice and quiet, no disturbance, no trouble and no antagonism and opposition, you have reason to question whether the Holy Spirit is doing much, because He does aim at such a positiveness, which is a very, very costly thing. It is either with the Lord, or not with the Lord, and there is nothing between. It is going to come out sooner or later and be precipitated.

Now, the Lord says that is what He came to do. This is not an accident, a chance or things having gone wrong or miscarried. This is exactly what He came to do - to scatter fire on the earth and these are the inevitable effects of the fire. They are going to work out. 

The Passion of Christ and His Church

"I have a baptism to be baptized with" - and this really is the main point in my own heart for this hour: the passion. Quite clearly from His words to His disciples as we read in Mark 10:38, this baptism related to His Cross: "Are ye able to drink the cup that I drink? Or to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?", clearly referring to the Cross, the passion. It is the way, and the only way, of the scattering of the fire; the fire being cast upon the earth - this mighty thing of irresistible growth and progress and expansion. All that we have said about the fire entirely depends upon the passion. It was true in the case of our Lord.

And then we have our next Scripture: "Are ye ignorant that all we who were baptized into Christ were baptized into his death?" That means baptism into the meaning of His Cross, baptism into all the cost of the Cross, all the agony of the Cross as well as all the issues and values of the Cross. You see, it is very true that, while we are not one with Him in His atoning work and have no part in that, that is His own unique prerogative and work; there is no doubt about it that our identification with Christ goes beyond our salvation, our justification, our redemption. It carries us right into the passion, "filling up... that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ... for his body's sake, which is the church" (Col. 1:24). The point is this, that there is no expansion and progress possible without passion, without agony, without travail. There is no mighty conviction in this world apart from the Passion. There is none of this work of discrimination and dividing and setting things in their place and making them quite apparent as to where they are and what they are without deep cost on the part of the church and the Lord's servants; and so they found it.

Stephen found it like that, did he not? Very soon that became apparent, that what it had cost his Lord, in measure much more limited perhaps, but up to the hilt in his own life it was costing Stephen and the rest. And it has always done that. This fire has got to get such a hold of us that we are not only glad and privileged to believe on the Lord Jesus, but also to suffer for His sake (Phil. 1:29); the fire which consumes us to suffer, if needs be, on His behalf. No individual life will become effective in the sense in which fire is effective except as that life is baptized into the passion of Christ. No local company will ever be effective in the sense in which fire is effective except in so far as that company, that local company, shares the passion of its Lord and knows His suffering in fellowship.

And so it is true of the whole church. It just must be like this. The history of the church is the history of a long succession of baptisms into passion, baptisms of blood, baptisms of suffering. With what result? Every time expansion, every time new effectiveness. It has always been like that; it always will be like that. We were baptized into His death, and into all that it means to be in union with Christ in His death. It means this also, that we were baptized also into His sufferings, into His passion. It is no use trying to avoid it, there it is.

The Way of Release

Then He says that the Cross for Him was the way of release, "How am I straitened, how am I held in, pent up, until it be accomplished!" The passion of the Cross is the way of our release, and if you consider your own spiritual experience, those of you who have any experience of a walk with God, you know quite well that it has been through times of deep and acute suffering that you have found fresh releases; fresh releases in your spiritual life. Is it not true? Yes, we pass into a time of excruciating spiritual and soul suffering. We do not know what the Lord is doing, what He means by this, what He is after, but we know the features of our experience and know what it is that we are suffering, and it goes on. We, of course, ask the Lord to stop it, to bring it to a quick end, to deliver us from it. He takes no notice of us, and it is only those people who get out the other end who say, 'Thank God, He did not take any notice.' In the meantime, we think He is anything but kind and good and doing the right thing, but as we get on under His hand, we begin to see and to sense that He is dealing with something. Maybe He is dealing with our pride, our independence, or our irresponsibility, for example. That is the issue that comes up, and we are faced all the time with something about ourselves that is almost devastating. We would not have believed that that was so strong in us.

Oh, of course we were always ready to believe that that is in mankind and in us as a part of mankind in a general way. Yes, we would never have resented being told that there was pride or something like that about us, but we would never have believed how deeply rooted and terribly strong that thing is until it was put to a fiery test and everything was held up, and we saw that everything in our life and work for God was held up on that point. A terrible ordeal.

Do you know what I am speaking about? And when we have come to see quite clearly what the issue at that given time really is, and are able to bring it to the Lord as a clearly defined matter and concentrate upon it, to have that dealt with fully and finally, when we are able to do that we see a new door open - a new sense of release and new possibilities. And we know quite well that what the Lord was after was not the pulverising of us, as we thought, the winding up of us, but to bring about enlargement, to bring about release, and release always lies along the line of the Cross, the passion. Enlargement always lies in that direction.

Our being baptised into His Cross, into His passion and sufferings becomes a very practical thing like that upon this issue and that issue, and another issue all the way along. And whenever those issues are hedged round, clearly defined, and become the thing upon which everything else hangs and are dealt with before the Lord on that ground, that whatever else there may be (and there may be a very great deal more) nothing is possible until this is cleared up. When it is like that, and we really have very thorough-going dealings with the Lord on that matter upon which He has put His finger, has put His Cross, and brought us into the passion of it. We begin on the one side to understand the meaning of Christ's Cross to Himself, that He was dealing with the whole universe of obstructions and limitations to God's full purpose.

Now, we have come into that piecemeal, so to speak, on this point and on that point. It was all included there, but now it is applied, it is applied Calvary, it is applied union with Christ in death. And the result? - Well, as I say, release. "How am I straitened till it be accomplished", and we can say that very truly over this matter and that. 'How am I held up, and held in until the Cross has effected my release concerning this and that.' The Cross is a way of release.

But it is a cup, and it is a bitter cup. It is into His death. I think that if we could grasp what is being said, we should understand what a terrible thing the death of Christ was to Him. We are today thinking of His death, His Cross, His crucifixion, His sufferings, and of the aspects and stages. But oh, dear friends, we have only got to go through the Cross on one point in our lives to be smashed to pieces! One point - our pride, as I have mentioned - just one point, something in our lives that is not the Cross, that is not really crucified, the ordeal of that one thing is sufficient to simply devastate us. To think in His Cross He summed up all such things! Who can count them? Who can remember them? Who can fathom them? All those things were concentrated in His Cross when He was made sin for us. How terrible must have been His Cross when considered spiritually; the spiritual meaning of it. No wonder His very physical frame broke down under it. The strain was too much for His soul in His blood, and it broke. Yes, but what a tremendous thing through that breaking, what a release!

You see, what I want to finish with is this: that the outcome, the issue, the tremendous power that went out into the earth was commensurate with the immensity of the thing which was done in the Cross. The Cross is an immense thing! The sufferings of Christ are immense sufferings. No other could stand even a part of them without disintegrating. Tremendous! Then the effect of the Cross ought to be commensurate with that - so effective, so telling - as we have said: so irresistible.

Well, what does it all amount to at the end? That you and I have got to have a fresh apprehension of the meaning of the Cross. We have to enter more understandingly into the meaning of the Cross of our Lord Jesus. The Cross, as we have so often said, is not just the elementary thing of the Christian life, where "at the Cross we first saw the light, and the burden of our sin rolled away", and that is the beginning and the end of the Cross. Make no mistake - that is only the beginning. But here the Cross is not for our deprivation. It is not something that is to be a weight that breaks us. The Cross of the Lord Jesus is meant to be the way of our liberation, of our enlargement, of our escape.

"I came to cast fire." That is the purpose. Incidentally to the purpose: the passion; but that is only a way - that is not the end. The end is the purpose realized. But it is always through the Cross, always on the ground of the Cross. Enlargement, expansion, increase in power and effectiveness, and all these things; the Cross brought into our lives in these very practical ways. If the Lord is leading us through a difficult time and you feel that it is all breaking and crushing and emptying, do believe that, if Good Friday says anything at all, if Calvary says anything at all, it says this: that this suffering, this bad time, in the whole purpose of the Lord is pointing directly to release and enlargement. Believe that. You may frustrate that, you may frustrate the purpose of God, but that is His purpose, and that is what He means, and it is not narrowing down and limiting, and crushing. It is release that is in view; it is enlargement. "How am I straitened till it be accomplished."

We can all say that about this and that thing, "How am I straitened until" this thing is done. When this thing is done, this fresh application of the meaning of the Cross, then I will be enlarged, I will be free, there will be something more of the Lord in life and in service - there will be more fire, mighty fire.


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