The Stewardship of the Mystery
by T. Austin-Sparks

Introductory

"To make all men see (marg. 'to bring to light') what is the stewardship of the mystery which from all ages has been hid in God" (Ephesians 3:9).

There are some pertinent and serious questions which lie behind this consideration. It has always been cheaply easy to criticize Christianity and the Christian Church. We are well aware of that, and its peril of treachery and disloyalty. We could be deterred from anything that looks like a criticism by the fear of real or alleged spiritual pride, superiority, and arrogance. But - as in the case of Nehemiah, Daniel, and others such - we cannot take an objective position. Rather, as they, so we are involved, and have to speak of 'the state that we are in'. It is a matter of 'we', 'our' and 'us'. That sense of involvement and identity, however, did not make them silent and inactive. They had to cry out, to pray, to speak, and to act.

The doubt about things being all well with the Church has become a very big one, a very far-reaching one, and one which is born of a recognition of much weakness, ineffectiveness, and loss of authority. A state of confusion, frustration, and impotence is bringing great discredit upon the Church and much dishonour to the Lord. While, not so long ago, Christian leaders boasted of the great traditions of their particular form of denominational heritage and attributed these to the sovereignty of God, in our time the most common phrase in Christian circles is 'Our unhappy divisions' or 'Our man-made divisions', etc.

Then again, for years - many years - there has been a tremendous prayer-outreach for 'Revival'. Nights, days, and weeks have been set apart to seek God for this. Everything has been resorted to with a view to finding the ground for revival. All the techniques and supposed bases have been drawn from historic occasions in order to get a repetition. But there is no response in the way and to the dimensions expected or sought for. Does it mean that God is so reluctant as to need all this exhausting pressure to do something for His own glory? Or are we to look deeper and further for an explanation. This is an enquiry, not a suggestion that 'we have the answer'. It is something to be taken account of that this absence of life, of power, of impact, of vital testimony is not universal. There are places where it is otherwise, but mainly in the East and not in the West. Does this carry a significance which may go to the very heart of the situation? Let us consider it at once, in its wider and closer context.

The Example of Israel

God, in old times, gave to Israel a revelation of His great and specific purpose for which He had sovereignly chosen them to be the vessel and the vehicle.

While they were true to the 'vision' the Lord let the world know of His presence and power in their midst, and, although every form of opposition surrounded them, they were invincible.

It was the Divine purpose which determined everything, and their faithfulness thereto removed the onerous burden from their shoulders on to God's.

When the vision was lost or dimmed, departed from, violated, or held lightly, cheaply, and allowed to sink into disrepute, the whole situation changed. They lost their place and influence in the nations. Confusion, division, and disintegration became characteristic, and God would not answer their prayers.

"Where there is no vision the people fall apart" was a prophetic dictum. Vision there relates to the revelation of purpose given. We put it in the form of a question so as not to dictate but to draw our reader into the enquiry. Is not the history of the Christian Church (the historical Church) and its present state very largely a repetition of that of Israel?

God gave to the Church at the beginning a far greater revelation of His purpose than was ever given to Israel. By mighty signs and works He confirmed it. By many Prophets and Apostles He interpreted it. In one unique and outstanding act from Heaven He apprehended a vessel for its fullest unfolding - "To make all men see". And in those pristine days when the vision governed and an utter committal to it was characteristic of the Church, enemies there certainly were, a world of adverse forces, and a hell stirred up to its depth. Yet the Church was invincible and "mightily grew the word", and "much people was added". But - oh, tragic 'but' - the Church left its heavenly position and came down to the earth level. It departed from and lost "the heavenly vision", the sense of its 'on-high calling'. It divided, disintegrated, became full of confusion, and - well, we know the rest.

No, it did not repudiate Christianity or Christ, in the main. It did not cease to do its 'works', to have its meetings, to maintain a technique, and to have more or less blessing. But loss there was and is, and no smug complacency can withstand the growing pressure and increasing stress. Having said that, and volumes could be filled (and are being filled) with that sort of thing, it is all very negative, although so real. We have not set out to enlarge upon tragedy, we must take up the constructive side.

The conclusion to which we have come, rightly or wrongly, God knows, is that where God has taken pains to give the revelation of His Purpose in fulness and that revelation has been let go, lost, or departed from, it is a law established in the very constitution of things that the presence and power of God recedes - maybe slowly, but inevitably - and a time comes when He is not inside but outside, "the glory is departed".

As in the days of the prophets, and as in later apostolic times, the ear was turned away, and the warning refused, so it can be in the most needy times.

This brings us to the main purpose of these messages, and to consider the vision once given, the pattern once shown.

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