The Cross and God's Eternal Purpose

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 1 - God's Plan

Readings: Eph. 1:11; 3:11. Romans 8:28. 2 Tim. 1:9. Col. 1:27.

What appears in the first instance in these passages is the fact that God has a definite purpose in view or, as other versions translate, that everything is ordered after a set plan.

Then we see that that purpose has to do with a mystery which has been hid from ages. It is Paul to whom the Lord has revealed in a special way that mystery, and who, therefore, speaks of a Gospel which he calls his Gospel, glad tidings, which were not given him by men, but by the Lord Himself.

This mystery is gathered up in Christ Jesus, with a view to the fulfilment of the purpose of God in Christ Jesus finding its full development through the church. It is the work of the Holy Spirit to lead us into the fulfilment of God's eternal purpose as to our lives. Our lives become definite and steadfast in the measure in which we recognise clearly this purpose and plan of God.

There are two things which must be considered in a special way.

Firstly, that no one apart from the Holy Spirit knows what that eternal purpose of God is. Those who have worked most for God would have been unable to recognise God's purposes without the help of the Holy Spirit. Although God's plan is laid down in the Old Testament, the New Testament only reveals it to us. In the light of the New Testament only do we see in the types and symbols of the Old Testament what God wanted from the beginning, in order to realise it in the fulness of time.

Secondly, we have to note that our fruitfulness in the service of the Lord depends on how much we co-operate with God with regard to His eternal purpose and aim. For everyone who has been called into the service of the Lord there comes, sooner or later, a time when he recognises that all his own effort and work is for nothing; that it does not only mean to die to the world, to sin and to self, but that to be crucified with Jesus must embrace our service also. But then, when we have denied ourselves in that respect also, when our hope for fruitful work rests only and solely on the confidence that God Himself is going to work out everything in us, will our work bring forth abiding fruit.

Let us, in view of what we have said, recognise:

1. The absolute necessity that the Holy Spirit should reveal Christ in us.
2. The absolute government and leadership of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.
3. The complete subjection of our lives to Christ.
4. The absolute necessity that our life should be completely guided and directed after God's Word alone.

Having arrived there, where these principles fill us, work in us, and direct us, God will commit Himself to us, He will take over the responsibility of our ministry, and all things, whatever they may be, will work together for good. The "good" will then no longer be merely our wellbeing, and the fulfilment of our desires. The "good" is the realisation of the will of God, so that all things serve this one and exclusive purpose. In the life of the Apostle Paul were many things which seem to the natural man not "good" at all, and even less pleasant. But Paul says that they had been contributory to the extension of the Gospel, and to the manifesting of its power.

What can we do other than say, out of the depth of our heart, Lord, bring my life completely into line with Thy eternal purpose! When that is done, when that happens, there will be, even in the humblest, most remote life, eternal possibilities; nothing, absolutely nothing, will remain without significance and importance. Everything stands in the realisation of the highest good; everything serves the fulfilment of God's eternal plan. The many things will cease; in their place there will be the one thing. Activities which before had been valued as a sign of good work will give place to the quiet, deepening work of the Holy Spirit, that He may give His time to all, that He may show us everything in its true light, and all things may serve the one goal.

We know now that God works after a definite plan. We shall see that God is using special methods in the realisation of this plan. There must be a recognition that God, in the bringing forth of His eternal purpose, works after specific times.

An uninterrupted close walk in the Spirit with the Father made it possible for the Son to know moment by moment what the Father wanted, so that nothing was ineffective by its being done at the wrong time. The watchword of our Lord, with which we meet so often, is: "Mine hour..." His whole life was concentrated in the hour, and directed toward it. Every act of His was in relation to this hour. And when He said: "Father, the hour is come," His life was accomplished, and that exactly in the hour the Father had appointed for Him.

We are so often defeated because we are not one with our Lord in His time. It would be of tremendous significance for our whole life if we were all the time conscious that the specific purpose has also its specific time.

When God begins to use us, in order to realise His eternal purpose with us in a fuller way, we must not be surprised if spiritual conflict and spiritual sufferings are bound up with it. When Abraham had received the promise (Genesis 15) and asked for a special sign, he was given the grace to share in the sufferings of God for the preparation of His people. When the sun went down a great fear came upon Abraham, and "an horror of great darkness fell upon him." Previously he had offered the sacrifices, pointing to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the Cross of Calvary. He had to fight against the fowls which came down to take away the sacrifices. In that horror of darkness Abraham experienced in some way the anguish and suffering related to the deliverance of a people after four hundred and thirty years of captivity in Egypt. God gave him a share in His own sufferings; and how could God honour His fellow-workers more?

So we see Daniel wrestling in prayer for his people. We see him in great anguish, because of the history which had been shown to him.

Paul speaks of being ready to fill up in his flesh that which is yet lacking of the afflictions of Christ for the Body's sake, His Church.

The highest honour wherewith God can honour us is when He makes us fellow-workers to whom He reveals His plan, and whom He uses as instruments for its fulfilment, and who may share in the sufferings which are bound up with it.

The knowledge of God's eternal plan is given us by the Word. It was a mystery throughout the ages. In the Old Testament everything points to the future, to Christ. He gathers up everything in Himself, and everything becomes in Him highest reality. But then this fulness which is in Him is given to His Church, and from that point on our eyes are not only directed forward but backward also.

The mystery of which the Scriptures speak has three parts:

1. It relates to the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. That is why the Scriptures speak of the "mystery of Christ."
2. It relates to the individual believer, whose relationship with Christ is called by Paul a mystery, the mystery "Christ in you."
3. It relates to the corporate assembly, His Church.

We know that the Ark of the Covenant represents the Lord Jesus Christ. Because the Philistines did not recognise that, it meant death and destruction to them. When they had captured the Ark, and triumphantly set it up in the temple of Dagon, they found Dagon smashed before the Ark of the Covenant. Wherever the Ark came there was sickness and death. The "mystery of Christ" was effective in judgment. The Ark of the Covenant manifested itself as "a savour of death unto death," because some did not approach it by the way God had appointed.

The individual believer is in a similar way a mystery to his surroundings. The world cannot understand that he remains perfectly calm in all things, full of peace and joy. The world cannot understand that death does not make him afraid, and that all his hope is set upon that which the human mind cannot grasp. It is the mystery of the Christ in us, which works in such a wonderful way, and leads men to recognise that Christ is verily risen and lives in His own.

This testimony is especially committed to the whole. It is given to the Church to confirm again and again the fact of the resurrection by the consciousness of her heavenly position, and a walk in the power of the new life. We must not wonder that the enemy is making tremendous efforts to rob the Church of her secret. We must not wonder if he tries to constitute her an earthly matter, a popular Church which may be occupied with social activities, but whose heavenly nature and heavenly being must not appear. We have to say that the enemy has unfortunately succeeded all too well to drag the Church down on to an earthly level, to make her something for men, governed by men, so that her salt and her light has been lost in a great measure.

If we will, as an assembly, co-operate to realise the eternal plan, then we must see to it that we, in every individual member, are filled with the mystery "Christ in you;" that we know in a living way what our heavenly position, our heavenly vocation, our heavenly ministries are, in order to stand as those who represent the Body of Christ on this earth, in such power and such fulness that their Head is "glorified in them." (John 17).

Hebrews 1:1-14.

Christendom of our day has become for many a system of diverse teachings. For the believers at the beginning of Christianity it was not a matter of teaching, but only and solely to know the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. All that which belongs to Christian life and Christian experience, all that which embodies teaching and truth, all the orderings in the Church, yes, the Church itself in its purpose and nature, is, in the New Testament, in closest relation to the knowledge which is presented in Christ Jesus Himself. To know Him means to know every other thing. Therefore we must not be surprised if the longing of the Apostle right to the end of his life is this one only: "To know Him and the power of His resurrection."

To lead us into the knowledge of Jesus Christ is the ministry of the Holy Spirit, because He only sees and beholds the One "in whom we are made full," or complete. Jesus Christ is the embodiment of all that which relates to God. In Him appears what was in the thought of God. He is the perfect revelation of God. "He that hath seen Me, hath seen the Father." How foolish it is to try by this or that teaching, separated from the whole truth, to represent Christ. Our need is that we possess the whole, not making ourselves advocates of this truth or that truth, and thus giving away the truth which in itself is one, complete, connected.

The prophet Ezekiel has to give us, in connection with this, a serious lesson. In chapters 40-47 the full measure of our Lord Jesus Christ is shown to us, because, if in those chapters there is so much said about measures, almost nothing else but measures, what does this mean other than that God wants to tell us most clearly, and bring before our eyes most vividly, that everything depends on His measure.

Chapter 43 verse 10 says: "Shew the house to the house of Israel." Jesus Christ is the pattern which God has appointed for us. He is the embodiment of all the thoughts of God. If nothing is said of the glory of this temple, if we meet again measures only, it means that the glory of God cannot come in unless the measure of God is complete. Therein lies the message of these chapters. And have we not to confess that the thoughts and purposes of God for His people, His Church, have been lost very largely; that human thoughts have intruded themselves, that human principles have gained ground in the Church. The more we possess in our hearts a living knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, the more the fulness and glory of God will become great and manifest to us.

What we need, therefore, is to know the Lord Jesus Christ as those who do not ask many questions, but who desire to know one thing only, how to walk through Him (as did Ezekiel through the Temple) after the good pleasure of God. The Holy Spirit can reveal Jesus Christ in our hearts as to every detail in our lives. And only in the measure in which the Holy Spirit reveals Jesus Christ to us does He solve also, at the same time, all our problems; because the answer to all our problems is Jesus Christ.

For Paul Christ was the unveiling of a heavenly world. From the time he saw the Lord the earthly order of things had gone for him. It was gone with the crucified One, and for ever set aside. The Risen One meant "all things new." In Him everything was raised to a new life, and that life was the perfect expression of the Son of God Himself. He was the measure, the fulness of all things. Everything has to be according to Him; everything has to be a reflection of Himself. Paul has accepted in all its consequences the separating line which God had drawn on the Cross between himself and the old world. "The world is crucified to me..."

We know very little of this uncompromising, unreserved position, and turning to this new thing. That is why the goal is only dimly recognised, and the methods are so little of a Divine nature. May the Lord be pleased to turn our eyes away from all that which is of man, and direct them fully and entirely on Christ Himself.

May a deep longing after a fuller knowledge of our Lord fill our hearts. May Jesus, and He as the Risen One, permeate our thinking and life, so that everything is according to His Nature and Being, His measure and His Will. We need Him, not only some teachings about Him. Filled with Christ, the Church has to be His testimony to the world, a testimony which cannot be overlooked, a testimony in the power of His resurrection.

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