by T. Austin-Sparks
Chapter 4 - The Paralysis of a Spiritual Irregularity
From observation of the maladies which come upon the people of God and bring arrest to His work through them, we have been much impressed with the fact that the violation of a Divine order is the cause of much trouble. If it is true that what God is doing in this age is not just saving individuals as such but in constituting a "Body" and building a "House" by the addition of each saved one, then the right position in each is vital to its perfect functioning and its heavenly order. There is an order, and there is a position for each member. It is not given to us - let us say it with emphasis - it is not given to us to appoint the place or to manipulate into position. That is the work of the Holy Spirit. What we do say is that each member has his or her place and God knows what it is. Under the sovereignty of the Holy Spirit each member should come into that place. If they fail to do so or get into a wrong place, they fail in their essential ministry and upset the effectiveness of the Body.
"God hath set." Articulation is essential to life. "Unto each is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ" (Eph. 4:7).
"Having therefore, gifts differing according to grace" (Rom. 12:6).
There are not a few illustrations of dislocation and irregularity in the Scriptures:-
Dathan and Abiram and their company (Numbers 6).
Aaron and Miriam (Numbers 12).
Saul going over the head of Samuel (1 Sam. 13:9).
Uzziah presuming into the priest's office (2 Chron. 26).
Paul has very much to say on matters of order in the Church, and it is not merely the individual position which is of importance, but the relative factor and element. Independent action is as dangerous as dislocation, it robs of covering and protection and exposes to enemy forces. There is a heavenly order, a spiritual system, and the relationships and ministries of believers are to be upon those spiritual principles and a reflection of that heavenly order.
What Paul says about woman's place in ministry and the domestic relationships of the saints can only be understood and appreciated in this light.
When one called of God to do the work of an evangelist assumes the role of a teacher, or vice-versa, or anyone marked out for this particular functioning attempts to do that, or when one goes beyond their scope and assumes any prerogative which is not theirs by Divine ordering, they are in the way of an arrested ministry, and more, they will be landed into serious confusion. People and things - otherwise occupying a vital position in the Divine plan - put into their wrong places have the Divine unction withdrawn from them. This becomes manifest and the spiritually undiscerning conclude that the thing or the person is outside of the Divine purpose and accordingly they rule them out. Thus much confusion and loss ensues.
Undoubtedly in New Testament times the recognition of the corporate nature of the Church and the definite prayer which followed the baptism of everyone who thereby testified to their identification with Christ was the initial establishing of this relative position and this truth of articulation, adjustment, and function. The Holy Ghost came in and took up the superintendence from that time, and any disorder thenceforth was against Him. In these few lines we have encircled a very wide and important field of truth and would plead for a prayerful retracing step by step with the Word. The Holy Spirit's method is to set His seal upon us as we move according to His leading; not according to our fancy, choice, aptitude, predilection or ambition.
(We have not yet covered all the ground concerning spiritual paralysis, but we feel led to move to another subject just now. Doubtless we shall come back to finish the aforesaid.)
Probably a larger place is given in the Scriptures to the subject of spiritual sight and spiritual blindness than to any other matter relating to life in union with God. One has only to call to mind such common words as: light, darkness; sight, eyes, revelation, vision; knowledge, ignorance; understanding, wisdom, foolishness, error, lies; day, night, etc, to realise how true this is, for all these are related to the inner perception and the organ of spiritual discernment as quickened by the Holy Spirit.
Spiritual enlightenment and vision is clearly and definitely shown in the Word of God to be basic to-
2. Growth in holiness and power.
3. Vocation and service.
4. The Oneness and effectiveness of the "Body of Christ."
Hence all these designations of the Adversary, e.g., "Darkness," "Deceiver," "Liar," "Blinder," reveal that to prevent salvation, hinder spiritual growth, destroy ministry, and bring about a weakening schism in the corporate testimony he will by any conceivable means interfere with spiritual enlightenment, to prevent, confuse, injure, or deceive. Let us make a sweep of this field by saying right at the outset that the entire matter of life - growth, cohesiveness, holiness, fellowship, concerted action, effectual fulfillment of the Divine purpose rests upon a true spiritual and heavenly vision. While on the other hand death, paralysis, stagnation, barrenness, disintegration, schism, conflict, divisions, bitterness, wrath, hatred, malice, evil-speaking, personal engrossment; susceptibility, hyper-sensitiveness; criticism, jealousies, offences; defeat, contradiction, chaos, defilement, deadlock, are fruits of-
(a) A loss or absence of a true or adequate heavenly vision.
(b) A false - or merely mental - as differing from a vital - vision.
THE vision - not the mental concept - but THE vision which is living is that of Christ Crucified as the All-inclusive, All-pre-eminent, All-pervading, All-sufficient, All-mighty Sovereign Head; "the Lamb in the midst of the Throne." This vision will lead to everything else mentioned, and only as it grows will there be an adequate motive for all included in salvation, sanctification, vocation, oneness.
This vision is essentially and inseparably bound up with the Cross. For it the Cross is demanded. The Cross alone makes it possible. All that hinders and limits it is dealt with in and by the Cross. It is only given on the ground of Calvary, and it for evermore makes the Cross an abiding necessity as a working force.
Seeing then that spiritual vision is the basis and axis of all, it is no wonder that against it the enemy uses all his devices which are as many as his legions. His methods vary with the people with whom he has to deal. They cannot be tabulated and listed, but we hope ere we are through with this subject, to state the principle by which they may all be detected. Our method we feel will be, in following out this theme, to deal with the spheres, the nature, the causes of defective spiritual sight; the nature, the basis, and the need of spiritual vision, initial and progressive. The spheres relate to the realm out of Christ and in Christ, and deal with-
(a) The natural man.
(b) The carnal mind.
(c) The place of spiritual progress.
(d) The realm of service and ministry.
(e) The corporate life of "the Church - the Body of Christ."
The nature of defective sight will cover the various forms which are illustrated in the physical realm.
All these have their causes, to understand which is to discover the remedy.
We shall find it impossible to be too emphatic in our declaration that one of the most vital organs and faculties of the spiritual life, upon which hangs greater and more issues than any other is that spiritual perception - the eye of the heart or spirit. Without this, progress must be slow, hesitating, blundering, and fraught with many calamities.
For special ministry in the Body of Christ a special gift of spiritual discernment is imparted by the "One Spirit," but discernment is surely intended to be a normal condition in a live member of that Body; yet how few give evidence of possessing it in any measure sufficient to safeguard themselves from error, or even provide for them a ground of certitude and assurance.
But we have anticipated our subject a little, let us return to the first sphere which is that of
Nature's Darkness; Sightless Eyes
In this realm all the children of Adam; who are yet such, are gathered and over the portal of this domain many inscriptions may be read, each one telling of their condition as in darkness, but the one which seems to make their condition so hopeless is this "Neither can they know" (1 Corinthians 2:14).
This, of course, does not mean that the saving truth is withheld from without, but that in them there is no organ capable of taking hold of that truth. The faculty has been destroyed and even though they would see and perceive it is not in themselves to do so. Unless with the presentation of the light and the truth there is also given a capacity to perceive and apprehend, then their condition is indeed hopeless. But let us look in and see who these are and what they are. We may be surprised and astonished, for surely such a condition seems to speak of gross wickedness and deep depths of flagrant iniquity. Well, that depends upon your standpoint; from God's, yes, but from man's - not necessarily and not always. Here truly will be found such as are sinners manifest to all; here heathens who are often referred to by the "civilised" (?) as "sitting in darkness" (what a false comparison!), but here also are included the most enlightened by the light of civilisation as such. Here are some of the greatest brains the world has known. Here are multitudes of the most scholarly and learned. Here are even many whose researches have led them far into the realms of theology and theosophy. Yes, they include many who have held place in ministry and office in what is called "The Church." Many of these live lives which from man's point of view are morally almost flawless. And yet, and yet, with all they do not know in that realm and in that vital way which is "life," eternal life, because Divine and not human life.
Look again! What is their description? "The natural man receiveth not... neither can he know the things of the Spirit of God." It should be well known by now that that word "natural" in the Greek is psychical. Perhaps the faulty translation is not altogether unfortunate for the natural man is the psychical man, and the psychical man is the natural man. He is a different species - so to speak - from the spiritual man. As the word implies the psychical man is entirely governed and bound by reason, feeling, volition, within a world of sense. But the things of the Spirit of God are not in that realm in the first instance. True, spiritual forces can and do register themselves upon psychical apparatus, but the psychical apparatus does not know them (hence the delusion and deception of spiritism), and this is true to the absolute in the matter of the things of God. Not only the delusion of spiritism has its ground in the psychical as a registering apparatus, but the entire counterfeit of the truly spiritual or divinely spiritual is in this realm. Evangelism, "Apostolic" teaching and practice (?), "Pentecostal" experience (?), prayer force, and even exorcism can all be merely psychical. Signs, sensations, impacts, can be psychically produced by the use of the most orthodox New Testament language and doctrine, even the Name and the Blood of Jesus may be employed in terms and language.
There is only one sure safeguard against the colossal delusion by which multitudes will be carried away in the latter days, and that is a clear apprehension of the teaching of the Holy Spirit concerning soul and spirit and the continual operation of the Cross in the realm of the "natural" man.
No, the natural man CANNOT! He may be full of religious knowledge, emotions or feelings, and activities, but if the Bible thunders more than speaks on any matter, it is this: that such can be the most mistaken and deceived.
The highest reach of genius comes far short of the lowest degree of Divine inspiration and revelation.
Christianity is not a system of philosophy but a revelation to faith. The Bible does not argue this truth, it simply affirms it as fact and in its own language describes its nature.
Man cannot by searching find out God. There is nothing that man can do which will be in itself a basis of that knowledge which to possess is "life eternal."
"Thus," you will say, "what is the use of preaching, why call upon men in the name of the Lord to listen to and obey the gospel?" The answer has two sides. As to those preached to, they can adopt an attitude. They can manifest a desire or willingness. They can face one way or the other. There is a double blindness of which we yet have to speak which comes upon those who being among the "can-nots" of nature, place themselves among the "will nots" by deliberate choice. The attitude which recognises the fact of "cannot" and faces toward the light in willingness to see provides God with the needed opportunity for working His work.
On the other hand all preaching which is of any avail to salvation must be in faith and in the Holy Ghost. Faith, because there is no ground of apprehension in man apart from the action of God, and in the Holy Ghost because He alone can impart the "faith unto salvation" and the ability to apprehend on the part of the unsaved. Hence, man cannot be saved when he likes and chooses. It is not given to man to fix the time when he shall "accept Christ," any more than it is in the power of the blind to decide when they shall have eyes. The Lord Jesus alone can "open the eyes of the blind." He came to do it and is still willing to do it, but there is constantly coming for many the time when
"Jesus of Nazareth has passed by."
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