Before we come to our message this evening, I want to say one or two preliminary things. I am quite alive to the fact that even in a small company like this, a very wide range of spiritual experience and history is covered. On the one hand, there are quite a number who only recently have come to the Lord and who have not, as yet, a very full knowledge of the Lord's things or perhaps even of the Bible itself. And from that early point right onward, at various times, we might almost say numerous stages of the Christian life, this company is found, to a fairly mature and rich knowledge of the things of God. This all constitutes, of course, some difficulty for a speaker and the necessity of trusting the Lord very really that no-one shall be left out. But let me just say this word or two of a general character to indicate exactly what it is we have as our object at this time. I think I could cover it all by putting it this way: it is an understanding of what we have come into when we have come into Christ or when we have become Christians; what we have come into. And for those who are well in, what it is we are really in. We shall never come to the point where we do not need to have that kept before us - exactly what it is we are in.
Now, the beginners may have very little knowledge of what they have come into, but I think some people who are very far on sometimes don't know exactly what they are in or what it is all about. And it will always be helpful if we can have it shown to us, at any time, what we are in. Now, as to our method: we want, on the one hand, to be helpful in the matter of knowing the Bible. It is a most important thing that we know the Bible. We shall never know it fully, however long we live, but to have a knowledge of it, and an ever-growing knowledge of it, is a most important thing for Christians. And so we do proceed along this line with the idea of helping everyone to know what is in the Bible and what it is all about. A very big undertaking! On the other hand, it is not just to know the Bible - which we all need to know it better - it is that we shall get the message for our own lives; that the Bible shall speak to us personally in a spiritual way, that it reaches further down than our heads and really gets into our lives, interpreting God's ways with us, God's dealings with us, with a view to bringing us where God wants us to be. And then, you will not be able to grasp all that is set forward. I am quite sure that already you'll feel helpless in the presence of what is in front of you, and I also feel helpless about it, but what we shall aim at mainly and shall be satisfied with, very largely, is that we get an overall impression, an overall impression of what God is after, not necessarily being able to understand or explain everything, but getting an impression. If we can only go away from these gatherings really impressed with what God is after, that will justify our being here.Now, having said that, just a word about what is in front of you. It is possible that you will not even be able to read it from every point where you are, but let me say this: that it is not my thought or intention to work through that outline point by point, detail by detail. It is put there as something comprehensive in which we shall work, to get its message. Now that outline or diagram covers the whole Bible. [The diagram referred to is: www.austin-sparks.net/images/diagram2.html] Indeed, it goes outside of the Bible before and after, but it does cover the whole ground of what is actually in the Bible and intimated by the Bible. And you will see at once that the Bible is broken up or divided into quite clearly defined sections. I'm saying all this for people who are at the beginning of Bible knowledge. Don't be appalled. This is to help you and just put into your hand a key. You will be able to see now that that is not just a book which is a mass of details, all sorts of things, I don't know what it all means. There are very clearly defined lines in the whole Bible. It has quite distinct sections and it moves from one section to another, carrying in every section one message. So it's to help you to get some general grasp of the Bible and to put a key into your hands which will open the Bible if you will use it. And then to really let the Lord speak to your heart. I am more concerned that as you take up your Bible in any part or as a whole, you listen; you listen to God, speaking by His Word, and always asking the question: What does that say to me? Not only what does that say, but what does that say to me, what is God's message to me in this part and in that part?
Well, that is enough, I
think by way of introduction. Now, as we said this afternoon, the
key phrase which stands over these meditations (and let me put in
a parenthesis here, I'm not taking it for granted that we're going
to occupy the whole conference with this, I don't think we are. So
far as I'm concerned I don't expect that, but for the time being
and perhaps at times we shall be moving in this realm) the key
phrase for this aspect of the conference however, is in 1 Peter
5:10: "The God of all grace who called you unto His eternal
glory in Christ, after that ye have suffered... shall Himself
perfect, establish, strengthen you. To Him be the dominion for
ever and ever." The Cross.
The Cross and the Eternal Glory
We have already seen today
that this word and theme - glory - is something which governs the
whole of history from God's standpoint. It governs the whole Bible
and is the object which God has, from eternity past, had in view
for His creation and which He is going to realise ultimately. It
is glory. But it is glory in Christ Jesus, unto
His eternal glory in Christ Jesus. So that Christ Jesus is the sphere of God's eternal glory.
That is, the eternal glory unto which you and I and all believers
are called by His grace, is bound up with, and inseparable from,
Christ Jesus. There is going to be no glory that is not in Christ Jesus. All the glory
is going to be in Him and there is no hope of glory apart from
Him. It is Christ in you the hope of glory and there is
no prospect of glory apart from Christ.
So that we are by the Word introduced in the very first place to Christ in pre-creation glory. And you know the passage, or the passages, which indicate that. There are, of course, quite a number of them which we will not turn to, but here are these two, in the seventeenth chapter of John's gospel, recording that incomparable prayer of our Lord, John 17:5: "And now, O Father, glorify Thou Me with Thine own self with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was". 'The glory which I had with Thee before the world was'. Verse 24: "Father, those whom Thou hast given Me, I will that, where I am, they also may be with Me; that they may behold My glory, which Thou hast given Me; for Thou lovedst Me before the foundation of the world". Christ in pre-creation glory. We can't describe it. We don't know anything more about it than these statements, suggestions, hints, allusions, but it's sufficient that the Word of God tells us, quite explicitly and definitely that Christ was there before the world was, with the Father, in glory, all sharing the Divine glory. A glorious Being, before the world was. Timeless glory - the eternal glory. That is the first statement. I say it is no use trying to dwell upon it or stay with it. We are told very little more than the fact. But that's where we begin.
But there is a parallel
truth revealed which is a very wonderful one and it goes back
apparently to exactly the same period - if we may talk of eternity
as a period - and that is this next one, what we have called, or
what the Word of God here calls "the mystery of His will".
It is in the letter to the Ephesians chapter 1: "having made
known unto us the mystery of His will". What is the mystery
of His will? Verse 12 completes the statement: "to the end that
we should be unto the praise of His glory". Do you get the
Christ in eternal glory, before the foundation of the world. In that same timeless time, God deciding to have a people; willing, willing that He shall have a people. I do not mean 'being willing' but 'willing', if you like: 'determining it', to have an elect people corresponding to the glory of Christ. That is called the mystery of His will and do you know that that word mystery does not mean what we commonly in our common, everyday language, mean by it? When we speak of a thing being a mystery, well, we mean something altogether remote from our comprehension or understanding; something that is very hidden and secret and involved. But in the Bible, in the New Testament, the word does not mean that. It means a secret which was at one time a secret, but which has now become divulged, revealed, something made known. It was something once in the heart of God, but now it has come out from the heart of God. It was a mystery, a secret, but now it's out; it's a revealed secret. That is how the word is used here, and the revealed secret of His will, that we should be unto the praise of His glory, corresponding to what was true of Christ (so far as His being a partaker of heavenly glory was concerned) shall be true of this elect people.
And this word "glory", if you will look, has a large place in this letter to the Ephesians. We are not going to turn to each passage. I mention it, you just make a note of it and see the place that glory has in this very short letter of Paul's. Eight times the word "glory" is used in this small letter, so far as extent is concerned. And then one wonderful usage of the word in a different form about the church - "that He should present the church to Himself, a glorious church"; glory, glorious. And you know that the letter all relates to and has to deal with this elect people called the church. That is the second part of the statement which we are not going to stay with any further, but we get those two aspects in the "before times eternal", before the foundation of the world. First, Christ in the glory, glorious, and then God's determining, willing, that there shall be a people corresponding to Christ in that glory. That was all true before this world was, and all settled there and then.
Then we go and take up that
The Mystery of His "Will"
We are putting that word "WILL" in capitals and in quotes. The "WILL" is now moving out into creative action. All we need to say about it is, when we take up our Bibles and begin the history of things in creation, all we need to say is this: "What's the point in it all? What's the point in it all? What is the meaning behind it all, what is it really all about? It's not just a statement of certain things: 'In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth' and then proceeded with everything else... all very interesting, all very wonderful, but what is it all about?" It is the "WILL" in action, what that "WILL" means; what it is to have this something that corresponds to the eternal glory. So that God proceeded with every detail with one object: that it should all answer to, and fall into line with, the glory of Christ before the foundation of the world. The very universe exists by the power of God as governed by this "WILL": the mystery of His "WILL", the secret of His "WILL" that we are called unto His eternal glory. If you like, with all the wrestling and juggling that has been done with that word "eternal", I do believe that it means something more than age. And for me, if God is eternal, and Christ is eternal, and life is eternal, that doesn't belong just to an age, so that glory is not just of an age; it is timeless. The glory is as timeless as God, as Christ, and therefore as timeless as the "WILL" of God. We are brought into being according to the "WILL" that we should be eventually glorified together with Him.
The Rift in the Glory.
If you want to follow what
I have said, you can do so, especially on that last matter about
creation and glory, there is much Scripture to point to it. Would
you like to have just one well-known passage? Here it is, here is
a light thrown very clearly on that very matter of the creative
work according to the "WILL", it is in the well-known eighth
chapter of Romans, verses 20-22: "For the creation was subjected
to vanity, not of its own will, but by reason of Him who subjected
it, in hope that the creation itself also shall be delivered from
the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of
God..." Got it? "For we know that the whole creation groaneth and
travaileth in pain together until now." Well, it was brought into
being for glory.
The rift came, of which are
going to speak in a moment, and because of the rift in the glory,
it was subjected to vanity - put under
the reign of vanity. Vanity simply meaning: inability to realise
its destiny. It was put under the reign of vanity until God should get what
He is after in a people called the children of God, the sons of
God. And when He gets that, when He's got the people for which the
creation was made (not the other way round, that way the creation
was made for the people) when He's got the people for the glory, then
the creation shall be delivered from its bondage and come into the
glory of the people. So the whole creation is bound up with this
purpose concerning a people!
Does it sound a little too much to say that you and I, such ordinary people as we are, such poor creatures as we are in ourselves, (yes, we might well apologise for our very existence, we are such poor stuff) nevertheless, in Christ the whole creation waits for us! That is what is said here, the whole creation waits for us! I don't mean just for us here; be careful how you broadcast that will you? But for us and for such as we, in Christ, the whole creation waits until we come to glory and waits for its glory until then. But it is coming, this Scripture says, "when we come to glory". It is a tremendous thing that we have come into. Did you ever think of the Christian life being like that? When you walked out of the Wembley Stadium, did you think that was what you were walking out into? When you received Christ as your Saviour and Lord, is that what you saw? No, of course not! None of us did! We are all only learning about this, but I am trying to tell you that we have come into something tremendous. In Christ we have been called unto His eternal glory for which the whole creation waits! And when we come to that glory, the creation will leap out of its bondage, out of its corruption, for corruption is the opposite of glory. Into glory, incorruptible glory! What a tremendous thing we have come into! What a great thing it is to be a Christian!
Well, the rift, the shadow,
the dark chapter... we know the rift. In two aspects, we are taught
by the Scripture, that this rift in the glory began in heaven. We
are told of one who had a very exalted place and a very glorious
place in heaven; He may have been second to Christ for all we
know. He may have been partaking of and sharing in the glory of
Christ, but he is described in very, very glowing and glorious
terms, "Lucifer, the son of the morning". But somehow, here
again it is something that is not a disclosed mystery, it remains
a mystery, how, in such a realm, evil could enter into the heart
of a created being. But somehow it seems that he came to this
point where he was not content to receive glory from another,
second-hand; he must have the place of that other and be the glory himself;
have it as his own, independently, separately, and not derived
glory. Not derived glory... he aspired
to have the place at God's side in equality with God.
We need not dwell upon
that, it's so well known (unless for you who do not know the
Scriptures), but there it is, this is what they tell us about the
beginning of this rift. The result? He was cast out of the glory.
Cast out of the glory! "Oh, Lucifer, son of the morning, how art
thou fallen!" "I saw", said Jesus, "I saw satan fall
like lightning from heaven." Cast out, but not before he had
influenced a large number of angelic beings, drawn them into his
conspiracy, into his net, inoculated them with his own unlawful
ambition. And so we are told in one Scripture, "the angels which
kept not their first estate are reserved in chains unto
everlasting fire". It is a hint, a terrible hint, of this rift in
the glory. We mention it and leave it, but it was not the end.
The other aspect of the rift, as we know from the Scriptures, was how, not content with drawing angelic beings, he determined to draw God's creation of humanity away on the same line. And so we have the scene in the garden: the temptation, the victory, the surrender of man and the rift in the glory. God had pronounced upon His creation, "It is very good". It corresponded to God's mind, it must have been very glorious. We have hints of that, hints of it, in creation, but there is nothing in the present creation that really corresponds to what it must have been like before any sin blighted it or death had power over it. The whole thing is now captured by this enemy of God. And he with his legions, his legions... the apostle Paul tells us in his letter to the Ephesians that they are innumerable. "Countless", he says, "hosts of wicked spirits". How great must have been the entail of satan's action in heaven. Now he sets out upon this great campaign in human history to draw away from God. Man yields and the glory is broken, the glory of the creation, and the glory of man, such as it was then. All we do is to state what the Bible tells us.
We note some of the:
Elements of that Rift.
That is necessary because of what we are
getting after, what we are getting at. We can't understand all
this meaning of Christ and the Cross and redemption and new
creation and all these things, until we get to understand exactly
the nature of that rift from the inside where first of all it was
not only an act, it was a spirit; a spirit of rebelliousness. That
is something more than acting in a rebellious way. And it was that
spirit which was injected into man when man opened himself by
doubting God, by entertaining a question about God.
Do not forget, dear
friends, that you have only got to open yourself to a question for
something to be injected which is not easy to get rid of. Part of
the Christian life is to keep yourself closed to lots of things;
you will not let that suggestion get in, you will not entertain
it, you will not discuss it or argue with it, you will have
nothing to do with it. You shut up your being to any suggestions
that come from the enemy; that is the real nature of spiritual
warfare with evil forces, it is to close yourself and keep
yourself closed. If you don't, he will make awful ruin of you and
rob you of the glory. Ask God to teach you how to say "No!" to
things that the enemy seeks to get into your mind and into your
heart, because the working of this thing will be a spirit of rebelliousness;
a spirit. Well, he got it into the race, and we know it's in us.
We know it's in us by nature and it will always be there in
measure, to the end. I know how that contradicts some theories,
but I still hold to it that there will never be a time when it
will be impossible in this life for any of us, impossible... not
to feel some question, some resentment, some rebellion in the
presence of God's dealings with us. There will always be that
there which is ground, if we like to give it to the enemy. That
is putting it mildly, mildly. "In me," said Paul, "that
is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing." That is
putting it negatively. If he had put it positively, he would have
said, "There are lots of very bad things in my flesh, and one of
them is that I am constantly having to fight for my faith". He
says you fight the good fight of the faith.
Rebelliousness is in the race, like it or not, it was in the constitution of humanity from that day on.
Pride was back of it, and the refusal or the dislike to have second place. That was satan, that was his angels, that's what he injected into man and into the race through the first man. And tell me, do you love having what we call "second place"? I mean, being set at nought, walked over, ignored, thought little of, put aside? Isn't there something all the time that is working, even in our inferiority complex, which is saying we want to be something more than we are? We want to be! And there is something about us, let's be quite honest - although some of you dear people, I know, are too good to have anything like this, but I am not one of you, and I think the majority will go with me on this matter, that there is a lot of pride about us and we can suffer from hurt pride, and we can feel it badly if we are slighted. That is human nature we say, but it is there, it's there. But where did it come from? Well, this serpent bit us in Adam and the poison ran into our veins. That's where we are. Pride... pride.
Unbelief... I am not going to dwell long on that. But we know it only too well. It has come from somewhere and we know it hasn't come from God. And we know that as a new creation in Christ we hate it. There is that in us which hates unbelief, that sets up an antagonism to it. We now are afraid of unbelief, we dislike unbelief, we will fight unbelief, we know unbelief is our ruin. What has made us feel like that about it? We were not always like that; not always like that. Now there is a revolt in us against unbelief. Where does that come from? Well, that comes from God, but it shows that there is something wrong about us where there is unbelief; and the Word of God tells us where it came from.
Now I am going to stay
longer with the next thing I mention - possessiveness.
You see, that started in
heaven didn't it? The actual words which are recorded as coming
from satan in that hour of unlawful aspiration are these: "Thou
saidest: ‘I will be equal with the most High'". Possessiveness.
Now, it's strange and interesting and impressive that the Bible
from beginning to end is full of a paradox on that matter. Along
one line the Bible urges us to be possessive. You take one
book of the Bible only, or two books of the Bible, the book of
Deuteronomy, the last book of the first section, or the next book
of the next section, the book of Joshua, and the urge is, "go
in and possess". Go in and possess! "Thou shalt go in and
possess." Again and again it is, "possess, possess, you must
possess, you must take possession", and yet along another
line possessiveness is the most pernicious thing in God's
universe; it's utterly satanic. Strange, this paradox, isn't it,
that the same thing can be good and evil? That is what satan has
done, you see. He has got things so mixed up, confused and
distorted that you don't know where you are. You say: "I am told I
have got to possess, I have got to lay hold, and yet in the same
breath you tell me that you have got to let go?! And yet the great
lesson of the Christian life is how to let go. What do you
mean?" But there it is, that is where the Cross comes in.
This possessiveness... I want
to say to you as I have had to say to my own heart many times and
very strongly, a large amount of the discipline through which we
have to go under the hand of God is because of our possessiveness.
Shall we put that the other way: a very large amount of our
discipline under the hand of God is to bring us to the place where
we know how to let go, and do let go. And a whole lifetime can be
lost and a whole life's work can be forfeited if we don't learn
that lesson. The basic lesson of the Lord Jesus as Redeemer of
this universe was letting
go the glory, letting go His former position, letting go! Letting
go! You and I would not have been redeemed if He had not let
go. And there are many lives who are not being helped because you
and I don't let go.
Our lives are passing on... many are passing on, and a lot of time
is being lost because this lesson has not been learnt: the ability
to let go.
This inborn possessiveness to have, to hold, to possess... it's tremendous; it's terrific, it is terrible. The Lord would call us to some piece of valuable service, and oh, God only knows how much we are needed, and how great the need is. But He has to put us aside, either entirely shut us up from it, or put us into some other school of discipline, to wait until we have learned how to let go in the right way. You see, there is all the difference between our possessiveness, our possessiveness, and having what the Lord wants, and having it with all our hearts. What a difference! Now you see, the rift, the rift came that way: possessiveness, to have. Adam was told by this evil one that he could have. He could have it! He could have it if he liked to act independently, on his own, out from himself, in his own right and by his own initiative, he could have it in himself and not have it by dependence upon God. That's the suggestion: "You can have it; you can be as God," said satan, that is, "you can be self-sufficient, self-inclusive. You can have it." Adam fell to it, and we fell in him. And that is in us. More or less in everyone there is that thing, that evil thing: possessiveness to have, to govern, to control, to master, to be on top of a thing, to make it serve us. It's as great a peril and temptation in Christian work as it is anywhere. And it can be found in any relationship. I dare not analyse this, but if I were to, you would see it. You would see it: how there is this in human nature that really must control things, manipulate things, somehow or other work round to get what is wanted; anything! And this is possessiveness: to get it into our power. That's devilish and satanic if it is motivated by Self. You see the difference.
Taking as an illustration,
rather anticipating things, take Israel. Israel were called to
possess the land of promise, possess the land of
promise... but they could never possess the land of promise until
they had gone through the Jordan. And the Jordan was the type of
the Cross where the
possessiveness of satan was slain and now it was the
possessiveness of God. You see? It was so. Have I not made that
clear? It was not whether I want this, whether I am going to have
this; that doesn't come into the picture at all. It is, does the Lord want
it costs me, does the Lord want it? I am out of this picture, the
Lord fills the picture! That is the only ground of real
possession. If the Lord wants it... the Lord. The right kind
of laying hold: if the Lord wants it.
Well, I have spent a lot of time on that, but it is something to be taken account of, it is a very serious thing, but the Lord deals with us faithfully. Oh, that He might show us the meaning of delays, of unnecessary delays, of the loss that we suffer and His work suffers, simply because we would take it into our own hands and make it ours. No, dear friends, everything that we have in Christ has got to be His. It is the Lord's; not ours.
So we see in all this rift
its nature; a basic perversion... a basic perversion of mind, of
mentality, of mindedness; a basic perversion of desires,
affections, likes, dislikes; a basic perversion of will, to have,
to possess, to decide... all perverted. And when that happened the
glory departed. The glory departed from the Garden, the glory
departed from man, the glory was withdrawn and put into reserve
until such time as that was dealt with and the glory could
come back. That introduces, of course, the whole meaning of the
Cross: to get rid of the thing which destroys and sets aside the
glory, all the things which put the glory away, to deal
with them and to make way for the return of the glory. Well, that
is anticipating things, but that's the meaning. And now this is a
statement of facts.
From that point we come on
to the Divine reaction to this situation which has arisen, this
that we have called "the rift" - the Divine reaction. And although
I would like to go on for another hour with this, I'm not going
further than to just intimate it and leave it; what I have called
the forward thrust of the Will. It is a new idea that has come
into my head and I like it rather: the forward thrust of the
Will... The Will, the big Will, the capital Will, the forward
thrust. At that point God said "No!" to this rift and God took
action to see that the Will was not frustrated, that the
Will was not set aside, that the Will, "the
mystery of His will", should not be defeated. He
took action. The Will thrust forward. Yes, it's such a Will that
it must have a thrust and it did thrust forward and from that
point we have the movement of the Will on the one side against
all that that constituted the rift and set the glory aside, but
positively for all that which would bring the glory back
and realise it ultimately. The Will steps in and goes
energetically on and you are able to trace right through the Bible
from the rift with the next move in Abel and then right on, all
the way through, the Will is driving on.
Driving on... and at last the Will realises itself in full, but along certain, quite clearly defined lines, lines which we shall seek to follow. May I just, before I close, indicate those three things. As the Will thrusts forward it brings in first of all the long shadow of "A Man", capital 'A' and capital 'M'. The long shadow of A Man stretching right down the ages, overshadowing the movements of God. There is something to keep you going for a long time. Now what I want to say is this: the Bible must be read with the one object of recognising features of Christ, both actual and by contrast. Have you got that? The Bible must be read with the one object of recognising features of Christ, actual features, or by contrast. That opens your Bible. You start with Abel, now I am not going through, you start with Abel, look at Abel… [Unfortunately the recorded message ends here].