"Sovereign Head" - The Unveiling of Jesus Christ
by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 3 - Sovereignty and Grace

Having seen Jesus in the counsels of God "before times eternal," and then in His creative activity and purpose, as the explanation of the universe in general and man in particular, we proceed to consider two other phases of this unveiling and testimony.

These will have to do with history in general on the one hand, and spiritual experience on the other. Two words will gather up all that can be said in these realms, namely

Sovereignty and Grace.

Sovereignty governs and controls history and forces it to serve a specific end. Grace operates in history to secure out of it that upon which the Divine Heart is set.

Firstly, then, we see Jesus as the "I am" in history, and the testimony concerning Jesus persisting through the course of the ages, and like a steady, strong, unwavering line running through all events, laying hold of world movements and making them bend to that inner thing. We see the rise and fall of Empires, Dominions, Thrones, Nations; the pageant of world-powers; the glamour and glory, the pathos and tragedy of historic epochs. If our inner eye is open we can see that all this is related to one thing - "The Testimony of Jesus," that He is imminent in all, though by the world unrecognised, and often unseen by the very people with whose affairs He is most intimately associated.

Someone has aptly said "History is His story." Paul undoubtedly saw this to be so. Oh, what a different conception from that which "Saul of Tarsus" had of Jesus. Why, now he saw that that "Galilean upstart, a mere flash in the pan, who carried away a lot of poor ignorant folk and deluded them, and then was put an end to," this same Jesus goes back to eternity and then travels down the ages with His hand upon the ages and history, "upholding all things by the word of His power," and that the deepest thing in all is that testimony concerning Him.

Now there are many phases of this great fact, and a whole and large library would be required to embody them, so that we are compelled but to indicate it along one or two lines only.

You begin to read the Roman letter, and by the time one has got to the end of the third chapter (and there were no chapters in his letter) he has swept the world. He has dealt with the whole race, Jew and Gentile, every department of the race, all nations, and he has shown to you that there is an abiding testimony to great spiritual facts related to God in every part of the creation. "The invisible things of Him are made manifest by the things which are seen." There is a witness. From that great general witness in the creation, the witness to the fact, and the power, and the wisdom, and the glory of God, he brings the thing down steadily, like the mills of God grinding exceeding small, and he tells you that you cannot put your hand upon a being in the whole race of humanity who has not at the very centre of his being a consciousness, however dim and darkened and covered by rubbish, nevertheless, a consciousness of himself as standing in vital relationship to a supreme object of worship and reverence whom he calls God, and that he goes to work to give expression to that consciousness, hewing out idols of wood and stone, but he is giving expression to a fact that somewhere deep down in the very centre of his being he is conscious of standing in that relationship to some supreme object which claims his worship and that consciousness gives rise to three elements: the fact of sin, the fact of righteousness, and the fact of judgment.

It may be imperfectly understood, and apprehended, vague, remote, but there in the whole creation there is a testimony, and then you sweep in all the systems of expressing that fact and that consciousness, all the heathen modes and methods, and you find that one thing is common, that in relation to that consciousness and that demand, propitiation is seen, a life for a life, a getting even somehow, and that on a basis of sacrifice. That is there. Paul goes to Athens, and he sees the altars, "I saw on an altar an inscription TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship Him declare I unto you." Here is the underlying consciousness, the fact, the nature of which they are altogether ignorant, but the fact is there demonstrating itself in these expressions, and here is the Testimony of Jesus. Beloved, however false, wrong and distorted and wicked and devilish may be the nature and form of the expression in the race, it had its roots in God. You trace it right back to the very first fact that before the foundation of the world a Lamb was slain. Oh yes, distorted, taken hold of by the devil and used to sensual ends, made the very basis of devil worship - yes, that is the devil's way, to take hold of the things of God and turn them to account for himself - yet however poor and awful the form of expression, trace it back, and you get back there where God with a pure and true and clear and high and right meaning and significance laid down the foundation of a right relation to Himself in the Blood of a Lamb. And we don't talk about the religious system of Israel and the primitive ideas in Israel of sacrifice and so on as being derived from the heathen. We say that this distorted thing amongst the heathen was derived from the pure; it is the other way round, the right thing gone wrong.

Now, here, you see, is the Testimony, and Paul sees this, that the Lord Jesus has persisted in the deepest consciousness of the race, demanding rectification, laying the sense of sin, of judgment, and the demand for righteousness in every being.

When the Lord Jesus said that "When He the Holy Spirit was come, He would convict the world concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment," He was not announcing a new fact in the matter of the convicting, although there would be a new emphasis of this through the gospel, but He was particularly declaring the basis of that new emphasis - even His work at Calvary. It was to be related to Himself in a new way and the preaching of "Christ crucified" would be the occasion of the convicting. "Of sin - because they believe not on ME; of righteousness because I go unto my Father; of Judgment, because the prince of this world hath been judged."

Another phase of this very broad outlook is the fact that the whole creation groans for incorruption and "eternal life." Why is it that the secular press finds that the most popular and attractive stunt that it can introduce is to open up the subject of the continuity of life; existence after physical dissolution, immortality? The thing is pathetic, tragic, and often ridiculous, in as much as those who write on it have no authority whatever, and that it is only possible of conviction in the spirit and not demonstration to the intellect. Does not 1 Cor. 2:14 settle this finally? Nevertheless the fact remains that the vogue is successful as an advertisement because of the universal consciousness of man that he was made for something more; that there is something more; and that if this is all then life is a mockery; there is no justice in the universe; righteousness is not to be found; judgment is non-existent; sin goes eternally winked at.

But it is a constituent of man that it is not so, and that - whatever may be his false, mistaken, unenlightened, apprehension, his wilful and persistent refusal in days of health and prosperity to measure up and take account, his preparedness to take his chance; or his closing of his eyes tightly to the fact - he knows within himself that there is something beyond. This, also, is the Testimony concerning Jesus, and it declares first, the fact of an eternal purpose, the principle of which is the basis and constituent of man's very nature and being; but also that that purpose can only be known or realised and that nature satisfied - as experience proves - in Jesus Christ.

These are great generalities in human life and history, but we must narrow down to the more particular.

Paul saw - not only this broad sweep of the Testimony of Jesus - but that that testimony was being in a specific way established by a chain of elect links through the ages. I am not going to discuss again the question as to whether Paul wrote the letter to the Hebrews, but believing that he had a hand in it in some way, read again the eleventh chapter. Here the line is traced from Abel through Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Israel, &c. We leave these links for consideration later on, but here consider Israel; Israel among the nations, with the eyes of all the nations upon that elect nation.

Now in numerous ways Jesus is imminent and pre-eminent in the testimony of Israel. Take it from this standpoint alone; the unifying factor in the entire national life of Israel was the Tabernacle. The Tabernacle was that which held Israel together as a spiritual whole, and made of them a spiritual nation with a spiritual mission. Now we know, do we not, that there is not a single thread in any one of all the curtains of the tabernacle that does not declare Jesus. You cannot find a bolt or a bar, a hook or a pin, a strip of ribbon, a tag, from the remotest point right through and through and right up to the very Mercy Seat that does not declare Jesus. It is called the "Tabernacle of the Testimony." And what Testimony? The Testimony concerning Jesus. The Testimony which in spiritual reality is that which is mentioned at the other end of the Book in Revelation - the same Testimony. Note now, Jesus then being at the centre, the unifying fact in this nation as a spiritual force right in the centre of the nations, upon which the eyes of all the nations rest, was the great object-lesson through those ages. It was perfectly impossible, so long as Israel was faithful to that Testimony, for any one of those nations, or for all of them combined, to crush Israel. So long as they stood faithful to that central testimony, be they in themselves a weak, comparatively insignificant people, without military caste, or history, or training, be they the most helpless among the nations from any natural standpoint, they are more than a match for all the nations.

What does it mean? It declares this, the sovereignty of Jesus amongst the nations. So when they come to cast out the nations from the land which they are going to possess, the very first thing that is said to them in Jericho is, "We have heard of you and your God, and we know quite well that the game is up for us." The nations knew. And what about those Jebusites who came along having obtained some old bread, and put on old clothes and shoes and said they had come on a long journey and when they started it was fresh baked bread and the clothes and the shoes had got worn out (although in truth they had not come from afar off) "because we have heard of you!" The nations knew the testimony of the sovereignty in Israel. Even taking the dark side, when the very Divinely raised up institutions of God fail Him, He persists; and when Israel failed through idolatry and went into captivity the Testimony does not cease, for even in the land of their captivity that Testimony goes on. He has His red line running along in a Daniel, Shadrach, a Meshach, an Abednego. The nations passed through their desolated land. They look at the desolation and say, What is the meaning of this? And the answer is "because of their unfaithfulness to their testimony."

You see there are two sides to this testimony, the testimony which is glorious, and the testimony which proceeds, nevertheless, and shouts through the wreckage of unfaithfulness. And you know those words which are so often used in their prophetic sense and forgotten in their historic sense bear this out - words that have been prophetically put into the mouth of the Lord Jesus on His Cross, "Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? Behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow." Historically these words belong to Israel. They were the words which the broken-hearted prophet put into the mouth, as it were, of the land desolated, and the travellers of the nations, passing up and down that desolated land hear the cry of the desolation of Jerusalem and the land, "Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by?" Is what nothing to you? That this speaks of my unfaithfulness to a testimony. This is because that great thing which was the very constituent element in my national being was violated. This is the result. What a testimony to Jesus that when Jesus goes out wreckage and ruin comes in, and the very wreckage is a testimony to His sovereignty, to His supremacy!

Now you see the point is this, that He is all the way through proceeding in His testimony. It is there in history. Babylon the great, the wonderful - crushed because of the testimony of Jesus. To save that testimony He has got a remnant, but in order to get that remnant out Belshazzar must be slain, his throne upset. This law of the sovereignty goes right the way through. Now, if only we knew it, it is in the nations; it is making the nations rock; it is the cause of all the upheaving. It is that testimony - Jesus is there, imminent. Take the case of His church. He goes out of the objective in the care of Israel, and comes into the subjective in His church after His resurrection, and He is again imminent there - Sovereign Lord in the church and Sovereign Head of the church, which is His Body. Now touch that church! The mightiest nation that this world has known with all its force and resource exhausted itself to destroy the Testimony of Jesus as it was in a company of those whom the world said were "the weak things, the foolish things and the things that are not." God in Christ entered into that company and constituted them His Body in which He was resident, and Rome may exhaust all its resource to wipe out that Testimony, as represented by that company, and what is the issue? The issue is that Rome is torn limb from limb, shattered, and is as a tale that is told. But where is the church? It has gone on, and the Testimony of Jesus has proceeded, and the more it has been assailed in the church, the mightier it has grown. Persecution and adversity has been the very best thing for its growth.

Beloved, there are many things that ought to come to us out of this truth for practical use and service in our own lives and in our own hearts. One simply mentions that, for our own encouragement and comfort, we who are in Christ Jesus have come into a sovereignty which all hell cannot overthrow. Jesus shall reign because He does reign, always has reigned, and so may this Apostle, either directly, or indirectly, it matters not, by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost take up the scripture and say of Jesus, "Thy throne O God is for ever and ever." Here you have the great "I AM" out from eternity creating the ages and proceeding through the ages, in spite of everything that sought to rule Him out of the ages and out of the universe. Oh what a Christ, what a "Head"! And oh, what a wonderful revelation of Who Jesus is and what Jesus is! Can you again wonder that Paul said up to his last breath, "THAT I MAY KNOW HIM"?

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