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

Chapter 5 - The Cross in Jacob's Life

Now we come to the next great link in the chain, to Jacob. Just by way of refreshing our memories, but again in order to understand Jacob, his life, his history and God's dealings with him, we must focus down upon his particular function in the ways of God.

What was the particular function or significance of Jacob? The answer is precisely, quite simply and definitely: the house of God. When Jacob is found to be moving and on the move, the very first night finds him at the place which he named Bethel, meaning the House of God. This is a fresh step, a fresh aspect, of the movements of God.

With Jacob the house of God comes into view. The house of God of course, in terms of a whole nation, a whole people. For the house of God, it hardly need be said, is not any place. I always feel that people who talk about this place being the house of God have not learned the ABC's of the house of God yet. They speak about "coming to the house of God", referring to some place where we meet! Well, it might prove to be a place where we find the Lord and in a sense the house of God, but we get very mixed up in our terminology. This system of things which has come into being is all confused in its language. The house of God is no building. The house of God is a people, a heavenly people, a heavenly nation out from the nations of this world. That hardly need be said, but here it comes into view with Jacob for the first time.

You remember probably a little fragment in this connection which occurs in the book of Ruth. When Ruth was being blessed, the people and elders expressed their good wishes for her upon her marriage to Boaz. They put it like this: "The Lord make the woman that is come into thy house like Rachel and like Leah, which two did build the house of Israel" (Ruth 4:11). Jacob built the house of God through Rachel and Leah. The twelve sons of Jacob became the heads of the twelve tribes of Israel. Through them the whole nation came into being, and in them the nation is represented.

And if we want anything more added to confirm this function of Jacob, remember how his two names stand right over the nation again and again, especially in the prophets - the house of Jacob - that is Israel, the whole nation. The house of Israel - that is the same nation. My point is that Jacob becomes the synonym for the nation as the house of God, and with him it comes into view. Now, we cannot understand Jacob's life and God's dealings with him until we recognize his particular function, and his function is to bring in the spiritual house of God.

 Jacob at Seventy Years of Age

Having said that, we can pass to the man and his history. I wonder if you have ever seen Bible pictures of Jacob on that night, at that place which he came to call Bethel. What have you seen in the Bible pictures? Have you not almost invariably seen a young man hardly out of his twenties, perhaps about at the most thirty years of age, setting out on life's journey? It will be a shock to you when I tell you that on that night he was seventy years old. And when we come to the point of the incident at Peniel, he was ninety years old. Bear that in mind, because we are not dealing with a man without any history. We are not dealing with an inexperienced, immature young man. We are not dealing with somebody in all the impulsiveness of youth! We are dealing with somebody right there at the beginning, who is mature, experienced and with a lot of history behind him. Seventy years! Of course, men lived in those days very much longer than we do today, and seventy was, well, practically nothing then, but seventy years is enough in which to do a lot of things and get a lot of history. I mention that for a purpose which you will see.

Therefore, at seventy years, years which mark a large amount of maturity and history, we meet with this man. What a man he must be if, at seventy years of age, he can behave as he has just behaved to his father in deceiving him! His father whose sight had become so bad that he could not discern between one man and another man. And this man Jacob, with all those years behind him, can conceive this plot to deceive his old, infirm father, and to cheat his brother Esau of the birthright. This surely is ripe fruit of a life that has been after that kind. This is not something that has just sprung up, an evil which has overtaken him, a sin of youth, or a sudden fault. This comes out of a man of maturity. He is a man who is well developed as that kind of man, and the story from that point onwards for the next twenty years is just the uncovering and divulging of the kind of man he was.

Jacob at Ninety Years of Age

After the twenty years with his uncle Laban, he is found wealthy, but wealthy through an uncanny astuteness. Uncle Laban was an extraordinarily mean man and a contemptible man, but Jacob beat him; beat him at his own game. Keen, astute, independent, cunning, clever, always getting what he wanted and had set his mind upon, refusing to be denied anything. If he is frustrated at one moment, he will go on until he gets what he wants. Frustrated by waiting for Rachel for seven years, he will serve another seven. He will not give up until he gets what he intended to have, never allowing himself to be cheated of anything, but always succeeding in the cheating himself. He is self-confident and scheming. You say, 'You are piling it on!' Yes, intentionally, and not untruthfully, for a very real purpose, my friends.

God's Choice of Instrument

I have said that with this man came the great thought of God concerning His house, the house of God - with this man! And therein I find one of the greatest comforts and encouragements that can ever come to a man. How often it has been that God has chosen - deliberately chosen - a man, a person, an instrument for a purpose which in itself, or who in himself, is naturally the most utter contradiction of that purpose; that in such a one God should demonstrate that His purpose is not that, it is other than that, altogether different from that. And so you find again and again that instruments used of God are, in the thing upon which they are engaged, contradicting themselves all the time and having to say, 'I am not made this way, you know; this is not how I am constituted. I would never be in this and after that if it were left with me. I am only in this by the grace of God. I am only in this by the transforming power of God; I am not like this naturally. No, I am other naturally.'

Servants of God have had to say that to God Himself more than once. Moses, called to go and speak, to go before Pharaoh and make a speech, said, 'No, you have chosen the wrong man; I cannot speak, I am not eloquent', and when he did eventually go, he was doing something for which he had no natural qualification.

Jeremiah, called of God, chosen of God, 'Go and speak and be God's prophet', said, 'I am a child; I cannot speak. You have chosen the wrong man, Lord.' And look again at all these men. Look at Peter if you like. See how afterwards Peter was doing everything that he would never have done, and demonstrated that he would be what he would never have been, until God got right hold of his life and made him do what he would never have done, and be what he would never have been. It was true of Paul. But here it is so far as Jacob was concerned. How unsuitable he was naturally to this idea of the house of God. How unfitted and unfitting he was for this great divine conception - the house of God! Take comfort from it.

But, you see, what God does is a very practical thing. We argue that if God wants to do a thing, He should have something that is so suitable, suitable to that task, that it just goes on so easily. And what we find is that those whom God chooses are not suitable in that sense, but suitable in another sense: to be a sphere of the demonstration of what is contrary to what they are naturally. It is worked out in them, and you do not have to work out in anybody if they are already suitable. Jacob's history during the next twenty years was a history of working in relation to divine thought in a man who was altogether a contradiction to that divine thought. It is like that.

Jacob at Peniel

And then at the end of the twenty years, when he has cheated Laban up hill and down dale and got the better of him at every turn of the road, it comes into his mind that he will go back home now. He is wealthy, he has got all that he set his heart upon, including Rachel and Leah and a great multitude of cattle and everything else. He begins to organize the pageant, divides them up into companies to make a tremendous impression, scheming still. And why is he going back? He knows that that is the land of covenant and covenanted to him through the birthright, and he is going back to get it, to take possession, and unto that he schemes.

You know the story. He sends spies to see how his brother Esau is, what he is feeling, whether he is still feeling sore, whether it is dangerous to go back, and when he learns that Esau is coming to meet him with a band of four hundred, he gets scared to death, and an evil conscience needs no re-accusing. It is his conscience that takes all the courage out of him, and he must again resort to his cunning.

Well, I am not going to pursue the story any further, but when he has got it all nicely planned and he is once more going to come out on top, once more he is going to succeed as he always has succeeded, he divided his company into two bands and sent them over the river. He is left alone - and then the story of Peniel. God meets him, and says in effect, 'But, my friend, there is no way through for a man like you, either to the house of God, or for the realization of divine purpose by you as an instrument; there is no way through.'

Now, the brook Jabbok was a tributary of the Jordan, and the Jordan River always speaks of death, burial and resurrection. And it was there that he was met by God. The figure is quite clear, and we need not strain the typology, but there we are, and God met him there. There took place that wrestle, and this man of ninety years of age, with all his history of his own achievement, tries to concentrate it upon the very angel of God and win through on that ground. He strives with all his might, using all his experience of the will that has been built up through the long years, trying to get the better of God as the morning was breaking. God only had to do that, just that, after all, and the whole thing was broken - the whole thing, ninety years was maimed and lamed forever after: the way through being 'not Jacob, but Israel.'

God's House the Embodiment of the Natural Man's Defeat

The lesson, dear friends, is quite clear, springing out of this incident, this crisis, in the life of Jacob. The house of God is the embodiment of a great defeat of the natural man. You never know the meaning of the church until you know that. You can never come truly into the church until you see that God has touched the natural man at the point of his greatest strength, and has touched that strength into impotence and the natural man is a crippled man for ever. The house of God is, in that sense, comprised of cripples - and that is no joke. It is what it really means. If you and I have not been crippled, if we have not understood the meaning of the house of God and been crippled in the realm of our natural strength, whether it is our wit, our wisdom, our power to do and achieve and to get our own way and reach our own ends, whether it is of any other kind as to the natural man; the door is shut, the door of the house of God is shut to all that. There is no way through. The way through is only by this complete and utter subduing of the natural man to God.

I wonder what happened when, the sun having risen and the fight being over, Jacob went in the direction of his family and his servants and they saw him coming. I wonder what happened as they saw him come? 'Hello, what has happened to our father? What has happened to our master? Has he had an accident? What has happened? He is limping, he looks crippled.' And probably when he arrived they began to condole, to sympathize, and say, 'We are so sorry, what has happened?' 'Don't you be sorry for me, do not call me Jacob any more. I have been through a terrific crisis and experience during the night. I have met God and He has laid me very low. He has broken me, He has shattered me, and then, having shattered me, He has blessed me.' You see the point. The house of God is the place where God is to be prevailed with. God will yield Himself to be prevailed with when He has things like this people in whom this tremendous change has taken place. I did seek to bring out Jacob in all his dark colours for this very reason, to show that he, to the realization of God's thought of the house of God, has to be a man who is so completely different in God from what he was in himself. That is the house of God.

We could break that up, and apply it in many ways. It is just for us this: that there is no place for our flesh in the house of God, whatever kind it is - the mental flesh, the intellectual flesh, the emotional, feeling flesh, or the willing, choosing, deciding, determining flesh. It is all excluded. We are shut out; the door is shut upon that kind of man. The man, the woman, the people broken down before God in that realm, of whose natural life you can make nothing when it comes to the things of God. Oh, how much has been made of men of God, of Paul. What a lot has been made of Paul's gigantic intellect and other things about Paul. But ask Paul about it. You hear him cry, up against spiritual situations - "And who is sufficient for these things?" (2 Cor. 2:16). "Not that we are sufficient of ourselves" (2 Cor. 3:5). Many things come from Paul which indicate that he is not drawing upon anything natural in himself, either inherited or by training and education or any kind of history. He is not drawing upon anything like that for the purpose of God. He knows quite well that in the realm of the things of God, it is only divine wisdom, divine strength, divine ability, which can get anywhere, can get through at all.

Well, some of us know a little about that, that the getting through is always on some other plane from our own. It is like that, and more and more we shall discover that as the house is being built, it is built like that. You see on the one side, the bringing of us more and more forcibly to the recognition that the door is closed to us naturally. There is no way through for the natural man in the house of God. In the place where God is, even the priests have to go out. There is no place. But here where God is, it is all of another order. It is the order of Jesus Christ, the order of His Son. The Cross makes that great divide. The Cross is a very crippling thing to our flesh, it really is.

A Definite Crisis

Now I am only going to add this word as I close. It was a definite crisis. That crippling was not a process. However much Jacob learned of what it meant for the rest of his life as to the limitations that it imposed upon him, and no doubt he did, right to the end, discover that crippling, that maiming, meant more than he realized at once and more and more it meant of limitation to him in a certain realm. But the thing was precipitated by a crisis, and you can see my point at once. The Cross of the Lord Jesus is a crisis, a definite crisis.

However much through the years beyond you learn of what the Cross meant, what was included in it; however much we may realize, as we never realized then that the work of the Cross means this and means that, there has to be a crisis. There has to be a night, so to speak, when we meet God - a place where our natural man is extended to the full, and then proved to be helpless and hopeless in the presence of God. You may have that crisis if you mean business.

There is this one thing about Jacob - I do not know whether it can be called a virtue or not, but there is one thing about him: he was determined to get what he was after. If that was a saving factor, well, all right, he was determined. 'I will not let thee go unless, and until, thou bless me.' He gathered up all the strength that he had and concentrated it upon this. He meant business with God on this matter. He meant business with God as to the Cross. It must be like that. You must come without any reservations, without any equivocation, without any dividedness of heart and mind, and say, 'Look here, absolutely, completely, once and for all, I am going to have this understanding with the Lord that all that the Cross of His Son meant and means shall be made good in my life. That is the only way of deliverance from my accursed Self, my limiting Self, from all this wretched conscience of mine, and all this mess that I have made of things. The only way out is for me, on the one side, to accept the fact of my death with Christ to myself, my self-life, and my acceptance of the grace of God - of my resurrection on the other side where everything has got to be no longer I, but Christ, for I have been crucified with Christ.' God is ready to bring that crisis about if you are the kind that really means business with Him. Now, this is not just in the Bible, and this is not just things said here. This is true to life. Many of us know that crisis; how drastic and devastating it is on the one side, but how glorious on the other: the way through, the way of life, the way of enlargement. Yes, it is like that.

But oh, what is it all for? Well, when you have really come to an experience of the Cross, it will not be long before you have the revelation of the house of God. That follows in sequence, because the Cross always does lead to the house, to the church. It always does, and to have a really heavenly apprehension of the nature of the house of God, the church, is a wonderful thing. It brings in a whole new realm of relationships and resources and possibilities. Oh, it opens up a wonderful new purpose to see the house of God. What many of us owe to the house of God, and to the revelation that God gave to us of that house when He had dealt with us on the basis of the natural man and the Cross!

Well, that is Jacob, and if I want to put my finger upon the very helpful thing in the whole story, I would say again that Jacob naturally was the most unlikely candidate for the house of God of which you can think or conceive. And it was in the most unlikely of all, that God wrought it out so that it became practical. God is no theorist. He does not just believe in doctrines, doctrines of the house of God. God is immensely practical, and that is why He takes such stuff as you and me, for in ourselves, are we not a contradiction of the house of God altogether, at every point? We are, but it is in us, such as we are that the thing is wrought out. And when it is wrought out, it becomes very real.


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