by T. Austin-Sparks
Reading: Isaiah 61:1–62:1a.
We come now to yet a further aspect of this so many-sided fruit of the Cross of the Lord Jesus. We remember that the first three verses of this sixty-first chapter of Isaiah, so full, were taken up by our Lord Jesus Himself. After His baptism the heavens were opened, and the Spirit descended and came upon Him: it was the great moment of His anointing as the Servant, Who had just passed, symbolically, by the way of the Cross, as represented by His baptism. Now, anointed, He meets the enemy in the wilderness, and worsts him completely on all points; then, returning from the wilderness in the power of the Spirit, He comes to Nazareth, where He has been brought up.
On the Sabbath day, He enters into the synagogue, and the Scriptures are handed to Him. He opens them at this point in Isaiah’s prophecies, and reads these verses; and, when He has read them, He hands the roll back to the Ruler of the synagogue and sits down. (This, contrary to our custom, was a sign that He had something to say. If we have something to say, we usually stand up; but in the synagogues, if they had something to say, they sat down.) And it says that ‘the eyes of all’ that were assembled ‘were fastened upon Him’—because He had sat down; they saw He had something to say. “And He began to say unto them, Today hath this scripture been fulfilled in your ears” (Luke 4:14–21).
We thus see that the Lord Jesus was appropriating this part of Isaiah to Himself. All along we have recognized that there is a relationship of these prophecies to the Lord Jesus and to this dispensation, as well as a connection with the history of Israel. And this is what we now come to.
The Anointing of the Head Flows down to the Members
But notice, as we begin, that this anointing, while
resting first of all upon ‘the Lord’s
Servant’—for that is the title of Christ in
Isaiah: “Behold My Servant” (Is.
42:1)—while this anointing of course rests upon Him
and relates, fully and supremely, to Him, as the Head,
the language of the prophetic narrative immediately
afterwards makes an abrupt transition to
‘they’, ‘them’; ‘ye’,
‘you’, ‘your’. After this declaration
concerning the anointing of the Servant, it goes on:
“And they shall build the old wastes, they
shall raise up the former desolations, and they
shall repair the waste cities, the desolations of many
generations” (61:4). The people of God derive the
values, come into the good, of this anointing. It is as
though the anointing upon Him, as Head, just flowed down
and embraced the whole of His membership—the members
That is why we read the first fragment of the next chapter: “For Zion’s sake will I not hold My peace....” As I said in the previous chapter, there is so much, in these later prophecies of Isaiah, about Zion—about the good of the anointing being found in Zion, Zion inheriting all these values. And Zion, as we know, is the Old Testament figure of the Church. We were speaking, in that chapter, about Zion’s light: “Arise, shine, for thy light is come” (60:1)—this is the testimony recovered. Here, in chapter 61, we move into Zion’s life and Zion’s liberty.
“To Proclaim Liberty to the Captives”
You notice, first of all, that this is a message to
Zion, to the Church. All this has to have its
fulfilment, its realization, in the Lord’s people.
Israel, at this time, were in exile in Babylon, in a
state of bondage and spiritual death, and the prophecies
have to do with their deliverance, their liberation from
that bondage, from that death, the bringing of this
people out into life and into liberty. Now I have said
that Jesus took to Himself this Scripture about the
anointing of the Lord being upon Him, “to proclaim
liberty to the captives”, and so on. But you
remember that the earthly Zion, the earthly
Jerusalem—in other words, the Jewish
people—never did come into the reality of this
liberation. They missed all these values. That
Zion did not inherit the values of His anointing. But the
Church has inherited it all. This has become the
inheritance of the spiritual Israel, the spiritual
people of God. Judaism—‘Israel after the
flesh’ —was the supreme antagonist of the
anointing. By their weapon of legalism, they slew Him. It
must be a people who answer to all this that is said
about the anointing, who come into these further values
of the second part of this chapter.
That is, it must be a people who can appreciate the Good Tidings, because they are meek: that was not true of Israel after the flesh. It must be a people of a broken heart, and that was not true of Israel after the flesh. It must be a people conscious that they really are captives, and that was not true of the Jews in our Lord’s day. They thought, they believed, that of all people on the earth they were the freest, the ones who knew least about bondage: that was one of the points of controversy with them and the Lord Jesus (John 8:33). It must be a people who feel that their state is one of imprisonment, if they are to enjoy the “opening of the prison to them that are bound”; and so on. The values of the anointing can only come to people who realize, all these ways, spiritually, their need of this Servant of the Lord, working, under the anointing, for their good, for their advantage.
The New Testament Counterpart
We now follow the same course as we have followed in every connection. This part of Isaiah’s prophecies, and this chapter in particular, carries us to the New Testament counterpart. We have seen that there are parts of the New Testament which answer distinctly and clearly to the different phases and movements in these prophecies of Isaiah. And the New Testament counterpart of this sixty first chapter is undoubtedly Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. Let us look at a few fragments from that letter. You will see how they bring in Isaiah 61, the anointing of the Spirit.
Paul’s Letter to the Galatians
“This only would I learn from you, Received
ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing
of faith? Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit,
are ye now perfected in the flesh? ...He therefore that
supplieth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among
you, doeth He it by the works of the law, or by the
hearing of faith? ...Christ redeemed us from the curse of
the law... that upon the Gentiles might come the blessing
of Abraham in Christ Jesus; that we might receive the
promise of the Spirit through faith” (Gal.
“And because ye are sons, God sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba, Father’ ” (4:6).
“For we through the Spirit by faith wait for the hope of righteousness” (5:5).
“But I say, ‘Walk by the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are contrary the one to the other; that ye may not do the things that ye would. But if ye are led by the Spirit, ye are not under the law.... If we live by the Spirit, by the Spirit let us also walk” (5:16–18, 25).
“For he that soweth unto his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth unto the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap eternal life” (6:8).
All that, as you notice, has to do with the Spirit— which is, of course, another way of speaking of the anointing. We will now take another brief series, which follows the line of the Cross.
“I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live; and yet no longer I, but Christ liveth in me...” (2:20).
“O foolish Galatians, who did bewitch you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was openly set forth crucified?” (3:1).
“And they that are of Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with the passions and the lusts thereof” (5:24).
“But far be it from me to glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world hath been crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (6:14).
These two series of extracts from this brief letter “to the churches in Galatia” (1:2) make it clear that two of its major themes are the Cross and the Holy Spirit. It is the bridge that is passed over between Isaiah 53 and Isaiah 61.
The Essentially Spiritual Nature of Christianity
Now we all know that this Letter to the Galatians
contains Paul’s tremendous battle. Yes, Paul was out
for a fight when he set himself to write this document.
There is no more vehement product of the pen of Paul than
that which we have in this letter. But what is the battle
over? what is it all about? Of course there are
theological and doctrinal answers to that question; but
it may be said, with a good deal of support both from the
letter itself and from other parts of the New Testament,
that this battle of Paul’s all related to the
essentially spiritual character of Christianity.
The Christianity which is the true Christianity is an
essentially spiritual thing. That is what the battle is
about. It shows so clearly, in every connection, that the
Cross leads to a spiritual position, to a spiritual
The great enemy, who had very useful instruments in the Judaizers, was fighting to make of Christianity something other than a spiritual thing; to bring it on to an other than spiritual basis. Both then, and ever since, he has sought, either to resolve Christianity into a matter of rites and ceremonies—ritual, formalism, earthly and temporal symbols, representations, figures, and so forth; or, failing that, to substitute for it the false spirituality sometimes dignified by the name of ‘mysticism’. That was Satan’s object, and Paul saw that the issue was nothing less than the real meaning, the essential nature, of Christianity—what it is. And Paul was not giving it away, because he had had a tremendous experience on this very matter. He therefore set himself to fight this thing with all the strength at his command, to make it perfectly clear that Christianity is not in any respect an earthly system—it is a heavenly life. Christianity is essentially a life in the Spirit, and the Cross is intended to produce that. If it does not produce it, there is some reason for it in those concerned. It means that the whole nature of Christianity has been changed, and the meaning of the Cross subverted.
So Paul lunges at this subtle move of the enemy with all the force of the Cross, and brings in every weapon to which he can lay his hand. What are some of those weapons?
Paul’s Weapons Against the Debasing of Christianity
(1) His Personal History
Well, first of all—and this is a very powerful
weapon, as you will notice from this letter—he
brings in the weapon of his own history and his own
experience. There are few places in all his
writings—perhaps only Second Corinthians—where
he refers to himself more than he does in this letter. He
brings his own history and his own experience right
forward; it is one of his masterstrokes. And he was the
man to do it! Just look at Saul of Tarsus: look at his
history—what he tells us about himself. Was there
ever a man who had put this whole Jewish system more
thoroughly to the test than he had? He had committed
himself to the observances, to the performance of every
part of the Jewish ritual, right up to the hilt; indeed,
he tells us that he was far more zealous in this matter
than many of his own age. “I advanced in the
Jews’ religion beyond many of mine own age...
being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my
fathers” (Gal. 1:14). This man had gone all the way
with this system, with its ceremonies and rites, its
types and figures, its symbols and forms, he had gone the
What did it do for him? Where did it land him? He had exhausted it most thoroughly, most conscientiously, most sincerely: because one thing that we have to say about Saul of Tarsus is that he was a man who did not believe in half measures—he was a man who meant business, and he was a man who was sincere in what he did. He tells us: “I verily thought... that I ought to do”—‘I thought that I ought to do’—“many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth” (Acts 26:9). It was a matter of conscience with this brilliant young Pharisee, who had climbed so high on the ladder of Judaism. But, where did it land him? We have his own exclamation; he says: ‘This is where it landed me!’—“O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me out of the body of this death?” (Rom. 7:24). You could not get very much lower than that, could you? That is the last word in anything. In his own experience, in his own history, the whole thing had failed. In effect, he says: ‘That is where it landed me; that is all it did for me. And it is not going to do anything better for anybody else, however devoted they may be to it.’
(2) The Meaning of the Cross
But then, having come to that end, to that ignominious
end, crying for deliverance—‘O wretched man
that I am, who shall deliver me? Nothing and nobody, over
all this long history, has proved a deliverer for
me!’—then he found the Lord Jesus; and the Lord
Jesus did for him all that this tremendous sum of things
had entirely failed to do. He found the Cross, and he
said: “I have been crucified with Christ; yet I
live; and yet no longer I, but Christ liveth in me”
(Gal. 2:20). You notice the change from the thought of
‘death’ to the thought of ‘life’. He
is a dead man made alive, come to life. He is a man who
has known an altogether new beginning, a new history, a
new experience, which has sprung out of the Cross of the
Moreover, he found the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit did for him what this vast system of Judaism, to which he had given himself so utterly, could never do. That is why he gives such a large place to the Holy Spirit in this letter. That is why the Cross and the Holy Spirit are here brought together as the ruling lines of this whole testimony. The Holy Spirit, on the ground of the Cross, has reversed the whole experience, changed the whole situation.
(3) The Meaning of Christ
And then—here we could go through the letter with another ruling line—he discovered the real meaning of Christ. The name of Christ occurs forty-three times in this little letter, which can be read in ten minutes or a quarter of an hour. That itself is significant; indeed, it just shouts at us as to what it is all about. Paul is really seeking to show here what is the true meaning of Christ. What is the true meaning of Christ? Just this: that all that system has been—in Himself—completely fulfilled. The vast system of the law and all its ordinances has been fulfilled in and by Christ, in the Cross; all righteousness has been fulfilled. As He came to His baptism in the Jordan, typifying His death on the Cross, Jesus had said: “Suffer it now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness” (Matt. 3:15). That was the question at issue, and it was all fulfilled in the Cross of the Lord Jesus; Christ crucified has fulfilled it all. The Old Testament is fulfilled in Christ. That is what we have been saying about Isaiah; and what is true of Isaiah is true of all the Old Testament. We cannot attempt to show here how the Old Testament is fulfilled in Christ, but that is what Paul is saying. ‘I have been crucified with Christ: and so I am united with Him in that writing of, that fulfilment, of all the requirements of God; and, by the Spirit, I come into the good of all that Jesus is.’
(4) The Meaning of Grace
There is yet another theme in this letter which would repay our study: it is the meaning of grace. That is a great thing in the Letter to the Galatians. Grace puts us on to an entirely new basis. All the ritual, all the forms, all the demands of the law, only served to accentuate the evil conscience. Paul makes that so clear. As we know, this Letter to the Galatians was written before the Letter to the Romans: probably Paul, when he had written to the Galatians, said to himself, ‘I must write something more about this’, and so took the opportunity of enlarging upon it when writing to the Romans. But the point is that the whole thing related to this matter of conscience. “I had not known sin... except the law had said, Thou shalt not...” (Rom. 7:7). ‘The very saying of that thing only gave me a bad conscience: this whole system was only keeping my conscience alive—it was not saving me from an evil conscience. But grace has done that; grace has put me on to an altogether new and different basis, where the evil conscience is dealt with.’ Yes, grace deals with the conscience. It is a wonderful word over against a bad conscience: ‘The Grace of God’.
(5) The Meaning of the Holy Spirit
Lastly, Paul discovered the meaning of the Holy
Spirit. What does Paul say preeminently about the Holy
Spirit here? “Because ye are sons, God sent forth
the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying,
‘Abba, Father’ ” (Gal. 4:6). “Ye
received the Spirit of sonship, whereby we cry,
‘Abba, Father’ ” (Rom. 8:15). Paul sets
that over against servanthood. And there he gets right to
the heart of the matter. For if we recognize, as it is
easy to do, the difference between a servant and a son,
we have the secret of everything.
A servant is one who simply has to do what he is told: he is told that he must or he must not, and, whether he likes it or not, whether he agrees with it or not, it is for him to obey, that is all. Whatever may be his own reactions, he cannot help himself: he is merely a servant. Inwardly he may be in positive revolt against the whole thing, but he can do nothing about it. I am speaking, of course, about a servant of those days. A servant of the present day would just give up his job and go—that is how it is in our time. But you could not do it there in the Roman Empire in Paul’s day. A bondslave had no power of choice whatever; he could not say: ‘I am resigning; I am going to find another master’—he just could not do it. He was bought, body, soul and spirit; and, though he might be in revolt with every fibre of his being, there was nothing he could do about it. He just was the bondslave of this law.
The Spirit of Sonship
That is a servant, a slave. What is a son? Well, if he
is a son in the true meaning of Christian sonship, his
service is a delight to him. There is in him the dynamic
of love: he delights to do those things that please his
Father, and that love gives him the incentive and the
power to do them. He has another spirit, the Spirit of
Sonship, working in him, making it possible for him to
respond to every requirement: for that is the meaning of
the Holy Spirit—an inward power, and that of love,
which makes everything possible. As we all know, if we
have a mighty love for something, nothing is impossible!
Would that we had more of this love—the love that
does not irk, that does not wait to have things pointed
out, to have its attention drawn to them, but is all the
time on the alert, anxious and keen, watching to see what
needs to be done. We need that spirit, do we not?
That is something that is so impressive in certain companies known to us in the Far East. It is referred to here by way of illustration and example, not by way of condemnation or criticism of others. One great meeting hall, for instance, with its internal capacity of 1,600, and provision all the way round for up to 3,000 more, and with its 1,000 panes of glass, needs, as you can guess, a lot of looking after—what with the cleaning, the care of all the electrical installations, the amplifiers, and so on. There is so much connected with even one centre like that. After every meeting you see an army of men and women, prepared, and getting down to it, sweeping and cleaning and mopping up, adjusting and seeing to things, so that everything is clean and wholesome and in its place, for the next meeting. As you look at these people doing these jobs, perhaps you ask about someone, busily working away in his old clothes: ‘Who is that brother?’ ‘Oh that is Major General So and So!’ You see another younger man getting down to it, really getting down to a dirty job: ‘Who is that young brother?’ ‘He is the Managing Director of the biggest textile factory on this island!’ And so you go on—General, Colonel, Director— but they are all ‘going to it’. One of these high officers has made it his business to clean those one thousand panes of glass once every week!
How do they go about it? Well, before they start on their work, they all meet together and pray and sing. They pray all together, this great army of workers; then they have a good sing; and then they get down to the work. It is all done in a spirit of joy like that. That is the spirit of sonship! That is not bondslavery; it is the true spirit of sonship. We need far more of that. That is the meaning of the Holy Spirit. You are not surprised that these people are radiant, and you are not surprised that the question is answered in their case: “To whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?” It is indeed revealed there. Suffer the illustration; it is very wholesome to have seen these things really working. They can work; they really can work.
This, then, is the meaning of the Spirit, the meaning of Christ: the real spirit of sonship. That is what Paul is saying here. Satan is against that—Satan just hates that. He will try to break it up; he will try to spoil it, at all costs. That was the battle that Paul was in. He was not just contending with the Judaizers, but with the direct antagonism of the great enemy against a testimony of that kind—against the real fruit of the Cross.
Freedom from Law Means Government by the Spirit
Now, if Satan is thwarted along one line, he does not
give up—he tries another. Satan is a great master of
strategy, and one of his favourite lines is that of
pushing things to extremes. Among the Galatian believers,
he had sought to push legalism to an extreme. But now he
is thwarted along that line; Paul wins the
battle—there is no doubt about it. What is the
enemy’s next line of attack? ‘Very well
then’, he says, ‘if you won’t have the
law, then don’t have any law; discard all law.
“You are no longer under law, you are under
grace”—you can do as you like! Just behave as
you like; just carry on as you like; you must know no
limitations, no restrictions. Any kind of restriction is
law—repudiate it! Go to the other
extreme—licence instead of law!’ I believe
that, if Paul were alive to day, he would be just as
vehement against this as he was against the other: for
here is a work of Satan indeed. If Satan cannot bind by
the law, and change the whole nature of things in that
way, he will seek to dismiss all law and make us wholly
But remember, if this Letter to the Galatians is the letter of the liberty of the Spirit, it is also the letter of the government of the Spirit. We are only free when we are governed. In George Matheson’s well known words, that we sometimes sing:
‘Make me a captive, Lord,
And then I shall be free’.
A paradox—but how true. We are not free when we are giving way to licence, when we take liberty that far. No: this Letter, and the Letters to the Romans and to the Hebrews, are not documents of lawlessness. Even if they do set aside the whole of the Jewish system, they do not introduce a regime of lawlessness. But they do most clearly bring in the life and government of the Holy Spirit. Remember—no child of God who is governed by the Holy Spirit, who is really living a life in the Spirit, will infringe any Divine principle. Indeed, a life governed by the Holy Spirit will be the more meticulously careful about spiritual principles.
No Change in Divine Principles
You see, the change is not in the law; that is where a
great mistake has been made. Christ crucified does not
alter the law; Christ Himself does not alter the law; the
Holy Spirit does not alter the law. The change is not in
the law—the change is in the man. Grace does not say
that, because you are not under the law, you may now
murder, and get away with it; that you can steal now, you
are not under law; you can commit adultery now, you are
not under law; you can be covetous now, you are not under
law. Grace does not say that; you are horrified at the
But carry that right through to anything and everything of Divine principle—and remember that the Law of Moses is only the embodiment of Divine principles. Now the Lord Jesus took up that and said: ‘Moses said, Thou shalt not kill; I say to you that if you are angry with your brother, you are not less in danger of judgment’ (Matt. 5:21–22). The Apostle John goes further, and says that if you hate your brother you are a murderer: if you hate him, without taking any step to kill him, you are already a murderer in your heart (1 John 3:15). Take the words of the Lord Jesus again: ‘Moses said, Thou shalt not commit adultery; I say to you, you have only so much as to look with evil intent, and you have broken the commandment’ (Matt. 5:27–28). It is the principle of the thing, you see. This is terribly searching.
No, neither Christ, nor the Holy Spirit, nor the Cross, changes the nature of the law, the principle of the law—it is the man who is changed. That is how the law becomes lifted from us, because we become changed people. The Spirit, Who keeps the law, has now entered into us, and if we walk by the Spirit, in the Spirit, we do not fulfil the lusts of the flesh (Gal. 5:16,25). It is a question of the changed person.
To Walk by the Spirit Is to Keep the Law
So grace does not say: ‘You are not under the
law, therefore you need not observe the Sabbath.’ We
have to recognize that the Sabbath is the embodiment of a
principle: it is not a day—it is a principle. It is
a principle upon which God has constituted the creation,
in every realm, that there must be a period of rest for
something new. In all nature there has to be a period of
rest, in order to prepare for something new. In our
bodies there has to be a period of rest in order that
there may be something new. In spiritual matters, in
spiritual service, there have to be periods of rest,
during which the Lord can speak and give us something
new—that is the principle of the Sabbath. But even
there, the Lord has very graciously made it possible for
many to have a day a week still, in which to let other
things go, to keep it sacred for the Lord, for spiritual
So, you see, it is the principle that matters, not the outward form. Nothing changes the principle. The principles of all Divine laws are abiding: they are never abrogated, never set aside, never nullified—they still hold good. Jesus went behind the code, and put His finger on the principle of every part of it; and He said: You may not now be governed and ruled by an outward system of ‘Thou shalt’ and ‘Thou shalt not’, you are to be ruled by the Holy Spirit Who observes those things. The Spirit is the Spirit of holiness: no one who lives in the Spirit, therefore, will persistently, habitually, do unholy things, be unholy. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of love: no one who lives in the Spirit will have any other than the Spirit of love, will fail to observe the laws of love, will violate love. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth: no one who lives in and by the Spirit will be untruthful in any sense—and untruthfulness covers not only the saying of things that are not true, but everything in the life that is not absolutely true and real and genuine and honest and transparent. The man or the woman who lives in the Spirit will be a man or a woman of truth, one who is real. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of wisdom, and those who live in the Spirit will have a Divine wisdom governing their lives.
It is life in the Spirit, through the Cross, that is here in view; and it is the crucified man, the crucified woman—or the assembly or the church—who walk and live in the Spirit to whom the Arm of the Lord is revealed. Do we want to know the power of God—God with us, God for us? Then it must be like this—the Cross our ground, the Spirit our life, walking and living as sons of God.