by T. Austin-Sparks
Chapter 7 - The Last Step of the Spiritual Journey
Reading: Gen. 22:1-19.
"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life." (John 3:16).
"He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not also with him freely give us all things?" (Rom. 8:32).
"For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that one died for all, therefore all died; and he died for all, that they that live should no longer live unto themselves, but unto him who for their sakes died and rose again." (2 Cor. 5:14-15).
The story we have read in Genesis 22 is the most holy and sacred scene in all the Old Testament. In all the law of typology, there is nothing which touches such holy depths as that incident. The New Testament counterpart of it, which transcends it, is John 17. In Genesis 22 we are taken away from the earth. We find those concerned leaving the earth level, so to speak, and moving farther and farther away, and up and up as to a heavenly place, and there it is a sacred scene between father and son, son and father, and it is a revelation of matchless love. You cannot read that story without hearing the tones of love in the conversation, the questions and the answers. "My father". "My son". These two are very deep in one another's hearts.
There is a mystery, there is something of a great problem, a great question born of a great necessity, and a necessity which is laid upon both of them, not for any reason in themselves. It is not that they, either of them or both of them have, because of a certain failure, error, wrongdoing or sin, become involved in the necessity of making a great sacrifice and going through a great suffering. That does not enter into it at all. There is a mystery about this. Why must this be? Abraham does not express the question, but no doubt that question was knocking at his heart. There is little doubt but that the cry of his heart was, Why must this be? And certainly it was in Isaac's heart. What is the meaning of this? It is a mystery which lies beyond those who are immediately involved. Love is making a strange and mysterious demand upon the father and upon the son.
I have said that the counterpart in the New Testament is John 17. There it is a sacred scene between the Father and the Son. It opens with, "Father, the hour is come", and how often throughout that chapter that word is heard: "Father". And how clearly throughout there is seen the attitude of the Father to the Son, this mutual infinite love. Yes, it is something very sacred taking place, while in a sense on the earth, yet really in heaven between the Father and the Son. They are working out something, and they are working out the deepest meaning of infinite love.
Divine Love Utterly Selfless
Now, there are profound lessons lying at the heart of this wonderful incident which we are not going to try to investigate, or even touch upon now, but to be content with what lies nearer the surface, what is almost obvious to any quiet and serious reader. We have said it is a revelation of matchless love, and what comes out is that the very essence of love, Divine love, is that it is utterly selfless, that its one motive and one concern is to give. We have been tracing this course of Abraham up to this point, and we have seen how all along in the fulfilment and unto the realisation of the great Divine purpose it was a matter of progressive and constant letting go. That progressiveness of letting go was bringing him nearer and nearer to the very heart of God until, in chapter 22, it seems as though Abraham takes the last step of that spiritual journey into the heart of God. He is lost in that infinite love, he enters into the very passion of the heart of God. God so loved that He gave... He spared not His own Son but freely delivered Him up for us all. "The love of Christ constrains us; because we thus judge, that one died for all" (2 Cor. 5:14). Right into the very heart of God. How deep the Cross had entered into Abraham's heart, into Abraham's soul; how complete is the work of dividing between all natural, personal, earthly, worldly concerns and interests and the interests of God!
Here, at this point, the divide is eternal, the divide is very great indeed. You can see this man and see all the promise that God made concerning this very son and see all that was involved in him. As we said earlier, all the very meaning of Abraham's life was centred and wrapped up in Isaac, and if Isaac went, then Abraham's very meaning in life was gone. When you take everything into account, and then see this man, not lingering to the last moment, not putting it off as long as he could, not setting back the awful hour, but rising early in the morning, starting with the very break of day, preparing everything, moving on a long, toilsome, wearisome journey, going on undeterred. It is wonderful how completely this man is delivered inwardly from all considerations of cost to himself, of all the interests that were personal. Yes, the Cross has entered very deeply into Abraham's life and heart at this point. We almost feel that it is superhuman. We shrink in the presence of this. It is not difficult for us to contemplate certain situations, certain sufferings and costs which might come into life and, even in the contemplation of them, say, I can never go through, I could never face it. If that happened to me, it would destroy my faith. But God was working out in the very inner history of this man the great drama of heaven. God so loved that He gave, and we shall see why in a moment.
The Love of the Father
What we want to note first of all is that the thing began in the heart of the Father; the thing was first of all wrought in the Father. Transferring from the type to the antitype, carrying right over into the New Testament, we read, "God so loved". Oh, how much we have in our New Testament that points to the love of the Father for the Son. Yes, "this is my beloved Son" is more than once declared. Paul speaks of Him as the Son of God's love, "the Father... who delivered us out of the power of darkness, and translated us into the kingdom of the Son of his love" (Col. 1:12,13). The Lord Jesus said, "The Father loveth the Son" (John 3:35). How much there is about the Father's love for the Son, and love is love, however difficult it may be for us to intellectually understand the mysteries of the Godhead, of Divine relationships, and how God could suffer. Here is the fact set forth. It is the great background of grace, the great background of redemption, that the thing began in the heart of God. It is God's love and suffering love, giving love. We must always remember that, difficult as it is to understand, it cost God infinitely to give His Son. There was something in that relationship of the Son to the Father which meant heartbreak for God in letting Him go and in giving Him up. He gave Him up, the Son of His love. This, first of all, then, is the story of the Father's giving love.
The Love of the Son
As to the son, we have not all the details in the narrative in Genesis 22. We are left to assume and conclude certain things. There was a point between that answer of the father, that seeming evasion - "God will provide himself the lamb for a burnt-offering, my son", between that seemingly evasive answer, and the moment when he took hold of his son and bound him and laid him on the altar, there is a point where all the possibility of the son's refusal and resistance could have entered in, for this was not a little boy, a little child, a babe to be picked up and handled like that. You look in the history and you will find that he is a grown lad, he is capable of exercising a will of his own, and at least of demurring and calling this whole thing into question. However, there is nothing of that, "As a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and as a sheep that before its shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth" (Isa. 53:7). There is a great silence there: nothing is said. "He opened not his mouth". He is evidently (and this is another thing not actually related, not actually stated, but clearly included) trusting his father's wisdom, he is trusting his father's love, he is yielding to something which he does not understand and about which there may be a great question. At that last critical moment when death seemed imminent, he might have cried, Why? as did this other and greater: "My God, why...?" (Mark 15:34). Isaac might have raised a lot of questions, but he does not. The question is there, the mystery is there, but the last word is the word of love: "Father, into thy hands..." (Luke 23:46). Yes, "as a sheep that before its shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth."
There lies a large history behind that. Did Isaac know about the covenant, the promise? Surely it is difficult for us to conclude that he did not. Had Abraham never conveyed to him what was bound up with him, how miraculously he had come into being by the intervention of God, and what God had said about him and all that was wrapped up with his very life? Surely he had told Isaac something about that, and Isaac knew, and was aware of all this. Well, in the presence of this altar and this knife, where does the promise come in? Where is the covenant, where is all the justification for my very existence, where is the vindication of my very life? You see, Isaac had a lot to let go also. Isaac was called upon to give up everything that was vested in him by Divine intervention and Divine covenant, and it looked as though this was the end. But he did not demur, and because of the love for his father which is so much in evidence, let go everything to the father, and it was a great 'everything' that he let go in that moment. All was going: all promise, all hope, all purpose, all vision, in that moment of the upraised knife, but he let it go. It is a figure.
We transfer it to the greater Son, and the greater Father. We know that in heaven it commenced. John 17 begins, "Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son..."; and then, later, "Glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was." He has let it all go in heaven. He has come down and none of it is with Him; He is stripped of everything and then for three and a half years He walks the way of letting go. Oh, see how often He lets go! They would have Him stand for His rights; they would have Him vindicate Himself. All the time the appeal of friends and enemies is to vindicate Himself, to hold on, to take, to possess, to assert. His is a course of letting go, letting go to His Father in His love. "I lay down my life" (John 10:15). Those were His words.
The Object of Self-Sacrificing Love
Now, what was the object of it all? What was the object in the case of Abraham and Isaac, which in principle is the same with the Father and the Son: our Lord Jesus? Well, if you look at Genesis 22, you will see what the object is. "By myself have I sworn, saith the Lord, because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, that in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heavens, and as the sand which is upon the seashore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed My voice." What is the object? God had others in view, God had a heavenly people in view. It was a matter of multiplying this kind of person that Abraham had come to be in Isaac. Isaac became the full expression of that spiritual history of Abraham. He gathered it all up. The very word 'sonship' means fulness. Sonship is a full thought. It is not childhood, it is sonship, it is fulness, completeness, and it is the completeness of this position, of this spiritual history in New Testament words, "Though He was a Son, yet learned (He) obedience by the things which He suffered" (Heb. 5:8). He was made "perfect through sufferings" (Heb. 2:10). He became the consummation of suffering love, and God wants to reproduce that kind of person, have a race of people like that, a heavenly people after that order.
So the Son is carried over into the sons. First, God hath "spoken unto us in his Son" (Heb. 1:2), and then, by "bringing many sons to glory" (Heb. 2:10); there is the reproduction of this kind of person in a heavenly people, a multiplying. That law is emphasized, as you see, in the phrase "bringing many sons to glory", or in the illustration given by the Lord Jesus, "Except a grain of wheat fall into the earth and die, it abideth by itself alone; but if it die, it beareth much fruit" (John 12:24). It is the multiplication of this kind, and Christ is that grain of wheat. Isaac was that grain of wheat typically or typologically. The Lord Jesus has no natural progeny, He has no earthly seed, and yet of him it is declared: "He shall see of the travail of his soul" (Isa. 53:11): "He shall see his seed" (Isa. 53:10), and that through travail. The travail of the father and the son on Mount Moriah secured a heavenly people. The travail of God the Father and His Son on another mount and in the immediate vicinity of Mount Moriah resulted in this heavenly Seed, of which you and I, I trust, are a part.
But what is this Seed, what is this heavenly people, what are we supposed to be by very nature, born out of the travail of Jesus Christ? We are supposed to be the very embodiment of this kind of love that is always giving, always yielding, always letting go, that is utterly selfless... That is God's love, that is Christ's love, and the Seed is born of that love, and is to be, by its very nature, the expression of that love.
The Way of Reproduction
You see the history right up to Isaac. Where did it begin? Well, we pointed out that it began in a little clause squeezed into the genealogies of Terah about his sons and then Abram and Abram's wife, Sarai. "And Sarai was barren; she had no child" (Gen. 11:30): just squeezed in for a Divine purpose. That is where it began: in barrenness, an utter unfruitfulness and impossibility of fruitfulness. But, by the way of an inward working of God in love continually letting go; from barrenness to, "I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heavens, and as the sand which is upon the seashore" (Gen. 22:17).
Reverse it, dear friends. Holding on means the establishment of barrenness. If you keep it, hold it, there is no reproduction. Life is a trust; the fulfilment of that trust is in multiplication. That principle is established at the very heart of creation by God Himself. Hold things to yourself and they wither and die, there is nothing that follows on. Keep things locked up within yourself, and it is eternal barrenness. Let go, let go to God.
Ah, and how that is pressed home here! It is not always evil things that are to be let go. When you come to Isaac, there is nothing evil; it is God-given. By a very miracle of God he was given. But you know, it is so easy for us to lay our hands upon God-given things, and hold them for our own use, to ourselves. God has given us some work to do, and before long it is our work and we are very jealous if anybody else interferes with it. God has given us some position to occupy, and then it becomes our position, and we get very upset if someone else gets into our position and takes our place and they are given the credit for doing what we have done or were open to do. It works down to fine points, this taking hold of even Divine things, Divine blessing, and turning it to our glory and to our reputation, making it ours. Yes, a heavenly thing may so easily be dragged down to earth. That is the tragic history of so much work of God. If God does something - visits a people, blesses a servant, or raises up an instrument and a movement, it is not so long before men take hold of it and turn it into their movement with their name attached, bring it down to earth and label it, and the Lord withdraws and leaves it to them to carry on. But it can be personal history too. Let us beware of the purchase upon the things of God and making them ours and being personally jealous.
John 17 - "The hour is come." What hour? That hour of which He had so often spoken from the first time with the marriage in Cana of Galilee. "Mine hour is not yet." Repeatedly on the way He used that phrase, "Mine hour", the great hour of the Cross, and at last the hour is come, it is here. John 17 is the hour of His offering Himself up. Note in that great hour of the Cross and letting go, He says, "that they all may be one"; the fruit of the Cross: the great Divine oneness. Why? How? Because the very fruit of the Cross is the transmission of that infinite love of giving to others. We said that the only possible solution to Christian division and disunity is a heavenly position, born of this divine love of Calvary; the giving love, the letting go love. Somehow, somewhere, in all divisions and all jealousies and all envies, we shall find a holding on to some interest that is earthly. You find a company or lives welded together in an indissoluble, indestructible oneness and you will find there the love of God wrought very deeply into the heart. "That they may be one", one by the giving love of God through the Son transmitted to the Seed.
Yes, this matter of Divine love touches so many points all the way round, and why is there such a passion in our hearts as we do speak in these days about this matter? For this very reason, that tragically, grievously, on this earth so very many of those who bear the name of Christian are drawing to themselves, are standing for their own rights, are jealous, envious, divided. And it is just the contradiction of the Divine thought to have a heavenly people on this earth of this kind; the reproduction of this Seed which is Christ, which is the embodiment of this love that lets go, this love that knows how to yield, this love that is all the time giving. That is what the Lord is after. It represents a deep work of the Cross within, but surely we can accept nothing less than this? Surely we do enter into those words: "For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that one died for all, therefore all died: and he died for all, that they that live should no longer live unto themselves, but unto Him..." (2 Cor. 5:14,15) "The love of Christ constraineth us... not unto ourselves, but unto Him who for our sakes died and rose again". And even Divine things must not be held on to in a personal way. Give God a chance of vindicating, give God a chance of glorifying His Son in you, give God a chance of coming in and showing where He stands in matters by letting go. Keep hold and your life will be barren. Fasten, grip, retain, and there are no children. Let go, yield, give yourself to God, hand over all that about which you are jealous and concerned to the Lord, and He will not decline it. It is the principle of ministry; it is the principle of Life.
I do feel that we need so much more of this grace of our Lord Jesus, this love of God, that gets us out of the picture. So often, as you look at people, you can almost see them occupied with themselves, turned in upon themselves. They are just individuals in themselves, tied up. The love of God should release us from all that sort of thing, to say nothing of worse traits of spitefulness and criticism and hurting one another with words. The Lord's love deliver us from all and make of us part of this heavenly Seed, this heavenly people, really expressing the giving, letting go love of God which comes back a thousand-fold. And do not let us do it for that, to get, but to glorify the Lord. The Lord give us grace!
Now, you have a life, and that life is a great trust, a great responsibility. It can stay in its own ambitions, its own interests, its own worldly concerns and considerations, it can stay by itself. Will you give your life to God, will you let it go to Him, will you put it on the altar and let the knife be taken that God may have it utterly? If you will, God will multiply your life, God will extend your life, God will make much more of it than ever it would have been if you had kept it in your own hands. Have you got something in your life that you are holding on to as a Christian; you are not letting that go to the Lord? You know what it is. I should miss it if I tried to catalogue the things it might be. You know you have something where you are not letting go to the Lord. The Lord has put His finger on something, and you are holding on. You have an argument which you think is a very good argument. You have a reason you think perfectly good, so you are holding on. Deep down the truth is you are not prepared to let that go.
Has the Lord spoken to you and shown you something or indicated some way that He wants and you laid hold of that like Terah, and are going to press through on that at all costs? And the 'all costs' in this case means cost to other people, and you are going to make them suffer by the way in which you are going to do what you believe to be God's will. There are times when, in recognition that a certain course is the Lord's way, we have to wait for the Lord's time and see to it that our strength of will coming into alliance with some purpose of God is not jeopardizing the fruitfulness of that thing, and doing other people harm and making other people suffer. There are times when we have to come back to the Lord and say, "Lord, You have shown me that is Your way for me, but I can see that it is going to involve others in a great deal of suffering. I do want to be sure of Your time in this, and that I am not taking hold of it; it is not my strength of will to do Your will. I want to do this thing in self-sacrificing love, so that the least loss shall be suffered by others." We have seen people who are right as to their objective, right as to what the Lord wants, but the way in which they do it often spoils the whole thing. They take hold of Divine things, and while the thing is right, they are spoiling it by bringing their own strength of will into alliance with it. This applies in many ways. We must be circumcised in heart to do the will of God, ready to let go and let God determine the way to accomplish it.
May the Lord interpret His Word and make it fruitful. I know it is challenging. It searches us all; we shall all come up against it. But oh, see what happened in heaven, and see that He desires that as it is in heaven, so it shall be on earth.
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