The Persistent Purpose of God

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 14 - Question and Answer Session

Q: ...The same seems to have applied in the case of Paul, he first had the heavens opened to him, and it was that opened heaven and the vision he saw through the opened heavens that provided him with the resource to be obedient to the heavenly vision and not to do anything contrary to the requirement of the vision. Is it not that the opened heaven itself and the vision that comes through the opened heaven provides the resource that attracts and enables the one who receives it to pay the full price in the following days? Is it not that the open heaven is in itself a power, the vision is in itself a power, which provides the needed resource for the individual who has the vision to walk in accordance with its demands? Our observation would seem to indicate that there are folk who seem to be willing to pay any price, they endure all sorts of hardship, and they're willing for every kind of sacrifice and yet you can't say that they really live under an open heaven. If you, if the requirement is the paying a price in order to get an open heaven, then is not that sort of on a bargain basis? It all resolves itself into this: how can we have an opened heaven?

A: That is not so difficult to answer as it may seem. The answer is that it works both ways. The Lord Jesus was very careful to make His disciples know that there was a cost attached to discipleship. Today discipleship of the Lord Jesus is made too cheap. John 12:24 makes it perfectly clear that there is a big price attached to discipleship. The Lord told His disciples that unless they were willing to lay down their own souls, they could not be His disciples. They had to go by the way of the Cross in order to get the open heaven. So it does work that way.

I anticipated this question this morning, I knew that a lot of people would say, "Now, how do we get an open heaven?" And I did not want to deceive you by making you think that this is all a very easy thing. I just wanted you to know that there is a price attached to it. We pay no price for our salvation, that is without money and without price. But there is a cost attached to discipleship and an open heaven. The disciples would never have come to the day of Pentecost if they had not gone by the way of the Cross. And I tried to point out that Ezekiel was introduced to the way of the Cross, and the open heaven for him was by that way.

Now we follow that side for a moment: you notice that with all the prophets it was like that. The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah, calling him into the work of a prophet, Jeremiah immediately saw what it would cost and he felt that he could not face it. It was the cost that troubled him. The Lord had to give very special strength to Jeremiah, the same was true of Ezekiel. It was true of Isaiah, and it was true of all the prophets. I do not think that Paul failed to see during those two years of silence, what it was going to mean for him. He had two years in which to weigh up the whole meaning of this thing. During that time he saw what it would cost, he knew that it had cost Jesus His life, he knew that it cost Stephen his life, he knew very well what the attitude of the Jews was to Jesus. He had to face the cost and he accepted it, and he got more of the open heaven. So it does work that way. But our brother is perfectly right in pointing out that it works the other way: the open heaven does mean strength to endure. Sometimes the Lord gives us an open heaven in a certain matter, because this matter is progressive, although we may get an open heaven once and for all, we do not get everything through the open heaven at the same time, there is more and more to come. And so it works backward: as the Lord gives, so we are strengthened. This matter works both ways.

The forward movement is facing the cost; then fresh revelation brings into new cost. But what we now receive is a strength to us to go on. We should never go on unless our open heaven was producing more and more. It is just what is coming to us all the time that is the strength to go on. So this matter works both ways, the factor, of course, of buying an open heaven doesn't come into it. What we suffer is no merit and reason why we should have something more for the simple reason that we need all the grace that God can give us to go on with this open heaven. There are times when those who have had the most from the Lord feel that they can't go on. They must have more grace, so it is grace and not merit, all the way along.

I wonder if you understand that this thing works both ways; it works forward and it works backward. Does that answer the question?

Q: I should like to speak at some length to express my question. My question is really hidden in what I shall say. The church here in Taipei was raised up about ten years ago. We can divide the history into two periods. The period six years ago, that is, the first period, during that period people came very easily into an experience of salvation. It was easy for people to love the Lord. Many during that period came to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and truly loved Him. And many set aside their professions or occupations to serve the Lord. We were very conscious of the presence of the Lord during that period and people were very eager to attend the meetings. That entire period was a spring time.

During the last three years or so, all the local churches have entered into a different type of experience, the way has been extremely difficult. We have been dissatisfied with various circumstances, we have also had the consciousness that the Lord is not satisfied. I should like to mention several aspects of this.

In the first place, it's not easy for people to come to a knowledge of the Lord Jesus in salvation and once they have come to the Lord, they don't seem to have come into a very clear experience, so that, if we have a hundred baptisms, of that hundred, there may be only ten who truly follow the Lord. If we were to reckon according to the number of baptisms, there would be no accommodation in the hall for them! But as a matter of fact, the numbers remain very much as they were. There are a number of people who have been recently added, and another in their place; a number fall out. That's the first aspect.

The second aspect refers to those who have already believed, they find it very difficult to follow on with the Lord. The sweetness of the early days has gone. We believe that this is in the Lord's ordering, and yet there's a paradox here. We're aware of very many things in our lives that are contrary to the Lord's pleasure. We said we ought to repent, there ought to be a change in these inner conditions. Yet, on the one hand we have not got the strength to alter, and in the second place we rather hope for the old condition to help attain to it. This applies in particular to those of us who have given ourselves to serve the Lord, we find service in the church exceedingly difficult.

What should be our attitude before the Lord? Is there nothing for it but simply to go steadily on in this way, or is there salvation here? I find it difficult to express my question. I'm very dissatisfied with my own spiritual condition, I'm also dissatisfied with the condition of the church. I'm dissatisfied in regard to the whole testimony. I feel a little bit like what we heard of Ezekiel right at the beginning. And lots of our brothers and sisters are feeling exactly as I do, but we can't find the way. Is this a wilderness experience, a time of testing? So that we may be stripped of the whole of the old creation? We really want that our brother Sparks shall know the actual state, we trust that he will give us an opportunity later so that we may discover what his reaction is to this state of affairs.

A: I have a certain reserve in trying to answer that question, because I don't know the work very fully. You see, I am very largely a visitor, and I know no more than what I am told. I question whether I have the right to talk to you about the work here. I tried to get brother Lee to answer that question, because he knows it so much better than I do, but he thinks that I might be able to give you, at any rate, one or two principles.

As far as I can see, there are only two things that I could say. Our brother has mentioned a state of things that is not pleasing to the Lord: that is, things in the life of His people. Well, of course, that is a matter that only you can deal with. If there are really things in the lives of the Lord's people or the Lord's servants that are wrong, you will never get anywhere until they're put right. Here, there must be a true and right kind of self examination. We speak much about the evils of introspection. And of course, there are such evils. It is a dangerous thing to be always turning your eyes inward and analysing yourself. At the same time, the Word of God does say, "examine yourself, if you would judge yourselves, you would not be judged". That is, you would not come into the judgment of God. So it is very necessary for everyone to have very close dealings with the Lord about their lives.

This is not a matter of whether they are loving the Lord, or whether they are as spiritually mature as they want to be, this is a matter of definite sins. Are there things in the life that the person knows that the Lord is against? That begins with us individually and it is therefore very necessary for those in responsibility to take the first step with regard to themselves. If you brothers and sisters are in spiritual responsibility, you must begin with yourself. You must ask yourselves the question: "Do I know of anything that the Lord has shown me is wrong? Am I aware of anything with which the Lord has a controversy? Has the Lord spoken to me about anything? Has He put His finger upon anything?" That is a right kind of self examination. It might be one of a whole number of things, it might be our thoughts about other people, it might be the way in which we talk, it might be that we criticise, or it might be any one of a thousand things. But we know whether the Lord has said anything to us on that matter, and until that is dealt with, the way of Life is closed.

One thing in the life of a servant of God can hold up the work of God. Remember Achan; one man in all the thousands of Israel, he just took a wedge of gold, he buried it in his tent, but the whole of Israel was brought into defeat by that. If it is not personal, it may be in our home. There may be something wrong in our family life, there may be something wrong in our home life and the Lord cannot go on while that is there. Well we, as responsible servants of God, have got to see to it that the Lord has no controversy with us. We must be very careful not to divide between the church and other things. I mean between the church and the family home life. We must not divide between the church and our business life; these are all one thing. We cannot be one thing in the church and something else in the business. Our business life and our home life have got to come right into line with our church life. We have got to be very particular about our business transactions. We have got to be absolutely honest before the world. Well, perhaps you hardly need that to be said, but we begin where our brother began: is this changed situation due to something that is wrong? When we have put that right, then we can look at the matter from another standpoint.

Do remember that the Lord, when He is going to do a new and fuller thing, always brings into a travail before. Our brother said, "We are not satisfied. We are troubled about this situation." When he said that, I said to myself: does he want to be satisfied? It is a very dangerous thing to be satisfied. The Lord save us from ever being satisfied and I said the other day that God always begins by putting His dissatisfaction into our hearts. And every larger movement of the Lord begins in that way. The Lord will never do any more if we are quite satisfied with things as they are.

There is always a winter before there's a summer. When you look at the fruit trees in the springtime, the blossoms are very beautiful, everybody wants to look at the blossoms on the fruit trees, that is something that you can see that is very lovely. And then the winds come, and the rain comes and all the blossom is blown away and you say, "That's a great pity, oh what a pity that we lose all the blossoms off the tree!" You would never have the fruit if the blossom was not blown away. You would never have the fruit if you didn't have the storm. You would never have the fruit if the tree was not stripped. That is a law of God in nature, that is a law of God in His own work.

There are periods in the history of the church when it goes through a time of real death and darkness, but if you went out amongst the trees in the springtime when the winds are blowing, and if you could listen you would hear those trees cracking and groaning. The whole creation groaning together. This is very true. Sometimes in the forest you can hear the cracking going on in the trees. What is it that is happening? The new life is coming up. It is forcing its way up, it is forcing off the old life of last year, it is making way for the new life of this year. There's an awful groaning and cracking going on. It is not a sign of death, but a sign of life! When a thing is dead, there is no groaning and cracking. If you're troubled about it, it's a very good sign, it may be travail unto new life. Well, even so, don't settle down with your groaning, but hold onto the Lord for His new thing.

I am very glad that this work is characterised by a certain right kind of dissatisfaction. As I have looked at the many hundreds here, gathered during these past days, I have said to myself, the worst thing that can happen to this work is for it to be satisfied: "We have got hundreds of people, we have got a great piece of work!" That would be the most awful thing that could happen to you. I hope the day will never come when you're satisfied, when you look at things and say like Nebuchadnezzar did about Babylon: "See this great Babylon that I have made". The days of Babylon are ended when that happens. Perhaps your continual life and growth will come along the line of very real dissatisfaction, but your travail must lead you to very strong, united prayer. The Lord's new thing must be born out of real soul suffering. You must not look on the situation and be sorry about it and leave it there, you must bring it into very definite prayer. The whole church and all the churches ought to concentrate upon this matter. A great cry ought to go up to the Lord about it. Perhaps that is what the Lord is waiting for.

Q: Just over a year ago many full time workers, both brothers and sisters, saw the truth of being crucified with our Lord and they entered into a new release. After a while they went through a period of struggle corresponding to Romans 7. Thereafter they had some further light and entered into a fuller release and for a period were in considerable measure of freedom both in their prayer life and in service; they knew a real emancipation. After a while, things were worse than ever. Some thought that proved that everything was false. Was it really true or was it false? Is it because there's been a lack in fellowship and they've turned inward and lost what they had gained? No very great fruit is apparent from that fuller release, but some have made progress in the matter of knowledge of the Word. We should like an interpretation of this state of affairs, we don't know how to help our brothers and sisters, and we ourselves don't really know the answer to the problem.

A: Here again, I labour under difficulty. You see, all I know is what our brother has just said. I was not here when it happened, I did not see what happened, I only have it by report. I believe that our brother has given a faithful report, but how am I able to tell whether it was soul or spirit? I should have to examine it very much more closely and I should have to know a lot more about it. Of course, it is possible to have these experiences just in the realm of the soul. They may just be emotional experiences. On the other hand, they may be completely false; they may be deceptions of the devil. That would come, of course, along the line of the soul. We'll just take those matters first.

Let's illustrate from a great deal of false spiritual experience. It goes by a certain name in our time which I won't use, but there is a situation like this, it is a very terrible situation, many of our mental institutions are full of people and there are multitudes of Christians now entirely in the dark as to their salvation. They believe they have committed the unpardonable sin. They therefore doubt whether they can ever be saved. These are Christian people; how did this come about? They got caught into a great emotional or soulish realm. They were told that the sign of the baptism of the Holy Spirit was speaking with tongues, therefore they set themselves upon having that baptism and they strained with all their soul to get that experience. They worked themselves up into a psychic condition and then something happened: they began to "speak in tongues" and these experiences came. That went on for some time and then it all disappeared. The devil immediately came in and said, "You have committed the unpardonable sin; you have sinned against the Holy Ghost." The result is they lose their mind, they lose their assurance of salvation. The whole thing was false and a deception; that was not the baptism of the Holy Spirit, that was a purely psychical thing. The devil came in on that and gave them something, and then took it away and said, "You have lost the Holy Spirit!" Now, that is the extreme situation, it is possible to have that quite mildly, I mean that if you go out in your soul, with all your emotions, you can get some experience and then it will pass and you will be in a worse state afterward than you were before. That is one aspect of this situation and it is a very common one.

On the other hand, you must remember that new experiences of the Lord are usually accompanied by some very special joy, there is something very wonderful about it and you live on the surface of that for a time, but the Lord does not intend us to live on the surface of experiences. The Lord does not want us to live on an experience, He wants us to live on Himself. And therefore, after a time the thing goes down deeper. Supposing I illustrate by married life.

At the beginning of married life everything is wonderful. It's all very wonderful, the newly married people say very nice things to one another, and they feel that life is now a matter of saying very nice things to one another. Now, after a few years, of course they don't stop saying nice things to one another, but the thing goes deeper down. The relationship becomes stronger. Hallelujah! It's deeper down! I know the Lord better now than I knew then, the Lord drives things down deep. And after a time we discover that there's something more than we realise, we come to realise that what the Lord did has gone down deeper. Spiritual life is like that all the way along; you have an experience of the Lord, you feel that nothing can be more wonderful, and then it all disappears and you have a bad time - you think it's all gone. And then the Lord comes back again and there is something more the next time than there was the first time, and then it goes down again. And so you go on all the time, every fresh death leads to some fuller life; that is the law of the spiritual life.

While we're in the time of death we think that everything is gone, but it's just a corn of wheat fallen into the ground and sometimes we want to go and dig it up and see if there's anything there; just to have a look at it and see that it hasn't all gone. I think that is what our brother is doing now. He's digging up the corn of wheat to see if there's anything left at all. You leave it there, and it'll come out in Life. Your spiritual life will be like that all the way along; anyway, my spiritual life has been like that: it's Life, death; death, Life. It's just like that. The dark times are very difficult, but don't let us lose faith; "He who hath begun a good work will perfect it unto the day of Jesus Christ".

In keeping with T. Austin-Sparks' wishes that what was freely received should be freely given and not sold for profit, and that his messages be reproduced word for word, we ask if you choose to share these messages with others, to please respect his wishes and offer them freely - free of any changes, free of any charge (except necessary distribution costs) and with this statement included.