God's Method and Means in Times of Special Peril

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 1 - Divine Reinforcement

The burden that has been on my heart for some time in relation to this time, is God’s Method and Means in Times of Special Peril - how God meets particular perils at particular times. There are such times in every connection, the Bible contains many times of particular and peculiar peril in the life of the people of God and shows us how God moved to meet the situation at such times. And there are such times in the life of the Lord’s people continually, times when things have come to a turning point, a crisis. That is true in the history of the church again and again, even since New Testament times, and it is true in the life of any company of the Lord’s people locally when, for some reason, the situation is critical. A turning point has been reached. And at such times it is very important to know how the Lord would meet such situations and such need. That is in general what we are going to be occupied with at this time.

May I remind you of a provision which the Lord made in the construction of the Tabernacle, as it is called.

The Tabernacle in the Wilderness

Some of you will recall a reference to this. The Lord gave instruction that in the erection of the boards of the Tabernacle, at the corners there should be an extra board, reinforcing the turning point. Of course, corners are always delicate things, perilous things. Turning points are always fraught with tremendous possibilities. You come up to that point and now a turn is going to be made; a new course is going to be followed, and that turning point has got to be negotiated with much wisdom. Something extra must come in there to cover it. And in that infinite wisdom of God - the recognition, not only of the weakness of a corner in natural things, but the perils connected with turning points in spiritual life - the Lord made and makes a provision; He covers it, prescribes for it. And as in the boards of the Tabernacle, there must be some real reinforcement at that delicate and dangerous point of crisis.

We might just dwell for a moment or two upon the Tabernacle, we come back to it again presently. You know that it was, in type, the shrine of God's testimony. It is called the "Tabernacle of Testimony", or "The Testimony". The shrine of God's testimony. In type it was what Paul calls, in his letter to the Colossians, "the mystery of Christ" - the mystery of Christ - the shrine of the mystery of Christ into which no natural eyes may peer. And in this shrine of the testimony of God concerning His Son, Jesus Christ, there are these turning points. As we have said, they are always precarious places and times, for the testimony is involved, God's testimony concerning His Son is involved. And if something goes wrong here, if something goes wrong now, it's going to have very serious effects in the future. The next phase of things is going to be affected by what happens as we turn this corner, by just how far we negotiate this present difficult situation - in our lives, or in the work of God, or in the history of the Lord's people, locally or generally - the future is involved.

We come up to this point: here are the boards all leading up to it, and now from this point a new course has to be taken; but oh, this new course has got to be very, very carefully safeguarded. I think you see what it is that we have in mind. All that has been in the past, all the labour, the work, the suffering, and the cost, may be hazarded at any point of crisis by any weakness, or lack of care, when we come to this issue. All the future may be made unsafe, weak, and be clouded by regrets, if this turning point is unguarded.

You are no doubt wondering what is in mind, "Now what is he getting at? What turning points? Where are the crises?" and so on. Well, you wait, and I think you'll see that this is not just some general statement of truth, obvious truth, it has some very serious points of application. Now we can go on, having introduced the matter.

It is with such a turning point in the Church's history, and the Lord's way of handling it, that we are brought when we take up Paul's two letters to Timothy. Shall I repeat that? When we take up Paul's two letters to Timothy we find ourselves right there at one of the major turning points in the history of the Church - a turning point fraught with momentous issues; and those issues have thrown their shadows right down the centuries and are with us today. We need to know what was God's provision (which remains as His provision) to meet that which came in at the turn of the road then, for the values that we have given us here in these two letters (and you'll never call them 'little' letters again after today or after this weekend, if ever you have!) the values which we have in these two letters of Paul to Timothy were meant to cover this whole age, because the Spirit who gave these letters through Paul, saw what was happening and how far-reaching it would be. And what (let me repeat) is of general and comprehensive importance here, has its own application to all those minor crises in our own personal lives, or in our life together as God's people.

Now then, such a crisis was the occasion of Paul's writing these two letters to Timothy. And may I say again, for I do want you to get hold of this very, very important thing that the Lord is wanting to say to us at this time, this is an inclusive and comprehensive example of all crises in the spiritual life; an example in principle and in nature. That is, it has all the features of any spiritual crisis, and it therefore contains all the method and means of God of meeting any spiritual crisis. We are not just dealing with church history - we are dealing with our own history. We've got to be met right there in our own spiritual lives.

Well, inclusively then, the Divine method of meeting any critical situation is - what? It is the reinforcement of fundamental and essential realities. That is what these two letters contain. The reinforcement of the boards at the corner, and its counterpart here in the reINforcement and ENforcement, if you like, for Paul commands here as well as exhorts, that the reinforcement of fundamental and essential realities is God's inclusive method of dealing with any threat, or any possibility, or any actual change in the course of things. And there is one all-comprehending fundamental of true Christianity, and that is: spirituality. Let me say that again: there is one all-comprehending fundamental of true Christianity and that is: spirituality or its essentially spiritual nature.

The Essentially Spiritual Nature of True Christianity

So that God's method in meeting any critical situation in the Christian life is to reinforce spirituality, or to recover it. For true Christianity, at its very beginning, and in all its growth, and in its final perfecting, is wholly spiritual. That needs breaking up, and will be broken up as we go on during these days probably.

A Christian, a true Christian, is fundamentally and essentially, by their being, very being and existence, a spiritual person. All our growth in grace is not the growth of time, years, or of the acquiring of knowledge about things of God, true growth is just our own spiritual growth, and before God there is no other stature, no other growth. And God takes infinite pains to see that our growth is spiritual growth. Well, that wants a lot said about it. The consummation and the perfecting of the life of the Christian is a wholly spiritual thing. You see, the consummation is a spiritual body; as was the natural, so will be the spiritual. "Not that which is spiritual is first, but that which is natural then that which is spiritual". Those words, as you know, from 1 Corinthians 15 apply to the resurrection body. "It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body". Then, then it wants a spiritual person to occupy a spiritual body; and if the spiritual body is the consummation of the Christian life, then the Lord would have, not a little, poor, little spiritual person occupying a consummate body; He would have us full-grown, so that the perfecting of the Christian life is in keeping with its consummation: it must be spiritual.

Everything else in the Christian life is spiritual. The people are spiritual people by their very birth by the Spirit, their work and service is spiritual. It's not a matter only of how many things we do, but the spiritual quality of anything that we do. There's tremendous spiritual value intrinsically in a 'small' thing done in the Holy Spirit, while very little may come of a vast amount of feverish activity in what is called "Christian work". Everything is judged in Heaven by its spiritual value; the work, the service. The warfare is spiritual; and you have no need to be reminded of that. "We wrestle not with flesh and blood, but with hosts of wicked spirits". Our warfare is spiritual. Our knowledge and our understanding as Christians is spiritual. Our fellowship is spiritual - our relationship with one another is a spiritual relationship, it's the unity of the Spirit.

All government amongst Christians is spiritual. It's not autocratic, it's not official - it is spiritual. Just at that point we need the parenthesis of a worker's conference, for very, very few Christians today are able to discern and discriminate between human government and spiritual government in the House of God. They confuse the two, and thereby bring in many, many complications. However, it's said for the moment, we leave it. Government in the Christian realm is spiritual government.

Guidance is spiritual guidance, "led by the Spirit". The methods and the resources of the church, of Christians, are spiritual methods and so are their resources. All this makes up this comprehensive truth: that the all-inclusive, fundamental reality of the true Christian life is spirituality; by which we mean, it is all of the Holy Spirit.

Do you remember that in the closing chapters of the prophecies of Ezekiel, there is brought into view the river - the river rising in the sanctuary, broadening, and deepening on its way - and on its banks trees... bearing fruit every season, and the leaf unfading. I believe that to be a foreshadowing, a pre-figuring, of what we have in the book of the Acts. The trees are men, planted by God, drawing their life from the river of God and how it broke out in the sanctuary in the book of the 'Acts'! And how we see the men planted then by God on the banks of that river; and the fruit - how abundant was the fruit! Trees, sustained by heavenly life, carrying on a heavenly testimony; in a word: spiritual people, men and women whose life and resource and everything, was the Spirit of God - for it was the Spirit of God who broke out in the sanctuary on the day of Pentecost. God's testimony down the whole course of the river requires spiritual people, drawing upon spiritual resources; that is what we have there.

Now dear friends, all the troubles inside of Christianity (and it's a big term 'Christianity', it comprehends a very great deal; you can localise it and personalise it, if you like) all the troubles in Christianity are due to loss or lack of spirituality. God's method, ever and always, in getting over some trouble in us personally or in us together, locally or in His Church, is always a reinforcement of the spiritual life. And we never get over any trouble without some strengthening of our spiritual life. Isn't that true? We are just not going to be able to patch it up, put it right, do something about it outwardly - we have got to come into a new spiritual position about this. We'll never get through on this crisis until we have got a new spiritual position, until our spiritual measure has been increased, or our spiritual position regained, if we've lost it.

It's futile to try to get rid of any troubles in Christianity at large, or in ourselves, or locally, along any other line but God's line. This is a crisis. Everything in the future depends upon how we get round this awkward corner, this difficult situation - all the past, as we have said, is going to be jeopardised if we don't negotiate this spiritual situation triumphantly. How will it be done? An extra board - a reinforcement of what has been for the future, holding everything intact by a strengthening of our spiritual life. So the Divine safeguard, or remedy, for every trouble is the reinforcement of spirituality, or recovery of spirituality.

Look just again at those boards of the Tabernacle. They were made of acacia wood, which is known for its great strength and power of endurance. They were of considerable height, as you know, ten cubits high; this is higher than any man naturally, this is something of greater stature than we are naturally - we or they who comprise the House of God - something here bigger than you or I are naturally. They were upright, standing on their feet. Upright. And those three things are very significant. Here is something that needs strength that is more than ordinary strength; for endurance. Here is something that means stature that is more than ordinary human stature; to rise above. And here is something that must really be on its feet; that is, established.

Now you have got your New Testament crowded into those few things, if you just think. And these letters to Timothy (and you think perhaps, that I've gone from them; I haven't) they are just full of those things; just full of those very things. How wonderful they are seen to be in the beginning, aren't they? For, you know, even at the beginning of the Church's history, it was a tremendous corner that was being turned. We shall see as we go on that the coming of Christ Himself represented the biggest crisis in all history. It was a most tremendous turning-point in everything. Indeed, things were going to change from that time. And into that tremendous crisis right at the beginning the Church was thrown; and it was a delicate, and a dangerous, perilous time. How the church behaved and got through those days, would give colour to all the succeeding generations.

Look at the strength of the boards! Was it super human strength? Well, think of Peter only a very little while before, how much he could take, in that room downstairs by that fire, with the finger of the maid pointing at him. How much could he take? He crumpled under it. But look at him now! And are these men on their feet? Are they standing upright? They are not only standing on their own feet in the Lord - they are putting other people on their feet! Look at that poor fellow who has been lying there at the gate all those years, unable to use his feet. Peter takes him by the right hand, and up he comes - and he's on his feet right enough! And again later, a repetition, that same thing, that putting people on their feet. And out of that grew this rich ministry in the New Testament about being established.

Being Established

That's what it means: standing up. You and I will be no good to the testimony of the Lord unless, in the right sense, spiritually, we are on our feet, we're standing up! The testimony is always let down when we break down, when we let go, when we lose our feet. And that may be a crisis for some of you, even this afternoon if you have lost your feet, you've been knocked off your feet, or you haven't been on your feet for a long time, or you've been up and down, up and down for a long time, you've got to have a crisis over this thing. You've got to get around that corner. All that has been is in the balances with this present issue; all that the Lord would have for the future is made impossible, or will be all wrong, unless you get round this corner quickly, and get your feet in the Lord.

You know what I'm talking about, "getting your feet in the Lord", having what Paul calls "full assurance" - assurance about your salvation. For these boards, as you know, were founded in the two, the two basic things - made of silver; redemption. Redemption is silver, or silver is redemption. And the double testimony under their feet, reinforced this thing twice over. Two is always sufficiency of testimony, isn't it? And they were in that. Assured of your salvation, certain about this matter. Until that is so, well, there's no strength and there's no uprightness; there's no endurance, there is no stature, no measure. And so that applies to many other things as well as our foundation: our confidence, our faith, our certainty with the Lord. These are things which must really characterise the true Christian. These are the constituents of a spiritual man, or a spiritual Church.

If you've been thinking in Timothy's letters, as I've been speaking, does it not all come back to you if you know those letters at all? All that I've said comes back, doesn't it? We'd say Paul, but Paul's Lord was making him write those letters on these very things at a time of tremendous crisis. So we come to Timothy and to the crisis in Christianity which (note this) the whole crisis in Christianity at a turning-point in its history was focused in this young man himself. These letters to Timothy are nothing less than dispensational in their significance. They are far more than those favourite texts: "Take your share of the hardship, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ" well, you love that, that's a favourite text; or, "Fight the good fight of the faith" you love that; or, "That the man of God may be perfect, furnished unto every good work and work" that's fine, that's grand, we like that; or again, "That he may be a vessel unto honour... prepared unto every good work" - how we like these fragments! Well alright, but do remember, dear friends, that every one of them, every one of them is set in a crisis for the dispensation. And until you recognise that, you haven't really got the value of the fragments.

Why "take hardship as a good soldier of Christ Jesus"? "Because the dispensation hangs upon it, Timothy! This is not only for you, but for the future." Why be "a vessel unto honour", why "lay hold on eternal life", why "fight the good fight"? There are far, far-reaching issues at stake, right on to the end of Christianity's history - that's why! These letters were not written to Timothy just for Timothy's sake, for the time being, to help this young fellow along in his own Christian life. And they were certainly not written just to give us nice fragments for our own Christian life. These letters were written at a most critical time in Christianity's history, and all their fragments relate to that.

Now take the fragments in their setting, and they take on new meaning, new significance and you will understand why Paul is so serious - his appeals, his exhortations - repeatedly, "Oh man of God...", "Oh man of God". Was there a crisis on? Well, there are plenty of proofs in the letters themselves to that fact. You can pick out some of the indications. First of all, he reminded that these were the last writings of the Apostle. The second letter was the last thing that ever Paul wrote, and he wrote it within perhaps hours of his execution. Paul is going. Paul is passing from this scene. Paul's personal ministry, in word and in writing, is coming to a close. There is going to be a real loss and a real gap; tremendous loss to the Church. It's a crisis. It's a crisis. When God takes away any servant of His through whom He has met His people in some rich, full way, there's a great gap, and that gap doesn't become smaller as time goes on. You're always wishing that that servant of God were back to help. You're always saying, "Now what would he say, what would he do?" I don't exaggerate the point. This letter contains this.

Paul says: "I, Paul, the aged... I am about to be offered up" right? Is that a crisis? Well, if, if it is - and it is - we need something, Paul, from the Lord to meet this situation. The Lord must reinforce us at this turn in the road. And the letters do that! You see that, as we go on. Ah, but not only so - the letters reveal a secession from Paul. He cries: "all they which be in Asia be turned from me". And although we know that some did leave him because it was too costly to stay with him, and that the peril of his death was overshadowing any associates, it is difficult, in looking into this whole matter, not to conclude that the turning from Paul by all those in Asia was on doctrinal grounds. On doctrinal grounds. You say, "Where have you the evidence for that?" The evidence is abundant, and will be brought forward presently, we state it here.

There is a secession from Paul because of his line of things, his teachings; because of the standard that he has raised, because of the level that he has insisted upon. They can't go on with Paul. And that's a crisis. Oh, what a crisis! Must I, must I anticipate this and say here and now that the first chapters of the book of the Revelation are the outcome of that secession from Paul. The very churches in Asia which Paul had been used to bring into being, beginning with Ephesus, of which Timothy was the overseer. Those churches are seen in those chapters, first chapters of the Revelation, to be in a condition resultant upon their turning from the man whom God used to bring them into being. It is a tremendous crisis to let go anything that God has given, to lower your standard; and oh, how the standard was lowered. We shall come back to that again. It's a tremendous crisis, it's a dangerous point to weaken on anything that the Lord has shown to be His will. Very dangerous. So, they were leaving Paul.

And then you look again at the letters; the change in the nature of things indicated by these letters... I can't now stay to go through all these things, and I think perhaps it's there that I must stop this afternoon. But these letters are just full of a lowering level of spiritual life, in every way; a loss of spirituality, a decline. It's a crisis. And all I will say at this point, without going into those details, because it would carry us such a long way, all I will say is this: that this is always the peril: where God has given richly, where God has given any fullness, where God has called to anything more than the nominal and shown His mind to be spiritual fullness, the peril is always present of losing, letting go, declining, dropping away on to some lower level, perhaps because of the cost of going on, or for some other reason. This peril is always present.

Now I come back just to close this time, to where we started: reinforcement. Reinforcement. The Lord is always seeking to strengthen our spirituality in order to get over these threats and perils which are always imminent, never far away. An increase in the spiritual life. Isn't it, isn't it impressive (I was going to say "strange", it isn't strange because it's just the very thing that we will expect if only we thought about it) but isn't it impressive that when there is a time of danger, of peril, of a threat, of a crisis in the spiritual life, the Lord puts us into such a state of agony and suffering and distress that we have got to get a new position with the Lord altogether, or we'll not get through? How faithful He is! How faithful He is, and because, because of a threat, because of a danger, a peril, He may plunge us right into a sea of difficulty and trial, to strengthen our swimming powers, to get us into some fuller measure, that we will not so easily be caught there again. When anything like that reappears, we'll recognise it for what it is, and know that we have got to keep our feet, keep our balance, and keep steady.

So these letters are just full of exhortations to Timothy: "Be strong", in other words, "Be steady" - "Take your share of hardship... Lay hold on eternal life" - all because of what Timothy signifies in the whole dispensation. I trust you're able to glean something from what I've said, and then dear friends, I'm quite sure it's what the Lord would say to us and to His people in these days; as we go on I'm certain you will be more and more convinced of that.

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