"Written Not With Ink"
by T. Austin-Sparks

Meeting 3 - The Effect of Living Epistles

23 February 1957 at Hsinchu, Taiwan.

I want you to turn to the Gospel by Luke in chapter eight, and I would like you to have this chapter open before you, although we are not going to read it all. We will read just one or two verses:

"And it came to pass afterward, that he went throughout every city and village, preaching and shewing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God: and the twelve were with him, and certain women, which had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary called Magdalene, out of whom went seven devils, and Joanna the wife of Chuza Herod's steward, and Susanna, and many others, which ministered unto him of their substance."

Now we go back to the first verse again, "it came to pass afterward, that He went throughout every city and village, preaching and shewing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God." I wonder if you notice exactly what is happening here. As some of us have come to you today in the Gospel bus, we have called at some places on the way here and if the Lord wills, we shall be leaving the next morning and going to the cities and villages of this island. We are doing exactly what the Lord did here in this verse. It said He went about through cities and villages, preaching and bringing the good tidings of the kingdom of God. Well, it is a good thing to be doing the same kind of thing as the Lord Jesus did, but I want you to study this verse because there is something here that is of great importance both to Christian life and to Christian service.

I expect that in this place tonight there are three kinds of people. There may be some people who do not know the Lord Jesus in a living way; to them we bring the good tidings of the kingdom of God. Then, there are Christians who do know the Lord. Well, we are going to have something to say to you. And then perhaps there are servants of the Lord here, and there is a word here for them also.

Living Proof

Now notice how Luke described this work. He said Jesus went about through cities and villages and then he tells us that Jesus did two things. These two things are not the same thing. He said, "preaching and bringing good tidings". Perhaps you think they are the same thing. Well, why did Luke use two different words? If preaching was enough, why did he not just use the word "preaching", why did he add the word, "bringing"? Well, that is a very important thing for us to notice because Luke immediately goes on to tell us that with Jesus were the twelve disciples and certain women.

You see, it is one thing to preach the good tidings, it is another thing to bring the good tidings in the presence of people who have been changed in their lives by the good tidings. It is one thing to talk about it, and it is another thing to bring it. And here it is; He brought the good tidings in the presence of these people. He did not only preach the Gospel, He brought the Gospel in person, He was able to say, "It is not only what I am talking about here, it is in the proof of Life." Now that is a very important thing for us of course, and to the unsaved people it said one thing. If there are any unsaved people here tonight, I want to say this to them: It is not just that we are talking to you about Jesus Christ, it is not that we are just preaching some doctrine, it is that we are able to tell you that there are lives that are the very proof that that preaching is true. We would ask you to do more than listen to what we say. We would like you to look at Mary Magdalene and these other people who have come to prove that this Gospel is a very true thing. So we do not ask you just to accept certain things that we say, we ask you to look and see whether this is true, and the answer will be found, not in things that we preach, but in the lives of people around you. You see, the proof of the Gospel is in the lives that the Gospel has changed.

Living Testimony

Now the word to the Christians. You see, that is what we are Christians for. Why are we Christians? Is it just that we should be saved, that we should have peace with God, that we should have joy in our hearts, that we should know we are going to heaven... is that all? Oh no, there is something more than that. We are Christians in order to bear the truth that the Gospel is truth. You see, Jesus took these men and these women with Him to wherever He went, and He was able to say in every village and in every city, "These are the proof of what I am preaching to you".

I am not saying that is why I am coming with a Gospel bus full of people, but I am saying that is the real purpose of the Christian life. You and I ought, in our very life, to be proving that the Gospel is true. Do you want to know that the Gospel of the kingdom of God is true? Then look at my life, see what Jesus has done in me, see the great change that He has made. That is the real purpose of our being Christians. It is to be the evidence that proves that the Gospel is true.

Living Work

Now for the Christian workers, there is a word here for you. This represents the Lord's method in building His Church. There must always be something present that is of God. God does not build His Church just by words that have been spoken. You see, if that were so, how much more building there would be. You think of all the preaching that goes on every week over all this world, and perhaps in the countries where there is no preaching there is the least building. If it were only a matter of preaching, then the Church would grow tremendously. But it is not just the preaching, it is not just talking about the Gospel, for the Lord's principle of building is to have something there which is of Himself and then to add to that. It says in the book of the Acts that the Lord added to the Church. The Lord had a real representation of His mind and He added to that. He did not just add because people preached, He got something that was of God and He added to that.

Now you see that here in the cities and the villages there was something that was of God. To begin with, as we said this afternoon, Jesus represents that which was of God, and then these men and women represented something of God. And it was as though God was taking that to the cities and villages; gathering to them and adding to that. You see that is exactly what happened.

Now notice two things when we come to the end of the life of the Lord Jesus, when He was crucified, the multitude of the people were not with Him, but were against Him. There were some times in His life when great multitudes gathered round Him and at the end of His life, the multitudes had left Him. But when you go over later to one of Paul's letters, this is a very interesting thing. Paul was speaking of how the Lord Jesus came to him on the road to Damascus, but he said that before that happened, after His resurrection, the Lord Jesus appeared to 120 people and then on another occasion, He appeared to about 500 at once. There was a group of 120 and there was another group of over 500 and Jesus appeared to these after His resurrection. Who were they? Where had they come from? They came out of these cities and villages. You see, there they had been added to Christ; there they became the very nucleus of the Church. That is how the Church is built. The Lord must have something of Himself to which to add.

Now, do you want the Church in this city to grow? Well, do the preaching, preaching by words, and preaching by Gospel jackets and in any way, but do remember that that is only half of the business. One half is the preaching of the Gospel of the Kingdom of God, the other half is having the evidence that it is true. That is, that there is a body of people who prove that what you preach is true. That is necessary for building the church.

Supposing you just preach and then people came along and they did not see the Lord Jesus in you men and women, they did not see Him in you, then this Gospel that you have preached is but in vain. The building up of the Church is by having something there by which the Lord can really add to it. To have the preaching be effective, there must be something of God present.

Being Effective

Well, there are our three words to three different kinds of people. Having said that, I want to say another thing. What was it that Jesus was really doing in going to the cities and villages? The answer is this: He was finding out what there was in any place for God. He came into this city and He was finding out what there was in that city for God. He came into this village and He was finding out what there was in this village for God. Do you notice immediately after this we are told that He spoke the parable of the sower? Notice in verse four, "and when a great multitude came together, and were come to Him out of every city, and to them then He spoke a parable of the sower who went forth to sow." I expect everybody here knows the parable of the sower, I need not read it all, but what was the effect of the sowing? The effect of the sowing of the seed was to find what was of God.

Now, three kinds of people reacted to the sowing of the seed. Indeed, four kinds of people, but only one-fourth part of them proves that they really did mean business with God. The other three classes never really went on with the Lord. So the Lord was finding out where people really did mean business with Him, what there is on this earth for God. So the Word of God divided people. It divides people really into two main classes: those who do not mean business with God, and those who do. That is what the preaching is for and that is what Christians are for. We are here to have that effect in this world.

The effect of our being here in this world ought to be one thing or the other. It ought not to be that there is no effect in this world. Our presence here ought to have this effect: that some people decide they are not going to have it; people are forced to be in opposition. It may be that they say, "Well, I am not going your way!" or it may be that they begin to fight against you. Well, nevertheless you are having an effect. On the other side, it must make other people say, "Yes, I am coming with you." You see, the presence of God should lead to a definite decision, whether it is yes or no.

I am sorry that it is necessary to say that, because there are very many Christians in this world who are not creating that kind of issue. Men look at them and they don't feel they have got to do anything at all. They say neither "no" or "yes". The Christians are not strong enough to make the people make a definite decision. Again, what are we here for? Well, it is to create that effect. People should say no or yes. That is the effect of the presence of Jesus in this world, and that was the effect of these apostles after Jesus had gone to heaven. No one was able to remain indifferent. Well, I say again: that is what we are here for. If there is really something of God present, then that is what will happen. That will find out what there is for God, and it will separate between those who are going to be for God and those who will not. It is important that it should be like that.

Now, there is a very great deal more in this chapter, but I have no time for that, perhaps I will just leave this here and give an illustration. Paul has given us a wonderful illustration of this. You will find it in 2 Corinthians 2:14-16, "Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of his knowledge by us in every place. For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish: To the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life." Now perhaps you don't recognise this illustration that the apostle is giving. What he is talking about is this: he was bringing before these people something with which they were quite familiar. A Roman General had been out to war and of course, as usual in those days, the Romans won the war and this great General had brought back many prisoners with him. They were all on a chain behind his chariot, so that he was leading them in the train of his triumph and at every different given point, the whole procession would stop and there they had a celebration of his victory. The General would wave his hand in the direction of his prisoners and he would say, "These are the evidence of my victory. You have heard that I have won the war and that is not only a report in the newspaper, here is the proof. These prisoners have been the proof that I have been victorious." And this procession would go on in another place, they would have another celebration and then they would go on again. This is what it means that there must be something unto God, but there was another thing that happened. It was decided that certain prisoners would have to be put to death, they were the men who got to die, and there were certain other prisoners who would not be put to death and their lives would be spared.

Now, at these places where they stopped their procession, the priest built an altar and on this altar he offered incense. And as the incense went up, then everybody would smell the incense and those prisoners who were condemned to die would be killed, and the prisoners whose lives would be spared would then be set free. Now Paul said that we are in the procession of the triumph of Jesus, but we have these two effects in this world. We are a sweet incense of Christ, but the effect upon some people will be death because they rebel against Jesus Christ; they will not have Him as their Lord and their Master, they will not say, "Yes, He is the Victor," therefore they are condemned. But on the other hand, there are those who say, "Oh yes! Jesus is the Lord! Jesus is the Victor!" We answer to that and the effect of our preaching is to set them free. It is a wonderful picture that Paul gives us, it shows us what Christians are here for.

Paul himself was one of the prisoners of Jesus Christ, and he said "Jesus is leading me from place to place" and Jesus is saying to us today, "Do you want to know that I am Victor, that I really have won this great war against sin and Satan? If you want to know that then look at Paul!" That is what we are here for. The Lord should be able to point to us and say, "Here is evidence of My victory!" and if men will not have that, they will come into condemnation. And if they will have that, they will come into salvation. Jesus went through the cities and villages preaching and bringing good tidings of the Kingdom of God. Some said "No" and were condemned to death; others said "Yes" and came into Life.

Now I asked the Lord when we started this morning to make 2 Corinthians 2:14-16 true in our experience in these places we go to; that in every place we will have the celebration of the victory of Christ. I think we are having that tonight. May the Lord lead you in the train of His triumph, and by you celebrate the victory of Christ in your life: positively effective in making men and women who say "Yes" or "No".

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