The Centrality and Universality of the Cross (1927)

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 2

Without going over the ground again, may I just pause one moment for a re-emphasis upon the centrality of the Cross. I think we were able to see in some small way how central the Cross is in the eternal determination of God in all matters, and how it has been made the hub of all revelation and of all experience; and it is just that last word which one feels must be stressed. With the Cross as central, its centrality has got to be so by experience.

It would be quite interesting and informing to go through the Bible and see stage by stage of the historic unfolding how the Cross is at the centre; and as the result of such an investigation and such a search, we might easily launch out upon a spoken ministry, teaching the centrality of the Cross. It might both grip us with its fascination and grip our hearers in the same way, and yet the impact of it might be utterly lacking.

You will pardon this reflex upon one's own experience in which that has been exactly true. One is not saying a very great deal more, or differently, from what one did say in the first decade and more of one's ministry, but one is saying that same thing with an altogether new realisation, and, one trusts, with a new impact. One came to see the place of the Cross, and much of the meaning of the Cross as in the Bible and in theology, and one spoke about it continuously. The language of Calvary was there in speech, in preaching and teaching, and Calvary's centrality to all the other doctrines of the Bible; but, beloved, the difference is enormous between that and this in one's own knowledge and experience. The day came when all that rose up like an enormous pole-axe and smote one between the eyes in its cumulative effect, and one was as good as dead. One was brought to the place where the key was turned upon all the past, and failure was written in a comparative sense with what one saw ought to be, and must be, if all that one had been saying for years was to have any adequate justification and vindication; and in that deepest and darkest and most anguished hour one came to see the beginnings of what the Cross means and how the Cross is central and all the theology and all the boasted Bible knowledge as such (that is, the mere diagrammatic comprehension, or apprehension of the books of the Bible and the main lines of teaching, and so on) all floored and smitten with oneself through years of deepening dealings with one on the part of God, and in that day, that day, an end! But in that day also a beginning!

Now one is not going to dwell upon one's own experience, one simply refers to it for this word of emphasis. I want to ask you, to interrogate you most earnestly as we go on - for all this teaching would fail, would only again resolve itself into mere mental grasp, unless we face the issue of this - has there been a day or a time in your experience when you were as good as dead? When the Cross really brought that issue, that it was impossible for you to go on in yourself in the world and realm of spiritual experience, to say nothing of Christian work and activity, both as a person and as a worker, a preacher, a teacher recognised individually in the realm of religious activities, when in every sense the Cross registered once and for all in your deepest consciousness that there was nothing possible in you and of you? And that unless God Himself came in in anything short of "the exceeding greatness of His power which He wrought in Christ when He raised Him from the dead," there could be no Christian ministry? Now I ask you, have you had in a day or a week, or month, or year (for some it extends over a long period) that drive upon you of the divine hammer of the word of the Cross breaking the rocks in pieces and piercing to dividing asunder? That is "the centrality of the cross" in reality when it is at the centre of experience, planted at the centre of your being; not in the centre of your intellect, not in the centre of your emotions, not in the centre of your natural volition and will, but in the very centre of your spirit so that when it was planted there it was bewildering and staggering and stunning; and as for intellect, it could not cope with it; as for will, it could not face it; as for emotions, why, you were petrified, the thing was staggering? Has the Cross come to you in your spirit in any such way?

Remember that is where it has got to be planted - in your spirit first. If you are seeking, beloved, either to attain to spiritual effect, or to reproduce spiritual effect by the knowledge of the Cross in your reason and your intellect in the first instance, you are destined to spiritual failure. If you are seeking to have this thing for yourself, and then to be able to minister it to others in the realm of your emotions or feelings, in the first place, you are destined to miss the mark.

Now we need to reverse our order in this thing. One of the most amazing things to one in these days is the failure to recognise this on the part of strong, pure, earnest evangelical men and women. What I mean is this mystery - the inconsistency of a strong and mighty repudiation of modernism - as it is called - in the matters of biblical interpretation, and at the same time the wholesale swallowing of modernism in the matter of psychology. Where do you get your psychology from - Plato, Aristotle - Pagans? That is the foundation of modern psychology and the Evangelicals have swallowed that as much as the modernists. It is not biblical psychology! It does not take into account the fact that the soul which it claims to expound and interpret, is ruled out by the Bible in the first instance, and the spirit is demanded to be quickened and energised by the Holy Spirit to grasp spiritual realities. You know quite well that modern psychology only recognises the duality of human life - soul and body, mind and matter, and after a good deal of difficulty and struggling to interpret some third element with which it is confronted, it is at length called the "Subconscious mind" - what the Bible calls the supreme thing, the innermost and deepest thing - the human spirit in which things are eternally registered and never lost, and which will reproduce them in the Day of Judgment, and we shall find that the basis of condemnation and eternal judgment is in that spirit itself.

Hell might well be the divulging in the spirit of man of what is stored up therein as never to be forgotten without the Cross of Christ to deal with it. To put it in another way, one lets a psycho-analyst today bring up from the past without providing an adequate remedy for ridding you of the past, and you have hell begun, and suicide, or an asylum, or something of that kind follows: you let the real state of your being be brought to light without the presentation of the Cross, and you have hell begun. It is a merciful thing that there is a covering over of the human spirit, a door of forgetfulness for a little while, until we know the Cross, and then it is safe for us and it is blessed for the depths to deliver up their content, to have it cast into a greater death, "the depths of the sea." But the Cross is central, and the Cross has got to be placed at the very centre of our being - in our spirit.

Beloved, we may not understand, we may not be able to grasp it thoroughly in all its meaning; it may be bewildering and stunning, too great for us, and it may make our very minds rock, and our emotions freeze, and our wills to be paralysed, and there we are smitten by that Cross, as good as dead naturally, but, in the power of His resurrection, it gets our spirit quickened and energised to rise up. You can never follow in the way of the Cross naturally in your spirit - never - and until resurrection has taken place in your spirit, you will never be able to go on by Calvary.

Well, now, that is a long way round and opening up many other questions, but one has this emphasis in one's spirit all the time that we must not stay here for mere teaching, though it may be right teaching; we have got to come to the practical issue, and the centrality of the Cross is not the centrality of the Cross in theology, or in the Bible as a book, or in Christian doctrine, or upon a platform. The centrality of the Cross is essentially and indispensably experimentally planted in your spirit, and from that time, out from the very centre of your being the Cross radiates upon every activity of your life; for you find that your thinking, your reasoning, your speaking and your going and your staying, your speech and your silence, your handling of all matters in business, in the home, everywhere, everything is governed by the spirit and law of the Cross within you. You look at everything in the light of the Cross. You do not stay to consider it mentally and intellectually, but it is a spiritual force within you which controls you all the time and challenges you when you have unwisely said something, you are smitten by the power of the Cross - you ought not to have said that or you ought not to have said that in that way, and you know it. You have no need for anyone to tell you. It is a very blessed thing when people are in the Spirit - no need to rebuke, you can keep quiet - the Spirit is there making the Cross central in their spirit life to judge and to slay.

Oh, that we should be brought right there and held there in all ministry. Beloved - revelation and the commission are not enough. Are you a Christian worker, a Sunday School teacher, are you in any special sense a servant of the Lord? Yes, you believe that you are that by divine commission: there is no question about it; you held it before the Lord, you prayed over it, and you followed what would take the world and eternity to shake as your conviction that you are in the will of God in that. The Lord may have appeared unto you from glory to commission you, and He may have given you His revelation as the message for your ministry. That is not enough. Listen, the Lord appeared unto Moses, gave him the revelation and said - "Go!" Commissioned on the basis of a revelation of Himself and of His purpose - "And the Lord met him and sought to slay him" - "sought to kill him!" Have you never been met in the way of a divine commission and almost put right out of action? There is no question about the commission and revelation, but you have been met, and you have not got on, you have stopped there and something of a smiting has taken place. "And the Lord met him and sought to kill him!" Why? Because he had failed in the covenant sign of circumcision. It is the symbol of the encircling blood by which the whole body of the flesh is cut off and put away (Col. 2:11). A covenant of Life with the Lord of Life against the lord of Death, as the ground of his right, power, and activity is put away; that is, the flesh. And a revelation and a commission can never be carried out effectively until the Cross has been placed right at the centre of things.

You can speak of divine revelations in the flesh and do yourself harm, and the revelation harm. You can seek to do the Lord's will in the flesh, and rob the Lord's will of all its dynamic because it is done in the flesh. The Cross has got to be central to ministry. Now, are you there? Have you had your Calvary? Everything is bound up with that - everything - it changes things entirely, it changes the outlook, the apprehension, the consciousness, and relationships are all changed, utterly changed from that moment, and you never again judge things according to man's standards. You never judge success in Christian work by the following and numbers and the full pews of a church and all those outward signs of prosperity; not to say that outward signs are not sometimes wholesome and good, but you never judge according to that, you judge altogether according to the spiritual effectiveness and we are going to see what spiritual effectiveness really is by way of the Cross before we are through I trust; but the whole consciousness is changed at the Cross from the natural to the spiritual, and you have a new kind of consciousness a new revelation, and you are perfectly satisfied with it.

Now, we have already seen the centrality of the Cross as to the Person of Christ, and as to the Holy Spirit. We are not going over that again, other than to say that it takes the Cross to make manifest who Jesus Christ is, and Jesus Christ is only manifest in the full power of His Person in and through the Cross - you cannot know Him in any other way.

I am going to stay here for this moment. There is, mark you, an apprehension of the Person of Jesus in a certain sense which is universal, so far as this world is concerned, because of the universal elements in Christ. There are those universal elements which make Him timeless and nationless - that He is of all nations and of all time, and you can never fit Him finally into any one water-tight compartment of time, or race, or nation. And there is a certain apprehension of Him in all the world as He can be the ideal of all nations, but you have to cut out the Cross. Here is the tragedy of a book like Stanley Jones' "Christ of the Indian Road." There is the apprehension of the Christ and the evangelical presentation of the Christ, but be careful how you press the matter of the Cross or you will upset India - the same everywhere else. You will have to modify your interpretation and application of the cross when you preach Christ or else you will spoil His chances of acceptance, keep that out and you will have success and prosper and get on - keep that out in all its deeper meanings. And you know, beloved, that what is true in that sense in the larger ranges is true within the Christian community itself. Yes, preach Christ historic, heroic, idyllic, but don't mention that Cross in its substitutionary truth. Or come nearer still in the evangelical circle. "Yes, we will accept Christ as our substitute, but when you ask us to accept this identification with Christ, that is another matter - leave that out. We are prepared to take the objective, but don't press the subjective." The nearer you get to the Cross the more you sift your following. The nearer you get to the very central meaning and heart of the Cross the fewer there will be that follow. The real central reality of the Lord Jesus is found there, and you do not know Him most deeply and truly until yoU have got to the innermost secret of Calvary.

Then as to the Holy Spirit, we have seen that there is no knowledge of, or manifestation of the Holy Spirit only by way of the Cross.

Passing to the next section we quite clearly see how the "So Great Salvation" is in and through and by the Cross. One uses that fragment - "So Great Salvation" because of its comprehensiveness, its inclusiveness. We are not going to stay with it because it is so patent. The words put on the diagram represent - each one - its own specific significance in the all-inclusive salvation.

We put Substitution first. One died as a substitute, in the place of the many.

We follow with Representation. "If one died for all, then all died in Him." That is representative and inclusive.

And then Redemption. If you want to follow these things in their own particular meaning you have only to ask one question relative to each word. What state does this word suggest man to be in to make it necessary? When you speak of Redemption, then you ask, what is the state that makes that necessary. He is "sold under sin," and there is to be "a redemption of the purchased possession." "Ye were bought with a price."

Next: Justification. By this we are given a place in a plane and in a position as though we had never sinned at all. The marvel of Justification! We must remember that that can only be made possible by death. "He that hath died is justified from sin." Someone inclusively of ourselves must have died to make it possible for us to occupy a position in the presence of God as though we had never sinned at all. What a wonderful standing.

Reconciliation. It suggests enmity, antagonism, alienation, conflict. These all dealt with at the root and spring.

Regeneration. You may not have defined in your minds, or had defined for you the difference between Regeneration and New Birth. They are not synonymous terms. Although they are the same thing, they are not synonymous in their significance. Regeneration relates to the new race. It is a racial term. New Birth relates to sonship. The gift of Sonship, the Spirit of Sonship, born out of God, sons of God. As you are a new creation, regenerated, you come to receive the gift of sonship in that new race of sons.

And then Sanctification and Glorification. We are familiar with these things, but all this, beloved, centres in and issues from the Cross; but what I want you to notice with this, like all that of which we have spoken and shall speak - in its first meaning in this age and dispensation, is for and in the church. It is for the elect Body. Now, of course, it would be easy to see that that means that there are many excluded from the possibility of salvation, but only by their own exclusion, not God's, but God foreknew, and He gathers up all this "So Great Salvation" into and for and in those whom He foreknew in Christ. Now perhaps you are asking, what is the special and subtle value of that? Well, this, that God must have a specific instrument through which to mediate the "So Great Salvation," and the mediation of the "So Great Salvation" cannot be less than experimental. Anybody could preach the gospel as a doctrine, as a teaching, as a system, but only those in whom the gospel has been wrought out, and who have been wrought out in the gospel can preach the gospel with any effectiveness. In other words, if this "So Great Salvation" is bound up with the Cross, then it requires a Body in whom the Cross has been planted experimentally to preach the gospel. That Body must be an elect Body, secured in foreknowledge beyond the possibility of being lost or of failure. It is indispensable to Christ and therefore as secure as Himself.

Only according to the measure in which Calvary has become experimentally real in us, to that degree, and to that degree alone, is there eternal effectiveness in our preaching of the gospel. In another way, we have got to be the gospel, and the gospel has got to be us before there can be any transmission of it with spiritual effectiveness; so God must have a sphere and a centre in which He makes the gospel not merely a revelation, but an experience. You can put it in this other way. Christ, Himself, had to have the Cross wrought in Him to the deepest depths representatively in order to make the gospel effective in the universe. It is not coming along and taking up your Bible and saying that the Bible teaches that, and so prepare an address on what the Bible teaches and get it off on the congregation. That is the tragedy of the modern pulpit. God has nothing to do with that, and is not interested in that. He will call out a people, drawing them by the Cross, and then begin to plant the Cross at the centre of their being, and make all its meaning actual, experimental, and then through them, mediate the forces of Calvary out to the widening circles of the universe until principalities and powers feel the impact thereof. This is in the Church: the gospel demands the Church. The Cross with all its gospel requires the Church, and the Church in the fulfilment of the universal purpose of God is the Church in which the Cross is central in experience. Is that clear? The "Church" is Christ's Body, and what is true of the Head has to be made true of the Body, so that salvation is in Christ, corporately as well as personally.

We come to the fourth and final main section of the inner circle; that is, the doctrine of the Second Coming of Christ. Just as each of the others have been detached, separated, and made a specific line of teaching by some, and taken out of their relative position and significance, so, today, there is a dangerous tendency to make the Second Advent a separate thing. We thank God for every clarion voice that tells of His coming, but we must not fail to recognise the relative place of the teaching of the Second Coming, otherwise we become investigators of prophecy and experts on the ages and the dates, and the geographical and historical movements, and while we may fascinate the minds of people with the romance of it all, we are not making different people of them, and we are not putting into them the commensurate dynamic of a spiritual effectiveness.

We must see, beloved, the two major things in each of these connections. Firstly, the root in the Cross, and secondly, the expression in the Body; and as for the Second Coming it must be the consummation of progressive translation by the Spirit. And if you are looking forward to some isolated event in history for translation from earth to heaven, and have failed to recognise that the Holy Spirit is here, like Eliezer of old, piloting you progressively back by way of the Cross; and that by it you ought to be translated from things of earth to the things of heaven as you are becoming every day less of this earth, and less of this world, and more of the heavens, that everything in your life and make-up is being changed according to the pattern in the heavenlies, I fear that you may have a shock, even a disappointment, in the day of His appearing.

In order that we, like Enoch, might at least take the one step into the presence of God, we must walk in the presence of God every day, until as it were, almost unconsciously - leaving the things of earth - there will be no shock, cataclysm, no startling element about the Lord's appearing, we shall find ourselves with Him - no terrific upheaval - we shall walk in - for we have been walking that way all the time. We have often put it in this way, as Peter puts it, "Pilgrims confessed and strangers" so that the things of earth are becoming more and more strange, and the things of heaven are becoming more and more familiar, and we are feeling more at home in those spiritual things and less at home in earthly things - progressive translation. When Eliezer goes for Abraham to find a bride for his son Isaac, he brings her back over the long road, and the last meeting with Isaac, is only an alighting from the camel which has been moving in that direction all the time. It was not the sudden bumping down from one country into another. That is what some people seem to be looking for in the Second Coming!

Now the test is, are we of the earth, or are we in the heavens? There are two blue lines there. Blue, the heavenly glory, is the church as it is of the heavenlies, far above all, and there has got to be that relationship. The Church is a heavenly body. The fact is it is by the approximation to what we are. We are a heavenly body, and we have got to approximate to that every day. That is the Church's progress and pilgrimage - becoming what we are in the mind and thought of God. The consummation of progressive translation by the Spirit! That, beloved, is the end of walking after the Spirit, and walking in the Spirit. The dropping off of all that is of the flesh and of the earth, then the climax of the walk of faith. For the walk of faith is the walk of faith in accordance with this law so that the progress of spiritual experience is the progressive confounding of all that upon which the senses rest and to which the senses cling.

Oh, I assure you that if you are going on in the Spirit the intellectual as such is going to become far, far less, and you are going to recognise that this thing to you, and everybody else, is the biggest enigma in creation, in the universe, the biggest mystery. There is no doubt about that from the intellectual side, the rational side. God is simply confounding you with what He is doing with you, getting you into realms where you cannot follow in any other way but in your spirit. You know in your spirit that the thing is right; you know that you cannot be elsewhere, or otherwise; you know that your life eternally depends upon it, and yet for the life of you you cannot explain what the Lord is after, and what the Lord is doing and why He does it in this way. He is defying every attempt of yours to follow Him in the flesh. And as for emotions, as for comfortable, nice, warm feelings in the way that the Lord leads you, well some of you have got to the end of all this long ago.

Yes, the walk of faith is the walk of faith, ever increasing, with an ever crushing intensification until at last the climax of the walk of faith will be going in with the Lord and the full unfolding of the meaning and all the mystery of His dealings with us now. "Now we see in a glass darkly (and it does seem that the film and the smoke on the glass deepens and intensifies as we go on with the Lord as to any explanation), but then face to face. Now I know in part (but oh, what a little part it is as we get into the realm of His greater mysteries), but then I shall know, even as I have been known" - by Him, not by other people. The climax of the walk of faith - the complement of an ascension union. That is only saying in another way what we have just said. The approximation to what we are through our being identified with and incorporated into Christ. We were made to sit in the heavenlies in Christ and become a heavenly Body in Him. The complement of that spiritual reality is the appearing of our Lord, and so it is the Body of Christ moving, according to its own spiritual laws, by reason of the Cross - which is a deepening mystery in its out-workings, and methods, and demands, that brings the Lord at last. The Coming of the Lord is relative, not an historic event in solitary isolation, but the consummation of a spiritual process and progress in and of the Body of Christ.

Now having gone round, or taken the first round, merely skimming the surface, we must leave it there and speak a little more of the Body of Christ another time - as to its nature and function. Then move out to the nations of the world, then still further out to the principalities and powers, and then out to far above all heavenlies. May the Lord continue to give us utterance, revelation and light.

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