by T. Austin-Sparks
Reading: Malachi 1.
We have been seeing how at the end time the Lord seeks to possess Himself of a vessel that will be a voice in relation to the time of the end. Malachi has already yielded much to us in that connection, but there is much more. We have first of all seen the nature of such a vessel, how it is constituted, and what is its history and experience. And then we have seen the result of that voice and the coming of its message, and the fulfilment of its ministry in the securing of a company among the professing people of the Lord whose one all-absorbing concern is for the Lord Himself.
In this chapter we are led to dwell for a while upon the voice at the end time and this, so far as it is illustrated in the prophecies of Malachi, can be gathered into a few very clearly defined truths. You will notice, and probably have been struck by the reading of chapter one, that one object very definitely and clearly in view at this time was the altar. And then as you read on you arrive at the coming of the Lord, and you find that these two things are very closely related: the altar and the coming. That, it seems to me, represents the inclusive message of the voice at the end. There is much included, but that is the dominating feature of this end time instrument: the relation of the altar and the Lord's coming. Chapter 1 has to do with the altar, chapters 3 and 4 with the coming, and chapter 2 has to do with the priesthood. Now let us immediately get to the significance of this. It is a very solemn message it is, but I trust very provocative of seeking the Lord for a renewal of this ministry at the end time. So it is necessary for us to see very clearly this link between the altar and the coming.
In Chapter 1 we see the altar dishonoured, dis-hallowed. There
are those terrible things which were laid at the door of the
professing people of God in that chapter. They called the table of
the Lord contemptible. They brought to the altar of the Lord the
lame and the blind, the blemished, the imperfect, and so they
failed to recognise the foundational nature of God's dealings in
grace and mercy with them and to appreciate the infinitive love of
God. And that was the cry of God, "I have loved you", and their
reply is, "Wherein hast Thou loved us?" Then you notice that that
question of the Divine love is taken up. By their attitude and
their conduct in relation to the altar they show they have failed
altogether to recognise both the wonder and the Divine love. How?
Well, for us it is a familiar truth and yet it must come here
again as a fresh emphasis of a message at the end time.
You see, the altar of the Lord, that which represented the grace of the Lord Jesus, was intended to be occupied by that which represented the absolute perfections of God in Christ, without spot and without blemish - all those spiritual and moral perfections of the Lord Jesus with no defect, no flaw, no blemish. Not the blind, the lame, the polluted, for that is a failure to appreciate the person and work of Christ by His cross, and when they offered that, it was so unlike the Lord. It represented on their part a terrible degradation of God's own Lamb, God's own provision for Himself with a Lamb. It dragged the Lord Jesus down into a place as represented by the blind, the lame, the blemished and so they failed in spirit to recognise the underlying foundational principle of the altar: that it was holy, spotless, without blemish, the sacrifice representing the absolute perfection of God's one eternal sacrifice. And the love of God was in His own provision.
God so loved... that when there could not be found in this universe that which He demanded for His own satisfaction, and therefore all being found corrupt and sinful, universal judgment must inevitably be passed upon all - God found in His love a way, by finding a perfect unblemished sacrifice. That is the love of God in Christ, and they failed to see it. "I have loved you..." "Wherein?" "You have lost the very principle of the altar and what you are doing is to bring the result of your own selection, of your own judgment and ideas on things instead of that which is of My mind." This has a very practical application.
We move out of the realm of Jewish ritual, sacrifices, and that system, into this spiritual realm represented thereby. Spiritual realities are carried on into this Christian age and when we try to present to the Lord ourselves in all our blindness and lameness, and unworthiness and blemish, and think by presenting ourselves to Him we are satisfying Him, but we are setting aside the Lord Jesus; displacing Him, failing to appreciate Him. "It is not what I am, but what Thou art." We are always trying to bring God some kind of satisfaction by our works, our efforts, our undertakings and God's satisfaction is alone in the Lord Jesus. He is it all, He does it all, and apart from Him there is no satisfying the Divine heart. But once we get a glimpse of that great fact, that all comprehendingly the Lord Jesus is God's provision for all our need, and have our eyes upon Him in a deep, true and adequate appreciation, then the Father is satisfied. Then we have fellowship, then we have joy, then we know peace. But you see, this people were bringing the fruit of their own work and they could not understand the blessing of God was not upon them, upon their land, upon their labours; there was a curse everywhere. They could not understand why the Lord was not accepting, and they were blaming the Lord and counter-questioning all the time, "Wherein...?"; "Wherein have we robbed You?" It is their very blindness to see their failure, their inability to see they have put something in the place of the Lord Jesus which is not worthy of Him.
Now, a note with which an end time ministry must commence is the note of giving the Lord Jesus His right place; and the ministry of an end time instrument is in the direction supremely of a new appreciation of the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. You find today that even well-meaning, earnest, enthusiastic Christians are failing to recognise that it is all the Lord Jesus. They are making much of Christian enterprise; you hear a great deal about the consecration of gifts, and talent, and natural abilities and all these things to the Lord and there is an underlying peril and danger about all that - as though that could satisfy the Lord. Although we might have every endowment, every natural advantage, unless all the merits and worthiness of the Lord Jesus become the incense mingled in the bowl of offering, not a bit of it will get through to the presence of God. Nothing apart from the Lord Jesus. We have to recognise that no effort of ours and no consecration of ours, pouring of ourselves out in Christian activities and enterprise, can satisfy God or get anywhere. All is absolutely on the ground that the Lord Jesus is everything and we at best are nothing apart from Him. Simple, but this has to be recognised.
A very subtle thing is that verse which is so often sung these days: "Just as I am, young strong and free, to be the best that I can be for truth and righteousness and Thee, Lord of my life I come." It is heresy, contrary to the Scripture. It is not what I can be, but what He is; not what I am, but what He is. And you know quite well, it has been drilled into you, that is where the great apostle said that all things which were of natural advantage and benefit by way of inheritance and endowment came by him to be counted as very refuse that he might gain Christ and be found in Him. You would never have heard Paul saying, "What I am and what I can do". His song was what He is and I am at best, a poor miserable thing. It is making everything of the Person and work of the Lord Jesus. There has got to be a recovery of that. It is elementary, but it is the first thing in the recovery of a true testimony, and at the end time the chief Figure in view is to be the Lord Jesus.
Here they were polluting the altar, and the coming of the Lord has to do with bringing the altar back to its place, bringing the cross into its right position and its full position in all its meaning as to the absolute perfections of the Person and work of the Lord Jesus. The coming of the Lord has to do with that, and there has to be a fresh emphasis upon the cross in this direction: the cross as representing all that the Lord Jesus is and what Christ has done uniquely, absolutely, finally, in which man has no say and no part, from which man is excluded as altogether unworthy. There has to be a coming back to that at the end time and it may be but a remnant of a remnant that will represent the fulness of the meaning of Calvary at the end, but that is what the Lord is seeking.
We want to see further the link between the altar and the cross and the coming. You see, the cross represents the securing of the rights of God in this universe. It was in and by the cross of the Lord Jesus that God's universal rights were secured in this universe. You have before been shown how the altar all the way through the Old Testament was the start of all the testimony, and the shed blood was that by which the territory was claimed as God's, recognised as God's. Immediately sin broke in at the beginning and the rights of God were disputed by the adversary and God's sovereignty in the race and in the earth was set aside, an altar and the shedding of blood were the means by which God's rights were testified to. And when later sin spread and God beheld the iniquity of man and determined to judge and destroy it and the flood came, on a renewed earth an altar was instantly erected as a testimony to the fact that the earth is the Lord's in virtue of the shed blood by which sin has been met.
Move on to Abraham, brought out to a land of Divine choice and
location - immediately an altar is set up whereby testimony is borne
in virtue of the sacrifice and this altar - this is the Lord's,
the Lord's rights are here. Follow through and you will see how
the Lord was always declaring His rights in that land. All the way
through, the altar was God's way of declaring His rights,
representing the securing of those rights in the power of the shed
blood. Calvary gathers up all the types and symbols through the
universe, the rights of God secured in the Lord Jesus to absolute
undivided authority, and the usurper cast out. "Now shall the
prince of this world be cast out." The absolute rights of
God; that is the altar, that is the cross. The coming of the Lord
is vitally related to that as the solution of it.
In the cross the rights are secured in heaven. In the coming of the Lord He comes into His rights, takes possession of that which He bought and secured by His Blood. It is not a matter of dates, not a matter of events; it is a matter of acts and effects, of beginning and end. Why is it that when at any time in the age the coming of the Lord becomes the heart theme of His people in song or meditation, there always is an uprising of the spirit and you are borne up? Why is it? It was so in apostolic days and through the ages it has been so. In their day it lay a thousand or two years ahead, but they were full of joy when they contemplated it. Was it a false joy, a mere emotion? Never! Today you sing a hymn and the Spirit comes in - why? Because it is not a matter of days, time, events, signs. It is this: at Calvary His rights were secured and in His coming His rights are possessed and the two things are one. Timeless. He enters into His rights in His coming which He has secured in His cross. You defile the altar, and take from the absolute perfection of the Person of the Lord Jesus, then the coming of the Lord is going to be judgment and who shall abide? Chapter 3 is written to professing people of God.
You have got the coming of the Lord here in Malachi with two facts. One is exercise, and the other is tribulation for God's people. Chapter 4:2: "But unto you who fear My Name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in His (its, ASV) wings" - tribulation for some of God's people at His coming, rapture for others. Tribulation will be necessary as the refining pot. He has to be glorified in His saints and marvelled at by those who behold. That is the meaning of the refiner's fire - you know the picture. Here the refiner sits by his cauldron and he watches this fire while it does the work, until he can see the reflection of his face in the molten metal and then he knows the work is done. He is going to be glorified in His saints. What the Lord is after is to get a people bearing His own reflection. This is the explanation of the fires, but there are those whose hearts are not wholly for the Lord; these are represented by those others in Chapter 1, and for them the coming of the Lord means tribulation, not to their destruction, but to their salvation and it will take some tribulation to bring some people wholly to the Lord, and the tribulation is not far off.
I look not for the tribulation, but for the rapture, but you are not going to be caught up by living any kind of Christian life. It is those in whom His face is reflected who will be caught up and there will be some tribulation work to prepare the others. Now suffer that word. One has met so many in past years who have repudiated any such suggestion, and [think] that all who believe in the Lord Jesus will surely be caught up when He comes, and one has said, "Are you quite satisfied with the way that the majority of professing Christian people are living?" "Oh no!" "Do you not believe that the Lord wants and requires something more than this to be done now? Won't it take a bit of tribulation to do it?" Yes, they are agreed there. He will sit as a refiner and purify the sons of Levi. When the Lord comes, and has taken those who are looking for Him secretly, as He is going to do, tribulation will then begin. Blessed be God the tribulation will be productive of saints, it will do a work in hearts. But it is not necessary that there should be the tribulation fires; we can be raptured. The thing that settles this whole question is our appreciation of the Person and work of the Lord Jesus. That is the link between the cross and the coming. But then there is another step in this matter.
You see, Israel was intended to be the Lord's instrument in all the nations, representing and standing for His rights in the nations; that is what Israel was raised up for; to be God's testimony in the nations to His absolute rights. We read in Malachi 1:11: "From the rising of the sun even to the going down of the same My Name shall be great among the Gentiles". The Lord is jealous about His Name in the nations. That little company of those that feared the Lord, spoke one to another, and thought upon His Name, were concerned for the Testimony of the Lord in the nations. Their burden was: "Things as they are today are letting the Lord down in the nations. God's testimony in the nations is not what it ought to be because of God's people", so they thought anxiously, solemnly, with broken hearts upon His Name. "My Name" - that was their concern and Israel was intended to maintain all the full meaning and testimony of that Name in the nations. They failed God. What God has in view and is on His heart at the end time is that His Name shall be honoured in the nations and it is the Gospel in the nations that comes into view here; the evidence of God and His absolute rights and sovereignty in the nations by way of the cross. That is the message of the voice at the end time, that in the nations God's Name should be honoured. God is there represented by those who honour His Name and who stand in the testimony of His Name on the ground of His rights in virtue of His blood.
I feel that we have failed to recognise that the coming of the Lord is an essential and indispensable part of the Gospel. We have thought of the Gospel having to do with salvation, regeneration, new birth of souls, and the Gospel is essentially the coming of the Lord, because the coming of the Lord is the consummation of the cross in salvation. And you have not got an adequate Gospel message or Object to present to the unsaved, be they civilised or uncivilised, unless you present to them the coming of the Lord. There would be a far greater turning to the Lord if in the preaching of the Gospel the coming of the Lord were preached. If we went out to the unsaved and said more about the Lord's coming, we should find the Lord coming along in conviction of sin because the Holy Spirit is yearning towards the end for which the cross took place. The blood was shed and that end is in the coming of the Lord. And in the nations He must have His rights represented in those who are there according to His Name. And He comes and co-operates with them, not just in relation to men being saved, but in the consummation of Calvary's purpose.
I do hope that comes to you clearly. It is important. The Gospel in the nations is the gospel of the Lord's coming which includes His first coming as well as the purpose of it. We want to give the Holy Spirit sufficient ground for operation and salvation in order to be saved from hell and sin, and to get to heaven is not an adequate basis for the Holy Spirit. The only adequate ground is that Calvary represented the securing of rights universally for God in Christ and the coming again is the possessing of them. He is coming to have them.
I wonder if the Lord may be trying to get a new kind of
missionary; a new kind of gospel preacher. I wonder if the Lord is
just satisfied with what we call simple evangelistic messages. Do
not misunderstand me - I am not ridiculing - I have a strong
feeling the Lord wants something more than that, and the only
thing that will fully satisfy God is that which stands on the full
ground of Calvary in all its universal triumph in the sovereignty
of the Lord Jesus and secures the rights of God, and will not move
from that ground, and proclaims not only that those rights have
been secured in the cross, but that He is coming to have His
rights. That is the missionary the Lord requires. Get that vision,
get that vocation, get that into your hearts adequately and I
believe the Lord will come down upon that and do a new thing.
It is remarkable how many souls have been saved on the strength of a message on the coming or the Lord. Why? The element of fear? But the Lord knows what the elements are and the Lord never saves and regenerates a soul on an inadequate basis, and the Lord knows whether a man or woman turns to Him because they are scared of what is coming. The Holy Spirit sees all that Calvary means in the salvation of that soul, the consummation of Calvary's object. And often He brings tremendous conviction of sin by the message of the Lord's coming again. It is true. That is why they could preach it in the power of the Holy Spirit at least two thousand years before the Lord comes. Explain that. The Holy Spirit is not limited to time in His knowledge; God is not ignoring that it would be two thousand years before it happened. Was He giving them a good time in a thing that would not happen until years after? No, the power of the Holy Spirit came down upon them as they proclaimed the Lord's coming because the Holy Spirit saw the end of salvation and brought the ends of the ages back - the beginning and the end. God's one end was in the heart of the Holy Spirit, that salvation was only the beginning, the consummation was in His coming so the Holy Spirit rejoiced seeing the beginning and the end brought together and the joy of the Holy Spirit was in their hearts. I believe that is the explanation, that is why Malachi brings the altar and the coming of the Lord together as his end time message.
For some the coming of the Lord was going to be like the rising of the Sun with healing in His wings because they had the Lord's own appreciation of the altar and that which was offered thereon. For others, the coming of the Lord means tribulation and purging because they have not got that appreciation of the altar.
Now, that is the message in the Acts; the absolute sovereignty of the Lord Jesus by His cross established in virtue of His blood and consummated by His coming again. That is the Gospel. Take that out. The Lord put that into your hearts and make you a missionary on that basis. It is a testimony in the nations. This Gospel of the coming shall be preached in every nation for a witness. The literal translation is "This Gospel of the Sovereignty shall be proclaimed in every nation to set the evidence of the Sovereignty of Jesus Christ." That is the work of a missionary. The erecting of an altar by Abraham in the land: "setting the evidence". The erection of the altar by Noah on the renewed earth: "setting the evidence". The Gospel of Christ in the nations sets the evidence of the sovereignty of Jesus Christ, in virtue of His blood, which sovereignty is going to be consummated and made known at His coming again. He will be Lord of lords and King of kings, Prince of the kings of the earth. And so the Lord's way is to get that into the nations which, standing on the full meaning and message of the cross and the blood, is His evidence. That is the testimony.
The enemy's objective is to get it out, to drive Abraham out to the land of Egypt, to ensnare Noah so that he will dishonour the thing that he has done. And if the enemy can get you to go back out of the place where you have set your testimony, he will move you from that place if he can. He will stir up everything to drive you out, to make you run away, if he can destroy the evidence.
Do you remember Absalom drove David from the throne? And King David, as he went out of the city, sent back the priests into the city and said, "Stand there and hold the ground; I am coming back again", and when David came back he found some there who had been faithful all the time. The Lord has His evidence in the earth in you and me; He is coming back for that which is His. The enemy does want to destroy His evidence, His instrument in the nations; that is why he makes it so hard and tries to work God's people towards a giving up. Recognise the spiritual factors back of these pressures which are always calculated to drive us out, make us go back upon our testimony, and the enemy's methods of doing it are innumerable. Sometimes by external conditions, sometimes by trial, adversity, suffering, inward pressure, heaviness, darkness, a sense of hell, or by creating an atmosphere as though it was real, a suggestion that it was all a myth, or you were on a wrong track, you had chosen a false road and the Lord has left you to it - you can never exhaust his ways, but they are all intended to make you quit the ground you have taken in the Name of the Lord in virtue of the blood and that is why there is so much stress made upon "holding fast till I come", not being easily moved away from the hope of the gospel; not being moved; not casting away your confidence. It is one great cry: persevere to the end by the grace of God, by the energy of the Holy Spirit. There are great underlying factors in taking up a position in the Name of Christ and in virtue of the blood in any place on this earth. You have challenged the rights of hell in the Name of Him who alone has the right to reign. That is where the cross and the coming are brought together.
I think I will close there. It is enough, but we need the Lord to protect, to guard what has been said, but He is sufficient. We accord Him the place of absolute supremacy and He who has brought us thus far can carry us through. He who has commenced a good work will perform it unto the day of Christ. May the Lord help us to see something more of what He is after which explains the increasing pressure at the end. May He fill our hearts with the joy of His coming. Lift up your heads for your redemption draws nigh.