The Centrality and Universality of the Cross (1927)

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 1

Now beloved, the reason we are gathered in this place this morning is because we believe that the Lord has called us to bear witness and testimony to a revelation which He has given us upon the basis of His dealings with us and in us, which is of very vital account and import for these days. This is not said in any religious conceit, or spiritual pride, for it represents a great cost and a considerable conflict and travail and anguish not to be coveted for an instant by the flesh, but rather ever and always to be shunned from that side, but accepted as a stewardship, so that we find ourselves in this, in the presence of the Lord, unable, though the flesh shrink, to be or do otherwise.

Now that revelation, which is not, let me emphasize, a mental apprehension of truth, but that which has sprung out from deep and drastic handling of us, and is basic to this testimony, is summed up, I think, almost entirely in its outlines in this diagram that is before you [click here for diagram]. I think I need not say how the Lord brought that to one, other than this, that it was in the hour of the deepest anguish of spirit, and the hour of deepest death to all but Himself; but it came, and it made all the other well worth while. How far we shall be able to deal with the content of this in these days I do not know. It will be entirely in the Lord's hands, and by His leading, but if you should be able in your spirit to apprehend the main outlines of this thing, you will no longer be in the dark as to what this Centre and Testimony represents - as we believe - in the will and purpose of God. This morning we shall only seek to deal with the broad outlines leaving details for other times.

The theme, as you recognise is

The Centrality and Universality of the Cross,

and the thing that wants to be re-emphasised (may I say here in parenthesis that most of this is old ground to many of you, but it is a statement purely of the whole thing with which we are more or less familiar) is this, that, inasmuch as the phraseology or terminology of the Cross is so common to our testimony, many have come to think that we are stressing one exclusive line of teaching, and they regard this word of the Cross, this message of the Cross as some narrow theme, some phase, some department of truth; that we are very much restricted in our outlook, and they say we are always talking about the Cross as though there was nothing else to talk about. They say, you are always on that line, why don't you get on to some other lines of revelation? Why are you so unbalanced, unequal, uneven, emphasising one thing all the time?

Now, beloved, should there be any such conception, or misconception here this morning, I would that the Lord would dispel such; and to state the thing accurately, let us once and for all say that according, not to our revelation, but according to the revelation of the entire word of God, both in the Old and New Testaments, the Cross is the hub of everything, and this diagram really represents a wheel with all its spokes and its rim, and its wheels within a wheel - but the hub of everything is the Cross of the Lord Jesus. It is not one of the spokes; it is not one of the lines of teaching; but it gathers up in itself everything, and it makes possible everything; and if you fail to recognise God's place and God's meaning for and in the Cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, it is then that you become unbalanced; it is then that you become departmental; it is then that your perspective is thrown out, and your vision is distorted. For the right adjustment and regulation and balancing of all truth you must place the Cross right at the centre and see the relationship of everything else to the Cross and of the Cross to everything else.

Now here is a sweeping word, but quite considered: I venture to say that there is not a theme in all the word of God relative to the eternal purpose of God which is not rooted in the Cross of the Lord Jesus, and that works out to minutiae. Your tongue, your lips, your speech, your conversation, the most common-place thing has - according to the word of God - to be bound up with the Cross of the Lord Jesus, and the Cross of the Lord Jesus to be bound up with it, and from that most common-place thing ever out in widening circles and a growing number of directions the Cross has the central place. Of course, you know, that, so far as we are concerned, and the word of God is concerned, the Cross does not represent just (and here I do not minimise that) the death of the Lord Jesus; but the all-inclusive and full sweep of the eternal work of God from ages to ages, from eternity past to eternity future, which was centred in the Cross of the Lord Jesus; and that through the death, burial, resurrection and ascension to the throne, and sovereign relationship vested now in Christ for us, as in the word, that also is the Cross and we never see the throne apart from "the Lamb in the midst thereof as it had just been slain." That is as much the message of the Cross as that pertaining to what was done on the green hill far away outside the city wall. Now that, of course, is all too commonplace and simple to say, but perhaps necessary in order to put the Cross into its right realm, its adequate realm.

So then, let us recognise once and for all that the Cross is not a specific line of teaching, not a department of teaching, not an isolated message in an unbalanced emphasis, but the all-comprehending and all-including and all-explaining centre of the universe. That is the Centrality of the Cross, and you must put it so. It is the hub of the wheel. To it and from it all the spokes move through clearly defined circles of divine instrumentality and activity into the farthest bound of the universe, in the super-heavenlies, the heavenlies "far above all:" there the Cross is still. You never get outside the range of the Cross. Let us put it there - give it its right place. For some of us this revelation of the centrality of the Cross has settled everything and made the word of God a living thing in a new way.

Now having said that, not a line, not a spoke, but the hub, everything to and everything from, and everything in the light of it, we want, before we take some of these inner spokes, to note the next circle, for this is important if the Cross of the Lord Jesus is at the centre, the first circumference, the first circle to which it moves, and which moves back to it is "the Church which is His Body." The Body of Christ. You will notice in the diagram that everything moves to that, and then there is an unbroken line round that which suggests that everything is, in the first movement of God, shut up to and within the Church the Body of Christ. We shall see how that is so perhaps presently, but we want to recognise this fact, that the first inclusive movement of God through the Cross is to and in the church which is the Body of Christ. That is the horizon of the Cross in the first instance. The Cross in this part of the age stands to secure that, to realise that, to gain that. The end of God for this part of the age is the church, the Body of Christ, and the whole revelation which comes through, and on the ground of the Cross is bound up within the church, and all the other ranges depend upon the church for their knowledge of the meaning of the Cross, and all that is included therein. Let that be perfectly clear.

The nations of the world, the encircling principalities and powers and world rulers of this darkness and spiritual hosts of wickedness, and then upward to the uttermost bounds of the heaven of heavens, all depend for their knowledge and instruction, whether it be unto jubilation, as in the heavens, or as to confounding and judgment, as amongst principalities and powers, they all depend for their knowledge of the full wisdom and power of God upon the Church in which that is revealed and manifested. He has - in other words - eternally elected to display unto the increasing bounds of the universe His wisdom in and by the Church, and that through the Cross as wrought out and revealed within the Church, the Body of Christ. The instrumentality of God for the manifestation of all the infinite meaning of Calvary is the Church, the Body of Christ. We have often said it is like the city to the kingdom, the metropolis to the world, in the light of which the nations shall walk, but the central thing by the Cross is the church which is His Body, and revelation is there and only through there - the revelation of this work of God in the ages and in the universe. When we come to speak more about the church we shall have to re-emphasise this with further points: but we want to notice that the first realisations of Calvary's work are unto the securing of this eternally elect body, the church, as the instrument for the divine revelation and manifestation beyond. Now is that perfectly clear?

One good man a little while ago said that the sublime factor of this age was the dethronement of the Bible from its place of infallibility, but what a contrast between that and this, that the sublime and supreme factor of this part of the age is the securing of the church, the Body of Christ, out from the nations to be an instrument and vehicle of the everlasting, the eternal revelation of the power and glory of God. That is what He is bent upon now. We can do no less, and God save us from the despair which will come by our trying to do any more than that - the realisation of His purpose for now, the gathering out and together by the Holy Ghost of the Body of Christ unto completion, unto the coming of the Lord. Now that defines the limits, but that becomes a large enough outlook for anyone, and you will find if that is revealed to you by the Holy Ghost, it will occupy all your moments for the rest of your days, be they few or many, to give heed to the discerning of the Body unto its completion and its building up and perfecting in preparation for the Lord.

Now having seen this innermost centrality of the Cross, and then the first range of its intention, we are prepared to just note some of the major truths that are wrapped up with the Cross in the Body of Christ. Of course much, as you recognise, bears beyond that for other purposes, but which is the treasure, or the deposit within the Body of Christ, and you notice that the first of the four major spokes of this wheel within a wheel is the Person of the Lord Jesus. Now, beloved, you require the Person of the Lord Jesus, a revelation of Who Jesus is, in order to explain the language of the Cross. This is no common cross upon which any man may die in a kind of vicariousness in human devotion to the interests of his fellows. This is something more than that. There is only one Cross in the mind of God to effect this purpose. It is unique, but you must recognise who Jesus is before you can discern the true values of Calvary; but Calvary in its out-working, and this is the experimental wonder of the Cross, Calvary in its out-working makes you know who Jesus is. You by faith come to accept all that Calvary means, not knowing what it means, but by faith apprehending and accepting and yielding and challenging God in reverence and fear to make Calvary real in your experience, and as the Holy Spirit begins to do it, you will discover that this is no common cross, you will discover that you have come up against the infinitude of the Christ of Calvary.

The Jews and the Greeks despised the Cross and laughed it to scorn and waved it aside as the uttermost absurdity, foolishness, and scorned it as a scandal, an offence. They were destined to discover that there was something there in that Cross, as manifested in and through the church, the Body of Christ, in its nucleus of those days, which was capable of tearing their empires limb from limb and pulling down all their vaunted pride of empire, and of wisdom. You notice what we have read this morning concerning the wisdom of this world. The princes of this world who crucified the Lord of Glory, and their wisdom! How they vaunted their wisdom, their academic achievements, their scholarship, their philosophies! How they boasted in these things, and Paul goes into one of the centres - prime centres - of this world's wisdom and tells them, "Brethren, when I came to you, I had deliberately made up my mind that it was not going to be in words of man's wisdom, not in excellency of speech, and was among you in much weakness and trembling, not knowing anything. I might have known all about these things. I have a knowledge of these things in which you boast, but I had deliberately made up my mind that I was going to be ignorant in these matters, and know only one thing and that: Jesus Christ and Him crucified." You notice how he goes on, "we speak God's wisdom!" He is putting this over against the wisdom of this world in its highest development. "God's wisdom, but in a mystery, even the wisdom that hath been hidden, which God fore-ordained before the worlds unto our glory, which none of the princes of this world knoweth." Now what is this wisdom? Well, go back to the previous chapter. (It is a pity the chapters are divided.) "For the word of the Cross is foolishness," and that word there "the word of the Cross," as you know is the logos of the Cross, and the central meaning of that very far-reaching and inclusive term the "Logos" is the wisdom, or reason of God. The wisdom, or the reason back of the universe by which, on the ground of which, His creative activities came into operation. He made the worlds with a reason: He had wisdom directing all His operations bringing into being the universe. Now God's wisdom, and the apostle says all that wisdom, that infinite wisdom of God is gathered up in the cross of the Lord Jesus - "The logos of the cross," the divine reason, wisdom of the Cross, and he puts that over against all the wisdom of this world.

"We preach Christ crucified," and, mark you, the world was destined to discover that there was something infinite in that Cross as proclaimed and administered in and through the Body of Christ. They may try to wipe this thing out, to destroy it from the face of the earth, they may exhaust all their resources of might and power in the physical realm of force, and in the intellectual realm of reason and academic genius, and Nero (that devil incarnate) will massacre thousands of these who stand for the testimony of Jesus in one full-blooded effort to destroy that testimony from the earth, but he discovers that it cannot be done. It cannot be done, and the more the shedding of blood, the more this thing spreads and grows, and every bit of Satanic invective launched against this testimony from the first scattering of the church from Jerusalem, on through all the persecutions and martyrdoms only recoils upon the Devil to destroy his own works, and to further this testimony and cause it to take deeper root. There is something in this Cross, beloved, that is infinite in its power and in its possibilities; and it is interesting to note that tiny bit of irony appended in salutations to one of the apostolic letters, "The saints in Caesar's household salute you." Upstairs the schemings, plannings to wipe out this Name, this Testimony, downstairs, these people cooking his very dinner, these people - saints in his house - doing his work for him. Why, they are in the fortress! God is very ingenious, but you see there is something here that you cannot cope with. It is the Logos of the Cross as represented in the Person of Christ, who is made unto us wisdom, the wisdom of God.

Now, you require the Cross in experience to make known to you who Jesus Christ is because His power is vested in the Cross, and as the Cross is planted in your life you find that you have not accepted a creed or a symbol. You have accepted nothing less than the inclusive, infinite power of God to do things. You require the Cross to be interpreted by the Christ, and you cannot separate your teaching of the Person of Jesus, the Person of Christ, or any of your Christologies from the central reality of the Cross. You will never know Jesus Christ really unless you know Him crucified in this sense.

Now, much more, as you see, is bound up with that, the Logos, the Eternal Logos. "In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God and the Logos was God, and the Logos became flesh and tabernacled amongst us," and the Logos of the Cross, God in Christ on the Cross! That is the supreme reality of Calvary. It is God in Christ, that is the deepest wonder of the incarnation right through. We are not going to touch the other phases at the moment, but "in Him all the fulness of the Godhead in bodily form" existed, and the transcendent power of infinite God came into operation in the raising of Him from the dead - "The exceeding greatness of His power whereby He raised Jesus from the dead" - but all that is in Calvary.

We come to the second major spoke of this wheel - the Holy Spirit. Now, we know that there are those who have nothing else to talk about but the Holy Spirit. All their teaching, their title and everything else is the Holy Spirit. You may become unbalanced on the Holy Spirit if you take the teaching as separate, but you require the Cross to get the balance; it is relative, it is not isolated. All the advent and activity and revelation of the Holy Spirit is related at centre to the Cross, and in the first circumference to the Body of Christ. The Holy Spirit is to, and for, and in, and by the Church. Have you got that? In the first instance the Holy Spirit is to the church. Not the Church as experiencing its salvation at the moment, but the Church perhaps in its un-regenerate state, for He knows the eternal counsels of God, the election according to the foreknowledge, not the especial election of God unto salvation and damnation, but according to foreknowledge. God knew from eternity how His supreme gift of freewill would be exercised in relation to the revelation of Jesus Christ. He cannot help but know the way that free volition would be exercised toward the Christ. Whom He foreknew, them He predestinated, He marked out, but it is only according to the foreknowledge, and not according to any favouritism. Now it is to the church. There may be a member of the Body of Christ in this tent this morning still unsaved, unregenerate. To you and to the sum of the whole Body of Christ in its members unborn, unborn naturally, literally, unborn spiritually, the Spirit has come, in the first instance, to secure complete number of the elect, but by the Cross. He will do nothing apart from the Cross, and He will bring every such member to the Cross, and He will keep every such member at the Cross, and will never never let them for an instant escape the Cross. He will, in other words, work out the Cross to the uttermost realms of its meaning in them.

He is to the church, for the church as its supreme gift, Comforter, the other One along-side. It is in the church that the Holy Spirit resides, and it is by the church that the Holy Spirit operates. That is His instrument, and all this because the church has been secured on the ground of Calvary's work, and you get the many sided activity of the Holy Spirit, with which we cannot stay at this time, as He acts, as we have seen, before conversion, in relation to those who are the heirs of salvation yet unborn, those who shall be. And after conversion, new activities, ANOINTING. We are not going to stay now to specifically define these different terms, but each one is not synonymous with the other. No two of them are exactly alike in their meaning. They all have their own specific meaning. The ANOINTING and the INSPIRATION are not the same. The Inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Inspiration, Revelation - these two are not alike. Between REVELATION and ILLUMINATION you might find difficulty in discriminating. REVELATION is that which is presented to you. ILLUMINATION is that in your spirit which can take hold of the revelation, when you are enlightened at the presentation of Truth. There may be revelation here this morning, but you need illumination in order to get it. You need "the eyes of your understanding enlightened," illumined, "in order that you may be able to apprehend with all saints what is the height, etc." and here is the revelation of the Spirit, but illumination is needed by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

And we know the difference between ILLUMINATION and INTERPRETATION, as we have already mentioned this morning - "As the Spirit gave them utterance," and Paul besought fellow-believers to pray for him that he might be given utterance. Oh, it is one thing to possess revelation and to have illumination in your spirit, beloved, it is quite another thing to utter these infinite truths; they may stay there, they may become an inward burden and anguish to you, until there is the enablement to utter them. You know something of the groaning under a revelation and feel it is of such far-reaching account to the Body of Christ, and not be able to say it, the time has not yet come for the working of this thing - until the Spirit gives you utterance. Oh, that all our speaking, our preaching, and our teaching, were by the utterance which the Holy Ghost gives! The Lord will bring us there.

And of course within the Body of Christ the Holy Spirit is for ADMINISTRATION. He is there to administer. He calls upon us to put aside our programmes, even in the conduct of meetings, not to arrange our speakers and our order of service and to tie Him down as to how we think the thing ought to go, but to leave Him free. And you will notice that wherever the Holy Spirit has freedom to direct and administer in such a matter (and it is only one fragmentary point of the whole administration) there is a wonderful co-ordination, He is of one mind and He is working to one end. We have ideas as to what we would like done and achieved, and we try to manipulate and move the pieces on the board to secure and accomplish some end, but, oh, let the Holy Spirit administer. It is not for us to say who is to speak, and when so-and-so is to speak; it must come out of the divine order and appointment, by the leading of the Spirit, otherwise we shall not get there. But in numerous other ways the Spirit is in the Church, the Body, to administer, and, beloved, the final word is this: you can never hope to have the judicial ministry or administration of the Holy Ghost to deal with preponderances and disorders, to judge and to rectify, unless you have given the Holy Spirit full course on all matters. It is no use getting yourself into a mess and then asking the Holy Spirit to judge the wrong for which you are responsible. It may be you will be the judged one; but if, mark you, the Holy Spirit is in possession, having full sway, administering in the Body of Christ, woe betide the person who, like Ananias and Sapphira tries to deceive the Holy Spirit, or like any other who may touch the Body of Christ with fleshly hands! The Holy Spirit will meet that. But the blessed restfulness of the whole business when it is a testimony of the Lord Jesus according to the Holy Ghost is that you need not worry, if you are moving and walking in and after the Spirit, and He has brought the thing into being, and He is carrying it on, and you are but co-operating with Him.

You need not worry, let anybody get up against you and touch the Lord's anointed, you will discover you need not say anything, "they will come up against the thing, or it will come up against them, and fire will break out from the altar". That is Christ in His corporate expression - His Body. If you want to be safeguarded, if you want to be protected, you want to be vindicated for the sake of Jesus, and the Testimony vindicated, do not take it in hand yourself. Be sure that the whole thing is according to the Holy Spirit, and that He is administering, that your plans and programmes are not in it, and you are moving as led by the Spirit, then the thing will be safe-guarded by the Lord because it is His.

And inversely, as we go into it apart from Him and touch it with natural hands of wisdom, or desire, or motive, we limit the Holy Spirit, and make it impossible for the thing to be maintained for the Lord's needs by His own protection. And what is true of that side - the judicial - is true of every other side of the administration of the Body of Christ.

How familiar we are with the words - "The Holy Ghost said - Separate Me Barnabas and Paul unto the work whereto I have called them." The eternal purpose of God concerns every member of the Body of Christ and He says in the church to those who are "ministering to the Lord," "now I have put My hand upon so-and-so, you put your hands on them for Me," "and when they had laid their hands upon them they sent them forth." That is the order of spiritual effectiveness. And then in the goings and directions and the ministries, "the Spirit suffered them not," or they went "bound in the Spirit," and it is one hundred percent effectiveness whenever the Holy Ghost is in the ascendency in the administration of the Body of Christ.

But you see how the administration requires the Cross, the searching of our motives by the Cross, the crucifying of our flesh in the church (and there seems sometimes to be a great deal more flesh in the church than out of it) the bringing to death of our personal interests in the Kingdom of God. Oh, the Cross must be planted there, ruling us out to rule Him in, so that "it is no longer I." At every point the Holy Spirit works by the Cross and the Cross works out to the Holy Spirit. This is all poorly said, and one is overwhelmed with the enormous amount that is gathered up in this, but our time is gone, and we will not stay further. We will consider the other things later, as to salvation and the second coming, and then the other circles: the nations of the World, the realm of spiritual hierarchies, of the super-heavenlies - the celestials.

The Lord hold us to this fragment of His revelation and open the eyes of our understanding.

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.